Bitcoin

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File Format
Name Bitcoin
Ontology
Released 2009
Bitcoin: a VisiCalc waiting for its Lotus, Excel, or what comes after: the eighth type of ambiguity: nonsense currency if unlinked to power.
-- Grady Ward

Bitcoin is an "alternative currency" that is generated electronically with no central authority, with a loosely-connected set of network nodes engaged in "mining" coins by being the first to solve difficult mathematical computations, validating transactions involving the "coins" (the process of validating others' transactions is in fact the manner in which coins are "mined", thus incentivizing using one's computer resources to facilitate this process), and storing transactions involving them. This is all accomplished algorithmically. The algorithms are defined such that the rate of coin issuance declines over the years until it tops out at a total money supply of 21 million bitcoins, unlike fiat currencies that can be issued without limit by their issuing authority.

A bitcoin, and its associated transactions, can be represented in various ways, even including actual physical metal coins if you can believe the picture in the Wikipedia article. A binary format is defined in the Bitcoin technical specs, but archived Bitcoin blocks in the "Block Explorer" site are displayed in a JSON-based format (served as text/plain).

The smallest possible unit in a Bitcoin transaction is .00000001 bitcoins, also known as a satoshi. Other subdivisions of the bitcoin are unsettled at the moment, but a unit of 1/1000 of a bitcoin (known as an mbit, or embit, or mBTC) emerged as rising prices made the bitcoin itself unwieldily large.

There have been attempts to use Bitcoin protocols to implement other decentralized services. Twister is an implementation of a Twitter-like service along these lines, and Bitcloud is an attempt to provide all sorts of cloud-based services this way. Some other attempts at competing "digital currencies" have also been launched with similar mechanisms and varying degrees of seriousness, including Dogecoin and Coinye.

The price of a bitcoin has been highly volatile, skyrocketing or collapsing based on current events. Huge fortunes have been made and lost on them.

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