Inside Bitcoins: The shape of the bitcoin ecosystem
Wednesday 11 December 2013
Bitcoin has come a long way since the days of being known as a strange, scary, crypto-currency, solely the domain of hackers or technology nerds. It is no more evident than at a conference such as Inside Bitcoins in Las Vegas where teenagers selling honey for bitcoins are rubbing shoulders with high profile entrepreneurs, CEOs of tech startups and those just wanting to know a little more about digital currency.
It is the latter, which among many other signs, proves bitcoin is moving beyond the boundaries of the shadowy currency for 'geeks'. Among the crowd several attendees had no bitcoin business or no interest in investing in such a business. They were not Gen Y whizz kids, they did not even own any bitcoins... yet. They had simply heard about bitcoin and wanted to learn more. The word is getting out and for the most part, that word is positive.
Opportunity is the name of the game and ask anyone at the conference, there is plenty of that within bitcoin, from both a business perspective and within the protocol itself. Even expectations of the conference have been surpassed with attendance almost doubling from the original prediction of about 300.
One of the most well-attended talks was given by BTC China's Bobby Lee with his take on bitcoin in China. It generated huge interest following the recent surge in bitcoin buying in the country followed by last week's decision by the People's Bank of China to ban financial institutions from transacting in bitcoin. However, speaking to Lee fterwards, he told us there were still some encouraging signs to be taken from their statement since the legitimacy of bitcoin had been previously a "grey area."
"Essentially, bitcoin is now a legitimate virtual commodity under the eyes of the Communist government," Lee said. "People are allowed to buy and sell it but because it is not a currency, financial institutions are not allowed to touch it." He went on to compare it to gold, saying, "Gold is not a currency so restaurants and merchants are not allowed to take gold as payment but that doesn't stop gold from being valuable and it is the same thing with bitcoin."
The range of talks reflects very much the state of bitcoin and the community right now, from the philosophy to the economy, from opportunities for businesses to the future of bitcoin security and issues around trust and transparency.
Another high profile speaker included financial blogger and investor, Trace Mayer, who gave a political talk about bitcoin and the freedom of speech and bitcoin being our vote against the status quo. It was followed by a talk by Bees Brothers giving their story about bitcoin as a tool for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
A glance around the room at companies promoting their products and services also sheds light on the current state of the bitcoin ecosystem. PR, marketing and legal advice for a new bitcoin business is now arguably as valuable as mining gear from Butterfly Labs and companies offering all the above were present, as well as new exchanges moving into the space and tools and payment services for bitcoin merchants.
It is very much a dynamic and interesting environment in which to be a player. The mood is positive, excitement is in the air and all eyes are on future.
By Louise Goss
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