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The original intention behind Bitcoin, the first cryptocurrency, was to create an electronic cash system people could use in daily transactions. You technically can buy and sell things with it, but Bitcoin’s price fluctuates quickly, which makes it a poor fit for spending instead of cash. You could spend $50 worth of Bitcoin on something today that ends up being worth $20 tomorrow. It’s also not widely accepted as a form of payment yet, so you’ll have very limited purchasing power.
While it’s not a great means for exchange, Bitcoin and Ethereum have shown investors they can be potentially valuable — if speculative — as investment assets. In other words, people purchase crypto in hopes of cashing out for a profit after it increases in value, just like more traditional investments. Bitcoin, for example, has already shown growth over time: just eight years ago, in late 2013, the price of 1 Bitcoin was around $200, and it now hovers around $30,000 (with plenty of ups and downs between).
Cryptocurrency creators can set certain parameters when they make a new crypto — such as how much there will be or rules around buying and selling — and those typically cannot be changed. But because cryptocurrencies are decentralized, control of day-to-day operations is distributed among users, and any changes require majority approval from these users — known as nodes.
Because cryptocurrency is so new and different from traditional forms of finance, the world is in unknown territory when it comes to regulation. There’s little existing legislation around the ownership and trade of digital currencies, although the U.S. government has expressed interest in establishing cryptocurrency regulation.