2013 in a word? According to at least one economist it was: Bitcoin – a secure peer-to-peer payment system and digital currency created in 2009. New Bitcoins are mined by software programmers, and although users can remain anonymous, central to the system is a public database and sequential record of all transactions (as if one could track the use of each dollar bill by its serial number).
2013 marked Bitcoin’s entry into mainstream culture. Bitcoins are now accepted at roughly a thousand retail shops (and by the NBA Sacramento Kings); Bank of America issued a research report with a price target of $1,300 — which was a bold move given the wild fluctuations in bitcoin value over the past few months — while recent news reports have focused on the government raid of online marketplace Silk Road (which largely trafficked in illegal goods) and included the seizure of $25 million in Bitcoin. Then New York’s top regulator convened a hearing on Bitcoin’s future. Once you start looking, it seems Bitcoin is everywhere.
And if a new disruptive technology is everywhere, it’s safe to bet that venture capital will try to get out in front; hence the $74 million invested in Bitcoin related businesses by venture firms in 2013, including over $50 million by A-List firm Andreeseen Horowitz (although the IRS won’t provide guidance on how direct Bitcoin investments will be taxed). Two A13Z principals recently gave their take on Bitcoin: Chris Dixon sees the payments industry as $500 billion in bloat with little intrinsic value, and Marc Andreeseen writes (in the New York Times no less) that Bitcoin’s potential value is not political, but technical. On the other side is economist Tyler Cowen with an essay on how and why Bitcoin will fall in price, and video of another VC who has her doubts. If you are going to flip a coin to decide to speculate in new digital currencies, Bitcoin might be it.