Bringing bitcoin to the forefront of mainstream society is no easy task.
The novelty of decentralized digital cash and the potential that bitcoin has to disrupt a variety of industries make it a polarizing entrant to the tech scene.
Those who believe in bitcoin’s capabilities are steadfast that the digital currency will prevail as a new kind of financial institution.
Others, similarly passionate about their beliefs, argue that bitcoin is a bubble, too volatile to amount to anything permanent in society.
For every hardworking developer, entrepreneur, investor, politician or activist fighting to bolster the bitcoin ecosystem – of which there are many – there is someone on the other side of the fence, working hard to maintain the status quo.
No matter what side you’re on, it’s safe to say that this year has been an eventful one for bitcoin.
Here are the eight biggest bitcoin heroes and villains of 2014 (so far):
1. Marc Andreessen
Arguably bitcoin’s most influential evangelist, Andreessen has put his money where his mouth is in supporting the bitcoin ecosystem.
His venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz led a $25m series B fundraising round with its investment in Coinbase in December, and the Internet pioneer shows no signs of slowing down with investments in bitcoin startups anytime soon.
“I’m on record that bitcoin, and cryptocurrency broadly, is one of the most important tech breakthroughs of our time.”
2. Barry Silbert
As CEO of asset-trading platform SecondMarket, Silbert has been working hard all year to bring bitcoin to Wall Street.
Balancing a busy schedule of rallying institutional investors, working with financial regulators in New York, and raising awareness for bitcoin with public appearances, Silbert has solidified his position as one of the digital currency’s prominent advocates.
“[I have] requests from 38 institutional investors representing +$250 billion to meet with me [about] bitcoin at Barclays Emerging Payments Forum tomorrow.”
3. Jared Polis
It often takes the courage of a few bold risk takers to disrupt the status quo of any institution, including the US government.
Congressman Polis emerged as one of those brave figures this year when he publicly showed his support for bitcoin, and eventually went as far as vouching to fight government regulation that stifles innovation in the industry.
“If there was an agency that reacted in an irrationally negative way to digital currencies, I would be happy to rally support [in Congress] to restrict their funding.”
4. Gavin Andresen
Even though he only spent four months of this year as the lead developer on the bitcoin core before passing the reigns to the new head dev Wladimir van der Laan, few would argue Andresen’s influence on both the technology and the community.
In his new role as the Bitcoin Foundation’s chief scientist, Andresen stays busy working as a trusted liason between the core developer community and the less tech-savy bitcoiners. As one of the few people who once had regular contact with bitcoin’s creator, Andresen has remained loyal to the betterment of the bitcoin ecosystem from its earliest days.
“Do not treat the core development team as if we were a commercial company that sold you a software library. That is not how open source works; if you are making a profit using the software, you are expected to help develop, debug, test, and review it.”
5. Ben Lawsky
Lawsky is another government official that has come into the spotlight for his involvement in the digital currency industry.
Though the impact of his work may not be as public as other heroes on the list, as New York’s superintendent of financial services, Lawsky’s progressive stance on bitcoin cannot be dismissed.
“My hope is that if we can get appropriate guardrails in place to prevent money laundering, we can take a deep breath and really focus on trying to ensure that virtual currency firms flourish and continue to develop and innovate.”
6. Patrick Byrne
When Overstock.com began accepting bitcoin payments, the online retailer became the largest company to immerse itself with the digital currency.
Byrne, Overstock’s CEO, has since been very public about bitcoin’s success on the website, and recently pledged to donate 3% of bitcoin profits to bolster the ecosystem.
“Any revenue from bitcoin sales that Overstock.com donates will go to support the adoption of cryptocurrencies in general, not necessarily bitcoin in particular.”
7. Jason King
As the founder of Sean’s Outpost, one of bitcoin’s most visible organizations, Jason King has dedicated himself to using the power of bitcoin to feed the homeless in his local Florida community.
In addition to providing 60,000 meals to the needy, King recently completed a cross-country fundraising run, raising awareness about bitcoin’s potential to impact charitable organizations along the way.
“We have guys who got really into bitcoin. They’re on reddit and forums all the time. We have guys who got off the street because of bitcoin.”
8. Mike Hearn
Hearn, a well-respected bitcoin developer, has not been shy about his concerns that core bitcoin developers aren’t receiving enough support.
For bitcoin to flourish, it’s important for the protocol to constantly be improving, and Hearn’s calls to action will hopefully bring enough attention to the issue for progress to be made.
“I’ve been very worried for a long time that the core bitcoin system is radically underfunded and underdeveloped from where it needs to be.”
1. Mark Karpeles
The downfall of Mt. Gox, once the biggest bitcoin exchange in the world, affected countless people’s lives and was a blow to bitcoin’s public image.
There’s still quite a bit of uncertainty about Mt. Gox’s collapse (including some 744,000 missing bitcoins), and while Mark’s intentions may not have been malicious, it’s natural that victims of the whole ordeal will point the blame on the bankrupt exchange’s CEO.
“As the company head, my mission was to protect customers and employees. I’m deeply sorry. I’m frustrated with myself.”
2. Warren Buffett
Normally a shrewd businessman with a keen eye for a good investment, Buffett took a surprisingly archaic stance on bitcoin this year.
Arguing that bitcoin isn’t a currency and warning investors to “stay away” certainly didn’t help bitcoin’s reputation, and Buffett’s clout as a revered business magnate certainly influenced some to dismiss the digital currency.
“[Bitcoin is] not a currency. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t around in the next 10-20 years.”
3. Mark T. Williams
Williams is notorious for his prediction in December 2013 that bitcoin’s price would fall 99%, leading to a price of $10 per bitcoin by June 2014.
Here we are in July of 2014, and clearly the Boston University finance professor was off with his estimates. Instead of admitting that his prediction was a bit hyperbolic, Williams remains steadfast that time will vindicate his prediction.
“I continue to stick to my 2013 prediction that bitcoin is grossly overpriced and the price will eventually adjust dramatically downward as the priced-for-perfection expectations set by bitcoin promoters cannot be met.”
4. Leah McGrath Goodman
Newsweek pulled out all the stops in March when its cover story was revealed to be a deep investigation into the real identity of bitcoin’s creator, Satoshi Nakamoto.
Goodman, the journalist who wrote the story, pinned California resident Dorian Nakamoto as the mastermind behind the digital currency. Dorian’s personal information was leaked to the public shortly after, and Goodman held firm that her reporting was accurate, even in spite of Dorian’s denial and evidence against her claims.
“I have learned this about the fanatical bitcoiners: they will see this all in a different light once they hit puberty.”
5. Joe Manchin
Of course, not all politicians are as receptive to bitcoin as Congressman Polis. Enter US Senator Joe Manchin, who wrote a letter to federal regulators in February, calling for an outright ban of the digital currency.
While the bitcoin community may not be swayed so easily, news of a politician like Manchin speculating that bitcoin could hurt the US economy undoubtedly cast the cryptocurrency in a negative light for many Americans.
“There is no doubt average American consumers stand to lose by transacting in bitcoin.”
6. Jamie Dimon
It’s no secret that bitcoin has big banks, and their executives, a bit rattled.
Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan, was not shy about his feelings towards the digital currency this year. His company released an eight-page report bashing bitcoin in February, and Dimon made public comments ridiculing the technology.
“[Bitcoin is] a terrible store of value. It could be replicated over and over.”
7. Seng Song Cheng
China’s stance on bitcoin caused considerable uncertainty in the industry at beginning of the year. The People’s Bank of China was averse to the idea of the digital currency, but ambiguity about actual regulatory decisions led to market speculation.
Enter Cheng, PBOC’s statistics chief, who made his stance loud and clear: bitcoin should not be taken seriously.
“Bitcoin is merely a utopia for technology supremacists and absolute liberalists.”
8. Danny Brewster
All eyes were tuned to Cyprus in February, where the world’s first brick-and-mortar bitcoin portal opened to offer residents bank-like services for bitcoin.
It wasn’t long until Neo & Bee, the company running the operation, faced allegations of fraud and shareholders saw the value of their holdings plummet. In the fallout, Brewster faced arrest charges as the company’s CEO, and community members felt that he had more excuses than answers about what happened behind closed doors.
“Yes, I bought a Bentley back in December, before any issues with MtGox and getting bitcoins out. Anyone that understands the price difference in cars between Cyprus and the UK they will understand exactly why I sold my own bitcoins to buy the car.”
Superhero image via Shutterstock
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