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Author Topic: Is a bitcoin address really an address?  (Read 1477 times)
odolvlobo
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April 22, 2013, 04:44:08 PM
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I would like to address a problem of terminology. Because of the what people associate with the word "address", they misunderstand what a "bitcoin address" is, and that leads to problems.

We have all seen posts saying things such as:

Quote
the address of my wallet is 1xxx...
Quote
my account is 1xxx...

and especially too many of the panic posts:

Quote
I've been hacked! I sent X BTC to my address 1xxx..., and now it is all gone!

I believe much of the misunderstanding is due to the term "address". People think of an address as a location, and by extension, as a place to store something. Unfortunately, that is not really how bitcoin addresses work because bitcoin addresses are meant to be temporary.

I'm a nerd, so I am completely comfortable with the terminology, but I see that it confuses the public. My question is how can we eliminate this confusion? Is there a term that is more accurate than "bitcoin address" that can be used instead?

On the other hand, perhaps this is just a problem caused by the bitcoin-qt client. Perhaps the solution is simply to steer newbies away from that client and toward more user-friendly clients.

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Craynon
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April 22, 2013, 04:48:07 PM
 #2

I've explained the concept of Bitcoins to multiple non-nerdy friends who have accepted the idea of different addresses. I think that this is the best way to explain it to a layman.

I do agree that Bitcoin-QT is not the best choice for low-value accounts for new Bitcoiners.

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April 22, 2013, 05:22:51 PM
 #3

I'm a geek and I almost gave up my initial interest in bitcoins a few months a go when "getting started" with Bitcoin-QT. I used it because it was the "official client" or so I must have read.

I didn't mind the two days "synchronisation" to start but then it just refused to work, "database corrupted" error or something on my Mac. I still have no idea whether I lost bitcoins.

If there is one thing the bitcoin community should do for newbies, its keep people away from Bitcoin-QT and towards more friendly solutions.

I use electrum and found it to be excellent. I'm sure there are other good solutions for newbies. Bitcoin-QT isn't one of them.

A bitcoin address might not really be an address, but its a term normal people can easily get a handle on, and feel comfortable with. You don't want to start talking hashes, public keys and private keys with your granny, or even a bloke down the pub. Not unless you enjoy blank stares anyway  Wink



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April 22, 2013, 05:26:01 PM
 #4

Your "wallet" is "you", and your "addresses" are "one-time payment codes" to pay "you".  These one-time payment codes could be reused to go to the same person, but it's really bad practice unless they explicitly request it

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April 23, 2013, 02:42:38 AM
 #5

I do agree that Bitcoin-QT is not the best choice for low-value accounts for new Bitcoiners.
I don't think Bitcoin-Qt is the best choice for any use case.

If you have enough bitcoins to be worried about having them stolen you need an offline wallet, which -Qt doesn't do.

If you don't have enough to be worried about theft, then why not go for an online wallet like Blockchain.info that is superior in terms of ease of use?
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April 23, 2013, 02:50:34 AM
 #6

Your "wallet" is "you", and your "addresses" are "one-time payment codes" to pay "you".  These one-time payment codes could be reused to go to the same person, but it's really bad practice unless they explicitly request it
I wouldn't call them codes, it confuses things  even more. And why would it be not recommended to re-use addresses, except for privacy reasons?

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April 23, 2013, 02:53:02 AM
 #7

call them PUIDs, Personal Unique IDentifiers.
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April 23, 2013, 03:28:15 AM
 #8

Your "wallet" is "you", and your "addresses" are "one-time payment codes" to pay "you".  These one-time payment codes could be reused to go to the same person, but it's really bad practice unless they explicitly request it
I wouldn't call them codes, it confuses things  even more. And why would it be not recommended to re-use addresses, except for privacy reasons?

I think it's confusing only because the original "address" terminology has been so widely used.  But to someone who is completely new-to-bitcoin, that that string of 33 letters is a "code" that lets you send money to that person/wallet.  There are millions of addresses in your wallet, but they all go to the same place:  they all go to one person/wallet.   It should be that your wallet is really your "identity" and addresses are temporary payment codes that the network understands to route the Bitcoins to your wallet.

And not re-using addresses is more of a best-practices thing.  For privacy reasons, and [super-]long-term security reasons (super-long = decades).  A lot of people don't realize the privacy implications of constantly reusing addresses and irrationally decide that it's best to re-use them.  Making them "one-time payment codes" furthers the notion that they should not be re-used unless you have an explicit reason to.  Yes, there are reasonable reasons for doing so, but it should not be the default.

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odolvlobo
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April 23, 2013, 05:10:21 PM
 #9

Your "wallet" is "you", and your "addresses" are "one-time payment codes" to pay "you".  These one-time payment codes could be reused to go to the same person, but it's really bad practice unless they explicitly request it
I wouldn't call them codes, it confuses things  even more. And why would it be not recommended to re-use addresses, except for privacy reasons?

I think it's confusing only because the original "address" terminology has been so widely used.  But to someone who is completely new-to-bitcoin, that that string of 33 letters is a "code" that lets you send money to that person/wallet.  There are millions of addresses in your wallet, but they all go to the same place:  they all go to one person/wallet.   It should be that your wallet is really your "identity" and addresses are temporary payment codes that the network understands to route the Bitcoins to your wallet.

I also like the term "payment code". Maybe "payment address" would be better. I think "payment" is a much more accurate description of the function of the address.

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odolvlobo
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April 23, 2013, 05:13:39 PM
 #10

This text at blockchain.info is a source of confusion:

Quote
Bitcoin Address: Addresses are identifiers which you use to send bitcoins to another person.


It would be better if it said:


Bitcoin Address: Addresses are identifiers which you use to receive bitcoins from another person.

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dserrano5
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April 23, 2013, 06:24:01 PM
 #11

This text at blockchain.info is a source of confusion:

Quote
Bitcoin Address: Addresses are identifiers which you use to send bitcoins to another person.


It would be better if it said:


Bitcoin Address: Addresses are identifiers which you use to receive bitcoins from another person.

They are both, depending on who the address belongs to. A bitcoinstore address is an identifier I use to send coins to; an address of mine is an identifier I use to receive coins.

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April 23, 2013, 06:38:13 PM
 #12

I like "one-time payment codes". In retrospect, we should have used that. The UI that came forth out of the "address" idea encourages address reuse and gives people the wrong idea that address=person.

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April 23, 2013, 06:40:29 PM
 #13

Alternatively, I kind of like "Bitcoin routing numbers", which gives it the feel of a bank which people are already somewhat familiar with.  Or something like it.  It gives it the feel of "This code tells the network how to route the money to the person you're paying". 

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April 23, 2013, 07:36:13 PM
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Quote
I've been hacked! I sent X BTC to my address 1xxx..., and now it is all gone!

I believe much of the misunderstanding is due to the term "address". People think of an address as a location, and by extension, as a place to store something. Unfortunately, that is not really how bitcoin addresses work because bitcoin addresses are meant to be temporary.

Btc addresses *are* a place to store something. You send coins to an address, they stay there for all
eternity unless you do something. Problem is, Bitcoin-qt doesn't give you control over what you're doing,
and it has the tendency to hide addresses. In an attempt to not confuse the user, it causes panic.
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April 23, 2013, 07:42:45 PM
 #15

I would like to address a problem of terminology. Because of the what people associate with the word "address", they misunderstand what a "bitcoin address" is, and that leads to problems.


I believe much of the misunderstanding is due to the term "address". People think of an address as a location, and by extension, as a place to store something. Unfortunately, that is not really how bitcoin addresses work because bitcoin addresses are meant to be temporary.


It is well described by the term address, similar to sending mail to a physical address or sending email to an email address. Send bitcoins to a bitcoin address.

Once you actually use the system it makes perfect sense.

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April 23, 2013, 07:48:28 PM
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Quote
I've been hacked! I sent X BTC to my address 1xxx..., and now it is all gone!

I believe much of the misunderstanding is due to the term "address". People think of an address as a location, and by extension, as a place to store something. Unfortunately, that is not really how bitcoin addresses work because bitcoin addresses are meant to be temporary.

Btc addresses *are* a place to store something. You send coins to an address, they stay there for all
eternity unless you do something. Problem is, Bitcoin-qt doesn't give you control over what you're doing,
and it has the tendency to hide addresses. In an attempt to not confuse the user, it causes panic.

By the way, I get the exact opposite problem.  Armory is too transparent about this:  it shows all your change addresses, and if you double-click on a transaction it shows all outputs, including change.  I have had multiple people email me and say "Help me I've been hacked!  Armory sent all my coins to this mysterious address I didn't authorize!"  If they look closely, I identify that address is part of their wallet, but people still get uncomfortable.

I'd really like for change addresses to be transparent, but it's not always possible.  At least not if you're going to give the user lots of information about their transactions.

Founder and CEO of Armory Technologies, Inc.
Armory Bitcoin Wallet: Bringing cold storage to the average user!
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dserrano5
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April 23, 2013, 08:26:25 PM
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By the way, I get the exact opposite problem.  Armory is too transparent about this:  it shows all your change addresses, and if you double-click on a transaction it shows all outputs, including change.  I have had multiple people email me and say "Help me I've been hacked!  Armory sent all my coins to this mysterious address I didn't authorize!"

If Armory can keep track of what outputs are change, maybe it could flag them in some way and provide a "What's this" link to the help, or maybe a quick tooltip.

etotheipi
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April 23, 2013, 08:31:39 PM
 #18

By the way, I get the exact opposite problem.  Armory is too transparent about this:  it shows all your change addresses, and if you double-click on a transaction it shows all outputs, including change.  I have had multiple people email me and say "Help me I've been hacked!  Armory sent all my coins to this mysterious address I didn't authorize!"

If Armory can keep track of what outputs are change, maybe it could flag them in some way and provide a "What's this" link to the help, or maybe a quick tooltip.

I actually, already have those addresses marked in the address list as "[[ Change Received ]]" with an appropriate description in a tool tip.  And there's a little "(?)" helper above the output list when viewing a transaction that kind of explains it.  But that only helps the patient users.  A lot of people don't take the time to try to figure it out, and would rather write me a frantic email and have me explain it to them. 

Founder and CEO of Armory Technologies, Inc.
Armory Bitcoin Wallet: Bringing cold storage to the average user!
Only use Armory software signed by the Armory Offline Signing Key (0x98832223)

Please donate to the Armory project by clicking here!    (or donate directly via 1QBDLYTDFHHZAABYSKGKPWKLSXZWCCJQBX -- yes, it's a real address!)
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April 23, 2013, 09:35:39 PM
 #19

Ah, I see. I should shut up and actually try programs before I dare to comment on them Smiley.

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