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What is a Bitcoin fork?
There has been significant news coverage and developments in recent weeks about changes to digital currency networks. These are sometimes called “forks”. We wanted to provide a simple, non-technical explanation to add context to recent discussions.
What is a “fork”?
A “fork” is a change to the software of the digital currency that creates two separate versions of the blockchain with a shared history.
Forks can be temporary, lasting for a few minutes, or can be a permanent split in the network creating two separate versions of the blockchain. When this happens, two different digital currencies are also created.
Why are changes made to digital currency protocols like Bitcoin and Ethereum?
Coinbase currently supports 3 digital currencies?—?Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin. Each of these digital currencies use open-source software protocols with independent development teams responsible for changes and improvements to the network, much in the same way that changes to internet protocols allow web browsing to become better over time.
Our mission is to create an open financial system for the world and we believe digital currencies will be fundamental in achieving this mission. However, many of these digital currencies are still in early development. Making improvements to the software?—?such as the number of transactions the network can support?—?is crucial to creating finance 2.0.
Why do forks happen?
There are a few reasons why a fork can happen. For example, when a change is proposed to a digital currency protocol, users need to show their support for the new version and upgrade?—?in a similar way to people regularly update applications on their computer. In order for these changes to get approved many people need to agree, just as changes to cellphone networks require many phone companies to agree.
What does this mean if I have digital currency stored on Coinbase?
Coinbase actively monitors protocol developments and works hard to ensure customer funds are safe in these events. Our policy is to support only one version of a digital currency. In order to determine which fork to support we look at factors such as size of the network, market value and customer demand. We make this decision carefully because safely supporting a new digital currency requires significant work for many teams.
If I talk like this, am I loud enough to be heard?”
It’s an ironic statement from a man who became famous without saying anything at all.
Steps from San Francisco’s gleaming City Hall, the internet sensation better known as “Bitcoin Sign Guy” struggles with a microphone as he tries to recall the day when he boldly thrust out a yellow legal pad behind a sitting Federal Reserve chair and became perhaps the crypto world’s most famous meme.
But whereas he made the decision to take out a pen on that now-infamous July day (going from idea to action in little more than 30 seconds, he says), he’s less natural when talking about the particulars.
What was he doing there? Who did he work for? Those are the things the Connecticut native is “trying to speak around” as his first-ever interview begins. And his caution initially shows, on camera at least, in clipped sentences and careful wording.
“I really was not prepared for this,” he says, squinting into a California sun.
Indeed, despite assurances, Bitcoin Sign Guy is still noticeably uneasy about his identity. A recent college graduate (from a university he doesn’t name) and staffer at a crypto hedge fund (that we’re told we can’t disclose), there are specifics about his life he wishes to keep behind the curtain. And he’s not without his reasons.
Given his claim to fame is interrupting a meeting between some of the world’s most powerful people, it’s safe to say it wasn’t exactly well received by all. In addition to feeling compelled to apologize to his then-employer (an undisclosed think tank), he admits he was even escorted out by staffers, an incident caught on C-SPAN, too.
“They actually did apologize, but I’m not sure it was sincere,” he recalls.
But if Bitcoin Sign Guy is unwilling to step fully into the spotlight, one topic lights a spark in the conversation. A self-described anarcho-capitalist, he’s every bit the bitcoin believer the internet could hope for, denouncing monetary policy as an oppressive “instrument of statecraft” and declaring the first and most well-known cryptocurrency destined to resign fiat money to the history books.
Asked directly if there was a larger message to his scribbled sign and its simple statement – “Buy Bitcoin” – Bitcoin Sign Guy is more assured in his answer.
I view cryptocurrencies as a new monetary paradigm that’s here to directly challenge the easy money created by the Federal Reserve. I believe this will have full political and social repercussions.”
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How do I buy Bitcoin?
The most common way to buy the currency is to download a broker app such as Coinbase .
These allow users to use a credit or debit card to exchange Cash for Bitcoin.
Once a request has been made, online “miners” will decide whether to approve the transaction.
If approved, the money will be taken from a user’s account in exchange for Bitcoin.
When selling, users can use the same app to sell their Bitcoin in return for its cash value.
It is also possible to buy Bitcoin directly from sellers on other websites – bypassing the need for a broker.
There are fewer transaction fees in this case, but the process is a bit riskier and more complicated – especially for a beginner.
Investors can also buy Bitcoins by depositing cash at a nearby Bitcoin ATM.
These have been popping up in newsagents and can be found by Googling them or visiting Coin ATM Radar.
Is it safe to buy Bitcoin?
Anyone thinking of investing in Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency should be very careful.
Their values are volatile, with the ability to plummet as quickly as they shoot up.
And investors are frequently targeted by hackers and other criminals who seek to steal their crypto-cash online.
Be especially careful if you are using direct, peer-to-peer platforms to sell and buy cryptocurrencies.
These are the equivalent of something like Gumtree for Bitcoin – you never know who you might be dealing with
What are Iota and Ethereum?
Iota – which stands for Internet of Things Application – is a new cryptocurrency, similar to Bitcoin.
But it is different in certain key ways.
Bitcoins aren’t printed, like pounds, dollars or euros – they’re produced by people, and increasingly businesses, running computers all around the world.
To process Bitcoin transactions, a procedure called “mining” must take place, which involves a computer solving a difficult mathematical problem with a 64-digit solution.
For each problem solved, one block of Bitcoin is processed.
Iota, on the other hand, removes the need for this by asking anyone submitting a transaction to verify two other random transactions.
It all sounds quite technical but it basically means it is decentralised, there’s no fee for transactions and the more people using Iota the faster the network becomes.
Ethereum is another cryptocurrency – one which some have said could overtake Bitcoin as the dominant coin in the market.
But it is also a ledger technology – using “blockchain”, like Bitcoin – that companies are using to build new programmes.
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