ETC could be poised to survive for one major reason: Ethereum is moving towards a proof of stake system. Some people will undoubtedly want to use ETC over the new protocol because they prefer proof of work consensus. Coinbase also recently added ETC, which is a good sign this coin isn;t going anywhere soon. For these reasons, Ethereum Classic is a good investment.
Bitstamp are big in Europe and, since 2011, have moved from Slovenia, and the United Kingdom in search of sound regulatory environments. Good volumes are available for larger trades. Well received by people using SEPA and credit cards. Both euro and US dollar deposits are accepted. I like Bitstamp because they really focus on being a pure bitcoin-only exchange (update: since 2017 Bitstamp have started adding popular cryptocoins). Please read my Bitstamp critique for analysis of factors such as security, fees, and the history.
In cryptocurrency networks, mining is a validation of transactions. For this effort, successful miners obtain new cryptocurrency as a reward. The reward decreases transaction fees by creating a complementary incentive to contribute to the processing power of the network. The rate of generating hashes, which validate any transaction, has been increased by the use of specialized machines such as FPGAs and ASICs running complex hashing algorithms like SHA-256 and Scrypt. This arms race for cheaper-yet-efficient machines has been on since the day the first cryptocurrency, bitcoin, was introduced in 2009. With more people venturing into the world of virtual currency, generating hashes for this validation has become far more complex over the years, with miners having to invest large sums of money on employing multiple high performance ASICs. Thus the value of the currency obtained for finding a hash often does not justify the amount of money spent on setting up the machines, the cooling facilities to overcome the enormous amount of heat they produce, and the electricity required to run them.
If you had started mining Bitcoins back in 2009, you could have earned thousands of dollars by now. At the same time, there are plenty of ways you could have lost money, too. Bitcoins are not a good choice for beginning miners who work on a small scale. The current up-front investment and maintenance costs, not to mention the sheer mathematical difficulty of the process, just doesn't make it profitable for consumer-level hardware. Now, Bitcoin mining is reserved for large-scale operations only.
Finally, if you want low fees but still want to go the traditional exchange route, I’d recommend either Gemini, a New York-based site which offers some of the lowest fees around (but doesn’t operate in all states so check first to see if your state is catered for), or Kraken, which also charges low fees but can be a bit tricky for new users and the customer service isn’t all that great.
I won't delve too deeply into the history of Bitcoin or its hordes of both unique and flash-in-the-pan spinoffs, but I do want to point out that you can't actually mine Bitcoin with regular computers anymore. It requires specialized and expensive hardware called ASICs. However, you can mine other coins and convert them to Bitcoin through a variety of exchanges and services. You can also earn Bitcoin by "lending" your computer's processing power to services like NiceHash which pay out in Bitcoin. But that's another rabbit hole for another time!
In addition to lining the pockets of miners, mining serves a second and vital purpose: It is the only way to release new cryptocurrency into circulation. In other words, miners are basically "minting" currency. For example, as of the time of writing this piece, there were about 17 million Bitcoin in circulation. Aside from the coins minted via the genesis block (the very first block created by Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto himself), every single one of those Bitcoin came into being because of miners. In the absence of miners, Bitcoin would still exist and be usable, but there would never be any additional Bitcoin. There will come a time when Bitcoin mining ends; per the Bitcoin Protocol, the number of Bitcoin will be capped at 21 million. (Related reading: What Happens to Bitcoin After All 21 Million are Mined?)
Bitcoin is the first open-source, decentralized and currently most popular cryptocurrency. Bitcoin mining is done with specialized ASIC-Hardware utilizing the SHA-256 algorithm. You can mine Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash natively. You can also receive Litecoin, Dash, Zcash and other cryptocurrencies for your output using the AUTO-Mining Allocation feature in our Dashboard.
Mining rewards are paid to the miner who discovers a solution to the puzzle first, and the probability that a participant will be the one to discover the solution is equal to the portion of the total mining power on the network. Participants with a small percentage of the mining power stand a very small chance of discovering the next block on their own. For instance, a mining card that one could purchase for a couple thousand dollars would represent less than 0.001% of the network's mining power. With such a small chance at finding the next block, it could be a long time before that miner finds a block, and the difficulty going up makes things even worse. The miner may never recoup their investment. The answer to this problem is mining pools. Mining pools are operated by third parties and coordinate groups of miners. By working together in a pool and sharing the payouts amongst participants, miners can get a steady flow of bitcoin starting the day they activate their miner. Statistics on some of the mining pools can be seen on Blockchain.info.
The term altcoin has various similar definitions. Stephanie Yang of The Wall Street Journal defined altcoins as "alternative digital currencies," while Paul Vigna, also of The Wall Street Journal, described altcoins as alternative versions of bitcoin. Aaron Hankins of the MarketWatch refers to any cryptocurrencies other than bitcoin as altcoins.
For us non-miners, getting Bitcoin is now easier than it was a year ago. Now, one only needs to be in a right country to purchase and sell Bitcoins, where exchanges legally act as intermediaries for currency transactions — something that also protects your funds from being mismanaged by external and internal attacks. These exchanges instantly convert your Bitcoin into USD or other fiat currency, and based on the price fluctuations between these two, one can simultaneously sell and purchase their holdings and make good profits — a process we know as arbitrage (explained further below)
The job of miners in a cryptocurrency-network is to confirm transactions by solving the blockchains. The more transactions made, the bigger the blockchains and that is why miners need to upgrade their equipment every now and then. After solving a blockchain a miner is rewarded with a number of tokens or just a fraction, it depends on the value of the cryptocurrency that he is mining and the difficulty of the blockchain.
Bitcoin offers benefits to merchants as well, as transactions that involve the digital currency are secure and irreversible. Without the risk of fraud or fraudulent chargebacks, merchants can offer their products at a discount thereby generating more sales or pocket the difference themselves. In addition, with card processors out of the picture, merchants can save on the percentage cut taken by Visa / MasterCard.