Bitcoin is said to have been created five years ago by an anonymous computer programmer (or programmers) called Satoshi Nakamoto. This pseudonym is a male Japanese name, but it's never been traced to a real person and no one knows for sure if one or many individuals created the electronic currency substitute, which can be easily traded online to and from anywhere in the world without the interference of banks or currency exchanges. Bitcoin has been touted by enthusiasts as the digital answer to e-commerce and international finance because of its smooth online transferring capabilities.
But where there's freedom, there are crooks. It can be used for money laundering. The feds shut down the dark-web narcotics site Silk Road, which used bitcoin to enable drug deals. Various governments have struggled with how to regulate bitcoin. This year, the IRS recognized it as an asset, not a currency.
Early bitcoin adopters were psyched to have bought bitcoin for pennies and then see its value shoot to $900. That price wavered when a bitcoin exchange called Mt. Gox mysteriously went out of business this February and caused bitcoin's value to drop in half. It now hovers around $450 per "coin." (You can also buy fractions of coins, which are not tangible objects but rather virtual constructs.)
What does any of this mean to a business owner? Broward resident Chris DeRose will give a bitcoin 101 talk on Friday, May 16, at Bimini Boatyard in Fort Lauderdale.
DeRose, a computer programmer, leads a weekly bitcoin meetup at Oakland Park's Funky Buddha brewery. He says the biggest misconception about bitcoin is that it is a currency.
"Bitcoin is more of a money-transferring tool than an actual currency," he observes. "It's been presented as a money, as a currency, but I think it's more accurate to describe it as a protocol for transmitting scarce resource."
Another mistaken belief, according to DeRose, is that bitcoin is unstable. "It's more stable now than it was at the beginning of the year -- and that doesn't matter for most merchants. But it's going to be unstable by traditional metrics for a while."
What was the effect of Mt. Gox shutting down? Did local merchants stop accepting it? He says no, since they jumped in at the right time. "For a lot of us who have been into it for a while, we saw that company as poorly run. The newer investors got burned who dropped in as late as October  through March. It freaked them out, and that's understandable."
In turn, the list of South Florida businesses that accept the digital payment system is growing. Crossfit CVI in Pompano Beach accepts it. So does the Shaggy Dog, pet groomers in Lake Worth. And Florida-wide law firm Mearkle Trueblood Adam provides services in exchange for it.
Online giants such as Overstock, Tiger Direct, and Match.com are in on it too.
Within a year, DeRose predicts that countries like Argentina will significantly adopt it since the peso's inflation rate hovers around 25 percent. "The locals don't trust their country's currency, and they have the highest number of bitcoin merchants and transactions in South and North America," he says.
Five years to ten years from now, he believes, we'll be entering a "3.0 internet era," in which decentralization will increase.
"What letters were to email, cash money is to bitcoin," he says.
Chris DeRose will appear on Friday, May 16, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Bimini Boatyard, in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $35 to $45. Reserve a seat by visiting the Women in Ecommerce website here.