(Hint, it's much more than just digital money)
Up until a few months ago, like a lot of people I'd heard of 'Bitcoin' and 'cryptocurrency' but frankly while it seemed mildly interesting, I didn't feel any overwhelming urge to figure out how to get some or use it. It sounded like a less secure, new fangled, roundabout way of paying for things 'electronically' and since so few places accept them for payment vs. the dollar...I didn't see the point. Why bother, right?
Wrong. Boy was I wrong. Because what I didn't understand...and most of you reading this probably don't either...is that many of these new 'cryptocurrencies' that we see in the news are not 'currencies' at all...they are actually a new technology utilizing a structure called the blockchain that are creating the next version of the internet, an internet 3.0 right now...and the vast majority of people have no idea this is going on. How is that you ask? Because many of these digital 'coins' are actually more like operating systems or even programming languages that let you build decentralized applications. What the heck is that you ask? Let me explain.
Let's say you want to buy a product off of Ebay, or Amazon like a pair of shoes. Or perhaps you want to rent a room for a weekend through Airbnb, or get a car ride to the airport through Uber. All of these businesses utilize a middleman that you have to pay a fee to for their service. Think about it. You buy something from Ebay or Amazon and they take their little cut out of the seller's gross. You book a room through airbnb or a car from uber and again...they take a little cut out of the seller's piece or charge a fee to the buyer...either way there's a middleman.
But what if you could get rid of the middle man? What if there was some kind of company that did each of these things...sold goods..rented homes...drove you around....and there was no middle man? What if transactions were peer to peer...you to the seller direct...without the middle man's fee? Well that is exactly what the blockchain allows programmers to do. Create decentralized applications, businesses, markets, etc. It does this by utilizing the blockchain as a way of keeping everyone honest. How? Well, this video does a nice job of explaining it.
But the important thing to realize is that what we are looking at here is basically the dawn of a brand new internet. Just like in 1992-94 nobody could have predicted that Amazon or Uber or Facebook or Google could become the behemoths we see today. Twenty years from now people are going to look back and say the same thing about decentralized, blockchain based companies that will be just as big...or bigger.
It's very likely we'll have decentralized search engines without advertising, we'll have decentralized selling with brand new 'amazons' or 'ebays'. We'll have decentralized banking without the bank taking fees and we'll have virtually every kind of business you can imagine from insurance to education to manufacturing to distribution and it will be done through decentralized applications and companies that basically 'live' on the internet and don't require a middle man taking a fee.
Once you understand this concept the next thing to understand is that the cryptocurrencies that we see today...and the new ones being introduced...are all representative of different kinds of decentralized businesses and these digital 'coins' are being used to fund the development of these businesses. Now there are some like Bitcoin and Litecoin that are still just digital money. But others like Ethereum, Golem, Stratis, EOS, Factom and others each represent a new type of decentralized company or platform that are part of this new internet 3.0. And in order to use any of these companies or platforms you'll have to know how to use these new 'digital currencies'.
Some of these new kinds of decentralized companies are already in operation. For instance http://steemit.com
is a hybrid of reddit and facebook where you use Steem coins as a way of rewarding content. Instead of Zuckerberg and staff at FB choosing what to show you...it's more democratic and the use of Steem coin rewards content makers.
So how do I begin getting into this world? What's the first baby step I can take? Open a Coinbase account.
Coinbase is the oldest and most reliable and safe of the online wallets to start buying your first digital 'coins' with. You can buy a bit of Bitcoin or Ethereum or Litecoin...the three coins they currently support...and begin to learn how to use them. For example, you can purchase some 'Steem' at Steemit.com by opening an account there and sending some Bitcoin to yourself from Coinbase to Steemit. Then you'll convert that Bitcoin to Steem to use.
As you become more comfortable with these currencies you might want to open a trading account on a site like Poloniex or Bittrex...which just like a stock market trading site allows you to buy, sell or just watch all kinds of digital coins and see their values fluctuate just like a stock.
But frankly the very first step you should take, just so you can get started and start to explore is to open a Coinbase account.
Right now Coinbase has a promotion where they're offering $10 in free Bitcoin to you if you open an account with just $100, which is exactly what I did to start. Then you can start playing with it. Another great thing about Coinbase is that any cash you have in the account is FDIC insured just like a savings account at your local bank (this protection doesn't apply to the cryptocurrencies though, just your cash, although they have insurance to protect your crypto too). One of the first things I did was transfer half of my Bitcoin into Ethereum right within my Coinbase account so in mere minutes I was now both a Bitcoin and Ethereum owner and I could build from there.
Want to learn even more and become a cryptocurrency expert? Start reading sites like Cointelegraph.com and Coindesk.com and TheMerkle.com to learn more about all these new currencies and what they do.
Look, I know it seems intimidating at first. But trust me, this is not just the future of money, it's the future of the internet being built right in front of our eyes. This is an amazing opportunity. Don't miss out like you did the last time. Just think how many times you've told yourself 'if i had just invested in Facebook or Netflix or Amazon back in 199x...well this is your next chance...because the next version of the internet...the decentralized internet is happening right now, today. Open your Coinbase account and take your first step into that world today. You'll thank me later.