"Bitcoin is the future" at Sydney's Bitcoin Barcamp

Tuesday 18 March 2014

In the wake of the Mt Gox exchange losing around half a billion US dollars worth of customer assets, it is not surprising that trust in Bitcoin has slipped some what and its price dip and failure to climb back up above $700 is further ammunition for the naysayers.

However, that was not the impression from any of the attendees at Sydney's Bitcoin Barcamp at the weekend. There was an overriding atmosphere of positivity during the day of information, networking and pitching of ideas. That said, it is no surprise that several of the seminars, talks and workshops centred on the theme of safety and security, along with a look at some of the new innovations such as the Ethereum Project and talks on regulation and compliance.

The pop-up 'un-conference' is an idea, which originated in the Silicon Valley. It gives anyone the opportunity to stand up and speak, ask questions and engage with everyone congregated on the day and that included everyone from technologists, economists, entrepreneurs, policy makers, security experts and bankers to hackers, libertarians, startups, and the bit-curious.

Sydney Bitcoin Barcamp

There was no set agenda; it was a case of throwing your hat in the ring and delivering a talk or merely sparking up a debate. No expertise, just passion required. In the case of the Bitcoin Barcamp, that was evident from the outset and with more than 130 tickets sold prior to the event and even more people coming through the doors on the day, the enthusiasm was palpable.

The Bitcoin Association of Australia, which has just officially affiliated with the Bitcoin Foundation, were present to help with their mission of “protection, promotion and development of Bitcoin.” President, Jason Williams, told BitScan, growing their membership will help them “to actively educate people and actively market Bitcoin and bring it the fore and take it mainstream.”

Unlike the UK recently, The Australian Tax Office has not officially declared its stance on bitcoin but according to its public rulings,  it is seeking to clarify its position on bitcoin and income tax. It previously told BitScan that “Paying for goods and services with new types of payment tokens still means that the seller may need to account for GST or include the income in their business tax return. The buyer may also need to keep records of the value of the purchase if it represents a business expense or if the purchase is an asset which may be subject to a capital gain or loss.”

The Bitcoin Association of Australia say they will be working closely with government members in helping to educate policy-makers so that informed decisions can be made around the regulation of bitcoin. The founders of Australia’s leading bitcoin platform, CoinJar, which allows people to buy, sell and store bitcoins with their wallet solutions, gave $20 to people wanting to try bitcoin and set up their wallet. 

CEO, Asher Tan, believes there has never been a better time to be part of the bitcoin community in Australia. “Uptake has been phenomenal,” he said, referring to the fact they now have over 20,000 users. “Someone told me early last year that Melbourne would be the Bitcoin capital of the world and I sort of laughed it off but seeing the growth not only in Melbourne but in Sydney too, it is really promising.”

CoinJar’s co-founder, Ryan Zhou told us, “The penetration rate of Australians in the Bitcoin market is quite high compared to other countries. It is comparable to Germany and the Netherlands.”

Tan mentions the community approach of bitcoiners in Australia as being fundamental to their growth and this point was echoed by others at the event and was certainly apparent from the interaction and support shown to those who spoke and pitched their business ideas.

The event culminated with a typical Aussie tradition of a few beers, bought, of course, with bitcoins. The Old Fitzroy in Wolloomoolloo, Sydney, was Australia’s first pub to accept the digital currency and did a roaring trade on the evening. “People want to be able to spend their bitcoins,” said one attendee and comments and feedback from the seminars seemed to suggest that people regard growing bitcoin commerce as a key to the success of the economy.

BitPos, the Sydney-based startup, which provides point of sale technology for bitcoin-accepting merchants has already signed up a “few dozen customers”. BitScan’s own directory now contains over 6,000 verified businesses and CoinJar are also going down the road of offering merchant services.

If the pop-up conference was a snapshot of the bitcoin scene within Australia, then it is not only thriving but also fostering a community of innovators and forward-thinking entrepreneurs that will make Australia one of the places to watch in the future success of crypto-currency.


Louise Goss

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