How does Bitcoin work? Forget most things you've heard. People discover Bitcoin in a variety of ways, but usually pick up some sort of misconception like "Bitcoin gives free money to people with computers" or "in order to use Bitcoin I have to use a program that wastes electricity for nothing" along the way. Here is a good summary to help you understand Bitcoin in general, by focusing on what Bitcoin is and what problem it solves. These two things are not typically well explained on most websites, and it is difficult to appreciate just how effective a technology Bitcoin is until they are understood.
What Bitcoin is: An agreement amongst a community of people to use 21 million secure mathematical tokens--"bitcoins"--as money, like traditional African and Asian societies used the money cowry. Unlike the money cowry:
- there will never be more bitcoins
- they are impossible to counterfeit
- they can be divided into as small of pieces as you want
- and they can be transferred instantly across great distances via a digital connection such as the internet.
This is accomplished by the use of powerful cryptography many times stronger than that used by banks. Instead of simply being "sent" coins have to be cryptographically signed over from one entity to another, essentially putting a lock and key on each token so that bitcoins can be securely backed up in multiple places, and so that copying doesn't increase the amount you own.
Because bitcoins are given their value by the community, they don't need to be accepted by anyone else or backed by any authority to succeed. They are like a local currency except much, much more effective and local to the whole world. As an example of how effective the community is at "backing" the bitcoin: on April 4th 2011 30,000 bitcoins were abruptly sold on the largest Bitcoin exchange, consuming nearly all "buy" offers on the order book and dropping the price by nearly 1/3. But within a couple of days, the price on the exchange had fully rebounded and bitcoins were again trading at good volumes, with large "buy" offers slowly replacing the ones consumed by the trades. The ability of such a small economy (there were only 5 million out of the total 21 million bitcoins circulating then, or about 3.75 million USD worth at then-current exchange rates) to absorb such a large sell-off without crashing shows that bitcoins were already working beautifully. (To Be Concluded in PART THREE;So Stay Tuned!!!)