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Bitcoin, created in 2009, was the first decentralized cryptocurrency. Since then, numerous cryptocurrencies have been created. These are frequently called altcoins, as a blend of bitcoin alternative. Bitcoin and its derivatives use decentralized control as opposed to centralized electronic money/centralized banking systems. The decentralized control is related to the use of bitcoin's blockchain transaction database in the role of a distributed ledger.
The Bitcoin network, built to secure the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, has around 5,000 full nodes and is globally distributed. It is primarily used to trade Bitcoin and exchange value, but the community saw the potential of doing a lot more with the network. Because of its size and time-tested security, it is also being used to secure other smaller blockchains and blockchain applications.
The Ethereum network is a second evolution of the blockchain concept. It takes the traditional blockchain structure and adds a programming language that is built inside of it. Like Bitcoin, it has over 5,000 full nodes and is globally distributed. Ethereum is primarily used to trade Ether, make smart contracts, and create decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). It is also being used to secure blockchain applications and smaller blockchains. The Institute for Applied Sensibility is initially focusing its research efforts on the Ethereum network and its smart contract feature.
Here is a graphic representation of how a Bitcoin transaction works from an article at cryptocoinsnews.com (click to enlarge)
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