Bitcoin has suited up before, but at BitFin 2014, bitcoin doesn’t wear a tie.
Every bitcoin conference has a unique vibe. While Americans were barbecuing for freedom, Ireland’s bitcoiners were hosting a two day conference, BitFin 2014, and the vibe was…let’s get practical, lets get down to business, let’s get working.
Suits can be an anathema to bitcoin purists, but good developers know that the suits can be useful sometimes. What was interesting about BitFin was how suits were talking about bitcoin and other “crypto-ledgers” seriously, and how integration with the existing financial system is going to happen, it’s a just a matter of how and when.
This was not an invitation only conference, which allowed many curious newcomers to interact with Bitcoin luminaries, finance ministers, and industry leaders. The attendance was less than expected, but it provided for a more intimate Q&A.
After attending numerous conferences this past year, BitFin sets a standard. The speakers list was impressive. Notable speakers included Max Keiser of The Keiser Report, Nicholas Carey of Blockchain.info, Bobby Lee CEO of BTC China, and Michael Terpin, CEO and founder of the bitangels. The panel moderators facilitated robust discussion, scheduled coffee breaks provided enough time for networking opportunities, and the “Dublin distributed dining” and social event gave all the attendees a taste of Dublin, and a chance to continue the discussion late into the night, pints in hand.
BitFin offered a glimpse into the talent in Ireland:
Jean-Pierre Rupp & Ronan Lynch of Haskoin, an HD & multisig developer platform using the Haskell programming language
Martin Harrigan – founder of Quantabytes, a blockchain analysis suite for exploring and visualization (in beta)
Karl Gray – co-founder of the cryptocurrency crowdfunding platform startjoin.com
Thomas Kerin – creator the of bitcoin p2p marketplace bitwasp.co
Kevin Loac and and Alex Beregszaszi – inventors behind Signatur, a cold storage solution company
David Flemming – creator of Eirecoin, a bitcoin broker service
The conference organizer, Fergal Murray (co-founder of Bitcoin Ireland) was able to bring together international bitcoin industry leaders as well as government officials from Isle of Man and the States of Alderney. Fergal is a management consultant, IT industry veteran, and partner Whitepeak Group. As Coindesk reported, BitFin 2014 gets to lay claim to first public statements from a Central Bank official on Bitcoin at a Bitcoin Conference, and how blockchain technology will integrate with fiat. “We wanted to help put Dublin on the map,” says Fergal. “I wanted to do a conference where we could have a wide ranging discussion about bitcoin and cryptocurrency, and have serious people talk about how we get this mainstream.”
What was very good to hear from the speakers was the emphasis on the protocol, governance, and reimagining the global financial system with cryptocurrency. Discussion over money transmission laws was light (thank goodness); there were several panels discussing bitcoin with proper nuance.
Jonathan Levitt, postgraduate virtual currency economist at Oxford and cofounder of Coinmetrics, voiced concerns about mining centralization: “…we need to be less concerned over the ‘51’ number per se, selfish mining is a potential threat, and even when you aggregate the three largest pool operators you are well above 60 of the network…[regarding the recent 51 breach] it will be good to see the guys from ghash.io come to the public and provide some transparency.”
Robert Sams, of Kryptonomics, explained the serious liquidity issues within the bitcoin economy, and how even during the gold standard, supply changes help coordinate some flexibility for money growth. Currency as a bare-asset, in his analysis is problematic.
Jeremy Kanadah of TeamBlockchain discussed how “appcoins” or tokenization can change the way we think about open source and incentive models.
Simon Dixon, CEO of BanktotheFuture described his experience as a trader, when he discussed the practices as a serial price manipulator the audience was aghast with sheepish laughter. He went on to describe how radical transparency with blockchains and p2p crowdfunding models, are all serious threats to the incumbent actors.
The last panel was special. Despite BitFin’s attempt to get bitcoin straight laced, bitcoin runs better barefoot. Although not in attendance, discussion about Amir Taaki’s Dark Market and the implications of bounties and prediction markets for sensitive information came to light. The disruptive nature of a p2p money protocol as a financial disintermediation tool makes it censorship-proof. EFF director of activism, Rainey Reitman explained her concerns about government pressure on companies to surveille, or more perniciously, block payment services. A valid concern, especially if bitcoin needs Circle, Coinbase, and similar services to go mainstream. In such a future, it’s possible people will not have access to their private keys, and could be subject to censorship by companies afraid of losing their proverbial “bit-licenses”. If this is the road bitcoin takes, well, nothing will have truly changed except reduced fees (and that’s if we can figure out the scaling issues).
There is a prevailing view among experienced investors and industry leaders that the guys dawning Guy Fawkes masks at conferences don’t help the bitcoin brand. Unfortunately for those in anonymous, this is probably true. Jeremy Allaire, CEO of Circle, kicked off BitFin; he is an experienced entrepreneur, visionary, someone who is ready and willing to dance to the right tune with regulators to bring valued services to customers. Bitcoin purists are probably still brooding over his comments about bitcoin leaving its libertarian roots, but he still brings an important legitimacy to the table. Many will write a conference (or even this article) off with such flattery. Bitcoin doesn’t care about regulation or what the anarchists think, its software. As more government agencies start seriously investing in blockchain analysis software, privacy activists will likely gravitate to competitors like razorcoin, darkcoin, x11coin, bytecoin, monero or the long anticipated zerocash.
Bitcoin isn’t changing. As we welcome more people to the party, the flavor of the punch changes, and there are probably more chaperones monitoring its toxicity. The Anons will still have the coolest after party.