I checked out San Francisco's Dogecon event to meet the people behind the currency's cute, furry face.
Image: Max Cherney
At the digital currency Dogecoin’s first ever conference, a 14-year-old girl explained how she’d gone from rags to riches, and back to rags, all in Dogecoin. After her witty comments on Reddit generated dogecoin tips—usually in the 100s, or about five cents a time—she bet her fortune on a League of Legends battle waged against a friend. And lost. Much sadness.
The girl, Victoria, was attending Dogecon San Francisco, thrown by Follow the Coin, to see what the hoopla over the meme-themed digital currency actually was (other than tipping people on Reddit). “[My family] thinks it’s weird, but it’s serious business,” she told me. And from the looks of things at the conference, Victoria is right. Dogecoin is for real.
Back in February we wrote that Dogecoin is worth taking seriously, and it's been more successful than Bitcoin’s first several years, at least if you measure it by market capitalization (the total dollar value of the currency). Now, the digital currency based on a dog meme distinguished by grammatically absurd broken phrases in the Comic Sans font is the fifth largest digital currency in the world (with a market cap of about $33 million). It was touted at the conference as the most “widely traded virtual currency in the world,” and it’s not hard to see why.
Image: Max Cherney
Dogecoin has found its niche with small transactions—like contributing tiny amounts to crowdfunding campaigns—and much like its big brother Litecoin, which Bloomberg recently declared was a “low-price challenger” to Bitcoin, prides itself in ease of use. “The world is flat, currency is flat too,” quipped Matt Conn, CEO of MidBoss games, referring to Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book.
At the conference, a clean-cut Argentine and an Australian with dreads learned that I’d never used Dogecoin. “Do you have an Android phone?” they asked. I did. After downloading the wallet app, the Australian gave me 1,000 dogecoins—which is worth about 50 cents. It took about a minute, all said. Once the blockchain finished downloading a couple hours later, I started to give the dogecoins away.
The ease with which you can get started with Dogecoin is perhaps why 900 people signed up to attend the conference staged at Wordpress’ SOMA district headquarters, a space that comfortably held the 300 or so people who showed.
“It’s great that you can use bitcoin to buy a ticket on Virgin Galactic, or at a Tesla dealership,” Dogecoin creator Jackson Palmer told me, “But not that many people will do that. Digital currency should be useful for small $10 purchases.”
Dogecoin creator Jackson Palmer. Image: Facebook/Follow the Coin, used with permission.
Palmer expanded on that idea during his talk, which kicked the event off on Friday. He suggested that the key to Dogecoin’s success will result from people everywhere wanting to use the digital currency to make purchases, and businesses of all sizes accepting dogecoin. Dogecoin’s inherent value shouldn’t be that it can be sold for older forms of fiat money, an idea sharply at odds with Bitcoin. “The real test for us is whether or not my parents and family are comfortable using Dogecoin,” Palmer said.
It’s worth pointing out again that Dogecoin events attract an atypical crowd—at least for tech related events. There were noticeably more women participating and attending than some other events (though still not as many as some hoped). I also spotted two families who brought their children (Victoria attended on her own, with her parents’ permission). “I just came for the beer,” one of the fathers told me. “He’s [his son] here for the Dogecoin.” Also listening intently to the talks were Bitcoin entrepreneurs such as Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong.
Hood, the artist who has given away millions of Dogecoin in apparent protest over San Francisco’s rising rents, supplied the Dogecon SF’s organizers with a recorded statement that praised the Shibes’ (the name Dogecoin enthusiasts refer to themselves with) generosity, and encouraged everyone to “change the hearts of the greedy” through “art and word of mouth.”
Hood’s message is one that reverberates throughout the Dogecoin community. Already Dogecoin has been used to raise money for some interesting causes, such as sending a racecar to NASCAR’s Talladega track, which were highlighted during the panel discussion about the community and its charitable giving. The Dogecoin Foundation itself has raised more than $100,000 for charitable giving, board member Ben Doernberg told me, which includes projects that help AIDS initiatives, provide service dogs for children in need, and one that works to rescue Shiba Inus (the dog in the Doge meme) in Colorado.
Planned discussions at the conference were also focused on some of the more concerning issues confronting digital currencies in the present and future. Tax issues, for example, are an enormous challenge—not only for people using digital currencies, but also for startups trying to work with banks. Banks are often afraid of companies that work with and use digital currencies, attorney Alice Townes told me.
By the time the talks wound down in the evening, the meme culture that’s so central to the digital currency’s branding came out in full force. It was, after all, a Dogecoin conference—much fun! There was food, and booze, and what turned out to be a pretty small costume contest (the dude in the briefs beat the astronaut, for unknown reasons). And like other Dogecoin events, there were cute dogs.
Image: Max Cherney
What emerged from the three hours of panel discussions and speeches was that beyond the cute and furry face of Dogecoin is a tech-savvy group trying to make digital currency real for everyday use and inject some fun into cryptocurrencies.
While it may have an uncertain future that’s sure to involve regulatory challenges and resistance from mainstream financial institutions, the conference made the digital currency’s driving charge tangible. And for Palmer and the others I talked to over the course of the day, the event was further proof that the digital currency’s ethos of serious ideas, friendliness, and generosity is not only feasible, but popular too.