Cryptocurrency: Fad or future?

BitcoinThumbBitcoin has been in the news a lot, once something only for power nerds to drool over but is now almost a household name. What isn’t as well-known is that Bitcoin isn’t the only electronic currency (cryptocurrency) out there. Namecoin, Litecoin and Peercoin are just a few out there.

These cryptocurrencies are open source, which allow individuals to make and release their own version of Bitcoin on the Internet. Not surprisingly, more and more variants are showing up every day. With the viral nature of Internet memes and their tendency to be applied to every single aspect of life, it was only a matter of time until a meme was crossed with a cryptocurrency, spawning Dogecoin.

Based off the ragingly popular “doge” meme, featuring Shiba Inu dogs and pastel Comic Sans text, Dogecoins are enjoying modest attention in the cryptocurrency community, even though the value is quite small (one doge is about a fifth of a cent as of press time).

Another tongue-in-cheek cryptocurrency to hit the scene is Coinye (formerly Coinye West) similar to Litecoin, it featured a representation of hip-hop artist Kanye West and drew the ire of him and his lawyers, who filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the developers. The design was revamped to feature a cartoon drawing of West and as a fish, referencing an episode of “South Park” mocking the artist. This proved to be not enough and the developers abandoned the project after a cease and desist letter.

Although the project may be nominally “dead” (the coinye website displays a graphic in the style of a comic strip poking more fun at the artist), the network is still open and nothing is preventing any trade of Coinye across those who want to.

The question must be asked however, how long are cryptocurrencies going to be around? China recently struck a blow against Bitcoin, forbidding banks and payment processors from converting Bitcoin into and out of yuan. The results were immediately apparent, with Bitcoin’s value dropping by half. The value has gone up in the interim but the volatility is more than enough to scare off investors who are used to 10-15 year investments.

If there’s one thing to be said about fads, it’s that they don’t last forever. Currencies associated with popular music acts and Internet memes have staying power as long as the same music stays popular and the same meme stays fresh–which doesn’t happen. Reference a meme from last year online and prepare for mocking. Offer to pay for goods and services in a joke currency and really, what’s the best that could happen?

Bitcoin is a surprisingly powerful force in the financial world, but posing a very real way for people to dodge taxes, launder money and buy contraband. It won’t go ignored by national governments for very long. What the response will be nobody knows, but as long as it’s not based on a transient fad, expect cryptocurrencies to become a bigger and bigger deal in the news as the economy continues its convolutions.