People discovering Bitcoin these days have resources to turn to that can explain Bitcoin in layman's terms, including BitcoinMe.com and of course, The Bitcoin Show, both created and hosted by none other than Bruce Wagner - arguably Bitcoin's most famous spokesperson.
While taping the next few episodes of his show in Japan, Bruce generously set aside some time to speak with Bitcoin Trader. We discussed the very beginnings of his association with Bitcoin, his current projects, and some very interesting points on Bitcoin's prospects.
BT: Bruce, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me. My first question, while straight-forward, is sometimes the most difficult to answer: who is Bruce Wagner?
BW: Hmm... that is a difficult question. How much time do we have again? (laughter) I feel like I've lived many lifetimes. One of the handles that I use is Punlman. PUNL stands for Pure, Unconditional, Non-judgemental Love - it's my philosophy, and also the theoretical title of a book I may write one day. That's who I try to be.
"Our mission statement at OnlyOneTV is to help as many people as possible in the most profound way possible. Everything we do - we try to make sure it adheres to that philosophy."
I'm most known for, at the moment, being the CEO of an Internet TV Network, OnlyOneTV.com. The Bitcoin Show has been the most successful of our shows, and we're in the process of rolling it out in 10 additional languages, 11 altogether. Most of the other hosts will be in New York, though some will be using Skype. A while back, we put the word out that we were seeking hosts, which we still are, actually; we've got about half of what we're looking for. We're looking for people who are Bitcoin enthusiasts first and foremost, but who have the language skills we need. I think it's really important that it's available in other people's tongues. OnlyOneTV is a global network, and Bitcoin is a global currency. Our mission statement at OnlyOneTV is to help as many people as possible in the most profound way possible. Everything we do - we try to make sure it adheres to that philosophy.
BT: How did you find out about Bitcoin and why are you and Bitcoin such a great match?
BW: It was on Twitter; I had 12 to 13 thousand followers at the time. I tweeted something about the Fed, I don't remember the specifics, and someone responded that I should check out Bitcoin. I thought, "Okay, what's a Bitcoin? How is it different from PayPal, or MoneyBookers?" The person took the time to patiently answer my questions, so I decided to check out the link he gave me - this was October 2010. "Fine," I thought to myself, "I'll click the link." As I read, I was amazed, I thought "is this real, is it possible?" I even found out that there was already a market - an exchange - MtGox. I saw this had real potential, this was cool.
"Bitcoin was my crystal meth."
What happened then, as is often the case with many geeks, is that I become immersed, obsessed even. For the next four or five days I barely ate or slept. It was like those commercials you see where they say "this is a normal person, and this is a normal person after two months of smoking crystal meth." Bitcoin was my crystal meth. Learning about it was blowing my mind - the more I learned, the more I needed to know. I then realized, what this needed was a good explanation. I had a website up in less than 24 hours. Once it was up, I had people in the online community verify my facts; I got feedback and fine tuned it. The site took off like a rocket. It was the first time Bitcoin had been explained in simple layman's terms and within two to three weeks, volunteers had translated it into 12 languages. It was really popular and I felt I was doing something good for humanity, which is what I'm all about.
Every once in a while, I'd get a request from the media for an interview with Satoshi, like they thought I somehow represented him. He was there, participating in the forums until April of this year, though I never saw him reply to an interview request. My response was no, he doesn't do interviews. Gavin was around then as well, and he did some interviews, but then they somehow found me. People thought, because of BitcoinMe.com, that I was the official rep of Bitcoin. I had to explain to them that I was not the official rep and definitely not an expert on Bitcoin, but they couldn't get a hold of Satoshi so they interviewed me. Radio, newspaper, television, magazines, you name it. I don't think there's one major financial newspaper, magazine, or global TV network that hasn't interviewed me over the last three to four months.
So, going back, my partner and I were in the process of launching OnlyOneTV. There was no Bitcoin Show yet, and we were about to launch 27 shows. One day, he got frustrated, telling me all I did was sit around and talk about Bitcoin. Since I was already getting paid to talk, I thought, "maybe we should make a Bitcoin show?" We did one episode and instantly got four new sponsors, so I decided to go from a weekly to a daily show, about five a week. We then got 14 new sponsors! What this showed me was that there was huge interest in Bitcoin. We were the only Bitcoin show, and advertisers needed to reach our audience. That brings us to the present day.
BT: Organizing the Bitcoin Conference was an inspired idea. Now that it's all over, looking back, what was your favourite moment at the conference?
BW: My favourite moment - wow - there were so many really. The speakers were my good friends, so I had already heard what they had to say, not to say that they weren't all excellent. I think my favourite moment of all was addressing the whole group - my opening speech - I could feel their love and enthusiasm for being there. I was just reiterating what they already knew, that this was exciting - it was the first Bitcoin conference and we were making history - like the first meeting between the guys who started the Internet, or Facebook.
The conference was not a press conference - it wasn't about the media or educating the public. The reason we had it was to get users, developers, start-ups, and entrepreneurs to network with each other. The private meetings, the breakout groups, the pre-conference and post-conference meetings - those were the best. They brainstormed and exchanged contacts, and they're working together now because they met each other in person and developed those relationships - all these great minds all over the world are working on the infrastructure that's needed.
And the media is just incredibly interested. Meze Grill was one of our first sponsors, and they've had everybody in there. Reuters, NPR, CNN International, Al Jazeera English, every major media outlet has gone through there, and the owner - he's blown away.
"Once these hurdles are dealt with, Bitcoin will roll out as fast as Facebook has."
The fact that the media is so interested - it's very telling. The media is interested because the public is so interested. Whatever their opinions are, whatever their bias, the fact is, it's very interesting - nothing like this has ever existed before. You could almost say that electricity was invented, then the Internet, and now Bitcoin, like those are the three major breakthroughs.
Bitcoin is more complex and feature-rich than most Bitcoiners even know. We've discovered scripting, which we'll be covering on our show - it's very powerful. It's also scalable - any new cryptographic algorithms can be used with Bitcoin - it's forward compatible - it's really brilliant. As people get more educated and familiar with Bitcoin, they're going to get even more excited.
I've been saying that the three major hurdles for Bitcoin are security, liquidity, and currency risk, and all three problems will be solved in three months, maximum. Once these hurdles are dealt with, Bitcoin will roll out as fast as Facebook has.
BT: Bruce, since the middle of June, Bitcoin has been in a bit of a lull. You see it on the forums, you see it in the trading. I mean, in terms of market-cap, if you will, it's just been flat or decreasing. Do you think that's a problem? What's going on?
BW: Here are the facts: we are in the wild wild west days of Bitcoin. It's a new frontier, new technology. People are realizing that it's not like email - it has to be more secure. The transactions can never be reversed like a credit card or PayPal, and you don't always know your customer.
It's like having a bag of gold on your hard disk, and people can't wrap their minds around it - it's not like having normal files or documents - a stolen backup compromises the original as well. It's tricky to secure it - even experts have lost enormous amounts by accidentally making mistakes with their security and backups; because of that, there have been disasters.
In the literal wild wild west, there were wildcat banks - people who went into a tiny town, and put up a sign saying "bank." After a few months or years, they would just be gone with the money. That's what happened with mybitcoin - you remember my notorious episode 33 - it's an unfolding story and it's not over. It was a big fraud, and they stole millions of dollars from thousands of account holders, systematically, since the start. It's about trust, and this long-standing entity turned out to be not the one to trust. January 2009 was the beginning of Bitcoin. By April 2009, mybitcoin.com was registered, and by June or July it was running. It was older than MtGox; it was the oldest institution in the Bitcoin world.
There were problems with customer support, they weren't replying. And they had a setup where if you lost your password, you weren't getting it back - there was no "forgot-password" feature. We figured that was their business model - you lose your password and they take your Bitcoins - a big screw you. The owner of mybitcoin was anonymous but it didn't raise any red flags because at that time, the entire community was anonymous. I was one of the first people, if not the first, and of course Gavin, that used a real picture on the forums.
They gave us no real reason to suspect them. A lot more people than willing to admit have lost Bitcoins to mybitcoin. I'm not so sure I was the largest depositor - I think the others are just too embararssed to admit what's happened to them.
Going back to your original question - the big bank heist has scared people away. The price is just bobbing along, and it's understandable. Non-tech people were selling like crazy and running scared - you can't blame them - all they knew was people got scammed - and they didn't know the difference [between a website problem and a Bitcoin problem]. The tech-savvy people were buying like crazy, but now the price has leveled off - they've invested all they've budgeted, and everyone who was running scared has sold. Bitcoin usually goes up, up, up, so when it's flat, in Bitcoin terms it's a "crash," but it's understandable due to the recent uncertainty.
"In three to six months, the software coming out will blow people's minds. Everything is going to change, in Bitcoin time."
For the three major problems that still exist, that I mentioned earlier, the solutions will be here in three months, tops. Once they're in people's hands, they'll spread like crazy, and the price [of Bitcoins] will go way up and interest will be hot like before.
BT: Is three months a ball-park figure or gut-feel? Do you know the people working on these projects with a three-month timeframe? Where do you get the three months from?
BW: People tell me lots - I'm privy to a lot of projects - some secret - some not. Almost every new start-up is trying to solve one of these problems: security, number one - protecting people from themselves and from outside theft; second, liquidity. It has to be as easy to buy a Bitcoin as it is buying a cup of coffee; third, currency risk. Merchants can't accept Bitcoin and then have it drop ten percent when they already have a razor-thin profit margin; there has to be a way to guarantee they don't take currency risk.
It's exciting because it's happening fast. So many bright minds are invested emotionally, philosophically, technologically, and financially. In three to six months, the software coming out will blow people's minds. Everything is going to change, in Bitcoin time.
Bruce Wagner is the CEO of OnlyOneTV, owner of BitcoinMe.com, and host of The Bitcoin Show. He resides in New York City, and we caught up with him in Tokyo, via Skype.