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I can just about explain the concept of a standard blockchain and mining, in very simplified terms, to a family member. Things get slightly trickier when you introduce the idea of smart contracts and a distributed execution environment, such as that in Ethereum, but it's still along the same general lines.

The Tangle seems to be a departure from the above to the point where I wouldn't know where to start. Are there any analogies that I could use to make explanations simpler, while still keeping my explanation specific to IOTA, rather than just "blockchain"?

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I am terribly simplifying here, but you could perhaps think of it like this.

In Blockchain you have a single unique list of big blocks that all contain a certain number of transactions. Miners effectively ensure that this order remains enforced by contributing their computational power to maintain, store & validate these blocks of transactions. You as a user just send your transaction into the network and the miners pick them up, and then "archive" them into the list of blocks. For this service the miners take a small transaction fee from you every time you send a transaction.

In IOTA you do not have one single list of big block, nor do you have miners. One could think of this as having many (much smaller) simultaneous blockchains that sometimes cross over to each other. And since these mini blockchains are so much smaller they do not need to be maintained by miners (the users can do it themselves). To be more precise, they are maintained by exactly those users that are currently issuing transactions. This in turn also explains why IOTA doesn't have any transaction fees.

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    Also to explain it easier, you could use this awesome visualisation of the tangle someone posted on the IOTA slack: tangle.glumb.de – Benny Müller Dec 8 '17 at 13:35
  • This one is actually easier to understand, as the board is clear at the beginning tangle.blox.pm – Werner der Champ Dec 28 '17 at 19:18

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