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Shoreditch businesses embrace Bitcoin in UK's first digital money festival

PUBLISHED: 11:44 26 September 2014 | UPDATED: 15:41 05 November 2014

A Bitcoin coins pictured at the coin dealer BitcoinCommodities in Berlin, Germany, 28 November 2013. When paying with bitcoin, no actual monetary exchange takes place between buyer and seller. Instead, the buyer requests an update to a public transaction log, the blockchain. Photo: Jens Kalaene

A Bitcoin coins pictured at the coin dealer BitcoinCommodities in Berlin, Germany, 28 November 2013. When paying with bitcoin, no actual monetary exchange takes place between buyer and seller. Instead, the buyer requests an update to a public transaction log, the blockchain. Photo: Jens Kalaene

DPA/Press Association Images

The UK's first bitcoin festival saw 20 Shoreditch businesses embrace digital currency as an alternative form of payment in the borough.

Bitcoin: the basics

What is Bitcoin?

The first peer-to-peer payment network that is powered by its users with no central authority or middlemen – enabling a new payment system with completely digital money. For users, it works like cash for the internet.

Who controls the Bitcoin network?

All Bitcoin users around the world. Developers can improve the software but are unable to force a change in the Bitcoin protocol. All users are free to choose which software and version they use but to stay compatible with each other, all users need to use software complying with the same rules.

How does it work?

Users have a mobile app or computer program which provides a personal Bitcoin wallet from which users send and receive bitcoins. Out of sight, the Bitcoin network is sharing a public ledger called the “block chain” which contains every transaction ever processed and allows a user’s computer to make sure each transaction is valid.

Why do Bitcoins have value?

Because they are useful as a form of money. The system has the characteristics of money but is based on the properties of mathematics rather than physical properties like gold, or trust in central authorities. As with all currency, bitcoin’s value comes only and directly from people willing to accept them as payment.

The 10 day festival, BlockStock, finished on Monday after taking place in various locations in the heart of Tech City, such as The Brew co-working spaces, to promote the use of Bitcoins.

Enthusiasts of the payment system set up the event to raise awareness and get local businesses involved with accepting the currency as payment.

Dalston Junction resident and co-founder of BlockStock, Justina Cruickshank, 36, said: “Bitcoin is essentially a technology that allows people to perform a number of applications without a third party, but it is the digital currency aspect that everyone is excited about. You can pay for things, peer to peer.

“We wanted bitcoin to be more understood. We set up the event to see it more accepted, and to help the average person on the street who has never heard of it.”

The festival offered those interested in bitcoin a chance to purchase tickets to gigs, restaurants, workshops and other everyday activities using the digital currency.

Free bitcoins were also given away for people to use with the 168 UK retailers who accept it.

Justina, who also works for The Brew, said there were many social, economical and political reasons to adopt bitcoin.

She said: “It works out cheaper as you can send payments without fees that banks would normally charge you, which is great for sending money abroad.

“On a social level it removes that trust we placed in the banking system which failed in 2008; it gives the person financial independence as well as providing people who have been marginalised by traditional banking with an alternative.

J“Politically it has advantages too, removing a central authority like the government, so countries with unstable currency have something else.”

Although people have criticised bitcoin, saying it lacks consumer protection, as bitcoins can be stolen and chargebacks are impossible – Justina said that the problem was with people misusing it and not with bitcoin itself.

She said: “The main thing that is different is that you are in control. If you think back before banks were a big thing, people would have safes.

“The main aspect of the festival was to get people to accept bitcoin; it needs to be seen as normal. It is another way of transacting value – it’s not the final answer, it is still a young currency.

“It took 50 years to get to this stage with credit cards and we’ve got to where we are with bitcoin in five years so it will take time but it is important to understand there is an alternative.”

For more information, visit blockstock.co.uk.

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