Bitcoin took an important step closer to broader consumer adoption last week, when it became supported by the HTML 5 standard.
This means one-click support for bitcoin payments could make its way into popular browsers before long.
HTML is the language used to describe what a webpage looks like to a web browser. Version 5, which has been in development for years, is not yet ratified. Nevertheless, browsers already use many features of this standard while it is in ongoing development.
Last week, the “bitcoin” handler was introduced (technically, “whitelisted”) into HTML 5. As browser developers roll out support in their software, it means that a hyperlink can be encoded to start a bitcoin payment.
Currently, when bitcoin users wish to make a payment, they must manually send bitcoins to an address from within their web wallet or application wallet. Generally, this involves either scanning a QR code, or copying and pasting a bitcoin address.
Under the new system, a hyperlink to a bitcoin address could be encoded with the “bitcoin:” label in a webpage or any other document using HTML, such as an email message.
Clicking on the link would activate the bitcoin wallet designated by the user, which would then be set up to make the payment. This is similar to the “mailto:” link in current versions of HTML, which activates the appropriate email client to send a mail.
This isn’t yet a full web standards embrace of bitcoin, though, because there are currently two different versions of the HTML 5 specification. The “bitcoin:” label has been ratified by the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG), which is a split from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) group. However, browser developers pay close attention to the WHATWG. The developers of Chromium, for example, which is the open-source code on which Google is Chrome is based, have said that they build WHATWG features into their browser.
Ecoin fans have expressed ambivalence about the move in discussion forums. Several users on Y Combinator’s Hacker News page, for example, lamented the fac there was a label for bitcoin but not for any other cryptocurrency.