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The Future of Bitcoin
It's another one those “let's have a rational discussion about Bitcoin” posts. As something of a believer I am not interested in trashing Bitcoin, but it's clear that not everyone's vision of the future for Bitcoin is the same, so here is mine. First the negative. Bitcoin is terrible for in person transactions, and I suspect it always will be. What Bitcoin excels at is being “Internet Money”. No average Joe wants to wait 10 minutes for a confirmation whilst buying a cup of coffee. The main arguments against this are a mixture of “zero confirms is good enough” and “services on top of Bitcoin facilitating off chain transactions”. Merchants do care about small value losses, the CCTV cameras in most small convenience stores prove this, whilst the Satoshi client does not let you double spend easily with zero confirms, in terms of the protocol it is trivial. If Bitcoin adoption grows and zero confirms start to become common we should assume we will see alternate clients designed to make double spending as easy as possible. As for services facilitating off chain transactions, what is the difference from the consumers point of view between this and a Credit Card?, add in the fees for this off chain service and you are likely at the same cost as a CC payment. Bitcoin adds little value over cash or CC in the real world, fiat currencies for transacting locally are difficult to beat. The enthusiasm for Bitcoin is impressive, but Bitcoin's future does not lie in Subway, bars, coffee shops, etc. Bitcoin has also conclusively proved that not everybody is ready to be their own bank, here are some examples.
MtGox gaining new customers despite their banking problems being well publicised.
People complaining about the price rising after they sold coins, expecting the exchange to make up the difference (yes I have come across this on IRC and it didn't appear to be joke).
BFL pre order customers forcing refunds from PayPal, despite BFL having a poor reputation before they began accepting ASIC orders.
People losing coins because they don't understand how change addresses work.
People forgetting passwords to their wallets. *People losing coins due to insecure wallets, poor passwords, brain wallets, web wallets, etc.
The last point about security is important, I consider myself to be fairly technical but find the task of securing Bitcoins daunting. The most difficult scenario is where someone has a lot of coins but needs to spend some of them frequently. The community could really do with a dedicated guide about security listing the options and trade off's, the Bitcoin wiki page currently is a bit too focussed on the Satoshi client. Note that simply blaming the user isn't good enough, CC and cash offer a much better consumer experience (lost your credit card?, call your bank and get it cancelled and re-issued). Now the positive. I see lots of scenarios where Bitcoin is incredibly successful but the average Joe knows nearly nothing about it.
Buying things over the internet (duh), particularly internationally. Bitcoin gels very well with the increasingly globalised and smaller world that we live in.
Allowing unbanked people to participate in the global economy cheaply.
A stable and liquid reserve currency which could become a kind of meta currency. For example currently if you try to convert two disparate currencies through FOREX, say Singapore Dollar and South African Rand, the money will likely be converted into USD in between. Bitcoin could be well suited to this intermediate step.
B2B transactions, Bitcoin is great way for companies to settle with each other.
Savings, Bitcoin is a great way to diversify, whilst nothing is guaranteed in life, Bitcoin being widely adopted means it is likely to hold it's value.
The last point is also important, one common theme I see in the Bitcoin community is that of banks hating Bitcoin. For investment banks in particular this is likely to false, they currently trade and speculate on a large number of commodities every day and would welcome a global instrument like Bitcoin. Retail banks don't have much to fear either, as previously mentioned even Bitcoiners love to be able to reverse payments in some circumstances (BFL pre orders). I suspect the reason the banks are not all over Bitcoin yet, is due to a combination of regulatory worries and inertia. Banks have become risk averse since the 2008 financial collapse and it would be disingenuous to suggest that Bitcoin is without risk. One final point about inflation versus deflation, roughly speaking most western countries were on the gold standard for about a 100 years, and we have been off it for nearly as long. What is often ignored by newcomers to Bitcoin (but I have seen raised in the community) is that a monetary system is not independent of the world it exists in. The last hundred years have seen a huge increase in the planets population and this will inevitably bring with it resource scarcity. There may be a perfect one size fits all monetary policy, I doubt Bitcoin will be it, but Bitcoin may be exactly what the world needs to get the world through leaner times. So to summarise, I find it hard to envision Bitcoin replacing fiat completely, if Bitcoin is really successful fiat could be commonly measured against Bitcoin.
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