Cryptocurrencies are continuing their relentless march into the mainstream, with a host of products and services – including cigars, online dating and petrol – now available to those with a few coins jingling in their digital wallet.
However, one small but thorny problem still awaits a real solution: how to get around the fact that most people still have no idea how to actually buy bitcoin?
A glance at any online guide might put them off further: they will need a digital wallet, but likely can't put funds into it with either a credit card or PayPal, so will have to seek out a staffed coin exchange, perhaps, or look a little suspicious exchanging cash for coin at a street 'meetup'. And what about the risk of getting ripped off along the way?
Brave new world
Without painting too negative a picture, the fact that remains that, for many newbies entering this brave new world of algorithmically-mined money, the process of buying and selling digital currency can be quite off-putting.
So, if bitcoin is to have the bright future everyone (bar the banks) hopes it will, buying and selling coins must become easier, like a trip to the ATM or ordering a book from Amazon.
What if you could just buy a token in the 'real' world, head to a user-friendly website, type in a code from the token, and receive your bitcoin moments later? Now that would be easy, wouldn't it?
Card for Coin
You know what this is building up to, don't you? You read the headline after all. Yes, indeed, a new service called Card for Coin has launched to allow anyone with balance on a Starbucks voucher to exchange it for bitcoin, quickly and (almost) painlessly. Starbucks is not affiliated with the service – by the way.
Customers will, though, still have to create their digital wallet, but the website helps with this too. A link directs them to Coinbase, where creating an account takes less than a minute and only requires an email address and a password to set up.
Now the customer just has to enter the voucher code and PIN into the Card for Coin form, wait to accept an offer on the value, and their bitcoin will be sent to them by email or into a bitcoin address.
Hmm, it's so simple, there has to be a catch, right?
Well, yes and no. It is an elegantly simple solution to the problem, providing you have a Starbuck's voucher in the first place. However, it's likely that many potential customers will be put off by the 30 to 40% cut that Card for Coin takes for providing the service (that's the pain referred to above).
There is also a $100 maximum on the value of the vouchers that can be exchanged – although the site indicates that they are prepared to discuss larger transactions privately. There is no minimum value, however, and sub-$5 deals are welcome.
Card for Coin is the brainchild of Matt Luongo, a 25-year-old software developer from Atlanta, Georgia, who co-founded Scholrly, a search engine aimed to help users find and connect with researchers and resources.
After receiving inspiration from a similar idea dreamed up by online coffee retailer Tonx, which was offering credit in its store in exchange Starbucks vouchers, Luongo decided to use the concept for a bitcoin exchange that even a complete novice could instantly understand.
"Bitcoin is so important right now, so I thought, 'Hey, why not go straight to consumers?'" Luongo told the Digital Trends website.
Card for Coin currently only exchanges vouchers for bitcoin, but if there's sufficient demand, other cryptocurrencies might be brought on board, he said.
For the immediate future, Card for Coin is looking into the possibility of allowing users to exchange gift cards from other retailers for bitcoin.