At Bitcoin London yesterday, OpenCoin announced that Ripple users can now make bitcoin payments directly from the Ripple client. The so-called Bitcoin Bridge fulfils some of Ripple's promised functionality and connects its users to the whole bitcoin economy and ecosystem.

This Bitcoin Bridge enables Ripple users to make payments in bitcoin without ever needing to hold any of the digital currency. Ripple's explanation video has shown that payments can egress the Ripple network in fiat currencies, plus bitcoin, via Ripple Gateways. That functionality is now there thanks to this new feature.

This Bitcoin Bridge is a protocol that OpenCoin has enacted, connecting Ripple's network to the Bitcoin network. Bitstamp is the first bitcoin exchange to have adopted this protocol. So far, other exchanges have yet to implement it.

"This is both an important milestone for Ripple and a powerful demonstration of the promise of the Ripple system," said OpenCoin CEO Chris Larsen. "Now, anyone can send bitcoins without having to use a central exchange. At the same time, any merchant accepting Bitcoins now has the potential to accept any currency in the world." (Source)

In theory, this should make sending payments simple for users. Someone just enters a bitcoin address into their Ripple client along with an amount of fiat currency to send. Conversion is handled within the Ripple network and is almost free of charge.

While this move reduces the friction in bitcoin transactions, there are probably far fewer users of Ripple than there are bitcoin. Therefore, OpenCoin faces a challenge of awareness. However, public awareness is not the main goal as Ripple is being aimed as a merchant tool for background transfers.

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