At first glance, especially to a digital currency neophyte, OpenCoin might not look that different from Bitcoin. Look beyond the superficial similarities, though, and the two ventures in virtual money couldn’t be less alike.

That’s especially true in terms of the people – and money – behind the currencies.

US Dollars (small)Bitcoin, after all, was birthed in a way by a cipher … a man (or entity) who isn’t there. (Theories abound as to who or what Satoshi Nakamoto is or was.)

Nor did Bitcoin enjoy the advantages of big names and big money as it grew: its popularity grew through its appeal to a certain (often libertarian) segment of the online geek community, expanding – if you will – organically through widening appreciation of its cryptographic ingenuity.

OpenCoin, on the other hand, has the backing of some leading luminaries of the digital.

CEO Chris Larsen previously co-founded and led the online lender E-LOAN and the P2P marketplace Prosper. And CTO Jed McCaleb created both eDonkey (the largest P2P file sharing network in 2000) and Mt. Gox, which is now the leading Bitcoin exchange.

And then there are the money people. The list of investors in OpenCoin reads like an internet who’s who: Andreessen Horowitz (yes, that Andreessen), along with Ben Horowitz; Lightspeed Venture Partners; and the Founder’s Fund, whose partners include PayPal founder Peter Thiel.

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