A story about normalizing technology.
Image: Flickr/Fredrik Rubensson
This is a post about capitalization standards, but it's also about how we decide to normalize technology and when.
If you've been following Motherboard's cryptocurrency coverage over the years, you may have noticed some changes. Back in 2011 and 2012, we would alternately capitalize Bitcoin or write it all in lowercase, depending on the whim of whoever was doing the story. In 2015, we elected to capitalize Bitcoin when talking about the system or protocol, and lowercase denominations of the currency: So, "I love Bitcoin, and I own many bitcoins." In 2016, we decided to write about cryptocurrencies all in lowercase.
As of today, we're going back to our previous rule. From here on out, we will capitalize cryptocurrencies when referring to the protocol or system—Bitcoin, Ethereum, Monero, etc.—but lowercase the denominations: "I love Ethereum and own a lot of ether."
Our decision here is partly practical and partly philosophical. The main reason we decided to lowercase all cryptocurrencies was to replicate how the normalization of other technologies is reflected in writing. For a long time after the internet became popular, for example, publications would capitalize it as "Internet," and many still do. Now that the internet is an integral part of most of our personal and work lives, it just seems a bit silly to see it capitalized, doesn't it? It's as if the writer is talking about something alien and unfamiliar instead of a system we're all deeply embedded within. So, in a move that now seems wildly optimistic, we decided to get ahead of the curve with cryptocurrencies and de-capitalize them.
Recent events have played out in ways we couldn't have predicted. Bitcoin, for example, recently split off into two separate versions with nearly identical code and, most importantly, an identical transaction history up until the time of the split. With this newly introduced confusion, our previous capitalization policy thrust us into the realm of value judgements: Should the new version of Bitcoin, called Bitcoin Cash, be capitalized when Bitcoin proper is not? What kind of message does that send to our readers? Does one version "deserve" to be capitalized while the other does not? On the other hand, which implementation "deserves" to be treated with the kind of familiarity that the internet does, and why?
Leaving these questions aside, on a purely practical level, it just makes more sense to readers, in our estimation, to parse a sentence like, "Bitcoin Cash is an offshoot of Bitcoin," instead of, "bitcoin cash is an offshoot of bitcoin." So, that's one point on the side of capitalization.
The previously raised philosophical concerns also put us on the side of capitalization. With yet another Bitcoin split on the way in November, it's clear that the Bitcoin protocol (and community) is not as monolithic as we had presumed, and at the moment it's not as resilient as other technologies we de-capitalize, like the internet. The battle between Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash is largely a battle between brands, and another entrant with a new name (no word on whether it will also try to claim the 'Bitcoin' moniker) is about to enter the arena.
We need to keep our articles readable. We also need to avoid the illusion of preference. Above all, we need to be careful about which technologies we normalize. For all these reasons, we're going to capitalize all cryptocurrencies-as-systems and de-capitalize their denominations. Litecoin, Dogecoin, Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, etc.
In the bonkers world of cryptocurrencies, there have to be some rules.