An estimated 1,100 people gathered in Silicon Valley this month for the first large Bitcoin conference.
The event represents a shift for Bitcoin from enthusiast niche towards a technology holding recognisable significance for global commerce. Investor interest had already heightened in March when the US Treasury specified financial crime regulations applying to virtual currencies.
With the rise of mainstream interest, Bitcoins primary function is emerging as an efficient technology for moving payments and easing commerce across borders. It seems Bitcoins future may not provide the hoped for revolution and may not meet the ideals of anonymity and decentralisation which drove its early libertarian supporters.
Alternative payment network Liberty Reserve has been closed down by the US government due to the anonymity provided. The Washington Post suggests this news should worry Bitcoin users however the decentralised network could thwart any such attempts. The Post questions who the government would hold responsible for reforming the network. The elusive Satoshi Nakamoto? It seems unlikely that even the US government could legislate a pseudonym into compliance.
An advocate in the New Yorker foresees bumps in the road for the virtual currency but finds it hard to envision how it could be closed down completely. He likens the resilience of Bitcoin to that of P2P sharing of music and film, a practice that continues emphatically despite efforts from authorities.
Bitcoin may not provide the financial overhaul hoped for by early supporters but it has already served revolutionary purpose. It has drawn attention to the acute lack of trust international society now feels towards current banking structures. The phenomenon has found a broader set of people thinking seriously about the absurdity of the existing financial systems. This cryptocurrency has offered a tangible example of how to challenge accepted norms. Will this ripple out to other areas of stagnancy and provide a catalyst?
Image by Jurvetson, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing