What if currency wasn't something that exchanged hands physically, but moved instantaneously between networks, countries, and continents? What if it wasn't regulated by a government, system of banks, or any entity at all? And, what if it was completely open source?
This disruption of what we view as currency isn't just theory, it is already a $1.5 billion dollar movement. Leading the charge is Bitcoin. Launched in 2009, Bitcoin moved to decentralize currency in a big way by leveraging cryptography (instead of government authority) to digitally coin and transfer money. Users can choose to use the currency veiled in anonymity while steadily gaining ground as a valuable, peer-to-peer currency.
With over 11M bitcoins in circulation, the virtual currency is gaining significant traction. Thousands of companies and online retailers, and as many as 140 non-profits currently accept payment in bitcoins. The market value of a single bitcoin was as low as pennies at the outset, has risen as high as $266 and now hovers in the $100-120 range.
The emergence of an alternative currency has had a domino effect. As more people "mine" (create) new bitcoins, more retailers and organizations scramble to adopt the infrastructure to accept this new form of payment. Non-profits have also been early adopters and virtual currencies have provided new ways to fund and extend their work.
The spike in consumer interest has also lead to new currency exchange systems like Mt. Gox---the current most popular online exchange, and Ripple--an emerging platform that calls itself the world's first open transaction network to facilitate exchanges between all kinds of currencies, including Bitcoin. And the rise of Bitcoin has also spurred new similar virtual currencies such as Litecoin. The interest has not gone unnoticed by VC's. Andreessen Horowitz recently completed an angel round for an undisclosed amount to fund OpenCoin, the developer of Ripple.
This fascinating area is also fraught with its own concerns. The characteristic potential anonymity of Bitcoin has led to virtually untraceable funding of illicit activities. The government, which has been slow to recognize virtual currencies, is starting to take notice considering the booming growth of this largely untaxed, unregulated currency.
Whether you are bitcoiner yourself or are brand new to virtual currencies, join a panel of experts on June 18th 2013, to learn about the past and future potential of virtual currencies.