Maybe it’s serendipity, but things seem to be coming together for technical innovation these days. Maybe we’re experiencing the promise. Everywhere you look, efficiency is being injected into our daily lives. Our PCs and the Internet in our pockets, in our cars, and at The Gap. For those of us that lived through pets.com, boo.com, flooz.com, Napster, and the play-by-play demise of these astronomically high valued companies on fuckedcompany.com, the ongoing optimism around Twitter, Facebook, Bitcoin, Snapchat, and a myriad of others is a little surprising. Back then it was the tsunami of freshly minted marketing graduates descending on NYC that signaled the beginning of the end. The party was filling up with the uninvited. This week's Economist has a good piece on the whole start-up environment this time around: it looks at funding, management styles, even the technology, which has evolved into something akin to a theoretical plug-and-play, or start-ups in a box. This time might be different they say, because the tools are available to create our craziest idea for next to nothing. The release cycle has turned into overnight – nothing ever leaves beta. In fact the cost of moving an idea into a fad like Snapchat takes place in the real world.
Marc Andreesen’s op-ed piece in the New York Times, screaming Bitcoin is the future, reminds me of the excitement around mobile in 1999. Yes, mobile. People forget how mobile was also all the rage just 15 years ago, and how very smart investors with vision and insight lost millions when it didn't pan out quickly enough. Mobile had to wait for the iPhone and Apple’s app store to kick things off. But the mobile promise finally arrived, too late for some but right on time for others. Today’s web 2.0 geeks are all similarly enthusiastic about Bitcoin, and Andreesen is probably right about virtual currencies (they're here to stay), but how’s his timing? Bitcoin is playing in a Keynesian sandbox full of politicians, central banks and federal governments. Napster, in a similar rogue position a decade ago, pissed off A&M music and lost. But with Napster you could point the finger at three humans, Shawn Fanning, John Fanning and Sean Parker. There’s only the consumer, no entrepreneur, to take to court with Bitcoin. Eventually the end-user is the only possible target, as the Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht can attest. The real question for Bitcoin believers is: will politicians and federal governments treat Bitcoin as financial terrorism? Or will lobbying like Andreesen's win converts--so that Bitcoin is as common as mobile today? When does Bitcoin's equivalent of the app store arrive?
–Jeff Hildebrand lives in a 400-year-old stone farmhouse in the French countryside. He trades futures and options, and blogs about it at Brandnet.com. He worked in New York's so-called Silicon Alley in the 1990's.
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