If you’ve been following our coverage of bitcoin here at Motherboard, you’ll know that I’m enthusiastic observer of the budding cryptocurrency, the technology behind it, and its implications for the future. And as the rest of the world got wind of The Future of Money™, thanks to a bubble that just popped, I’ve spent the past couple of months explaining to friends and family what it is and why it’s important. That's no easy feat when that person is your mom who only just got her first smartphone (an iPhone, of course).
Inevitably, the same question keeps popping up. What the hell can I actually do with these things? My answer is always disappointing: not very much. In many ways, bitcoin is awesome, but from a practical perspective, it’s also pretty useless. If you're not a techie, a hacker, a supporter, a speculator, an e-drug dealer, a Russian mobster, an Iranian revolutionary, a Chinese miner, or just a financial hipster, there’s little reason for you to be holding any BTC.
Any bitcoin evangelist,
no matter how eloquent,
is still selling the future.
Sure, you could get yourself some Reddit Gold, setup a Wordpress account, or sign up for OKCupid’s premium membership, but for day-to-day necessities, there’s not much going for the world’s most popular digital currency--unless you’re an avid viewer of artistic erotica, but that’s not the kind of thing you’re itching to tell your friends about. Any bitcoin evangelist, no matter how eloquent, is still selling the future. Every bitcoin argument is always followed by a big “if.”
But as the days go by, which feels like months in bitcoin time, that’s slowly starting to change. Yesterday, Foodler, an online food ordering service, announced that it would start accepting payments in bitcoin, a huge step in making virtual cash more relevant to everyday life. Now, if you have bitcoins, at the very least, you won’t go hungry. For the sake of drama, I’m purposely ignoring the cardboard concoctions from Domino’s.
To be fair, as a regular user of services like Delivery.com and Seamless, I’d never heard of Foodler. And as a second-tier clone, the selection isn’t great. It also isn’t terrible. From brick oven pizza to Chinese to my local burger joint, most of the classic delivery options were surprisingly available, including places where I am already a regular patron. (I do live in New York City, so your mileage may vary.)
Ordering delivery with bitcoins is a simple, straightforward process. To load money into your account, you send bitcoins to a uniquely generated address in exchange for FoodlerBucks (1 FoodlerBuck = 1 U.S. dollar). After that, proceed as you normally would. Thirty minutes later, I was wolfing down a tuna melt from Bully’s diner.
"Interest in Bitcoin is soaring and, as people are becoming accustomed to using Bitcoin to pay for everyday items -- whether it be at a coffee shop or local restaurant,” explained Christian Dumontet, co-founder of Foodler. “We wanted to provide an easy way for the more than 11 million people with Bitcoins to pay for their meal deliveries."
The system isn’t perfect. There appears to be some lag time in the exchange rate used to convert bitcoins into FoodlerBucks. The rate I got for my experiment was ~$72 even though Mt. Gox was trading at ~$90. That’s something one would hope Foodler would be able to easily address, but for now, knowing that I overpaid for my soggy sandwich dampens the thrill of the novelty. (Of course, the delayed rate could have also worked out in my favor. But this is me we’re talking about.)
Still, it’s nice to know that my tiny stash of coins isn’t totally pointless and that I’ll be able to spend my digibucks on stuff I actually need. Like glorious, delicious sustenance. And now that the price of bitcoins has once again stabilized, I feel less guilty spending them. Now all that’s left is to get my delivery guy to accept his tip in bitcoins.