Bitcoin – the future of money?

I’ve been watching the progress of Bitcoin with increasing interest for a year or two now and I’m a bit surprised I haven’t written about it here before. I’m writing today because the number of mainstream use cases of Bitcoin seems to have been growing recently and this morning I got an email from the accelerator saying they were reserving five of 15 slots in their next programme for Bitcoin companies. (Disclosure: is affliated with the Draper family and invested in Bitcoin startup Coinlab last year.)

As this is my first post about Bitcoin I’m going to start with a definition. From Investopedia:

Definition of ‘Bitcoin’

A decentralized digital currency that enables low-cost payments without the need for central authorities and issuers. Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer (P2P) currency system created in open source C++ programming code. Bitcoins can be accessed from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Once a user has Bitcoins, they are stored in a digital wallet. Bitcoins can then be sent to anyone else who has a Bitcoin address. Bitcoin was developed in 2009 and based on the works of an individual or group of individuals known as Satoshi Nakamoto.

Bitcoin is a massively disruptive innovation. The key is in the first sentence of the definition above – Bitcoin bypasses central authorities and issuers – meaning it replaces governments as the issuers of money. If it becomes widely used it will undermine the power of many of the economic policy instruments governments use today, including setting interest rates and quantitative easing.
By now you are probably wondering how it works. The short answer is that the inventors of Bitcoin developed an algorithm which determines how many Bitcoins are in circulation and put in safeguards to prevent third parties abusing the system by creating fake Bitcoins – there is more detail on Wikipedia.
I’m excited by Bitcoin because it has the potential to massively reduce the cost of transacting. Two examples:
  • fees to buy stuff over the web can be much less than the 2-3% taken by credit cards, and
  • it removes the need for foreign currency exchange altogether.
I think that unnecessary bureaucracy in our financial institutions is a major driver of these costs and Bitcoin could cut them out.
Security has to be good, of course, and we still need to prevent money laundering (the cost of which is the other driver of the fees above), and Bitcoin isn’t there yet. It may never get there, large vested interests (e.g. the US government) will be threatened by Bitcoin and have already been working to shut the fledgling currency down, and there have been problems with hackers, and with currency bubbles, but momentum seems to be building, not faltering:

I’m not ready to predict that Bitcoin will cross the chasm, in fact I still think that is a long odds bet, but if the current momentum continues I’m starting to think that it might become a bet worth taking.

  • Francis Gosselin

    As per my twitter response, it is likely that bitcoins will remain in the dark as long as they remain static relative to established currencies. People don’t like to hold their assets in various different, small repositories; hence bitcoin ends to assure movement to and from national currencies is made easier.
    The day when I can pay my coffee at my local coffee-shop using a portable, mobile wallet or “club card” is when this is going to lift off. For now, its just as disruptive as any idea without real bearing on reality.

    One thing I’d be interested knowing about > how is the supply of money managed? Who plays the role of “central bank” here? How is inflation kept under control?


  • LIAD

    + irreversible transactions = no chargebacks.

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  • brisbourne

    A couple of coffee shops in San Francisco already take Bitcoin. Adoption might come via people using Bitcoin for remittances or some other purpose to start with, and then expanding to everyday use.

  • brisbourne

    That is an issue.

  • LIAD

    Not an issue. A huge positive for merchants. Single biggest benefit over PayPal.

  • brisbourne

    Isn’t it an issue for ecommerce consumers who need to know they can get their money back if goods aren’t delivered?

  • Tudor Munteanu

    Inflation? The total number of BTC is limited and there is no central bank. It’s p2p.

  • Raf Weverbergh

    Seems like security might become an issue when that “security through obscurity” thing runs out:

  • Rait Ojasaar

    Here’s an interesting development that could fuel the take-up of bitcoin – a friend of mine has a software development company in Finland that offers to pay part of staff’s salary in virtual Bitcoin currency. It was recently covered by the TNW –

  • brisbourne

    Interesting. Thanks

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  • brisbourne

    There is an algorithm that controls the number of Bitcoins in circulation.