Bits and Pieces: Bitcoin past the Decimal Point

One question about Bitcoin’s use by the lay consumer is not so much technical as mathematical: how do you deal with eight decimal places anyway?

From utter confusion which is dangerous enough in itself with one’s accounts to possible rejection of the currency, there is no doubt that should Bitcoin gather global acceptance, its pricing structure in its present form will take quite some getting used to.

Six of one...

The modern Bitcoin Core wallet, as bitcointalk user solex as well as many Reddit users note in posts on the issue, is also available for display in bits, rather than as a fraction of a whole bitcoin.

As a bit is equal to 100 satoshis, which are at any rate an infinitesimally small amount for anyone to use in daily life, they could produce an interface which is more suited for the kinds of purchases most commonly made.

As solex notes, all balances displayed in bits would look one million times larger than the equivalent as a fraction of a bitcoin. A cup of coffee for 0.007BTC would instead appear as 7000 bits.

While this still may seem unwieldy, it is certainly better than spelling out decimal places or expressing smaller amounts using satoshis.

But is this enough?  If a bitcoin were worth several thousand dollars, a moderately large purchase written in bits would still be rather alien number on a till receipt, “a bit like the Zimbabwe dollar” as one bitcointalk member wrote in response to the idea.

“Decimal points may be the death of Bitcoin as far as widespread adoption is concerned,” writes Brad Nickel in an article for ClickBrain, “...Of course there are ways around this, but we are just getting started with trying to get normal humans to understand how Bitcoin works and why it’s better. I’m not sure we can get them past this very simple sounding, but very complex to others issue.”

It may well be that a pricing solution must be sought as a matter of urgency if the public is to consider Bitcoin as an attractive proposition.

The same is true of other currencies such as Dogecoin, which today is hovering at around 2,190 to the dollar, which is already a difficult concept for consumers.

But is the problem in fact temporary after all? This could well be the gamble. For if BTC becomes hugely valuable over the years, the humble satoshi could well find broad acceptance for everyday purchases.

And, at the very least, the intervening years could enhance the average shopper’s mental arithmetic.