The bitcoin landscape is evolving so rapidly that it’s hard to believe we’re already halfway through the year.
Like any new industry, there are so many areas to explore in the bitcoin space that a week’s worth of developments can sometimes feel like a month or two have gone by.
Bitcoin has certainly seen a lot of action in 2014. The collapse of Mt. Gox, hefty venture capital investments in bitcoin startups and the US government auction of 30,000 bitcoins seized from the Silk Road all generated buzz in the mainstream media.
CoinDesk’s recent State of Bitcoin Q2 2014 report highlights some of the key developments that have influenced bitcoin’s journey over the past few months, providing context for the digital currency’s ever-changing position in society.
While only time will tell what’s in store for bitcoin’s future, a number of trends have emerged in the industry this year that could shape the direction and velocity of bitcoin’s growth.
Here are five bitcoin trends that have emerged in the first half of 2014:
1. Big-name retailers jumping on board
The year started with a bang when Overstock became the first major retailer to accept bitcoin. News of Overstock’s success with the digital currency served as a signal for other large companies to follow suit.
Electronics retailer TigerDirect integrated bitcoin as a payment option by the end of January, and other household names like the Sacramento Kings, Lord & Taylor and REEDS Jewelers got on board soon after.
With smaller businesses also continuing to accept bitcoin at a fervent pace, we estimate that around 100,000 merchants will accept bitcoin by the end of 2014:
2. A warming regulatory climate
While it certainly hasn’t been all smooth sailing between governments and bitcoin this year, it seems like tides are changing and regulators around the world are starting to take a more open-minded approach to the digital currency.
In the beginning of 2014, China’s stance on bitcoin was ambiguous at best. By April, China’s Central Bank Governor said that banning bitcoin was “out of the question,” referring to it as more of an asset than a currency.
Russia, after releasing stern warnings about bitcoin early this year, recently reconsidered its stance on the digital currency.
Gerogy Luntovsky, the deputy chairman of Bank of Russia, explained that his agency is going to take time to examine bitcoin as the industry continues to evolve:
“At this stage, we need to watch how the situation develops with these kinds of currencies. These instruments should not be rejected.”
Progress has also been made in places like California, where Governor Jerry Brown has granted bitcoin ‘legal money’ status, and Switzerland, where similar ‘legal money’ regulations are being considered.
Regulators seem increasingly willing to hold off on impulsive legislation in favor of working with the bitcoin community to find the best resolutions to prevent money laundering and fraud without stifling innovation.
3. VC firms keep betting big
Not everybody is as slow as governments to embrace bitcoin.
Serious venture capital investments in bitcoin companies were already taking place in 2013, but VCs have certainly kicked it up this year, with a total of $150m having already been invested in 2014.
With 2014’s Q2 VC investments reaching $73m (up from $57m in Q1), CoinDesk estimates that by the year’s end, 2014 VC investments in bitcoin companies will have surpassed 1995 VC investments in Internet companies:
The venture capital flowing into the bitcoin space supports the industry’s infrastructure both explicitly and implicitly: startups gain access to resources that allow them to build much-needed products and services around the Bitcoin protocol, and the investors’ confidence in the digital currency brings legitimacy to bitcoin’s reputation.
4. Building on the block chain
Most people who take the time to really learn about bitcoin realize that the true genius in Satoshi Nakamoto’s invention is not the coins themselves, but rather the block chain.
The term ‘Bitcoin 2.0’ is often used to describe applications that use the technology of the block chain to address issues like smart contracts and identity verification that were once impossible to solve in a decentralized way on the Internet.
Jeff Garzik, one of the bitcoin protocol’s core developers, described the significance of the block chain beyond the scope of digital currencies:
“As a computer scientist, and in computer science in general, when you talked about building distributed systems, there tended to be a purely theoretical view about how computers would talk to each other, how to keep them coordinated. Satoshi and the blockchain really solved that problem in an elegant and unexpected way.”
Block chain-focused startups like BlockScore and BlockCypher have already secured funding this year from investors. As 2014 rolls on, expect to see new uses of the block chain technology solving problems in a uniquely decentralized manner.
5. New emphasis on transparency
The collapse of Mt. Gox, once the biggest bitcoin exchange in the market, was a wake-up call to many in the community.
The former exchange’s CEO Mark Karpeles was notoriously opaque in the months leading to its bankruptcy, causing confusion among users who held bitcoins on Gox.
Ultimately many people lost BTC through the course of Mt. Gox’s downfall. Outcries from the community started pouring in, demanding other big exchanges prove their solvency with professional audits.
The demand for more transparency in the industry doesn’t stop at exchange audits, though. Revered bitcoin evangelist Andreas Antonopoulos recently took to Twitter to announce his departure from the Bitcoin Foundation, citing a lack of transparency as a primary concern:
I can no longer have even the smallest association with the Bitcoin Foundation, because of the complete lack of transparency
— AndreasMAntonopoulos (@aantonop) July 9, 2014
If the first half of 2014 proves anything, it’s that the technology underlying bitcoin is resilient even under catastrophic circumstances (Mt. Gox), and that the community is willing to rally together in bringing bitcoin to mass adoption.
There’s a reason people call it the “honey badger of money.”