Bitcoin: Open source money whose time has come

The recent bubble -- and reports of criminal activity -- may have scared off onlookers, but there's little question bitcoin has arrived

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There are plenty of pro and con voices about bitcoin, but the sheer energy levels surrounding it show it can't be ignored. While it's easy to find naysayers who think bBitcoin is a mere sideshow -- an article in the Washington Post says as much -- there are others who are bullish, in a ratio of 2:1 according to an article in USA Today. National-level coverage like this speaks for itself; this is a subject worthy of attention, a new phenomenon arising from the meshed society of peer-to-peer connections that's disrupting government and commerce globally.

The crash in value caused by news from China is especially interesting. It happened because many people in China saw in bitcoin a way to freely trade globally without being under the thumb of the Chinese central bank. Over the last month, people in China have driven the growth in value of the bitcoin from $250 to $1200 as they sought the ability to trade and speculate freely without their government's control. The statement by the central bank was initially read as an outright ban on bitcoin, leading to a sudden price crash. That coupled with further dumping when Chinese search provider Baidu also ended its flirtation with Bitcoin halved the dollar price almost overnight.

But over the last few days, the price has recovered as people have realized that the central bank statement actually tacitly permits use of bitcoins and merely seeks to avoid its destabilizing the Chinese domestic currency. One useful article explains:

With the People's Bank of China's announcement, the establishment of bitcoin as [another Special Economic Zone] -- the first ever that only exists in cyberspace -- has essentially become official.

Looking at all the news -- the national-level coverage, the serious VC investment in the sector, and especially the amount of money changing hands on the biggest Bitcoin exchanges -- it's clear the virtual currency phenomenon is hitting prime time. There are many alternatives being tried, with names like Litecoin, Ripple, Ven, Namecoin, and more. Each has experienced growth this month.

This makes sense. The Internet is creating a society where each of us can play the roles previously reserved for corporations and moguls, if we choose -- all without needing an intermediary. We can start businesses, trade goods, conduct relationships, publish, editorialize, and conduct politics, all without needing an intermediary to empower us -- a phenomenon I call "the meshed society." A currency we can use as we engage in those activities is a natural complement and vehicle. As the meshed society matures, our need for digital money is inevitable.

This article, "Bitcoin: Open source money whose time has come," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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