A Brief Timeline of the Cryptocurrency Industry
The age of cryptocurrencies officially began in January 2009 with the launch of the bitcoin network. Since then, we’ve seen cryptocurrencies rise and fall. We’ve seen some cryptocurrencies launch and dominate the market. We’ve seen other cryptocurrencies fizzle out within weeks of launch.
We could write an entire textbook on the history of cryptocurrencies. However, we’ll start with a basic timeline. Here are some of the major events in the history of cryptocurrencies.
The Pre-Bitcoin Era (1983 to 2004)
Many cryptocurrency timelines start in October 2008 (when the bitcoin whitepaper was released) or January 2009 (when the bitcoin network launched and the first bitcoin transaction took place). The real history of cryptocurrencies, however, traces back to a pre-bitcoin era. Some of the notable events that took place in the leadup to the development of bitcoin include:
1983: American cryptographer and computer scientist David Chaum proposed an anonymous, cryptographically-secured, electronic money system all the way back in 1983. The idea for ecash was published in a paper in 1983. Ecash software stored money on the user’s local computer in a digital format, secured by cryptography.
1989: In 1989, David Chaum created DigiCash, Inc., expanding on his ecash concept. Digicash allowed for anonymous electronic money transfers online, with anonymity secured by cryptography. The company declared bankruptcy in 1998.
1997: British cryptographer Adam Back proposed a proof-of-work system called Hashcash in 1997. The proof-of-work system introduced the idea of forcing computers to “do work” to provide a “proof” before accessing a service. Computers were forced to provide proof of work prior to sending an email or posting a forum message, for example. This was designed to combat spam. A decade later, bitcoin would use a similar proof of work system as part of its mining algorithm.
1998: Chinese computer engineer Wei Dai proposed B-money as an “anonymous, distributed electronic cash system”. B-money relied on a proof of work function similar to the one introduced by Hashcash. 10 years later, Satoshi Nakamoto would reference B-money when introducing bitcoin online.
1998: American computer scientist and cryptographer Nick Szabo introduced what may be the best-known predecessor to bitcoin. Called Bit Gold, the project was more similar to bitcoin than any other project that had come before it. Bit Gold, however, was never actually implemented. It was just proposed. Szabo described Bit Gold as a decentralized digital currency involving the use of cryptographic puzzles, Byzantine fault-tolerant public registries, and private and public keys.
2004: Hal Finney created the first reusable proof of work system before bitcoin. Finney, who would eventually become the first person to receive a bitcoin transaction from Satoshi Nakamoto, published the idea of a reusable proof of work (RPOW) system that used Hashcash as its proof of work algorithm.
The Bitcoin Era (2008 Onward)
The cryptocurrency industry, up to this point, was a mix of different projects that had never got off the ground. Satoshi Nakamoto and the bitcoin project were the first to implement all of the above technologies into a full-fledged cryptocurrency. The bitcoin era officially began in October 2008 when Satoshi Nakamoto published the bitcoin whitepaper online.
October 2008: Satoshi Nakamoto introduced the bitcoin whitepaper online at Bitcoin.org. The whitepaper was titled, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.” Although just 9 pages long, the whitepaper outlined the fundamental features of bitcoin’s blockchain-based payment system.
January 2009: The bitcoin mainnet launched in January 2009. The first bitcoin transaction – which was sent from Satoshi Nakamoto to American developer and cryptographer Hal Finney – also took place in January 2009.
January 12, 2009: The world’s first bitcoin transaction takes place. You can view that transaction here, at block 170 on the bitcoin block explorer. Satoshi sent 10 BTC to Hal Finney to test the network’s capabilities.
October 2009: The first bitcoin exchange rate is established. New Liberty Standard opens an exchange to buy and sell bitcoin. The exchange rate was initially set at 1,309.03 BTC to one USD, which meant each bitcoin was worth about $0.0007 apiece. New Liberty Standard calculated this price based on the cost of electricity used by a computer to mine a single bitcoin.
February 2010: The world’s first “real world” bitcoin transaction takes place. One early bitcoin adopter famously purchases two pizzas from Papa John’s in exchange for 10,000 BTC.
July 2010: The price of bitcoin increases 10x, jumping from $0.008 per BTC to $0.080 per BTC over an exciting 5 day period starting on July 12.
July 2010: Mt. Gox, which would grow to become the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, is established by Jed McCaleb.
August 2010: An exploit in the bitcoin network generates 184 billion extra bitcoins. The bitcoin blockchain had to be forked to “fix” the problematic chain and reverse the issue. The unusual transaction was spotted by long-time bitcoin developer Jeff Garzik, who posted online, “We’ve had a problem here.”
Altcoins Emerge (2011 Onward)
Up until 2011, bitcoin was the only cryptocurrency in the industry. When you talked about bitcoin, you were talking about the cryptocurrency industry. However, this wouldn’t hold true for long. Starting in 2011, a number of legitimate competitors started to emerge to challenge bitcoin’s reign.
Throughout 2011, a number of alternative coins – altcoins – emerged on the scene, including Litecoin, Namecoin, and Swiftcoin.
January 2011: Non-profit group the Electronic Frontier Foundation began accepting bitcoin in January 2011, then stopped accepting bitcoin in June 2011 due to a lack of legal precedent. By 2013, they had resumed accepting bitcoins.
February 2011: Bitcoin reaches parity with the USD for the first time in history. 1 BTC was worth $1 USD.
June 2011: WikiLeaks and other organizations begin to accept bitcoin for donations, becoming some of the first organizations to officially accept bitcoin and allow bitcoin transactions.
July 2011: The first recorded bitcoin theft takes place. BitcoinTalkForum member Allinvain claims that 25,000 BTC had gone missing from his wallet. At this time, bitcoin had reached a price of around $14.50, which means the theft was valued at around $375,000.
September 2011: Vitalik Buterin co-founded Bitcoin Magazine at the age of 17.
October 2011: Litecoin is introduced by Charlie Lee, a Google employee, on October 13, 2011 via an open source client on GitHub. Litecoin was a fork of the bitcoin client and relied heavily on bitcoin’s code. Litecoin introduced faster transaction times (reducing block time from 10 minutes to 2.5 minutes), quadrupled total supply (from 21 million to 84 million coins), and used a different hashing algorithm (Scrypt instead of SHA-256).
January 2012: Bitcoin begins inching its way into mainstream thought. CBS legal drama The Good Wife uses bitcoin as a central plot piece in its third-season episode called “Bitcoin for Dummies”.
September 2012: The Bitcoin Foundation launches with the goal of accelerating the growth of bitcoin “through standardization, protection, and promotion of the open source protocol.”
October 2012: By October 2012, bitcoin payment processing platform BitPay reported having 1,000 merchants in its network accepting bitcoin.
November 2012: WordPress begins accepting bitcoins. The popular online blogging platform became one of the first big names in the tech space to integrate bitcoin payments.
February 2013: Coinbase, one of the most popular online payment platforms for bitcoin, claims to be selling $1 million worth of bitcoins every month.
March 2013: Bitcoin experiences its first major dispute leading to a fork. For six hours, two bitcoin networks operated at the same time, each with its own unique transaction history. Core developers called for a halt to transactions. The network was eventually downgraded to version 0.7 of the bitcoin software.
April 2013: The price of bitcoin rallies to a new all time high of $266 on April 11, 2013.
June 2013: The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) listed 11.02 bitcoins as a seized asset, marking the first time a government agency reported seizing bitcoin as an asset.
October 2013: The FBI seizes approximately 26,000 bitcoin from dark web marketplace Silk Road after the arrest of its alleged owner, Ross William Ulbricht.
October 2013: The first bitcoin ATM appears in Vancouver, Canada, launched by Robocoin and Bitcoiniacs.
November 2013: Litecoin reaches a market capitalization of $1 billion.
December 2013: Overstock.com announces plans to accept bitcoin (starting in 2014), becoming the first major retailer to officially accept bitcoin.
December 6, 2013: Developers Billy Markus and Jackson Palmer introduce a “joke cryptocurrency” called Dogecoin based on the trendy “Doge” internet meme. The cryptocurrency quickly grows with its own online community, rising to a market cap of $60 million by January 2014.
End of 2013: The price of bitcoin surges spectacularly. One bitcoin was priced at around $140 in October 2013. By the end of November 2013, bitcoin was priced at over $1,100. Bitcoin’s price would gradually drop over the coming months, plummeting to around $300 by mid-2014. It would not break $1,000 again until 2017.
February 2014: Mt. Gox, the Japan-based cryptocurrency exchange processing approximately 70% of the community’s transactions, suddenly goes offline and files for bankruptcy protection, leaving investors in shock. The exchange had been hacked, leading to the loss of $350 million in customer funds. A total of 744,000 bitcoins were reported stolen.
July 2014: Major computer retailers Newegg and Dell start accepting bitcoin.
July 2015: Ethereum’s genesis block appears. The Ethereum mainnet officially launches, introducing “blockchain 2.0”, smart contracts, and programmable blockchain-based applications to the community.
April 2016: Steam started accepting bitcoin as a payment within its digital platform.
July 2016: The DAO is hacked, leading to a fork that creates Ethereum (ETH) and Ethereum Classic (ETC).
2017: The age of initial coin offerings (ICOs) begins, with companies raising hundreds of millions of dollars from ICOs in 2017.
May 2017: By May 2017, the cryptocurrency community had surpassed 1,000 different cryptocurrencies.
June 2017: The market capitalization of the cryptocurrency industry breaks the $100 billion mark.
August 2017: Bitcoin experiences its first major fork as the community struggles to decide on a scaling proposal. Bitcoin splits into bitcoin (BTC) and Bitcoin Cash (BCH). The price of Bitcoin Cash surges briefly at launch, rising from $200 to $1,000, then suddenly falls down to $200 and under within days. By the end of the year BCH had reached an all-time high close to $4,000.
September 2017: China officially bans bitcoin exchanges, with major Chinese bitcoin exchanges forced to shut down before the end of the month.
November 2017: Bitcoin (BTC) breaks the $10,000 mark for the first time in its history.
December 2017: Bitcoin futures launch. Major futures exchanges like the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade (CME) launch bitcoin futures trading, allowing investors to have a stake in the future price of bitcoin.
December 2017: The price of bitcoin (BTC) continues to surge, stopping just short of $20,000 in mid-December. The officially all-time recorded high of bitcoin is $19,783.
January 2018: The price of bitcoin plummets during the early months of 2018, marking a sharp reversal from the all-time highs of the end of 2017.
May 2018: Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs is rumored to be developing a crypto trading desk.
June 2018: US-based financial firm Fidelity Investments posts an internal job posting searching for a developer for a cryptocurrency exchange, suggesting that another financial giant is jumping into the crypto markets.
Next, we’ll explore what may happen to bitcoin in the future – including upcoming challenges the cryptocurrency industry needs to face and opportunities it may embrace.
What Does the Future Hold for Cryptocurrencies?
The future of cryptocurrencies will include risks and opportunities. As we mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, there’s a chance the price of bitcoin will plummet to $0.25. There’s also a chance the price of bitcoin will rise to $1 million.
If the cryptocurrency industry is going to succeed, then it’s going to have to avoid risks and embrace opportunities. Here are some of the risks and opportunities facing the cryptocurrency industry in the future:
Government Regulations and Bitcoin
Risk: Governments Will Ban or Heavily Regulate Cryptocurrencies
Governments are well-aware of cryptocurrencies. Some governments have already regulated bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. China, for example, banned bitcoin trading in September 2017 and shut down bitcoin exchanges countrywide. Today, cryptocurrency continues to be a grey area in many jurisdictions. Most governments agree that cryptocurrencies aren’t securities. However, they’re not treated like currencies either. Eventually, major governmental institutions like the US SEC are going to announce regulations on cryptocurrencies – and these regulations could decide the future of crypto.
Opportunity: Regulated Cryptocurrencies Could Become Legal and More Widely-Accepted
Regulation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Governments introduce regulation to protect citizens. Stricter regulations in the cryptocurrency industry could enhance the industry’s reputation. It could lead to a reduction in scams. It could help investors avoid ICO fraud. It would allow the highest-quality cryptocurrencies to rise to the top – at least in theory.
Risk: Tax Evasion and Money Laundering Will Force Governments to Shut Down Cryptocurrency Trading
The crypto industry is filled with money laundering, price manipulation, tax evasion, and other activities that governments can’t tolerate. Eventually, governments worldwide could put their foot down and end crypto trading.
Opportunity: Governments Could One Day Let You Pay Taxes in Crypto
It’s not unreasonable to assume that governments could one day embrace crypto – even to a point where you can pay taxes in cryptocurrencies. In February 2018 Arizona Senate passed a bill to Accept Tax Payments in Bitcoin.
Public Perception of the Crypto Industry
Risk: Cryptocurrencies Will Never Be Mainstream Because of Negative Public Perception
When you mention “cryptocurrencies” to the average person on the street, you’ll get a range of responses. To the average person, however, bitcoin is often associated with the dark web, internet scams, online drug deals, and anonymous transactions. Despite the fact that bitcoin is one of the least anonymous cryptocurrencies, it still has a reputation for being linked to shady online activities. There’s a risk that bitcoin and cryptocurrencies will never get past this reputation.
Opportunity: Cryptocurrencies Will Grow Into a More Positive Reputation
On the flip side, there’s a chance public awareness of cryptocurrencies will continue to grow, and that the public will learn that cryptocurrencies have enormous value outside of anonymous transactions and money laundering.
New Technologies Will Impact the Crypto Community
Risk: Future Cryptocurrencies Won’t Be Based on Blockchain Technology
When we talk about cryptocurrencies today, we’re talking about digital tokens built on blockchain platforms. Bitcoin introduced the idea of a blockchain, and other cryptocurrencies have expanded on that idea. But blockchain technology isn’t perfect. There is room for improvement. Directed acyclic graph (DAG) algorithms could introduce a new wave of digital currencies, for example. It’s naïve to assume that blockchain, a 10-year old technology, will be the king for years to come. A new technology could make cryptocurrencies a forgotten fad overnight.
Opportunity: New Technologies Will Allow Cryptocurrencies to Continue Growing
New technologies will be good for the cryptocurrency industry. New technologies – whether they’re DAG-based platforms or whatever – will enhance the usability and efficiency of cryptocurrencies, opening up crypto to a new world of investors.
Risk: Electricity Consumption on the Bitcoin Network is Unsustainable
Bitcoin is notorious for its electricity consumption – and the problem continues to get worse over time. Electricity consumption on the bitcoin network – and other PoW networks – is unsustainable. There simply isn’t enough electricity in the world to continue providing the bitcoin network with the power it needs. In a world increasingly aiming for sustainability, the excessive consumption of the bitcoin network might be its worst enemy.
Opportunity: ASICs and Other Devices Make the Bitcoin Network More Efficient Than Ever
Electricity consumption of the bitcoin network has steadily increased over time, but efficiency of the network has also increased. Devices like ASICs are thousands of times more efficient than the miners we used during the early days of bitcoin. They spend less electricity to deliver higher hashrates.
Centralization in a Decentralized Ecosystem
Risk: Cryptocurrency is Becoming Too Centralized
Five bitcoin mining pools in China control the vast majority of hashpower on the bitcoin network. A handful of centralized corporations play an increasingly dominant role in the bitcoin network. Bitcoin mining used to take place on individual PCs. Now, it’s taking place in enormous data mining centers. The cryptocurrency industry is becoming too centralized – and this centralization could ruin the crypto industry as we know it.
Opportunity: Competition Will Reign Supreme
The crypto industry is very competitive. There are low barriers to entry. Any computer programmer can introduce a cryptocurrency online today. Someone might introduce an ASIC-resistant, centralization-resistant cryptocurrency that works in true, democratic fashion. The market might solve all of the problems faced by the bitcoin industry.
Risk: Quantum Computers Will Make PoW Systems Obsolete Overnight
Cryptocurrencies – particularly cryptocurrencies that use Proof of Work algorithms – are based on the concept of computers doing “work” by contributing processing power to the network. Moore’s Law has kept the increase of processing power relatively stable over the years (processing power has roughly doubled every year). Quantum computers, however, will blow Moore’s Law out of the water. The first person to build a quantum computer will be able to decimate PoW algorithms, threatening the security and stability of cryptocurrencies.
Opportunity: We’ll Build Algorithms for Quantum Computers
If and when a quantum computer gets developed, the market could build algorithms resistant to quantum computers. In fact, some cryptocurrencies today are designed specifically with quantum-resistance in mind. Quantum computers may be an issue for older cryptocurrencies, but it’s an issue that can be solved.
Risk: The Power Grid Collapses
If the power grid collapses, then bitcoin is dead. In an apocalypse-style scenario, bitcoin will not be a replacement for gold bars or cash. It’s an electronic form of cash. It only works with electricity.
Opportunity: We’ll Always Have Cold Storage and Paper Wallets
Bitcoin is useless without electricity. You need electricity to process transactions on the bitcoin network. However, we’ll always have paper wallets and other unique solutions. You don’t need electricity to store bitcoin long-term, but you’ll need electricity if you ever want to access that value.
Top 5 Bold Predictions for the Future of Cryptocurrencies
Wall Street Will Continue to Embrace Cryptocurrencies, But It Won’t Cause Prices to Skyrocket
Major Wall Street firms continue to embrace bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Eventually, these firms will offer cryptocurrencies to customers or open their own trading desks. Despite this development, however, it won’t cause prices to skyrocket across the market. As big-name investors continue to participate in the industry, it will cause markets to stabilize. Price manipulation will be reduced. There will be a small number of regulated crypto exchanges as opposed to hundreds of smaller, unregulated exchanges.
Bitcoin Won’t Be The Number One Cryptocurrency by Market Cap by the End of 2019
Bitcoin has been the world’s largest cryptocurrency since launch in 2009. It has never been surpassed at any point in its history. However, the dominance of bitcoin continues to decline. Eventually, bitcoin will be replaced as the world’s largest cryptocurrency by market cap. Ethereum and Bitcoin Cash are potential contenders, but a new cryptocurrency could emerge that topples Bitcoin completely.
Bitcoin Cash Will Eventually Be Worth More Than Bitcoin
Development on bitcoin (BTC) has stagnated over the past year. Developers are struggling to come up with a scaling solution. Transactions are piling up, transaction times are lengthening, and fees are rising. Today, BTC’s scaling solution is to implement an off-chain payment channel called the Lightning Network. It’s a complete (and deliberate) departure from the protocol mentioned in the original bitcoin whitepaper. Eventually, we believe that Bitcoin Cash – which has implemented efficient on-chain scaling based on the terms of bitcoin’s original whitepaper – will surpass bitcoin in value and market cap.
Bitcoin Will Never Rise Above $20,000
Bitcoin surged to an all-time high just under $20,000 in December 2017. Since then, bitcoin has plummeted as low as $6,500. While some experts claim bitcoin will be worth $50,000 or $100,000 within the next 2 to 5 years, we’re going to make a bolder prediction: bitcoin (BTC) will never rise above $20,000.
The Total Crypto Market Cap Will Surpass $1 Trillion By Mid-2019
The total market cap of the cryptocurrency industry sits at around $350 billion as of June 2018. The market cap climbed as high as $800 billion in January 2018. Since then, however, prices have plummeted and billions of dollars have been wiped from the market. Nevertheless, we believe crypto markets will rebound, surging to a value of $1 trillion by mid-2019.
Nobody knows what the future holds for cryptocurrencies. That’s what makes it so intriguing.
There’s a reasonable chance that bitcoin will eventually be worthless. There’s a possibility that nobody will recognize names like Litecoin, Ethereum, or Bitcoin Cash by the time 2050 rolls around.
There’s also a chance that bitcoin could be worth $1 million by 2025. There’s a chance that you could kick yourself for not buying bitcoin in June 2018 when bitcoin was only $7,000.
As with anything in life, we just don’t know what the future holds – and that’s what makes the crypto industry so exciting.