“Now youcan use Bitcoin to buy virtually anything,” an oft-quoted cliché goes. But isit true? Forbes’ Kashmir Hill has returned to find out if Bitcoin really cansupport your entire life in 2014.
Hilloriginally held an experiment to live off Bitcoin for one week last year, whenthe price of BTC was around $130. Now it is worth almost four times thatfigure, which gave Hill, with her six remaining bitcoins, a lot more to playwith.
No more “Bit what?”
It is worthnoting that Hill is based in San Francisco, where there is a relativeplentitude of Bitcoin outlets compared to more remote locations, which gave hera distinct advantage. California has furthermore shown a fairly liberalattitude to consumer-level Bitcoin innovation, in contrast to other states suchas Ohio, which has banned alcohol sales on Cleveland’s newly opened BitcoinBoulevard.
Hill’sexperience on the first day of this year’s experiment gave both an insight intochanging trends regarding Bitcoin and a demonstration of the challenges noviceusers could find themselves up against when trying it out.
Whenseeking a repair for her bicycle, “[themechanic’s] eyes didn’t goggle at the mention of Bitcoin as they did when Iwent into a bike shop the year before, when a clerk looked at me like I wascrazy and said ‘Bit what?’” she writes.
Nevertheless,she still needed to pay cash, which highlights the obvious yet unavoidable factthat Bitcoin’s availability as a payment method is insufficient for consumers’unexpected needs. Indeed, this is most likely the case even in those locationswith the most widespread acceptance.
Whenpurchasing items from a grocery stand, the transaction took a total of 67minutes to be confirmed as Hill did not attach a transaction fee. “I couldn’t help but wonder if this was abreakdown in communication between Coinbase and Blockchain’s services,” shewrites before the aforementioned explanation was suggested to her by acolleague.
Such aconclusion could well be drawn by many others, especially those with limitedknowledge of the transaction process, which in turn could lead to distrust ofBitcoin’s major names and frustration with the process in general.
Hill’srelatively bad luck was reversed by a chance discovery of Gyft, a websiteselling gift certificates for a range of merchants wide enough to cover most ofone’s needs and which also accepts payment in Bitcoin. “It’s so easy that I start binging,” she says, purchasing a rangeof products and services including taxis and entertainment.
In Hill’ssubsequent conversation with CEO Vinny Lingham, he reveals that Gyft “had $100,000 worth of Bitcoin sales itsfirst month of accepting it in May 2013,” that “they now have monthly sales of over $1 million in Bitcoin, and that itdoubled in November and December when Bitcoin’s value surged.”
Thisunderlines a disparity between online support and the still relatively slowuptake on the ground, and a Bitcoin “community,” albeit rapidly accumulatingnew users, still set apart from the mainstream consumers by virtue of itstechnical inquisitiveness.
While theresults of Hill’s full article are perhaps exactly as is to be expected, it isinteresting nonetheless that in spite of Bitcoin’s ups and downs, botheconomically and in terms of public relations, the upward trend it exhibits isindisputable.