Peter Bushnell is the founder and creator of Feathercoin, one of the latest digital currencies. We talked with him to learn more about Feathercoin's origins and how to best mine the currency.
While the origins of Bitcoin are shrouded in mystery, the founder of Feathercoin (FTC) says he likes transparency. Feathercoin is controlled from a house at the end of a terrace, in the sleepy Oxfordshire suburb of Arncott. The currency is the brainchild of Peter Bushnell, who until last month ran the IT department at Oxford University's Brasenose College.
When he first joined the university, Bushnell spent the first few months trying to persuade the IT department to put in a firewall ... and he continued that battle for the next 11 years. Now, he's moved on. "I was keen for another challenge," Bushnell says. "None of the projects going on there really enthused me."
These days, Feathercoin is keeping Bushnell so busy that he feels like he hardly sleeps. He works full-time managing an altcurrency with a market cap that beats Freicoin and BBQCoin, and which is quickly catching up to Terracoin. That isn't bad for a currency that launched only this past April 20th.
What is Feathercoin?
Feathercoin is based on Litecoin, a math-based currency that came to life in October 2011. Like Litecoin, Feathercoin uses a fundamentally different hashing algorithm than Bitcoin. Whereas Bitcoin is based on SHA 256, Litecoin and Feathercoin use Scrypt. That hashing algorithm is memory intensive, which makes it far more difficult to simply throw computing power at it by developing an ASIC. It gives CPU and GPU miners a better chance of mining the currency.
How/why was it developed?
Bushnell first dabbled in altcurrencies at the end of 2011, and became increasingly interested in the concept. He started by mining Solidcoin, but then switched to Litecoin. Back in the day, there was an enthusiasm about Litecoin which he loved. It was the underdog in a cryptocurrency world controlled by Bitcoin, he recalls. "When I started with Litecoin it was really the community that I thought was very engaging, because there was a certain amount of arrogance among Bitcoin users."
He loved Litecoin so much that he mined 30,000 of them. However, he added, "People were taking their success for granted ... I wanted a coin with four times the amount of coins, and I wanted to recreate the level of enthusiasm that we had in the first place."
Eventually, Bushnell continued, "I thought there was room for something else." That something was Feathercoin. He finally finished it while on holiday. "I came to the decision that I could either go back to work or pursue my hobby," he says.
He gave away 2,300 litecoins as bounties to others in exchange for helping him to flesh out the Feathercoin project, and plugged himself into the project full-time. How did the bounties help the project? "I figured it would be a good way to rally the community," Bushnell explains. "So really it was to get work done. And then we faced obstacles, as you do, along the way. Quite often [when] offering a bounty, people have come forward with a solution."
Relationship to Litecoin
Members of the Feathercoin team include Peter "John" Manglaviti, who is organizing projects on the Feathercoin website, and Robert Hazinga ("Dreamwatcher") a US-based cryptocurrency professional who used to make and repair PCs, but then got into arbitrage full time. He wrote the block explorer for FTC.
Who will use Feathercoin?
"We'd hope that eventually this would become something that's fit for the mass public," Bushnell says. "For consumers to use. The major problem is getting sort of cash into it. Getting real world money into bitcoins, which has made this whole thing live around with the techies more than anything else. You have to try quite hard. But there will be services that will be coming out that will make this whole thing much easier. There is a lot of money in it."
Difficulties and hard forks
One of the biggest challenges for the currency has been the rising difficulty level. Bushnell has to find a balance between difficulty and popularity. If the coin gets too difficult too quickly, people might stop mining it. This is what caused him to hard-fork the currency on May 22nd, just over a month after its launch. Hard forks aren't desirable in cryptocurrencies. Sometimes they happen accidentally, but some argue they are necessary.
"It happens when you decide that you want to make a structural change to the way that they're generated," Bushnell says.
"Normally, you'd hard-fork to introduce new features into a coin. But, in FTC's case, it was to bring the difficulty down. "When smaller coins get mined to a high difficulty, we lose that profitability," says Bushnell. "That's what happens now, which is why so many coins are forking for difficulty."
Best mining rigs
When asked about what hardware he would recommend for mining FTC, Bushnell said: "Well, the best card in my mind for the job is an AMD Radeon 7950. I don't know if that is starter enough. It is pretty top of the shelf. You can get them for £215, which I think is a deal considering that you can squeeze just as much performance out of them as you can a 7970.
"You can get a 7970 up to kilo-hashes and a 7950 will run at [the] 650 point easily. At least, I found they do with a sort of tweaking. They are £100 less and don't use as much power. That would be my entry level card ...
"You need something with decent shade counts, and that's what they have. Not as much as the 7970. And then you have the 7870 XT which is 1500 shaders, but they are very scarce in England. They seem very popular in the States, but I just can't source them, and if you can source them, they are just as pricy as the 7950s. That's if you're in the know. It's the 7870 if you're in the know and in the States."
Future of the altcoin landscape
With the wide variety of digital currencies appearing, we asked Bushnell how he saw the future unfolding and how these currencies might relate to one another.
"I see room for lots of cryptocurrencies," he says. "We just need the correct solutions in place to support them well ... You could have much more niche coins, which I think would be fantastic. A small group of people could drum up their own coin for changing between themselves with a root to an exchange. As long as you have some volume -- as long as you've got some value -- you have a viable currency.
"There is room for a lot more, but people aren't really prepared to see a lot more. There is room for a lot of fun coins. You could have a Pokémon coin, a color collectible, or that sort of thing. There is a lot of room for coins in games as well ... We had Linden dollars in the past with Second Life."
What do altcoins need to succeed?
Clearly, digital currencies need much more infrastructure in place before they can achieve mainstream adoption. One part of reaching that goal, Bushnell believes, is getting around the irreversibility of digital currency transactions: "There are some major obstacles. I think the biggest one is, transactions with typical fiats are reversible. So people are loath to facilitate between the two. Once that obstacle is overcome, then we can see people adopt Bitcoin much more easily. And this will happen. In the States, they are rolling out bitcoin vending machines. It seems very smart. You go along and stick in your real-world money and out pops these little bitcoins which have a code in. So really that's the sort of solution that we need to come up with."