Bitcoins are nominally worth $113 as of this very moment. That means very little in the real world. As Forbes writer Kasmir Hill notes, it’s pretty difficult to go up to the McDonald’s cashier and offer an invisible cryptocurrency that resides entirely on the Internet in exchange for a Big Mac. She’s survived a week using nothing but Bitcoins and, although she’s still alive, her experience wasn’t friction-free.
That’s changing. While I find most announcements that so-and-so website is now accepting Bitcoins to be little more than PR stunts, the fact that Gyft, a gift card site, is now accepting BTC is important. In essence, it allows Bitcoin users to turn their value into store credit and, more importantly, this credit can be spent at places you actually want to spend it.
As I wrote before, Bitcoin has a last mile problem. Human beings need food, shelter, and entertainment (read: sex) and excepting a few very rare instances, none of these things can be purchased with Bitcoin. Right now, for example, I can order Papa John’s (shudder) through Foodler and pay with Bitcoin, but I can’t go into Papa John’s and get the deed done. I could get some entertaining substances with Bitcoin, but that’s about it.
That’s where services like Gyft come in. While some would say that this is probably one of the most novel money laundering schemes anyone has seen in a while – you can feasibly spend “spare” cash without alerting the authorities if you have a ready supply of Bitcoin sellers handy – you could also say that this is the way forward for money transfers. Barring a working Bitcoin machine on every street corner, this is the next best thing.
I’m honestly glad that Bitcoin is gaining in popularity. Like PayPal before it, the platform helps more than it hurts. Even PayPal of late has been the bad guy but it’s an amazing feeling to be able to control how you pay for goods and services via a protected and ostensibly safe online bank. I remember vividly the trepidation I felt when I first gave my back account info to PayPal back in 2000, and now PayPal is my payment service of choice simply because I don’t like typing in my credit card number.
Bitcoin is PayPal on steroids and geeks, who are the perfect target audience because they never give up and have plenty of resources at their disposal, are the ones leading the charge. It takes smarts to mine Bitcoins but it doesn’t take many to buy them. This is a good thing.
Until we can zap Bitcoins to the cashier at Arby’s, we’re not really living in the future. However I think we just took one step towards that future. It feels good.