Should Google Launch Its Own Currency?
The short answer to the question is: probably not.
Phil Pearlman, executive director of StockTwits and a partner at Social Leverage, wrote a blog post in April speculating on the meteoric rise of Bitcoin, a virtual currency, and “the small group of geniuses” at Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) that must be paying close attention to it. While there’s little doubt that Bitcoin has registered on Google’s radar in some way, shape, or form, it seems unlikely — although certainly not outside the realm of possibility — that the company would take the mantle of currency stewardship upon itself.
Bitcoin’s core value proposition is that, like gold, it is decentralized. There is no one central bank, nation, or organization that controls it. Its price is not pegged to anything except supply, demand, and the forces of the market. Bitcoin supply is mined out of the digital ether in a way that is roughly analogous to the way in which gold is mined from the earth. A small amount of currency is created through a process, unsurprisingly, called mining, and it is created at a regular and known speed.
Decentralizing this mining process and opening up currency creation to anybody who cares to enter the Bitcoin ecosystem has been a key part in the coin’s success.
At a pretty fundamental level, corporate stewardship would undermine what has made Bitcoin successful to date. Besides decentralization, the currency has a few properties that make it interesting to traders, investors, and marketplaces. One is a modicum of anonymity. Actors in the Bitcoin ecosystem are identified by what amounts to an alias, and precautions can be taken to make it difficult to determine the real-world identity behind that alias. This has some obvious pros and cons, and has popularized Bitcoin in online black markets like Silk Road.
Another benefit is that users do not need a bank account to use it. This opens the currency up to participants around the world who may have access to the Internet but may not have access to a formal — or trustworthy — financial sector. What’s more, as many as eight percent of American households don’t have a checking or savings account. For these people, Bitcoin offers a way to digitally move money around the world without having to rely on a financial institution.
Over the past four years, Bitcoin has emerged from obscurity to pique the interest of popular websites like Reddit and WordPress, which accept the currency. A small, nebulous array of retailers and businesses accept Bitcoin as payment as well, but volatility and general dubiousness about the currency has kept it out of mainstream use so far.
(Click for larger image.)
In case you’re curious about the growth of Bitcoin so far, here are some interesting graphs. Number of transactions per day:
Number of unique Bitcoin addresses used: