‎40 Surprising Facts about Bitcoin


“Bitcoin is a tool for freeing humanity from oligarchs and tyrants, dressed up as a get-rich-quick scheme,” as a well-known Bitcoiner famously stated.

This is a profound observation, which expresses both the incredible transformative potential of Bitcoin as well as its more obvious appeal to individual self-interest. While its technology is no doubt impressive, perhaps the real genius of Bitcoin is that it works with - rather than against - our flawed human nature, to achieve meaningful change in the world.

The truth is that there’s a whole lot more to Bitcoin than meets the eye, especially for those focused on the get-rich aspect.

Here’s a collection of facts about Bitcoin which may surprise, amuse, or even shock you... Hopefully, you’ll pick up some obscure facts which provide deeper insight into the fascinating world of Bitcoin.

 

1. The honey badger is Bitcoin’s unofficial animal mascot

Honey badgers are renowned for the toughness. The creatures are able to withstand terrible injuries, bee attacks, and bites from poisonous snakes, as described in a famous viral video (bad language warning). This resilient animal seemed like a good fit for Bitcoin, which has survived all kinds of attacks over the years.

The Bitcon honey badger

2. A bug led to the accidental creation of 184 billion BTC in 2010

Known as the value overflow incident, this bug led to the accidental creation of a huge number of coins in August of 2010 at block height 74638. Satoshi or another developer fixed the error within 5 hours of its occurrence by releasing a patched Bitcoin client (version 0.3.10) which ignored the excess coins. As a majority of miners and nodes accepted this new client, the error was “forked out” and erased from the blockchain.

3. The maximum number of bitcoins isn’t really 21 million

In fact, it’s 20,999,987.4769 or thereabouts. It’s expected that the last bitcoin amount will be mined sometime between the years 2128 and 2140. The number is lower than the frequently-cited figure due to Satoshi’s block reward mechanism, which doesn’t quite reach 21 million, but also due to mining errors which have negated the creation of new coins. It’s possible that future errors will reduce total supply even further.

4. A smaller unit than one satoshi is already in use

Bitcoin’s value may eventually rise so high that 1 satoshi becomes too valuable for the smallest possible transaction. In this scenario, Bitcoin’s code will likely be altered to add more decimal places, allowing for smaller units. This wouldn’t be inflationary though, as no new bitcoins would be created, existing ones would just be “sliced finer.”

On the Lightning Network layer however, milli-satoshis are already in use! One millisatoshi (abbreviated as “msat”) is worth one thousandth of a satoshi. In numbers, one msat looks like this: 0.000,000,000,001 BTC.

5. Carnivory, or eating mostly or only meat, has become a fad in the Bitcoin community

It’s unclear how this practice started but it was first reported by journalists in 2017. Several prominent Bitcoiners are involved and they occasionally hold “meatup” dinners which coincide with major Bitcoin conferences.

Bitcoiners like meat
Bitcoiners like their stake like their money; rare!

6. You can run Ethereum smart contracts on top of Bitcoin

Some of the more common smart contracts in Bitcoin include things like multisig and time-locked transactions. However, Bitcoin’s design deliberately prevents more complex, custom smart contracts for security reasons. The Rootstock project, which runs as a merge-mined sidechain to Bitcoin, allows for Ethereum-compatible smart contracts, like ICOs, to be executed via Bitcoin payment.

7. Bitcoin’s uptime is in the coveted “four nines” range

In other words, the network has been functional for 99.99% of the time since its creation over 9 years ago. This compares extremely well with standard centralized services, which are considered to be doing well if they hit four nines in a single month.

The downtime was due to the bug discussed in point 8. You can check the current uptime stats here

8. Bitcoin’s downtime resulted from the LevelDB bug, which caused a hardfork in 2013

The 0.8 version of the bitcoind client was upgraded to use a more efficient form of database (used for storing blockchain data on the user’s machine). Unfortunately, the new structure, LevelDB, wasn’t fully compatible with the old, BerkeleyDB. As a result, the network split between users running the new and old versions.

Thanks to developers and pool operators notifying big miners as to which version they should run, the “original” side of the fork soon accumulated more blocks than the other. It took about 6 hours for the split to resolve. 

9. Satoshi Nakomoto disappeared right after Gavin Andresen went to the CIA

Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?
 

Gavin Andresen was the former maintainer of the Bitcoin Core codebase. In June of 2012, Gavin went to the CIA’s headquarters to tell them about Bitcoin.

According to Gavin’s words on Bruce Wagner’s Bitcoin podcast, Satoshi’s disappearance may have been linked to the CIA meeting. Andresen said that he hadn’t received an email from Satoshi since informing him of the meeting with the CIA. 

In 2014, Gavin appeared before the Council on Foreign Relations to present similar information.   

10. Bitcoin was used to circumvent the WikiLeaks banking blockade, to Satoshi’s displeasure

In mid-2011, under pressure from the Obama administration, major American banks and payment services imposed a financial ban on WikiLeaks. People looking to support the organization used Bitcoin to get around the ban, proving Bitcoin’s utility as censorship-resistant money.

However, Satoshi was concerned, fearing the hostile attention from powerful players which support for WikiLeaks would bring to the project. Satoshi disappeared from the project soon afterwards.

11. Julian Assange later thanked the blockade for forcing WikiLeaks to hold Bitcoin

In October 2017, Assange tweeted that the banking blockade led WikiLeaks to invest in Bitcoin, realizing a massive profit:

Julian Assange on Bitcoin Tweet

12. The earliest Bitcoin faucets dispensed 5 BTC per visitor

In June of 2010, Gavin Andresen created the first Bitcoin faucet to distribute 5 free bitcoins per day to anyone who wanted them. At the time, BTC was worth very little and the faucet was funded with well over 1,000 BTC. Based on the current price, it’s amazing to think how much value was given away for free.

13. There are hundreds of Bitcoin Core developers

Bitcoin Core is the main reference client for Bitcoin. Many other wallets exist but Core is the standard for maintaining compatibility between them. According to the Bitcoin Core site, there are at least 366 talented coders who’ve freely contributed to the development of Core.

14. Bitcoin is only used about 10% for crime according to the DEA

Although there’s still a lingering misperception that Bitcoin is used primarily for illicit transactions on darknet markets, this myth was recently dispelled by a special agent from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

According to the Cyber Investigative Task Force, an inter-agency collaboration involving the DEA, FBI, and ATF, 90% or more of Bitcoin volume is entirely unrelated to drug purchases. The peak of Bitcoin’s usage for darknet trades occurred between 2011 and 2012.

15. The FBI agents involved in the Silk Road darknet investigation were themselves criminals

Silk Road was the famous darknet drug market which allowed people to trade narcotics for Bitcoin. Two former Secret Service agents were assigned to shutting down Silk Road. However, after the site was taken down in October 2013, these two agents were themselves imprisoned. Charges of extortion, money laundering and obstruction of justice were brought against the agents for their misconduct during the Silk Road investigation. 

16. There are fewer bitcoins than millionaires in the world

According to a 2017 report by Credit Suisse, there are 36 million Dollar millionaires in the world. As there are only around 17 million bitcoins in existence out of a future total of just under 21 million, this means there aren’t enough bitcoins for every millionaire to own one.

Those who own 1 BTC are said to be part of the “21 million club,” whereas those who own 21 BTC are said to be part of the “one in a million club.”

17. There are around 70 forks of Bitcoin

At least 70 altcoins have forked off from Bitcoin. The most well-known are Bitcoin Cash (BCH) and Bitcoin Gold (BTG). Like the ICO craze, the forkcoin craze has largely died down, as new forks achieved diminishing returns.

There is even a Bitcoin fork coin generator, known as Forkgen, which allows anyone to create their own fork in a largely automated fashion. The service charges 0.017 to generate a new forkcoin.

18. Bitcoin mining consumes about as much energy as a mid-size country

Bitcoin’s current energy usage is estimated at 73 Terawatt-hours (TWh). This is a little more than the consumption of the nation of Chile, which has a population of about 18 million.

It should be kept in mind that Bitcoin mining is only economical if it uses cheap power as an input. Such power tends to be renewable, such as hydro and geothermal. Assuming Bitcoin scales via additional layers, such as the Lightning Network which doesn’t impose additional energy costs, Bitcoin may eventually become a more efficient use of resources than the traditional monetary system.

19. The economist Milton Friedman predicted Bitcoin

Renowned American economist and Nobel Laureate, Milton Friedman, predicted a system very much like Bitcoin in 1999. In this recorded statement, Friedman lays out his vision for a future, internet-based “e-cash” beyond the control of the state.

20. The average Bitcoiner is a male European or American between 25 to 34 years of age

While these survey stats, collected between 2013 and 2015, are somewhat dated, they nevertheless paint an interesting picture. The stats seem consistent with the type of people one is most frequently encounters on Bitcoin social media or at real-world events.

Who uses Bitcoin?

(Taken from https://holytransaction.com/page/who-uses-bitcoin)

21. The politics of Bitcoiners is probably somewhat right-leaning

According to a study conducted by a crypto news site in mid-2018, the majority of the 1,200 cryptocurrency users polled identify as liberal. However, different coin communities have different attitudes.

55% of Bitcoiners identified as right of the political center, which is not surprising given that libertarians and crypto-anarchists were early adopters of Bitcoin. There is also a clearly established trend within Bitcoin against centralized “big government” solutions. The stats were reversed for Ethereum users, who reportedly display a 55% leftwards skew.

22. The first recorded Bitcoin transaction was a pizza purchase

Back in 2010, 100,000 bitcoins were traded for two Papa John’s pizzas, worth about $25. A coder named Laszlo Hanyecz in America arranged the trade with a British user, “jercos,” in the BitcoinTalk forum. The Brit arranged a transatlantic payment to the pizzeria, which delivered the pizza to Laszlo. This early trade is commemorated on the date it took place, the 22nd of May, by Bitcoiners around the world.

23. A second Bitcoin Pizza Day occurred in February of 2018

Laszlo made Bitcoin history for a second time when he bought pizza via Bitcoin’s Lightning Network. LN is still new technology with some rough edges, but back in February it was still considered “reckless” to use with real BTC.

24. Although the blockchain is constantly growing, optimizations have improved Bitcoin Core’s initial sync time

The Initial Blockchain Download (IBD) is the time it takes for a newly-installed full wallet to download and check the complete blockchain. It’s rather amazing that Bitcoin Core’s IBD has become faster with new versions of the software, despite the blockchain growing by hundreds of megabytes per day. The speed improvement is a result of numerous optimizations which the developers have added over the years.

25. A Bitcoin (BTC) developer saved Bitcoin Cash (BCH) from a chain split

Cory Fields has been involved in Bitcoin Core development since 2013. In April of 2018, he privately altered the Bitcoin Cash developers to a potentially fatal flaw in their code. If exploited, the bug could have led to the BCH network splitting. When offered a $100,000 bug bounty reward, Fields requested that it be donated to charity.

26. Bitcoin’s Lightning Network can handle millions of transactions per second

Transaction throughput, often expressed as transactions per second or TPS, sets something of an upper limit on the adoption of a cryptocurrency. Whereas credit cards systems like VISA can process around 45,000 TPS, Bitcoin’s blockchain design limits it to double digit TPS. While some altcoins achieve significantly higher TPS, this invariably comes at the cost of decentralization.

Bitcoin solves this issue through the Lightning Network; an optional transaction layer on top of the blockchain. LN retains the full security and decentralized properties of the blockchain, while expanding TPS into the millions or even billions.

27. Some Venezuelans are Surviving Economic Collapse by Mining Bitcoin

Venezuela’s seizure of private property has led to economic failure, resource scarcity, and monetary hyperinflation. One way Venezuelans are coping is to mine Bitcoin with their cheap, subsidized power. These subsidies make electricity prices in the country the cheapest in the world. People with access to mining equipment are using it to earn enough to survive.

The government does not look kindly on the practice however, and is attempting to end it. However, there are credible reports that government officials are using expropriated ASIC miners to enrich themselves through mining Bitcoin.

28. Former Bitcoin Core developer, Mike Hearn, “ragequit” in 2016 while damning Bitcoin as “a failed experiment”

Mike Hearn grew despondent regarding Bitcoin’s development. Mike had long disagreed with other developers over Bitcoin’s proposed scaling path. In January of 2014, Mike wrote a lengthy, pessimistic article, in which he announced his decision to quit. BitTorrent creator, Bram Cohen, famously described Mike’s decision as a “whiny ragequit.” 

29. Satoshi Nakomoto did not foresee mining pools or ASIC hardware 

When Satoshi designed Bitcoin, ASIC miners didn’t exist. He envisioned that Bitcoin would be mined on user’s CPUs. However, GPUs were soon discovered to be far more efficient and specialized FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) and eventually ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) were soon developed. Fortunately, Satoshi’s Difficulty mechanism kept the system in balance.

Another thing which Satoshi didn’t expect was the emergence of mining pools. Instead of users mining individually, as per Satoshi’s “one CPU, one vote” design methodology, pools allow users to combine their hashrate. Greater combined hashrate increases the odds of solving blocks more frequently, with the rewards shared among pool members in proportion to their hashrate.

30. In 2014, the GHash.io (GigaHash) pool achieved 51% of total hashrate

Any miner or pool with a majority of hashrate is in a position to attack the network through various means, such as censoring or double-spending transactions. This is known as a 51% attack and is one of Bitcoin’s known vulnerabilities.

Ghash.io

In mid-2014, the GHash pool exceeded this hashrate threshold. Although GHash promised not to act maliciously, its dominance caused a great deal of unease among Bitcoiners, who live by the motto of “don’t trust, verify.” Many pool members subsequently abandoned GHash as the pool suffered a major DDoS attack. GHash is no longer a significant player.

32. Bitcoin’s blockchain is beamed to the whole world via satellites

One potential attack on Bitcoin would be to shut down the internet, or take some action to the transmission of Bitcoin data over the internet. This attack has been neutralized by the Blockstream Satellite project, which beams blockchain data to Earth.

Blockstream Satellites
Areas currently without coverage are shaded in white.

The satellites cover 4 regions; North and South America, Africa, and Europe. Phase 2 will see coverage expand to cover the entire globe. A satellite dish is required to receive the transmission and some other method, such as radio, is necessary to broadcast transactions to the network.

33. Candidate for Satoshi 1: Hal Finney

Hal Finney, one of the original cypherpunks, was the first person besides Satoshi to run a Bitcoin wallet, mine, and receive bitcoins over the network. Sadly, Hal passed away in 2014. He was involved in improving Bitcoin’s code to the last. His final address to the Bitcoin community is well worth a read.

People speculate that Hal may have been Satoshi due to his early involvement, as well as his coding and cryptographic skills.

34. Candidate for Satoshi 2: Nick Szabo

Another early cypherpunk, Nick Szabo created a decentralized monetary system in 1998 known as Bit Gold. This system is considered a precursor to Bitcoin. Nick developed the concept of smart contracts, which are used by Bitcoin and other cryptos. He is knowledgeable across multiple fields, including computer science, cryptography, and law. His blog makes for fascinating reading.

People speculate that Szabo is Satoshi due to his Bit Gold project and interest in smart contracts. 

35. Candidate for Satoshi 3: Wei Dai

Wei Dai was another cypherpunk, who created an alternative monetary system known as b-money, which was similar in concept to Bitcoin. Wei Dai is a computer engineer who conducted cryptographic research for Microsoft and made several advancements in the field. 

People speculate that Wei Dai could be Satoshi, due to his b-money project and cryptographic skills, as well as his private nature.

35. Candidate for Satoshi 4: Adam Back

Another strong possibility for Satoshi Nakomoto is the cryptographer and cypherpunk, Adam Back. Adam currently runs the Bitcoin-based software company, Blockstream (mentioned in point 32). He was attributed in Satoshi’s white paper, as the inventor of the Hashcash system upon which Bitcoin’s Proof of Work mining is based.

People speculate that Adam Back may be Satoshi due to his leading role in Blockstream and invention of Hashcash.

Other candidates for Satoshi include Ian Grigg, Tim May, and many more…

36. It’s possible that Satoshi Nakomoto was a Group

Another tantalizing possibility is that some or all of the above-mentioned individuals collaborated to create Bitcoin under the pseudonym of Satoshi Nakomoto. Stylometric analysis has been used to compare the writing style of each person to the known writings of Satoshi, including the Bitcoin white paper, various emails, and forum posts. An interesting degree of similarity has been found…

37. Bitcoin private keys are integers between 1 and 1077

If you were able to make a trillion guesses per second, you’d have to guess for about 3.3 decillion (1033) years to find the private key to a particular Bitcoin address. Of course it’s always possible that scientific advances, such as quantum computing, could make it feasible to crack a Bitcoin address. In this case, Bitcoin would have to hard fork to quantum-resistant cryptography.

The following infographic helps to give an idea of the difficulty of brute-forcing a Bitcoin private key:

(Infographic source at: 

38. Bitcoin’s hashrate is currently at 61 exahash (EH/s)

Bitcoin Hash Rate

That’s 61 quintillion (1018) hashes per second. Expressed in plain numbers, Bitcoin’s total network hashrate is about 55,000,000,000,000,000,000 hashes per second.

There are roughly 7.5 quintillion grains of sand on the planet, so Bitcoin miners are performing over 7 times more calculations in each second than there are grains of sand. Hashrate shows no sign of decreasing either. You can check the latest hashrate estimate on BitcoinWisdom.

39. A Bitcoiner advertised Bitcoin during former Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s speech

The prankster held up a sign reading “Buy Bitcoin” as she was delivering her testimony before the House Financial Services panel in mid-2017. It was a funny moment as the event was being broadcast live. The Bitcoin community identified the sign-holder and sent him a donation of $10,000.

40. Since 2017, Bitcoin has had higher annual transaction values than PayPal

According to a cryptocurrency analyst, Bitcoin has surpassed the PayPal and Discover payment networks in terms of annual processed value. In 2017, Bitcoin processed roughly $1 trillion in value and is set to exceed that total in 2018. The next milestones in terms of transaction value are the major credit card processors, which process multi-trillion Dollar amounts.

Bitcoin annual value compared
Note that this chart is log scale.