The ATM, named Robocoin, is the first of its kind and sits in a cafe in Vancouver. Once only used for black market sales on the internet, bitcoins are starting to be accepted at a growing number of businesses. Photo: Getty
If cash is king, virtual cash may be the crown prince in waiting.
Programmers around the world have been churning out new digital currencies that try to improve on the concept of bitcoin, the hot but controversial virtual money that has swept the internet.
As questions still swirl around bitcoin’s legality, many technology entrepreneurs are trying to sidestep the currency’s pitfalls by devising new ways to make payments in a cashless future.
Already, dozens of ideas are jockeying for the market. At last count, a website that tracks the market, coinmarketcap.com, listed 36 so-called crypto-currencies, with names like bitbar, freicoin and cryptogenic bullion, and new ones are being added each month. Collectively, these digital moneys had a recent market value of about $US3.3 billion, of which $3.1 billion was from the dominant currency, bitcoin.
The online payment system viewed by many insiders as having the best chance of supplanting bitcoin, however, is not even on the list: Ripple. Founded in San Francisco by former bitcoin developers, Ripple holds out the promise not just of a new currency, but also of a novel method to send money around the world. With that potential, it is winning something that has proved elusive for virtual currencies: involvement from more mainstream players in the financial system.
“I haven’t seen anything else as interesting as Ripple,” said Jesse Powell, the founder of Payward, which runs an exchange where digital currencies can be bought and sold. “As far as I’m concerned, bitcoin and Ripple are the only ones that have a real shot at being a big deal.”