Digital currency promises to solve some problems of the “real money” world, among them the difficulty of making quick, secure global payments without having to pay a middleman steep fees to exchange one currency for another.

While bitcoins have proven they can do the trick, the currency comes with its own problems. Bitcoin can take 10 minutes or more to verify a payment (or transaction of any kind) … and that’s if you can find a retailer that actually accepts bitcoins. That’s where OpenCoin hopes to step in with a more convenient alternative.

Launched by two veterans of the online economy – Chris Larsen, a co-founder of E-LOAN, and Jed McCaleb, who created the bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox – OpenCoin is placing its bets on a new digital currency payment network called Ripple. Similar to bitcoin in that it’s math-based, Ripple is more easily exchanged with other currencies and enables transactions that can be verified in seconds rather than minutes, according to the company’s execs.

OpenCoin enjoys some big-name financial backing, with investors that include Andreessen Horowitz, Lightspeed Ventures and the Founder’s Fund, whose partners include PayPal founder Peter Thiel.

Early adopters, pay attention, though: Larsen’s and McCaleb’s OpenCoin (dot-com) is not the same as the OpenCoin project (dot-org), which is behind an open-source form of digital cash. The Ripple (dot-com) currency also has a doppelgänger in the form of the internet-based charity venture ripple (dot-org).

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