Robin Dhara connects people. He meets a lot of people on his travels. But he hadn't met any bitcoin people ... so we sent him to a London Bitcoin Meetup to see what he could learn.
I have to admit I’m late in coming to the bitcoin party. It’s a new topic for me. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of a meeting at the back of a tourist pub in Paddington last week.
When I arrived, I couldn’t see anyone who looked "bitcoiny" or part of a new tech revolution. But there was a clearing at the back of the room, where a crowd had gathered, taking it in turns to speak around a pool table.
This was it ...
Keeping good company
What immediately surprised me was the quality of people in the room. In the crowd were some of London’s most prominent tech personalities and developers.
I learned very quickly that the UK is turning into a hive of startups exploring the bitcoin economy. Incubators, bitcoin miners and development companies are springing up all over the UK designing new ways the currency can be used ... not just in the digital world, but in the physical world too.
One developer, who asked not to be named, has started a campaign to list the retailers willing to accept bitcoin as currency. He wants to turn the data into an app for consumers.
I also learned there have been similar talks of shopkeepers in Germany accepting bitcoins instead of euros. However, gaining the trust of more traditional retailers will need more work. There would need to be physical locations where bitcoins could be cashed out for more people to buy into it, one man tells me. After all, people need to know how to get at their money.
I did hear of a Bureau De Change group that is currently looking into accepting bitcoins in London. More on that one next time ...
Digital currency in action
An interesting answer came from Pablo, a filmmaker and activist from Barcelona. In an experiment that reminded me of the Brixton Pound, he talked of a local currency used in the outskirts of Barcelona called the Eco.
The Eco is largely used and managed by a community that operates as an "integral co-operative" for families, health and housing services ... without the need to deal with the relevant state departments directly.
This solved the problem of trying to secure papers and documents, which some in the community might not have readily available. Already being used by several thousand people, the managers of the Eco are exploring cryptocurrencies and seeing positive results so far.
And so it seems there are three kinds of people who are interested in bitcoin: Those who want to make money. Those interested in programming and security. And the idealists who want to build communities for the greater good.
That’s what struck me about this Bitcoin London Meetup: the bitcoin movement seems to be an example of democracy at work.
The other side of the coin
Despite the energy in the room, there was also a certain nervousness. Some people believed that the bitcoin would be "banned by big money".
This is not an idle concern. Mirroring the entertainment industry, which tried to stop pirating and sharing music, bitcoin’s problems could potentially be far bigger. Bitcoin is on a collision course with banking.
“The thing that will save bitcoin is international expansion,” said Javier, CEO of a global bitcoin trading company. “You also have to consider that most of the people that have power today in the world are over 50.
“Most of the people that have made it will not go down without a fight and they don't want to know about bitcoin. They don't understand the technology, it’s too complicated.”