For the last year, Bitcoin has been kind of like the kid who moves to a new town right in the middle of high school. Sitting alone at lunch. Quiet, but proud. Widely suspected of dealing drugs. He doesn't have any friends and he's not sure he wants them.
Well, that's all over, because this week Bitcoin started hanging out with one of the most popular kids in school.
WordPress, the most widely used blogging platform on the Internet, announced last night that it now accepts Bitcoin payments. (The basic platform is free, but it charges for a number of add-on services.) This is the most high-profile company to link up with Bitcoin since the cryptocurrency went online in 2009 and quite possibly the biggest boost to its reputation as well.
In his announcement Andy Skelton, a developer for WordPress, explained the company's decision as an effort to further democratize blogging. He explains that WordPress has taken umbrage with PayPal (and, to a lesser extent, credit cards) due to a policy that restricts access to a large number of countries. Most, like Afghanistan and Pakistan, are either war-torn or suffering through economic or political upheaval. Individuals in these countries can set up free blogs with the WordPress software, but until now they've had no way of buying add-ons like advertisement-free content and customized design.
According to Skelton, the choice was mainly ideological:
PayPal alone blocks access from over 60 countries, and many credit card companies have similar restrictions. Some are blocked for political reasons, some because of higher fraud rates, and some for other financial reasons. Whatever the reason, we don’t think an individual blogger from Haiti, Ethiopia, or Kenya should have diminished access to the blogosphere because of payment issues they can’t control. Our goal is to enable people, not block them.
Because Bitcoin transactions are processed by a peer-to-peer network, there is no feasible way for a third party to intervene on payments. Furthermore, the system is blind to the identity of both the donor and the recipient. Nationality doesn't even come into question.
Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, says he wants to bring this same approach to blogging. "The philosophy and equality of access in Bitcoin is very much in line with our goal to democratize publishing. We want to put the power of the printing press in everybody's hands."
It probably doesn't hurt that in doing so they will open up a new market for themselves in each of these countries.
This is a major score for BitPay, as well, the company that WordPress has chosen to handle its Bitcoin payments. WordPress won't actually accept Bitcoins directly. Rather they have set up an account with BitPay, which will receive payments in Bitcoin and immediately convert them into U.S. dollars. BitPay will also be solely responsible for quoting rates as the price of Bitcoin rises and falls. This service has expanded impressively over the past year (it now has over 1100 clients), and is certainly one of the reasons more merchants are willing to take a chance with Bitcoin.
Alas, it must be said that while it's getting easier to get rid of your Bitcoins, it's still not getting any easier to buy into the currency. It's the cryptocurrency catch-22.
Image credit: Bitcoin