In Search Of Bitcoin At CES

Bitstamp, the well-known bitcoin exchange that saw the equivalent of $5 million in the cryptocurrency disappear after a breach by malicious hackers, was notably absent during last week’s CES show — its pre-paid stand completely empty save for a fan of trade mags laid out by a hopeful publisher. Instead of manning their booth, reps from company, we heard, were holed up in a hotel room helping the startup resume services — which it did by last Friday.

But that painful process, however, didn’t seem to dent larger enthusiasm for bitcoin at the Vegas trade show. Even late on a Thursday afternoon, lots of people nosed around the exhibitor stands, trying out demos of a bitcoin ATM, buying things with the currency, and hearing tips about how to mine the damn things.

“Damn” is the operative word here: I heard of someone tapping to hydropower to mine the currency.

Although Bitstamp’s 19,000 lost coins are nowhere near the magnitude of Mt Gox, the juxtaposition of yet another hacking, alongside all the curiosity and positive interest in bitcoin, underscores how the currency and its place in the market remain in flux. Yes, it holds a lot of promise. But stability — and for many consumers, comprehension or relevance — remain elusive.

I took a stroll around the bitcoin stands of CES and chatted with some of the bigger players in the space, including Circle (“making bitcoin relevant to average consumers”); Bitpay (“the PayPal of bitcoin,” working with businesses to enable bitcoin commerce); Robocoin (bitcoin ATMs) and Kraken (an exchange). Kraken is interesting in light of the Bitstamp hack: they have been assigned to help investigate what went wrong at Mt Gox, and help recover as much of the money as they can. No news on that front just yet: they’re only now getting started, they tell me.