Updated January 24 at 4:24pm

Bitcoin: ‘Killer app’ or the currency of the future?

By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer

On an icy December evening, about a dozen local technology enthusiasts gathered over pizza and beer at the Founders League offices in Providence to discuss Bitcoin, the popular digital currency that’s soared, crashed and soared again in value over the past year. More

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TECHNOLOGY

Bitcoin: ‘Killer app’ or the currency of the future?

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On an icy December evening, about a dozen local technology enthusiasts gathered over pizza and beer at the Founders League offices in Providence to discuss Bitcoin, the popular digital currency that’s soared, crashed and soared again in value over the past year.

They were software developers, engineers and entrepreneurs who, by and large, were less interested in the open-source crypto-currency as a source of income or investment, but as the next “killer app” capable of changing how information is stored, shared and verified.

“[Bitcoin] almost certainly will not take over for fiat currency, except maybe in countries with a failing economy,” said Jon Bittner, CEO of bill-sharing startup Splitwise and organizer of the Providence Bitcoin Meetup. “But I think we are going to see it used as a really interesting protocol – like email and the World Wide Web is a protocol – for identity, trust verification and probably for games. It’s basically a new killer app for the Internet, a distributed trust mechanism.”

Bitcoin is defined by The Associated Press as a currency created and exchanged independent of banks or governments that can be converted into cash when deposited into accounts at prices set in online trading.

As bitcoins have risen in value and notoriety this year, there has been little sign of the currency’s impact in Rhode Island, where the digital economy is still relatively young and undeveloped.

According to CoinMap, a website that charts places you can use Bitcoin, there are now over 2,000 businesses (not including the black market) that accept the currency, but only one in Rhode Island: The Figure Ground Studio, an architecture and landscape design firm in Jamestown.

“No one has paid us in bitcoin yet,” said Ethan Timm, principal at the The Figure Ground Studio, which is relocating to Rhode Island from Oregon. “We thought because there is growing interest it would keep us ahead of the curve and be a way to distinguish ourselves in the marketplace for any client interested in paying that way.”

Mainstream investors and the financial industry have largely ignored Bitcoin due to its volatility, while businesses accepting it as payment for goods and services are rare.

“We’re aware of Bitcoin but we regard it as so speculative that we are not using it in our managed portfolios or recommending it to our clients in any way,” said Robert E. Cusack, portfolio manager at Whalerock Point Partners LLC in Providence, about Bitcoin’s investment value.

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