Monday, January 27, 2014

A fantastical magazine cover (just for fun) and a new commission

Brewster Kahle, founder of Internet Archive and Alexa Internet, recently invited me to experiment with Bitcoin, the six-year-old digital currency that, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, “thrills nerds, inspires libertarians, and incites the passions of economists who debate the value of money made from nothing but ones and zeros.” My task is to convert one Bitcoin, now valued at nearly $1,000, into U.S. dollars and back again as many times as possible in as many different ways as possible—and write about the experience.

Before receiving the assignment, I knew very little about Bitcoin beyond the fact that it had been gaining popularity among techies in the Bay Area. Now I can see why: Unlike the failed alternative currencies that came before it, the Bitcoin system has a built-in mechanism to prevent fraud. All Bitcoin transactions are recorded in a public ledger available on the Internet and maintained by “miners”—a scrappy group of software engineers racing to solve complicated math puzzles and unlock more Bitcoins. But according to Bloomberg, no more than 25 Bitcoins can be mined every 10 minutes; Satoshi Nakamoto designed the system to ensure that the money supply would increase gradually.

Some laud Bitcoin as a viable alternative to government-controlled money (former Stanford University lecturer Balaji Srinivasan “calls the currency ‘the missing piece of the Internet’ that will make transactions frictionless”), while others think select groups of miners already wield too much control. Even so, Bitcoin seems to embody the creative and iterative spirit of open innovation.

I’m delighted by the opportunity to experiment with Bitcoin and invite you to check back for updates on my Bitcoin transactions. For now, I'm off to the races.