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Author Topic: [BIZ] [IDEA] [RFC] International cash transfer via a Bitcoin-based network  (Read 5632 times)
ovidiusoft
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October 17, 2011, 03:34:31 PM
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Warning: Long post ahead. Please excuse any grammar errors or misused terms, english is not my native language.

I have been thinking of this for some time, and I believe the time is right to bring it to the public discussion table. The intended audience is Bitcoin *and* fiat currency investors. This is probably going to be a high risk, medium size investment (and by medium I don't mean 10 BTC, like some might believe, but 1000 BTC / 3-5000 USD/EUR). This is also not going to be a get rich quick, 3 months ROI business. It's also not going to be anonymous or concentrate power into the hands of 1-2 guys. It doesn't have anything to do with mining or alternatives to Bitcoin. Sorry.

Now, that 90% of the readers just moved to another topic, let's get to it.

I don't believe Bitcoin will replace fiat currencies in the next 10 years. It might not do it in our life time, even. I do believe that Bitcoin solved a few major problem we have with the banking system: speed, reliability, costs. So let's take what Bitcoin won't do and what it already does and make a service out of it: International cash transfers.

Let's imagine a few scenarios:

Scenario 1. Your 16 year old son is on vacation somewhere in Europe. He's going to visit the nice castles and visit with some friends. Except he's not. He got to that country, but he's actually going to drink for 2 days and call you when he lost his wallet with his cards and cash. He doesn't have a place to stay, what to eat, and it's a saturday!

Your son suggests to send him some stuff called "Bitcoins" than only exist on the Internet and on computers. He says he can buy food (and drinks, your intuition says) with them, and also find a place to live, until he can get his passport back so he can return to his next 5 years of being grounded.

You're not good at computers, but he tells you to go to a specific address (just 3 miles away!) and use a ATM-like machine (it has BitTransfer written all over it). You insert some cash, enter his Bitcoin address and go home. 60 minutes later you son calls you to say he's now fed and on his way to a hostel. You sleep well.

Scenario 2. You're a successful GLBSE investor and your Bitcoin wallet has a lot of coins in it. You check out the exchange rate and it's now 25 USD/BTC. You feel good. You also think about your granny, who now lives alone and her pension fund (read: Ponzi scheme) is not doing as well as your Bitcoin investments. You decide to send her a little help.

You start your browser, open the BitTransfer (TM Tongue) website and fill a little form. You send some BTC to the address on the screen and you know that in a few hours the USD equivalent will be transferred to your granny's debit card. You call her and tell her you love her.

Scenario 3. Bill couldn't find decent work in his country so he decided to work for a few years in another country. It's hard work, but he makes 3-4 times the average wage in his country. His wife and kids miss him, but they understand that this is necessary. All he can do for them, except video-chat daily, is to send them most of his paycheck. At least they can live a decent life now.

He gets paid cash, he goes to the nearest WU and sends the money home. His wife then goes out to her local WU and gets local currency. Every time he does that, he thinks that the 40-50 Euros in fees could buy a new pair of winter boots for his son. Oh well, he'll have to use the ones he has, even if they don't fit that well anymore.

Today is different, he just found out about BitTransfer from a colleague. He gets his salary and goes to a BitTransfer office down town. He gives out his money to the clerk and receives a code. They even send the same code by SMS to his wife's cell phone, including the address of the nearest BitTransfer office in her town. Just 20 minutes later she calls him on the phone. She's happy - she received more money than usual. She tells Bill not to call her at home in the next few hours - she'll be out to buy their oldest son a new pair of winter boots.

***

Ok, that was dramatic on purpose. But these scenarios are all real, and I'm sure you had one or another happen to you or your friends. If you want to send small amounts of cash from one part of the world to another it's going to be slow, painful or expensive. Or, most common, all of the above.

Well, not if we can do something about it.

I'm thinking of a network of nodes that will act more or less like a WU office. The nodes can be real offices with clerks, ATM machines or automatic systems linked to bank accounts and Bitcoin addresses.

A node will accept these from a customer: fiat currency (at least local, but major foreign currencies might also be accepted), Bitcoins and redeem codes. I'll talk about Scenario 3 from above, because it's the most complicated and also I believe it's going to be the most common. I imagine a process like this:

* The node maintains some Bitcoin and fiat currency ballances. How many of each will depend based on real world usage. Some nodes might be used more for sending money, so they don't need to have a lot of fiat cash, others, on the contrary, will be used to get cash so they need to have more fiat cash available.

* The customer walks in with cash and asks to send money to a specific area (city).

* The node clerk reserves a BitTransfer redeem code and sends the appropriate amount of Bitcoins to "the network" (more about this later), after subtracting his comission (and local expenses, if that's the case).

* The clerk takes the money from the customer and gives him the redeem code. Also, if needed, he informs the customer on the nodes in destination town, sends the code by email or sms and so on.

In another part of the world, this happens:

* The customer walks in and provides the clerk with a redeem code.

* The clerk checks that the code is valid and gives the client his money, after substracting his comission (and local expenses, if that's the case) (the network comission was already substracted by the network).

* The redeem code is invalidated by the network and the corresponding Bitcoin transfer is sent to the paying node.

Now on to the more technical part:

I believe that we should do our best to make sure that we are running a legit business, while at the same time making the network resistent to legal threats (it's safe to assume that one time or another someone will want to take us down) and bad nodes.

So the network should run on servers distributed throughout the world. The servers should be operated by a company opened in a safe part of the world. Anonymous company in Seychelles or the likes seems like a good idea.

Server side, I know enough about security to understand that we can't secure everything, but having the servers check on each other and using strong cryptography is common sense. Fortunately, because nodes only exchange Bitcoins with the network, we don't need to store a lot of data on the network itself. We can use pre-generated green addresses and (maybe) keep the wallets offline.

Nodes should not be trusted by default either. One can easily imagine a scenario where a rogue node asks a redeem code from the network, but doesn't give that cash to the customer and lies to him (code not valid, network is down, please come back tomorrow, etc). Or a scenario where he accepts cash from a customer but doesn't register the operation on the network and makes up a redeem code.

Some of these risks can de covered by first getting Bitcoins from the node and only then providing the redeem code; by not sending the Bitcoins to the node until we have some sort of confirmation that he paid the cash to the customer (ideas on how to do this?). A security deposit is another idea - a sum that will be stored by the network and used "just in case". We might even impose a limit on the amount of operations that a node can do in the first few months, based on the security deposit. And of course, there will be a need for signed contracts and real IDs.

The most important business/process problem will probably be making sure that a node has enough cash or Bitcoins so it can correctly process payments. Let's say that if a node doesn't have enough Bitcoins it can refuse to take cash from customers, but if a node doesn't have enough fiat cash and a customer wants to cash in a redeem code, that would be pretty bad. I don't have any fail-proof idea for this yet, except impose limits and pre-shedule payments.

A note on anonimity: I said that nodes will not be anonymous - this is to guarantee that they operate a legit business and don't easily run away with customer money. I also said that the network should be operated semi-anonymously, to protect if from take downs.

There is, however, no reason not to make sure the customers are anonymous (or as anonymous as legally possible). If I don't need to show my ID when I'm buying a cofee, I see no reason to ask for personal data when someone buys a redeem code from BitTransfer.

I am certain that in most jurisdictions individual nodes can figure out a way to sell and buy the redeem codes in such a way that they operate legally while protecting customers' identities.

Next, the business part. I mentioned in my long story 3 comissions: the two nodes and the network. Local fees will also be substrated, if necessary (for example, a customer who wants to cash in a redeem code via local bank transfer will receive a little less, as the node needs to pay the bank for that).

The network's fee should be fixed independent of the amount transferred. For the end nodes, that's probably not a good idea - a node will preffer not to "block" his money with a large transfer - for the same amount of money he could make more if he gets more smaller transfers. So a percentage based on the sum seems like the correct solution for that.

I didn't do any real simulations on these, but 0.4 BTC network fee and 0.3 BTC + 0.25% of the sum for each end node seems fine for me. That makes a total of 1 BTC + 0.5% from sender to recipient. If Bitcoin exchange rate goes up, the fees should go down as well, of course.

For 100 USD (@3.2 BTC/USD), that would be 3.7 USD fee, recipient gets 96.3 USD. For 500 EUR (@2.5 BTC/EUR), that would be 5 EUR fee, recipient gets 495 EUR. Compare it to this: http://www.westernunion.ro/WUCOMWEB/staticMid.do?method=load&pagename=mtOBFees

***

Did anyone actually make it here? Did you read everything or just scrolled down? Smiley I'd love to know what you think. As you can see, this project is too big for a single company, we need to be at least a few tens local agents to make it succeed. This is why I wrote such a lengthy post - I can't do it alone, I need your help.

If you believe this can work, join me and let's make it happen!
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October 17, 2011, 06:54:39 PM
 #2

Ok this is a great idea but your making things VERY difficult for yourself..

Why not use a ready established network and just charge lower margins than _every other money transfer company_

By using a system like PayPoint or Payzone to get instant coverage and pre set out business.

What you think of that?

[Doing it this way you really could do it by youself with a little bit of capital and time. If you decide to go ahead I do want a donation if your successful as its a cracker of an idea and relatively simple to do. Wink]
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October 17, 2011, 07:33:49 PM
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The main reason is that I don't want to create yet another payment system, but a Bitcoin transfer system. I want Bitcoin written all over the place Smiley.

The other smaller but important reasons are that: I don't believe we could get that lower margins with any existing system and I don't want to have a single point of failure. Worst that we should allow to happen would be that some money doesn't reach the destination and gets returned to the sender (the scenario where a node simply disappears).

Also, I want to be simple to add new nodes to the network - someone should simply provide proof that he has the money to open a node, register to the network and start servicing people. Opening a new Paypoint/Payzone and friends POP is difficult (and might not be possible in a random country/region).
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October 17, 2011, 09:08:09 PM
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Payzone etc is great for deposits but how to do withdrawals that are truly local?
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October 17, 2011, 09:48:34 PM
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give them back the ticket and give them cash? we just have a token system in place to buy / sell coins on behalf of... kinda like how ukhash works but you can replace with real cash rather than there shite.
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October 17, 2011, 10:03:11 PM
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I would like a totally anarchist system with no agencies (and regulations and taxes), but just agents/mules that you can find at any time with a system like google latitude. They would take most of the cut and be available to meet clients in their area.
Many immigrant communities in my country use informal systems of this sort to send money back to their countries cheaply.

ovidiusoft
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October 18, 2011, 08:03:49 AM
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give them back the ticket and give them cash? we just have a token system in place to buy / sell coins on behalf of... kinda like how ukhash works but you can replace with real cash rather than there shite.

I didn't understand what you're saying. Sorry, english is not my native language, so if you could rephrase that...
ovidiusoft
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October 18, 2011, 08:06:40 AM
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I would like a totally anarchist system with no agencies (and regulations and taxes), but just agents/mules that you can find at any time with a system like google latitude.

These already exist, there's no need for me to re-invent the wheel. These are also in a gray legal area or illegal, and can't be trusted by the large public. I'm trying to create a valid business, a legal alternative to WU and the likes, while promoting Bitcoin at the same time.
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October 18, 2011, 08:26:30 AM
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So I'd be an agent, someone would give me €100 to transfer to the US. I would log into the 'exchange network' where every peer is known and trusted and would find an agent that was close to the transfer destination. I would already have both bitcoins and cash balance on that exchange somehow (like a closed mtgox) and would ask to sell €100 worth of bitcoins to that agent.

The other agent would receive €100 worth of bitcoins and would then proceed to deliver the €100 he already has to the recipient.

Each agent would have to have some cash and some bitcoins to start with, register in the 'exchange network' and agree to buy and sell coins at whatever exchange rate is set there. This exchange rate could very well be 0.0001 or 1000.0, so as long as everyone agrees to use it, but obviously to prevent greed taking over people it should closely follow the external exchange rates.

Now, what's in for the client? No nonsense transfers, very low fees, quick as can be.
And for the agent, there should be a simple fee structure, this is not something I can just make up without giving a little thought, and might be a deal breaker if a structure that is both cheap for the client and interesting for the agent can't be found.

The exchange is the "central" point of this whole endeavor, and we might actually be better off with something more distributed, but I can't see how, bar trusting everyone, we can do without some central handling of the fiat part.

And keeping it legal or not is, at best, a matter of opinion. If you mean 'US' legal or 'EUR' legal, that might be possible. Both legal at the same time, slightly more complicated. Worldwide legal? No way that is even remotely possible! Smiley
ovidiusoft
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October 18, 2011, 08:44:10 AM
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Each agent would have to have some cash and some bitcoins to start with, register in the 'exchange network' and agree to buy and sell coins at whatever exchange rate is set there. This exchange rate could very well be 0.0001 or 1000.0, so as long as everyone agrees to use it, but obviously to prevent greed taking over people it should closely follow the external exchange rates.

Not all nodes will need both BTC and fiat cash, it's expected that some nodes will be mostly used for sending or (most likely) receiving. A node in a rural region will mostly pay out (because their relatives send them money - see scenario 3). This node cand start with 0 BTC and (a lot of) fiat cash.

BTC value should follow closely real exchange rates, because each node will have to manage their own balances by selling or buying BTC. The node in the example above will have to sell the coins to get fiat cash or he will stop being able to pay soon.

Quote
The exchange is the "central" point of this whole endeavor, and we might actually be better off with something more distributed, but I can't see how, bar trusting everyone, we can do without some central handling of the fiat part.

I thought about it but I don't have any idea other than the consensus of all the nodes. The security deposit should help a little, but in the end it will be about trust and following the rules.

Quote
And keeping it legal or not is, at best, a matter of opinion. If you mean 'US' legal or 'EUR' legal, that might be possible. Both legal at the same time, slightly more complicated. Worldwide legal? No way that is even remotely possible! Smiley

McDonalds operates legally in every country. If they can do it, I am sure we can too. Anyway, this is every node's responsibility and we can't really enforce it. As long as it doesn't affect the network as a whole, every node should do as they see fit (what and how to invoice, deal with VAT if they have such a tax, and so on).
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October 18, 2011, 08:50:11 AM
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McDonalds operates legally in every country. If they can do it, I am sure we can too. Anyway, this is every node's responsibility and we can't really enforce it. As long as it doesn't affect the network as a whole, every node should do as they see fit (what and how to invoice, deal with VAT if they have such a tax, and so on).

Ok, you really think that sending money from the US to Iran is the same as mcd selling burgers in both US and Iran? Well, I wish you the best of luck with that Wink

Seriously, though, you can operate legally on *each* country, I'm sure. If all you do are internal transfers you are home free, bar whatever prohibitive taxes and regulations your country might have, but sending money abroad is not the same thing at all, I'm sure you'll agree.
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October 18, 2011, 09:03:21 AM
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Seriously, though, you can operate legally on *each* country, I'm sure. If all you do are internal transfers you are home free, bar whatever prohibitive taxes and regulations your country might have, but sending money abroad is not the same thing at all, I'm sure you'll agree.

Of course I do. But the network or the nodes are not sending money. The network is sending/receiving Bitcoins - that's certainly not money. The nodes are buying and selling codes written on a piece of paper, to and from local customers. If those customers send their codes to another country, that's their choice (and their legal exposure).

I'd say the system I described works more or less like gift cards systems from retailers like Amazon, except we also offer buy back.

IANAL, but I think we can find a way to work legally. Or we should at least try.
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October 18, 2011, 11:56:41 AM
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Of course I do. But the network or the nodes are not sending money. The network is sending/receiving Bitcoins - that's certainly not money. The nodes are buying and selling codes written on a piece of paper, to and from local customers. If those customers send their codes to another country, that's their choice (and their legal exposure).

If you think about it from a business standpoint, at least based on how it goes around my geographic area, you'll have to charge VAT to your clients because you are selling them "goods" (code in piece of paper). And you pay taxes over the profit you make, so in order to "keep it real" you have to get invoices from those that sell you the codes, and these will be in whatever currency the deal is completed in (BTC isn't officially exchanged, so are we talking barter?). It's easy to see how this can become over-complicated if your business is not to be known as transferring the value, be it in fiat or codes. If you are reselling you have to buy them, and all needs to have proper paperwork.

But forgetting about the legalities of this, and believe me that while I'm playing devil's advocate I am *really* interested in this, here's something that could help in balancing the books across agents; future options. I have a client that wants to send €100 to the US, I ask you how many coins that'll be and  you say 100.0. While this price may or may not be realistic, I send you the coins knowing that:
1) you will send the €100 to the recipient
2) you agree to buy me the same amount at the same rate, so I can ask someone on your physical surroundings to just send the €100 back to me if all you do is get bitcoins at very low prices from me Smiley
ovidiusoft
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October 18, 2011, 01:46:23 PM
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If you think about it from a business standpoint, at least based on how it goes around my geographic area, you'll have to charge VAT to your clients because you are selling them "goods" (code in piece of paper). And you pay taxes over the profit you make, so in order to "keep it real" you have to get invoices from those that sell you the codes, and these will be in whatever currency the deal is completed in (BTC isn't officially exchanged, so are we talking barter?). It's easy to see how this can become over-complicated if your business is not to be known as transferring the value, be it in fiat or codes. If you are reselling you have to buy them, and all needs to have proper paperwork.

I'm in a VAT zone too. I don't know about other countries, but I can create a new company that doesn't pay VAT - there is a limit of 35k EUR/year, after that you get switched to VAT. It's a start, though, and I can figure out other solutions later. When I'll have 35k volume through my node I'll afford a real accounting expert Smiley

Quote
here's something that could help in balancing the books across agents; future options. I have a client that wants to send €100 to the US, I ask you how many coins that'll be and  you say 100.0. While this price may or may not be realistic, I send you the coins knowing that:
1) you will send the €100 to the recipient
2) you agree to buy me the same amount at the same rate, so I can ask someone on your physical surroundings to just send the €100 back to me if all you do is get bitcoins at very low prices from me Smiley

I thought about something like this, but I discarded the idea at that time because I see no way of forcing a node to sell or buy BTC at a fixed rate. Also, what would happen if a node just decides to leave the network? I intentionally left the balances' management to the nodes themselves. They can trade locally, speculate on Gox or TH, or they can do future options with other nodes, if they wish. I might be wrong, but I think that would work for well-balanced nodes only? A node that mainly receives cash would have to buy BTC at "real" exchange rates or risk being blocked until someone decides to redeem a code.
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October 18, 2011, 02:34:06 PM
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I'm in a VAT zone too. I don't know about other countries, but I can create a new company that doesn't pay VAT - there is a limit of 35k EUR/year, after that you get switched to VAT. It's a start, though, and I can figure out other solutions later. When I'll have 35k volume through my node I'll afford a real accounting expert Smiley

Well, I could do the VAT exempt thing too, but unfortunately you can't run a company without a real accounting expert around here, and that costs money Smiley Still, I'm sure there are many options, you are right.

I thought about something like this, but I discarded the idea at that time because I see no way of forcing a node to sell or buy BTC at a fixed rate. Also, what would happen if a node just decides to leave the network? I intentionally left the balances' management to the nodes themselves. They can trade locally, speculate on Gox or TH, or they can do future options with other nodes, if they wish. I might be wrong, but I think that would work for well-balanced nodes only? A node that mainly receives cash would have to buy BTC at "real" exchange rates or risk being blocked until someone decides to redeem a code.

No reason for it to only work with well balanced nodes, as you can always buy through the existing methods (transfer, WU, PP, etc) if you need to move cash into coins. There would be very little risk, assuming the nodes trust each other.

Speculating with the coins used on the transfer is a great recipe for disaster imho. Not all of us are good traders, most of us are simple emotional persons which, without proper training and a definitive plan will only feed the sharks, as I'm sure many noticed recently :p

Anyway, how would you and I go about starting this? We'd just agree to buy and sell coins from each other with the promise to delivering the the proceeds of the selling to some person, physically? I'm game for a little experiment, but I'd like to have the actual network shielded from the forum. Basically a network of peers is needed, and we should keep these only known amongst themselves, then when someone needs to send cash they'd post/email/pm one of us (and I mean you Smiley ) who'd forward to the closest person geographically?

I would love to see the old and trusted members of this forum to step forward to build the agent network! Again, I'm game.
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October 18, 2011, 06:00:48 PM
 #16

I have set up a wiki where we can register our location and methods of receiving/sending money. We can also brainstorm about processes there. PM me to get an account and the link.
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October 18, 2011, 08:49:01 PM
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Maybe S3052 could help manage the initial deposit fund and even guide the agents on to the most profitable route to handle the coins received... I'm sure we could get to some kind of arrangement.
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October 18, 2011, 09:00:23 PM
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Every now and then I sit down and try figure out a scheme by which bitcoins can easily be purchased (on a large scale) quickly, safely, and easily with digital fiat currencies.

Every time I've done this, I inevitably come to the conclusion that if it were quick, safe, and easy to do, bitcoin probably wouldn't exist.

Best of luck to you if you can figure out how to solve these problems.
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October 18, 2011, 09:24:05 PM
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Every now and then I sit down and try figure out a scheme by which bitcoins can easily be purchased (on a large scale) quickly, safely, and easily with digital fiat currencies.

Every time I've done this, I inevitably come to the conclusion that if it were quick, safe, and easy to do, bitcoin probably wouldn't exist.

Best of luck to you if you can figure out how to solve these problems.

I go through pretty much the same thought process recurrently, but I don't think that's the itch we are trying to scratch here. You mention buying bitcoins with cash, whereas in this system proposal bitcoins are an inner and undisclosed part of the system, at least to the client / user. This is a means of using bitcoins as a transport, not as a product.

Though a well trusted network would go a long way if also accepting to sell coins for cash... just sayin Smiley
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October 19, 2011, 06:27:31 AM
 #20

Every now and then I sit down and try figure out a scheme by which bitcoins can easily be purchased (on a large scale) quickly, safely, and easily with digital fiat currencies.

In person, cash-BTC exchanges seem safe and fast enough for me. For amounts less that 100 coins I wouldn't even wait for more than 1 confirmation. The costs of doing a double spend attack to gain 3000 USD (while also meeting in person), are simply ridiculous. I'd wait 6 confirmation for 50.000 coins Smiley

But as @nelisky said, that's not the problem we're trying to solve here. On the other hand, nodes have the means to do direct exchanges and I believe they will (see scenarios 1 and 2 from the initial post, they can easily be simplified to "one guy walks to a BitTransfer office and buys/sells some coins").
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