The History of Bitcoin Until Now

We interviewed Nathaniel Popper about his new book on Bitcoin, 'Digital Gold.'

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May 22 2015, 1:53pm

It's hard to believe that Bitcoin, the digital currency that approximates cash on the internet, turned six years old in January.

I started learning about Bitcoin in the summer of 2011. I first read about it in an article on Gawker about the druggie e-bazaar Silk Road, which required payment in Bitcoin because of its semi-anonymity. "Bitcoins have been called a 'crypto-currency,' the online equivalent of a brown paper bag of cash," Gawker wrote.

It's funny to go back now and read these early stories, as the media tried to wrap its head around just what Bitcoin was. "The name 'Bitcoin' is derived from the pioneering file-sharing technology Bittorrent," Gawker wrote, which I'm not sure is true (BitTorrent isn't mentioned in the white paper that launched Bitcoin).

"Bitcoins are snippets of code that use encryption to prevent counterfeiting and double-spending," is what I wrote a little later for the New York Observer—a mangling because Bitcoin is actually a ledger system, and there is no "snippet of code" to correspond to a single coin.

But anyway. Bitcoin has come a very long way since then, even if journalists continue to muck it up every so often. Some people believe it will be around for the next hundred years; others are surprised it hasn't disappeared by now. In its short history, it's seen the rise and fall of an illicit online drug market, multiple Black Friday-esque market crashes, a number of massive heists and pyramid schemes, and millions of dollars of investment from Silicon Valley.

Plenty of action for a book.

With some trepidation, New York Times reporter Nathaniel Popper decided now was the time to release Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money. It's the definitive book on Bitcoin, and it came out earlier this week. It covers things like the fall of Mt. Gox and the enigmatic coder who may be Bitcoin's creator.

In this episode of Radio Motherboard, we talked to Popper about the process of researching his book. We also spoke to Courtney Marie Warner, who loves Bitcoin, even though it put her boyfriend in prison. And we spoke to some random people at a park to see just how far we have to go before Bitcoin is truly mainstream.

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