Four years ago in bitcoin…

Remember when one bitcoin cost only $450? I do.

Four years ago, video training company Lynda.com published its first cryptocurrency course, my “Up and Running with Bitcoin (later retitled “Learning Bitcoin”). A lot’s changed in that time, so the company (acquired by LinkedIn Learning in 2015) asked me to revise it.

At first it was going to be a simple rework, but it quickly became clear that more was needed. So instead we just released a completely new, updated, and expanded course, “Learning Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies. It’s on LinkedIn Learning and Lynda.com; see it with a free month’s membership; here’s the intro video:

 

It’s fun to watch the original course, which is still on LinkedIn Learning and Lynda.com (although I doubt it’ll be there for long). Aside from increased market interest — which I’ll write about another time — here are some notable changes in bitcoin over the last four years:

  • Bitcoin’s not the only game in town anymore. Well, in truth it wasn’t alone back in 2014, either: I personally held small amounts of the cryptocurrencies Litecoin and Dogecoin then as well. (I was a “Dogecoin millionaire” for the princely sum of US$200; a million Dogecoin now costs about $3,500.) But today there are over a thousand cryptocurrencies; a half-dozen have a market capitalization higher than bitcoin’s was then. While bitcoin’s market cap is still by far the biggest, it typically comprises only about 35-40% of the total for all cryptocurrencies.
  •  Cryptocurrency technology has expanded and diversified. Back then, the main difference among cryptocurrencies had to do with how it was mined — specifically, the cryptographic algorithm that secured the blockchain. But many coins these days don’t even use the (insanely wasteful) bitcoin-style “proof-of-work” system any more. Proof-of-stake, proof-of-time, sampling systems, hybrid solutions… the list is long. One of the cryptocurrencies I discuss in the course (IOTA) doesn’t use a blockchain at all, while another (Ethereum) has spawned an entirely new kind of cryptocurrency (ICOs) that rides on the back of its blockchain.

 

  • Centralization, centralization, centralization. One of bitcoin’s greatest achievements is the creation of a security system with no single point of failure: No one company, bank, or government could shut it down. But like anarchy, decentralization is inherently unstable, as collectives band together to squeeze out small players. Nowhere is this clearer than in the world of bitcoin mining, where three pools (overwhelmingly Chinese) control enough power to topple the whole system, running hardware made by a small handful of (also Chinese) manufacturers. On one hand, centralization means errors (or greed, or malice) by a few people could cause big problems; on the other, it can give a cryptocurrency better convenience, liquidity, and popular acceptance.
  • Cryptocurrencies have public acceptance — but not public use. The original bitcoin white paper criticized existing payment systems as unsuitable for “small casual transactions” because the transaction cost was too high. The irony is that a bitcoin transaction cost is now over a dollar, while it was about US$0.04 when I recorded the 2014 course. So the promise of being able to use it for ordinary purchases has mostly vanished, taking with it a big motivation for public interest. And yet more and more people have come to understand its foundations from repeated exposure to articles, news stories, and water-cooler conversations.

So what hasn’t changed? 

While the bitcoin (and cryptocurrency) world is quite different from 2014, I would argue that it’s still not mature.

Cryptocurrency generally now share a quality that I saw in the early years of popular computers and the commercial Internet: It’s a solution in search of a problem. There’s still no “killer app” that compels ordinary people to convert their dollars, euros, and yen to them.

Many people claim to have such a solution — a list of initial coin offerings (ICOs) proves that. But nobody knows whether bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency will find its VisiCalc, its Google. (I suspect the popular breakthrough will be something silly, like Cryptokitties… or the traditional vehicles for the technological leading edge, porn and gambling.)

A year before recording the 2014 bitcoin course, I wrote some bitcoin predictions for Slashdot.org. You can judge how well they turned out overall. But one in particular was absolutely right: “Bitcoin is not the end game.” Let’s check back in 2022 to see whether any current cryptocurrencies were.

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Tom Geller (tomgeller.com) is a writer and videojournalist with feet in The Netherlands an the U.S.. 

Learning Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies (2018)

A ground-up rewrite of my highly successful 2014 course, Learning Bitcoin. Available on LinkedIn Learning and by subscription through Lynda.com. (Watch it for free.)

The new version includes information about Ethereum, Ripple, IOTA, and ICOs. Description by Lynda.com:

“Bitcoin is a form of money that only exists online. While it’s making headlines around the world, many people don’t really understand how bitcoin works or the underlying concepts of cryptocurrency.

In this course, Tom Geller demystifies bitcoin, revealing the promise and perils of the new crypto economy. Tom begins by explaining what bitcoin is, how it originated, and how it compares with other cryptocurrencies. Next, he explains how to get started by creating a bitcoin wallet, buying and selling bitcoin, and protecting your transactions.

He discusses other top cryptocurrencies—Ripple, Ethereum, and IOTA—and explains how “initial coin offerings” (ICOs) have changed the investment landscape. Finally, he covers bitcoin mining, threats to the bitcoin economy, and how to connect with others in cryptocurrency communities.”

David Williams, Comfe Designs

A quick note of thanks for your videos, especially for the point about putting aside time for doing stuff not related to work. Great reminder. Thanks again.

Up and Running with Bitcoin (2014)

Screenshot from Up and Running with Bitcoin

Description by lynda.com: “Understand the basics of bitcoin, the popular virtual currency, and then learn the nuances of bitcoin transactions and security issues that can be difficult to navigate on your own. Tom Geller addresses both the big and small issues swirling around bitcoin right now, and prepares you to use or accept bitcoin as a currency for your transactions. Discover how bitcoin compares to US dollars and other forms of money; how to send, receive, and “mine” it; and how to protect and track your bitcoin transactions. Tom will even show you how to connect with the Bitcoin development community, in case you’re interested in contributing to the spread of this modern cryptocurrency.”

Raising Money the Old-Fashioned Way

Screenshot of the article as it appeared online

“Crowdfunding for technology gains traction” — an online-only article covering technology funding venues including Fundable, Gittip, Bountysource, and others, with commentary from various players including Eric S. Raymond and the National Crowdfunding Association.

James D’Angelo

Your article is easily the best piece I’ve read on Bitcoin, and its safe to say I’ve read a thousand or more. Here’s to hoping there’s more great stuff coming.

Regulators ask: What is Bitcoin?

Image of the article as it appeared online

An article about legal challenges to the decentralized virtual currency Bitcoin, specifically on how the question of its definition affects its place in law.