If one of the initial fears surrounding Bitcoin, or rather digital currencies of which there suddenly appears to be a veritable tsunami now that anyone with an algorithm can become their own central bank (and all are exploding in value in what should make at least a few people nervous) is lack of adoption, that may be put to rest courtesy of a new initiative called "Bitcoin Black Friday" which, as TechCrunch reports, has been adopted by over 400 online retailers who starting on Friday will be offering special deals just for Bitcoin users.
Since this is Bitcoin's first unofficial Thanksgiving, having stormed on the public scene after exploding in price from under $100 to nearly trading on parity with an ounce of gold, many of the Bitcoin-only offers are gimmicky: "you can use bitcoins to buy a bacon-flavored lollipop or a ticket to space on Virgin Atlantic, for example. That's not really going to help you with your holiday shopping list, though. However, there are some decent choices on the site, too, but for obvious reasons, they tend to be a little more geeky in nature. Adafruit, for instance, is offering 10% off of everything in stock, including Raspberry Pi. Reddit is selling Reddit Gold. The Humble Bundle has deals up for grabs. There are also software, electronics, domain name and hosting deals, and so on."
A sampling of the deals from the site is shown below:
And while there are some good deals to be found...
Mobile gift card app Gyft is one of the better deals available, giving Bitcoin shoppers 4 percentage points back when you buy gift cards from its supported retailer partners, like Target, Gamestop, Gap, Zappos, Nike, Old Navy, and hundreds of others. If you were stocking up on gift cards anyway, that's worth taking advantage of. (For what it's worth, PayPal users will get 3% back, while credit card users get 2% back, the company says.)
... TechCrunch correctly observes that the catalog is no Amazon, for obvious reasons: "the deal quality on “Bitcoin Black Friday” is a good indicator of where Bitcoin is in terms of mainstream adoption. That is, not so much. There really aren't big-name retailers on board with the digital currency at this time... big-name tech companies like Google, Amazon and eBay aren't going to play along either, as they all have their own payment mechanisms to push (Google Wallet, PayPal and Amazon's one-click checkout experience, respectively)."
But the list of vendors is growing at a pace that only rivals the explosion in the price of Bitcoin itself:
The Bitcoin Black Friday movement is still growing, however. Earlier this week, it was touting that 250 retailers had signed up, and today there are nearly 200 more. Evan Greer of Fight the Future also tells us the site has seen over 30,000 unique visitors to date, almost half of which arrived yesterday. Meanwhile, over 4,000 people have signed up to get an email when the deals go live.
And even if the popularity of Bitcoin adoption also follows a parabolic curve, a bigger problem is accurately observed by TechCrunch. Consider that on one hand Internet activists Fight for the Future are trying to spread the word about the Bitcoin Black Friday efforts, somewhat radicalizing the event by pointing to Bitcoin's potential to be disruptive to the status quo. "Bitcoin is an amazing new technology, but because it challenges established industries, it will face serious political opposition–especially in the U.S. where those industries are strongest,” the message reads on the project's site. “Bitcoin will only be safe once millions of people rely on it every day.”
Yet on the other hand, it is the sheer surge in the USD-denominated value of Bitcoin itself that may be turning off many people due to the law of large numbers (Bitcoin can't do a reverse stock split), and instead potential entrants to the digital currency world are looking at far cheaper BTC competitors (and there are plenty), as an alternative:
Of course, Bitcoin won't reach those mainstream “millions” while speculators drive the price of the cryptocurrency to crazy new heights. That doesn't discount its long-term potential though as a money transfer platform, though. But as a payment mechanism for online shopping? While it's great that there are over 441 retailers on board with Bitcoin Black Friday, it would be better if there were more deals mainstream users would actually want to buy. Instead of say, Bitcoin t-shirts, stickers, glasses, mining equipment….and, oh yeah, more Bitcoin.
Then there is the flipside to the argument. If and when the inevitable correction comes, how many of those who decided to give bitcoin "a try" will end up losing substantial disposable income and be turned off by the whole concept of alternative currencies? Someone with a paranoid bent may see how such a scenario could be put to great use by those who can create fiat de novo and use it to bid up BTC to stratospheric levels only to force a crash subsequently.
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And in totally unrelated news, and showing that sometimes nothing beats having a physical currency in one's hand is the story of James Howells from Wales, who bought 7500 Bitcoins in 2009, forgot about them, threw away his hard disk and is now scrambling to retrieve because the value of his "digital wallet" has exploded to over $7 million! From BBC:
James Howells's hard drive contains 7,500 bitcoins - which is a virtual form of currency for use online. It had sat in a drawer for years and he had forgotten it contained the bitcoins, which he obtained in 2009 for almost nothing, when he threw it out.
But this week, a single bitcoin's value hit $1,000 (£613) for the first time. It means Mr Howells's collection is now worth $7.5m (£4.6m).
A few years ago Mr Howells, who works in IT, had dismantled his computer after spilling a drink on it. "I stored a couple of parts away like the hard drive, and the rest of the bits and pieces which were still working I sold for spares," he told BBC Radio Wales.
"I kept the hard drive in a drawer in my office for three years without a second thought - totally forgot about bitcoin all together. I had been distracted by family life and moving house.
"Fast forward to 2013 which is when I had a clearout of my old IT equipment - I hadn't used this drive for over three years, I believed I'd taken everything off it... so it got thrown in the bin."
Mr Howells later realised what was left on the hard drive.
He added: "I had been hearing a few stories of a chap from Norway who had bought a number of coins for a very low price and had sold them for a high price and that's when I got back into checking the price and seeing what I'd done.
"When I found out what the price was, the penny dropped and I realised the coins I have 'mined' were on the drive I had thrown away.
"There was not a lot I could do."
Good luck James.
The irony here is that while many owners of the barbarous relic, (which may not be rising parabolically in price right now, but at least feels quite firm to the touch) are known to have "unfortunate boating accidents", water has a less than desired effect on electronics. But that's ok: we are confident that any Bitcoin lost in the electronic ether can always be retrieved eventually: just call 1-800-NSA.