Can Bitcoin Go Mainstream?

moneyWhat’s the future of Bitcoin? That’s what I’ve been trying to work out in my latest feature for IT Pro in Hong Kong. As always it’s a topic everyone seems to have an opinion on, although not many are prepared to stick their neck out too far.

The main issue is that most countries have adopted a “wait and see” approach to the crypto-currency, which puts it a bit in limbo. Very few have banned it outright – not even China or Thailand, as is commonly reported.

Usually in these cases, it’s merely restrictions rather than total prohibition that have been instituted.

For Frost & Sullivan analyst, Vijay Narayanan, IT leaders in public and private sector organisations could face “new challenges, responsibilities and opportunities” if the cryto-currency can establish itself.

“While corporates are likely to build upon the Bitcoin technology to deliver new products and services, governments may find new methodologies to execute its mission from a view point of a law enforcer and regulator,” he told me.

“Bitcoin, in the future, further could revolutionise the way firms conduct business. As Bitcoin as a form of payment is expected to mature, it is likely to create an ecosystem of firms that will support retailers and end consumers in storing, accepting and exchanging bitcoins as a mode of  barter of goods and services.”

However, he argued that for Bitcoin to go mainstream if must become more stable, and “resolve issues pertaining to trust and security” – only this will give the markets the confidence they need to adopt it more readily.

Quocirca founder Clive Longbottom agreed that the currency’s price volatility has been its undoing in the past, claiming that only those who value anonymity are really keeping it going from an end user perspective.

“Most governments are publicly trying to say that Bitcoin is a passing fad that will not last, while shitting themselves behind closed doors as to what crypto-currencies mean to global trade and how that can be effectively tracked, taxed and manipulated.  It is more than likely that there have been deep discussions between governments and central and global banks to try and find a way to control any spread of crypto-currencies, but obviously, without a completely different thought process behind it all, these will not get anywhere,” he told me by email.

“It is difficult to regulate something where there is no true controlling body as such and all transactions are controlled by an overarching network. It is too easy for people to bypass any controls, so transactional charges and banking charges cannot be easily applied. As such, I think that we will see a few poorly thought out and implemented attempts to put in place some level of control, which will fail – unless Bitcoin itself suffers more problems.”

As to the future – well I suspect that Bitcoin and digital currencies in general will fail in themselves to see the mass adoption predicted for so long, mainly because most people are perfectly happy with existing currency systems. Where it could become more popular is in countries which already have weak and volatile currencies, but I doubt this will give it the momentum it needs.

Whether something bigger and better – and easier for ordinary users to ‘grasp’ – will eventually evolve from these platforms, is the great imponderable.

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