Bitcoin, the sophisticated three-year old digital currency that recently spread from hackers and programmers to a less-technical set, continues to fascinate.
Bitcoin enthusiasts headed to New York this weekend for the first Bitcoin World Conference and Expo in east Midtown, an event comprised of networking; workshops on mining and coding; showcasing of Bitcoin start-ups; announcements of future Bitcoin conferences in Thailand, Amsterdam as well as a Bitcoin cruise in 2013; meals at restaurants that accept Bitcoin; and talks by e-currency luminaries including Gavin Andresen, the technical lead for the Bitcoin project.
About 75 people, all but a handful of them male, gathered this weekend in east Midtown at the Roosevelt Hotel and at the studios of OnlyOneTV, which produces the web show The Bitcoin Show and organized the conference.
Attendees included representatives from Mt. Gox, the largest exchange which is based in Japan; TradeHill, the second-largest exchange; CampBX, a Georgia-based exchange, who lost their luggage on the flight; along with a host of other Bitcoin businesses. About a third of the audience were miners; about a fourth said they’d heard of Bitcoin
before it was cool since November. Attendees wondered if the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, the purported and potentially pseudonymous inventor of Bitcoin who last contacted Mr. Andresen by email in April, was among them.
Energy has flagged in the hunt for the people behind MyBitcoin.com, the popular e-wallet service that disappeared with, according to them, 154,406 Bitcoins back in early August. After days of silence, a spokesman emerged for the site and a claims process was initiated to refund users 49 percent of their deposits, which in today’s prices shakes out to $861,755.
But that still leaves 78,747 BTC ($896,929 USD at today’s prices), which MyBitcoin’s spokesman says were taken by hackers, unaccounted for.
The first Bitcoin Conference and World Expo is movin’ up–organizer Bruce Wagner, host of The Bitcoin Show, just announced a venue change. Instead of hosting the event at his studio, attendees will gather at the chic Midtown Roosevelt Hotel at 45th and Madison from August 19 to 21. Somebody there must like Bitcoin.
The popular Bitcoin transaction processor that disappeared from the internet about 10 days ago, taking at least tens of thousands of Bitcoins in user deposits with it, has been communicating via statements posted to the site. In essence: We screwed up. We were hacked. We have enough BTC to refund some of the lost Bitcoins, and then we’re done. “It appears to be human error combined with a misunderstanding of how Bitcoin secures transactions into the next block,” the most recent statement says by way of explanation.
Some members of the Bitcoin community suspect foul play (more about that later). But as promised, there is now a claims form for users who lost Bitcoins in the debacle: “Claims are manually reviewed and will be processed within 48 hours of being filed. This claim form will remain online for 30 days.”
And as of Saturday night, the historically-reticent MyBitcoin has a voice: “Tom Williams,” who stepped forward to field questions from the Bitcoin community via the #bitcoin-police channel on IRC, where he verified his association with the site by moving Bitcoins from the MyBitoin IP to a pre-specified address and providing the same encrypted signature that was used to sign the official statements posted on MyBitcoin.
After passing muster with the tech-savvy denizens of #bitcoin-police, a loosely-organized group of Bitcoin enthusiasts who investigate various issues in the Bitcoin community, Mr. Williams got down to tacks. “Listen: what did you think we did after the hack happened? We got shitfaced for many days. What would you do? Fuck.”
Who is Tom Williams? MyBitcoin.com, which disappeared without explanation from the internet about a week ago, is back up with a messages “From the desk of Tom Williams, operator of MyBitcoin.com.” The statement, labeled an “incident report,” is the only live page on the site. MyBitcoin noticed a large amount of BTC missing, the statement says, realized its security had been breached, and pulled the site immediately. After investigating the hack, the statement says, the “we” behind MyBitcoin realized it
was bankrupt and “would have to go into receivership.” There will be a claims process for reimbursing users, the statement says.
We’re not exactly sure what constitutes receivership in a system with no central authority, or why the site’s anonymous operators would feel obligated to refund its anonymous users given the utter lack of accountability. Before the statement hit, word on the street was that MyBitcoin.com, the user-friendly Bitcoin wallet that was the go-to for most Bitcoin newbies, was an elaborate ploy set up by a group of (Canadian?) hackers who swindled naive Bitcoin users for the money and the lulz. At the time it went down, MyBitcoin.com had more deposits than the third largest Bitcoin exchange, Bitomat.pl. Bitomat.pl had 17,000 BTC on hand when it went down this weekend due to human technical error. But just one Bitcoin user, the vocal Bruce Wagner, had 25,000 BTC stored at MyBitcoin when it disappeared. Betabeat had 6 BTC there, and we’re surely not the only ones. At today’s prices, MyBitcoin had more than $250,000 in its coffers.
Meze Grill, a tasty Mediterranean lunch spot on 8th Ave. and 55th St. in Midtown, was the first Manhattan restaurant to blaze the Bitcoin trail; since then, others have followed suit. The latest is Hudson Eatery, at 601 W. 57th. Beware, their website autoplays trance music.
Meze Grill, a Mediterranean restaurant near Columbus Circle, was one of the first known brick-and-mortar establishments to accept Bitcoin due to evangelism by neighbor and Bitcoin enthusiast Bruce Wagner. Now the restaurant is going further down the Bitcoin rabbit hole by operating as a small-scale exchange. Hey, accepting Bitcoin already got the place on international television and into the pages of Daily Intel–adding the cryptocurrency to the actual menu only seems logical. Come in with cash; walk out with Bitcoin! Just don’t go at lunch hour.
Thursday, August 18, hosted in by Bruce Wagner of The Bitcoin Show, at the offices of his web video studio OnlyOne.TV in Midtown Manhattan. Admission price $20. Or one Bitcoin.
“A friend wants to sell any amount of Bitcoin (up to $9,000 worth) for cash today in NYC (or from elsewhere) at TradeHill Last Price. Call me,” local Bitcoin evangelist Bruce Wagner tweeted two days ago.
True to the spirit of Bitcoin (recall: digital cryptocurrency that touched off a gold rush among geeks-turned-investors and speculation as to whether it’s the financial sector’s turn to feel the disruptive might of the internet), the seller wanted to remain anonymous. Our questions were relayed to him by email via Mr. Wagner, who facilitated the trade’s one-day turnaround.
“Actually, I have never had ANYONE that I know… be UNABLE to sell them all in one day,” Mr. Wagner typed over Gchat. “I know one guy who wanted to sell Bitcoins. He tweeted it on Twitter, and one guy drove down to NYC from Boston within 2 hours…. just to buy them with cash.”
It was a tweet from a stranger that crystallized the concept of Bitcoin for Bruce Wagner. “I can explain the benefit of Bitcoin in four words,” one of Mr. Wagner’s 12,000-some Twitter followers wrote. “Briefcases full of cash.”
At the time, briefcases full of pennies seemed more apt—one unit of the new virtual currency was then worth $0.06. Then, in one day, the price of a Bitcoin jumped to $0.22. Mr. Wagner, a former I.T. specialist who now produces and stars in his own web TV shows, became obsessed with the things. He sat at his computer, too excited to eat, reading the myriad white papers, trade blogs, technical analyses and forum discussions about Bitcoin. For five days, he hardly slept. He just kept thinking, This is amazing. This is going to change everything.
The last time he’d been this excited was when Windows came out. He got his hands on some Bitcoins and sold when the price doubled. It kept climbing. He invested more.
Bitcoin is Internet gold, a digital currency developed by a community of programmers in 2009 that represents the first plausible manifestation of an unregulated global “cryptocurrency” first imagined by anarchist computer hackers in the late 90’s.