News drives attention, and attention drives understanding. While many people have flocked to cryptocurrencies purely in search of financial gain, there are a ton of people that are simply curious. Some peoples are sticking around and trying to understand what cryptos are all about. While more users increases Bitcoin’s network effect, more people forming in-depth understandings of cryptos also strengthen the active Bitcoin community.
Bitcoin is a digital currency, also known as a cryptocurrency, and is created or mined when people solve complex math puzzles online. These bitcoins are then stored in a digital wallet that exists on the cloud or the user’s computer. Because bitcoins are not housed in bank accounts, brokerage, or futures accounts, they are not insured by the FDIC or SIPC.
The first decentralized cryptocurrency, bitcoin, was created in 2009 by pseudonymous developer Satoshi Nakamoto. It used SHA-256, a cryptographic hash function, as its proof-of-work scheme. In April 2011, Namecoin was created as an attempt at forming a decentralized DNS, which would make internet censorship very difficult. Soon after, in October 2011, Litecoin was released. It was the first successful cryptocurrency to use scrypt as its hash function instead of SHA-256. Another notable cryptocurrency, Peercoin was the first to use a proof-of-work/proof-of-stake hybrid.
In Charles Stross' 2013 science fiction novel, Neptune's Brood, the universal interstellar payment system is known as "bitcoin" and operates using cryptography. Stross later blogged that the reference was intentional, saying "I wrote Neptune's Brood in 2011. Bitcoin was obscure back then, and I figured had just enough name recognition to be a useful term for an interstellar currency: it'd clue people in that it was a networked digital currency."
The simple answer is: just like physical currency exchanges. You're essentially buying one currency with another. The relative value of a nation's physical currency is a reflection of the country's economic and financial health, especially since we moved off of the gold standard. The U.S. dollar, for example, is worth more than that of the Mexican peso due to the discrepancies between the two countries' economies—therefore you can buy lots of pesos for very few dollars (the dollars being relatively more valuable).
Nakamoto is estimated to have mined one million bitcoins before disappearing in 2010, when he handed the network alert key and control of the code repository over to Gavin Andresen. Andresen later became lead developer at the Bitcoin Foundation. Andresen then sought to decentralize control. This left opportunity for controversy to develop over the future development path of bitcoin.