A fluid Bitcoin community, but not a silent one

A pile of Bitcoins are shown here after Software engineer Mike Caldwell minted them in his shop on April 26, 2013 in Sandy, Utah.

The federal government has for a while now been trying to figure out how to regulate Bitcoin. The Treasury, the Fed and others met about it with the Bitcoin Foundation Monday. 

The five paid employees of the Bitcoin Foundation are true believers. Assistant Director Lindsay Holland says they even get paid in Bitcoin, though the exchange rate has been volatile.

So I know exactly how much Bitcoin I’m gonna get every month," she says. "But I’m not sure how much that’s going to exchange out for me until the date that I receive it.”

The Bitcoin Foundation is made up of businesses and hundreds of individuals. They join by paying a membership fee -- in Bitcoin, of course. In addition to advocacy, the group provides an infrastructure for people to talk about Bitcoin’s open source code.

Bitcoin's community is fluid but not opaque, says Jerry Brito of George Mason University, who prepared an earlier briefing for policymakers. He says the structure of Bitcoin does not need to be a challenge for regulators.

Because the people who are part of the Bitcoin community are very responsive,” he says. “They meet with regulators. We know who these people are and they chat.”

Sure, it’s not as easy as meeting with, say, VISA, but the Bitcoin Foundation does have a board its members vote for. Jason King is one of those members. Amid all the concerns about the illicit uses of virtual currencies, King founded a homeless outreach program called Sean’s Outpost in Pensacola, Florida. It gets lots of donations from the Bitcoin network.

We just fed our 13,000th meal, paid for with Bitcoin," he says. "So yeah, it’s definitely making a real impact here."

Of course, the Bitcoin Foundation doesn’t speak for every Bitcoin user out there. Which is why regulators are so keen to better understand the system and to regulate it.

About the author

Kate Davidson is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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