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What Can You Buy with Bitcoin?

After an initial flurry of interest among merchants in accepting bitcoin in their retail or online stores, interest has largely died down as increasing bitcoin transaction fees and volatile price movements made it less attractive as a means of exchange

That doesn\\\\\\\'t mean that there are no outlets to spend your bitcoin, however, far from it. It\\\\\\\'s just that bitcoin volumes at these outlets has generally not met expectations, and by the time you read this, some may have discontinued that option.

At time of writing, however, you can still buy a wide range of goods and services with the cryptocurrency. Among the advantages of doing so are the ease of cross-border transactions, and anonymity (unless you want physical delivery, of course). By accepting bitcoin, merchants get access to a broader market, and don\\\\\\\'t have to worry so much about chargebacks (where the buyers cancels the payment after receiving the product).

If you want to use bitcoin to buy presents, the most obvious solution is gift cards, via Gyft or eGifter. The recipient will then be able to spend the gift card at one of a wide range of retailers.

You can pay for flights and hotels with bitcoin, through Expedia, CheapAir and Surf Air. If your ambitions are loftier, you can pay for space travel with some of your vast holdings, through Virgin Galactic.

Microsoft accepts bitcoin in its app stores, where you can download movies, games and app-based services.

Some musicians (Bjork, Imogen Heep) will let you download their music in exchange for cryptocurrency.

Need to furnish your house or buy a special present for someone? Overstock was one of the first big retailers to start accepting bitcoin, back in 2014, and its founder – Patrick Byrne – is still one of the technology\\\\\\\'s most active proponents.

Fancy some gold? Sharps Pixley, APMEX and JM Bullion will take bitcoin off your hands in exchange for bullion.

And if you\\\\\\\'re hungry and live in the US, PizzaforCoins will get a pizza delivered to your door (depending on where you live) in exchange for bitcoin.

If it\\\\\\\'s knowledge you\\\\\\\'re hungry for, several private and public universities as well as a couple of New York preschools accept bitcoin.

Some legal and accounting firms also accept payment for their services in the cryptocurrency.

Of course, you could always buy yourself some happiness by donating to one of the bitcoin-accepting charities or crowdfunding sites, such as BitHope, BitGive or Fidelity Charitable.

For a list of offline stores near you that accept bitcoin, check an aggregator such as SpendBitcoins or CoinMap.

(Note: specific businesses mentioned here are not the only options available, and should not be taken as a recommendation.)

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What is Ethereum?

Before you can understand ethereum, it helps to first understand the internet.

Today, our personal data, passwords and financial information are all largely stored on other people\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s computers – in clouds and servers owned by companies like Amazon, Facebook or Google. Even this CoinDesk article is stored on a server controlled by a company that charges to hold this data should it be called upon.

This setup has a number of conveniences, as these companies deploy teams of specialists to help store and secure this data, and remove the costs that come with hosting and uptime.

But with this convenience, there is also vulnerability. As we\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'ve learned, a hacker or a government can gain unwelcome access to your files without your knowledge, by influencing or attacking a third-party service – meaning they can steal, leak or change important information.

Brian Behlendorf, creator of the Apache Web Server, has gone so far as to label this centralized design the \"original sin\" of the Internet. Some like Behlendorf argue the Internet was always meant to be decentralized, and a splintered movement has sprung up around using new tools, including blockchain technology, to help achieve this goal.

Ethereum is one of the newest technologies to join this movement.

While bitcoin aims to disrupt PayPal and online banking, ethereum has the goal of using a blockchain to replace internet third parties — those that store data, transfer mortgages and keep track of complex financial instruments.

The \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'World Computer\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'

In short, ethereum wants to be a \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'World Computer\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\' that would decentralize – and some would argue, democratize – the existing client-server model.

With ethereum, servers and clouds are replaced by thousands of so-called \"nodes\" run by volunteers from across the globe (thus forming a \"world computer\").

The vision is that ethereum would enable this same functionality to people anywhere around the world, enabling them to compete to offer services on top of this infrastructure.

Scrolling through a typical app store, for example, you\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'ll see a variety of colorful squares representing everything from banking to fitness to messaging apps. These apps rely on the company (or another third-party service) to store your credit card information, purchasing history and other personal data – somewhere, generally in servers controlled by third-parties.

Your choice of apps is of course also governed by third parties, as Apple and Google maintain and curate (or in some cases, censor) the specific apps you\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'re able to download.

Take the example of an online document service like Evernote or Google Docs.

Ethereum, if all goes according to plan, would return control of the data in these types of services to its owner and the creative rights to its author.

The idea is that one entity will no longer have control over your notes and that no one could suddenly ban the app itself, temporarily taking all of your notebooks offline. Only the user can make changes, not any other entity.

In theory, it combines the control that people had over their information in the past with the easy-to-access information that we\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'re used to in the digital age. Each time you save edits, or add or delete notes, every node on the network makes the change.



It\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s worth noting that the idea has been met with skepticism.

Although the apps appear to be possible, it\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s unclear which blockchain applications will actually prove useful, secure, or scalable, and if they will ever be as convenient to use as the apps we use today.

Authored by Alyssa Hertig; Images by Maria Kuznetsov

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