MIAMI — Wow. Bitcoin is big now.
Maybe an obvious statement for anyone who attended Bitcoin 2021, in Miami, Florida, but for a first timer whose main experience with crypto gatherings has been ten-person meetups, the sheer size of Bitcoin 2022 is striking.
Bitcoin 2022 is drawing 35,000 attendees, according to the conference’s website. The space’s center of gravity has grown so much that people not known for their work in the field have jumped in. And celebrities are headlining — Jordan Peterson, the provocative public intellectual is here, and so is tennis superstar Serena Williams.
In some ways, the people who have joined in recent years appear to be attracted to the politics of Bitcoin and decentralized money. After all, only a handful of people in the 1990s were working on the cryptographic systems required to create self-sovereign money. Many people still don’t understand the fundamentals of hash functions that underpin the Bitcoin blockchain. Then again, maybe crypto’s inner workings can be safely ignored now. This has become a cultural phenomenon as much as a technological one.
For those keen on delving into the mechanics, there are loads of mining services booths in the conference’s Expo Hall. As a DeFi guy poised for The Merge — Ethereum’s coming switch to Proof of Stake consensus — it’s jarring to see a phalanx of Proof of Work projects on display. The stark separation that’s destined for Bitcoin and Ethereum hangs in the background of this conference.
A whole stage is dedicated to discussions about open source projects with daunting titles like “Federated Chaumian Mints.” The vibe is like crypto’s already won. Or at least, it’s attracted enough true believers that there will always be pockets of the world that believe deeply in Bitcoin and the freedom to transact that the cryptocurrency offers.
Now the question appears to be what can I do with my Bitcoin? The base layer has been established, people trust it, but no doubt the headline-grabbing excitement around NFTs and DeFi has attracted eyeballs. And I see signs that DeFi is taking root in the heart of Bitcoin.
“We like Bitcoin. We think it’s secure. We think it’s going to be a great infrastructure for web3. What else do crypto people like? Dapps and smart contracts,” Joseph Bender, community manager at Hiro, told The Defiant. Hiro builds developer tools for Stacks, which bills itself as a “layer-1 blockchain that connects to Bitcoin and brings smart contracts and decentralized apps to it.”
Indeed, DeFi models like automated market makers (AMM) have made it to Bitcoin-based products. There’s ALEX, which allows users to pool liquidity á la Uniswap or Sushiswap. There’s Sovryn, whose co-founder, Edan Yago, who talked to The Defiant in February.
Sovryn facilitates many of the DeFi transactions open finance users are familiar with, like lending, borrowing, trading on margin. Sovryn is built on a platform called RSK, which enables smart contract functionality on Bitcoin.
At the Sovryn and RSK booth, I set up a mobile wallet and started depositing money in an AMM in under ten minutes.
And of course, there are NFTs — unique digital assets are too much fun, and too often profitable to be ignored, although media personality Max Keiser did dismiss NFTs and the metaverse as “sh*t” in a panel on the conference’s main stage. Skeptics just add to the torque around NFTs.
It’s funny, but while Bitcoin culture is often criticized for its maximalist nature, a space where proponents seem closed to the innovation happening in smart contract enabled sectors, the conference appeared quite open to innovation. Provided it was secured by Bitcoin.
Even that wasn’t a hard and fast rule. One project, Coinchange, openly advertised the yields on USDT and USDC, stablecoins which run on the Ethereum network. “The trick here was to not go to a Bitcoin crowd or a stablecoin crowd, but more a general customer,” Maxim Galash, Coinchange’s CEO, told The Defiant.
Coinchange bills itself as providing “unprecedented access to risk-adjusted yield in a new financial market.” That it could even openly advertise supporting other chains is encouraging.
Maybe Bitcoin culture is relaxing. Maybe the devotees to the primordial cryptocurrency are ready to accept the breakthroughs of DeFi and the Ethereum-powered universe. Maybe. Let’s see what happens at Bitcoin 2022 tomorrow.