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Gavin Andresen
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May 19, 2011, 03:08:27 PM
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So with the recent avalanche of press interest in bitcoin, I thought I'd share my thoughts on how I'd like to see bitcoin positioned.  I'm not writing this as "This is the Official Bitcoin Organization Position" -- as always, I expect everybody to have, and express, their own views.

I'll restate what I see as the goal of The Bitcoin Project:  To give us control over our finances by establishing a stable, secure, global, "democratic" currency.

I think positioning bitcoin as "revolutionizing the financial system" is the goal-- not more radical statement I've heard (like "destabilizing governments").  Most people either like or are indifferent to their governments (I know, I know, sheeple and all that... lets not go there).  I don't think most people get the warm fuzzies when thinking about bankers and Big Corporations; bitcoin as "The People's Money" is the right way to think about it.

Also, whenever I talk to the press, I try to be realistic.  Bitcoin is still an experiment that has never been tried before; there is still a good chance it will fail, and there is still a lot of work to do to make it stable and secure.  I'm excited because bitcoin is a big idea that might change the world for the better, but I also realize that our little project is just a baby compared to the decades-old financial systems that we all use every day.

I think it is important to set expectations; I still wouldn't recommend that my mom use bitcoin for anything just yet, because it is not easy enough to use securely.  And the road ahead is likely to be bumpy; there will be technical issues that need fixing, there will be legal questions, there will be price bubbles, and there will be scams.  I predict that some company using bitcoins to do something illegal will be caught and prosecuted, and that will be mis-reported as "Bitcoin is illegal."

I said a year ago that creating solid technology was just the first step in a long road for bitcoin.  I'm very pleasantly surprised at how far the bitcoin project has come in a year; the innovation and experimentation and level of interest and excitement is fantastic.


Here's an email exchange I had with a reporter yesterday:

Quote
Specifically, do you agree or disagree that this project is "dangerous"? If you disagree, how would you describe the potential significance of bitcoin in a future Internet economy?

New technologies are always at least a little bit dangerous-- they can usually be used for both good and bad (think of gunpowder or ChatRoulette), and are certainly dangerous to the status-quo that they replace (think of cars and buggy-whip-manufacturers).

Bitcoin is a really ambitious project; we're trying to let people take back control of their money instead of trusting bureaucrats or bankers or politicians to keep it stable and safe. It is international, decentralized, and completely open to innovation, very much like the Internet.  Like the Internet, I expect its early years to be full of amazing successes and spectacular failures, and I don't think anybody will be able to predict in advance what will succeed and what will fail.

I think the real question is whether or not bitcoin will appeal to the majority of people who are happy with our current financial system. If it doesn't, bitcoin may fade away or end up as a niche currency used for a tiny percentage of global financial transactions.

How often do you get the chance to work on a potentially world-changing project?
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davout
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May 19, 2011, 03:15:51 PM
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I think bitcoin's success also depends a lot on the collapse or partial collapse of the financial system as we know it.

Dusty
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May 19, 2011, 03:26:33 PM
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I agree with Gavin, very balanced view of the facts.

I think bitcoin's success also depends a lot on the collapse or partial collapse of the financial system as we know it.
Dollar and Euro are on the way to failing for a lot of reasons that who understands inner economics knows, anyway for that event to foster Bitcoin usage it's necessary that Bitcoin would be much, much more widespread.

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berlin
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May 19, 2011, 03:26:56 PM
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Nice one Gav, precisely the right tone.
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May 19, 2011, 03:33:59 PM
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I think the real question is whether or not bitcoin will appeal to the majority of people who are happy with our current financial system. If it doesn't, bitcoin may fade away or end up as a niche currency used for a tiny percentage of global financial transactions.

I think one of the problems with acceptance will be that people won't realize why Bitcoin is better. It's not that they are happy with the current system, but that they don't understand why they shouldn't be happy with it to begin with. An ignorance is bliss type of thing.

And then there are the people who defend the current system for whatever reason. I've seen a bunch of intelligent people put a whole lot of effort in pointing out Bitcoin's faults all while defending the system they are used to.

So it usually does tend to come down to politics. If you are a big fan of other people controlling things for you, and a surprisingly large number of people are, you won't see any benefit to using Bitcoin.

I agree with davout, the more damage the current financial system causes, the more people will value something like Bitcoin.
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May 19, 2011, 03:38:15 PM
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I think one of the problems with acceptance will be that people won't realize why Bitcoin is better. It's not that they are happy with the current system, but that they don't understand why they shouldn't be happy with it to begin with. An ignorance is bliss type of thing.
What you say is right, but if bitcoin gains acceptance even the dumbest guy is able to understand that BTCs value continuosly gain value over traditional currencies.
That is unavoidable since after a few years bitcoin inflation is minimal compared to inflation of, e.g., dollar: in just a couple of years QE and QE2 more than doubled the monetary base of dollar...

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Mike Hearn
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May 19, 2011, 03:45:14 PM
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Fully agree! I think it's definitely worth playing the "banking is broken so why not try something new" angle.

If you read the Economist, newspapers and so on it's pretty clear that policy makers don't really know how to fix the banking system we have today. Moral hazards abound with no way to remove them. Capital requirements are essentially arbitrary, even the most ambitious levels being proposed now wouldn't have saved Irelands banks for instance. So I think people will be quite sympathetic to the idea that it's time to experiment with new ideas in finance.

I was thinking a lot lately about different end games for Bitcoin, and how it can avoid ending up trapped in an irrelevant niche. I agree with Gavin that it's the most likely failure mode. I don't want to start an OS flamewar (pleeaase not that), but some years ago I (along with a lot of others) put in a lot of effort to desktop Linux, a project that suffered this fate. It grew rapidly until it reached about 1% usage and never managed to go further. It's worth thinking about why that might have been and how Bitcoin can end up more like Wikipedia, a project that had similar a ideological background but managed to go mainstream and touch the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

I have a bunch of ideas on that topic but limited energy. One nice thing about Bitcoin is that it's in everybodies interest to spend coins, so bounties and generally paying people to do work can achieve great results. For instance the weusecoins site was the result of a bounty though Stefan is now working more on infrastructure type projects.

I'd be willing to contribute to a fund for further development of the website, to make it look less like an open source project page and more like what you'd expect from a professionally driven project. Consider the difference between dwolla.com and bitcoin.org to see what I mean .... the weusecoins site is much closer to what the official site should look like, and I think it's not a co-incidence that the latter was funded by a bounty.

With respect to the rather negative things some bloggers, etc have been putting out, I think that's a natural pushback against people over-enthusiastically marketing Bitcoin as The Next Big Thing GET IN NOW AND GET RICH QUICK. It just pisses people off and makes the whole effort look like a scam. If the official website struck a tone more like Gavins, stating that this is an experiment with potential, it'd probably moderate some of the criticism. Not blowing off peoples concerns with a set of one-liners under a section titled "Myths" would help too Wink
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May 19, 2011, 03:55:47 PM
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I think the real question is whether or not bitcoin will appeal to the majority of people who are happy with our current financial system. If it doesn't, bitcoin may fade away or end up as a niche currency used for a tiny percentage of global financial transactions.

2 points towards that:

1) Even though people are culturally attached to strong governments, they are also culturally repulsed by the financial world in general, particularly by banks and bankers. I think one of the strongest sales pitch of Bitcoins to the masses is that it allows them to completely bypass banks. It doesn't matter how hard people are attached to the government and the currency it issues, this aspect of Bitcoin will sway them, because the populace instinctively knows their hero, the government, will never do a thing about the banks.

2) Tax evasion. Countries with high taxes also know a high level of tax haters and wannabe evaders. I am thinking about Western European countries. A tax inspector in France is akin to a rapist in people's heart. A more critical example is Greece, where tax evasion is almost a national sport. It is estimated over 60% of the Greeks evade taxes, and the government, under the pressure of the IMF and the EU, is starting a witch hunt. I think these people, even though they might not understand the full set of Bitcoin advantages, have a strong incentive to join it too.
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May 19, 2011, 03:58:01 PM
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why is it that everyone who is ignorant about btc has to ask you "is it dangerous"?  b/c thats always so front and center in your interviews, i think u need to take the opposite angle and say NO, its not dangerous.  its the way for the majority of citizens across the world to gain back their independence from the financial manipulators.  its not the USD per say that we're against; its the banksters who twist the system to their advantage.

i think the way u have to approach your interviews is to ask the fundamental question, why is this happening?  what is the problem?  the answer is simple and is clearly represented by the graph of the value of the USD declining almost 100% in the last century since the advent of the Federal Reserve.  i like to explain it to ppl by drawing a graph of the US monetary supply; essentially an upward parabola and contrast it with a graph of btc generation which is a leveling off.  the stark contrast immediately registers with the avg persons understanding.
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May 19, 2011, 04:33:13 PM
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I fully agree with Gavin. Most people are not anarchists.

It’s way too valuable to remain in the claws of a tiny, extremist community (no offense, guys).

Bitcoin is just like the Internet, like Email, like Bittorrent. Bitcoin = People.

"Bitcoin had been transformed from an anarachistic challenge to the financial status quo, to the crypto spawn of Satan, fuelled by cut-throat greed and delusions of avarice." - MatTheCat
"these people don't seem to want to stop till Bitcoin is completely destroyed and left like an old cum rag in the corner of the room." - ShroomsKit
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May 19, 2011, 04:37:14 PM
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The Bitcoin project couldn't have a better spokesman than Gavin, in my opinion.

Bitcoin works unbelievably smoothly and efficiently for geeks. All that needs to be done to achieve widespread success is to make it work smoothly, efficiently and safely for non-geeks.

The other things that people worry about (exchange rate fluctuations, lack or merchants, etc) will all sort themselves out in the end.

There's no hurry for Bitcoin to grow quickly. Provided it keeps growing slowly, it will get there. Much worse would be quick growth followed by a massive setback due to (e.g.) a wallet-stealing virus.
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May 19, 2011, 04:42:58 PM
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Bitcoin is just like the Internet, like Email, like Bittorrent.
Well which is it? In developed countries, most people have used the internet, and most people have used email, but Bittorrent is a niche. A huge niche, for sure, but most people haven't used Bittorrent.

In my family (7 people over 3 generations), I'm the only one who has used Bittorrent. And only for downloading Linux ISOs, not movies or music. My kids use YouTube and iTunes for music and movies. My parents and parents-in-law use CDs and DVDs, even though they use email and the web.

Bitcoin will be like Bittorrent at best. I would still count that as hugely successful. At worst, Bitcoin will be like Esperanto: useful to its adherents, but not taking the world by storm.
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May 19, 2011, 04:53:19 PM
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Thanks Gavin. I do find this informative. Especially as we try to coordinate our efforts in communicating with the press. I especially thought the part about being moderate and realistic was important. Another example of where words are important is the idea of anonymity. I often use "private" instead.  Anonymity sound like you are hiding something. Private sounds like you have the right to hide something.

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May 19, 2011, 04:54:23 PM
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Well which is it? In developed countries, most people have used the internet, and most people have used email, but Bittorrent is a niche. A huge niche, for sure, but most people haven't used Bittorrent.
My point was that it could be marketed as a universal standard. Bitcoin can become the Internet’s standard currency just as Email is a standard for communication via the Internet.

Quote
Bitcoin will be like Bittorrent at best. I would still count that as hugely successful. At worst, Bitcoin will be like Esperanto: useful to its adherents, but not taking the world by storm.
I disagree. Bitcoin could be much bigger than that. Just imagine if it was widely used as a currency over the Internet … It’s a long way there, but I believe many people would feel good boycotting PayPal and supporting a truly free currency. Many already do.

"Bitcoin had been transformed from an anarachistic challenge to the financial status quo, to the crypto spawn of Satan, fuelled by cut-throat greed and delusions of avarice." - MatTheCat
"these people don't seem to want to stop till Bitcoin is completely destroyed and left like an old cum rag in the corner of the room." - ShroomsKit
Giulio Prisco
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May 19, 2011, 04:59:08 PM
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Right. Remember that many Internet users don't know how to copy/paste.

Bitcoin works unbelievably smoothly and efficiently for geeks. All that needs to be done to achieve widespread success is to make it work smoothly, efficiently and safely for non-geeks.

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May 19, 2011, 05:28:15 PM
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Right. Remember that many Internet users don't know how to copy/paste.
Natural selection is here for a reason.

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May 19, 2011, 05:57:37 PM
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The whole "government is evil" and "fiat currencies are doomed to fail, hoard gold!" sentiments all over this forum are a real turn off. In America extreme-libertarian views seem to be in fashion, but for the rest of the world those sort of arguments just make you look paranoid and juvenile.

The way I would describe Bitcoin to people is sort of like a Paypal replacement, but one where your account cannot be frozen based on the whims of a computer algorithm, and 'undesirable' customers like Wikileaks cannot be dropped from the system by government pressure. Basically, a secure and fast way to send money between two endpoints on the internet, without needing to have it approved by a third-party. I love that the scarcity (and hence value) of the currency is derived from the laws of mathematics (cryptography in particular), but 99% of people have never heard of Public/Private key cryptography, we probably need a good metaphor to explain that part.

I would say the #1 priority is making Bitcoin easy to set-up and use by merchants, maybe a new YouTube video with that as its major theme. The #2 priority is to make it easy for people to transform dollars into Bitcoins, there needs to be a Dwolla-like method set up in every country in the world, at the moment only Americans can easily get a hold of Bitcoins without mining. The #3 priority is making the client more user-friendly for non-technical people, in particular backing up and securing the Wallet.dat file is essential.

Just my 2 cents.
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May 19, 2011, 06:02:33 PM
 #18

as a suggestion against short-term self-interest (and against the interests of enough other early adopters that it won't be popular), i am convinced that the absolute best thing for the bitcoin technology at this moment would be for gavin to release a version of the client that restarts the block chain.

a controlled popping of the speculative bubble now would be better for the technology's perception than the uncontrolled one that is more likely, and it would help put to rest (or at least delay) the 'get rich quick' mentality that mike rightly criticises. better that a few early speculators lose a bit of money (which they knew they could lose) than that the broader public be functionally defrauded and walk away with the sense that bitcoin is necessarily a scam. high risk, high reward, as we always say.

restarting the block chain would also, incidentally, allay the mounting public concerns i see about the initial distribution of bitcoin wealth. in interviews, gavin has often said things like 'we'd choose a fairer distribution if we could, but what else is there?' this is one such alternative.

bitcoin will face challenges, rightly, when it appears to be a ponzi scheme (in its classical definition, which is just a scheme that pays early investors with proceeds from later investors, not one that requires outright promissory fraud) that rewards a mysterious anonymous founder, people who proclaim in other discussions how they dealt sharply with business partners in order to acquire in excess of 300,000 btc, and so forth.

that will always happen to some degree, but on balance, in terms of public reception, we are off to a bad start. journalists' complaints, however, aren't fundamentally about bitcoin. they are more about the presently popular block chain. the problems in perception associated with nature of that chain are probably insurmountable if bitcoin is ever to be more than a niche technology.

everyone would still be free to continue to use the existing block chain as they see fit, of course, so this isn't an infrigement on 'liberty'.
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May 19, 2011, 06:02:59 PM
 #19

#1 priority is making Bitcoin easy to set-up and use by merchants
working on this one Cheesy

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May 19, 2011, 06:08:04 PM
 #20


What I tell people:  bitcoin is a startup currency, with any numbers of possibilities for failure.

But it is totally different from anything else out there; it is literally a new kind of money in many different ways, and a very exciting and fun experiment.


Jeff Garzik, bitcoin core dev team

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