In 2008, a mysterious figure named Satoshi Nakamoto uploaded a PDF to the internet outlining a digital framework for spending money without centralized banks. He sent the paper to a cryptography mailing list, and thus bitcoin—and the blockchain—were born.

Ten years later, an entire cryptocurrency industry valued at $300 billion has bloomed from those nine pages. To many in the cryptography world, this was unexpected.

“When we heard about bitcoin for the first time, many of us cryptographers—myself included—did not think it was going to work,” says computer scientist Alejandro Hevia of the University of Chile. Nakamoto didn’t include detailed analysis on the bitcoin architecture, as is customary in peer-reviewed computer science papers.

And he hadn’t publicized his ideas via the customary channels: not at crypto conferences or on arXiv, the loosely-moderated site where computer scientists upload their newest ideas in advance of peer review. “It set the stage for people afterward—that it’s OK to write stuff on your own, put it on your website, and let the world see it,” says computer scientist Emin Gün Sirer of Cornell University.

Some 1,600 cryptocurrencies exist today, each of their releases accompanied by a paper explaining the need for its existence. Their inventors write these so-called white papers to communicate how their cryptocurrency is better than the last—and to attract investors. Read more from…

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