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Most Americans don’t know what bitcoin is, and that’s good news for speculators

AP Photo/Rene Schutze
Odds are, she doesn’t know what bitcoin is.
By Christopher Mims
USAPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Bloomberg surveyed a bunch of Americans and discovered that only 42% could correctly identify what bitcoin is. A small minority (12%) thought bitcoin was either an Xbox game or an iPhone app. (Scroll to the bottom of this Bloomberg page for an unintentionally hilarious pie chart depicting the results.)

However, 42% is remarkably high considering how many Americans have actually come into contact with bitcoin. No one knows how many people own any of the digital currency, but the number is probably less than 1 million, many of whom are outside the US. So a 42% recognition rate is a triumph of mindshare for what, as we’ve argued before, is a largely media-generated phenomenon. These are the same Americans of whom 94% can’t name a single Chinese brand, after all.

So if that relatively high and still growing public awareness in the US (and elsewhere) translates into more people buying bitcoin—which it should, as buying bitcoin gets easier every day—the logical conclusion is that despite its meteoric increase in value this year the currency, worth around $900 per coin as of this writing, still has a long way to rise. (Indeed, some argue that only by rising much further can it start to function usefully as a currency rather than just as a speculative investment.) In a now infamous article, Henry Blodget of Business Insider declared that bitcoin could go to $1 million. Silicon Valley is starting to pour real money into bitcoin startups; this week Coinbase, which offers merchants a way to take payments in bitcoin, announced a $25 million infusion from veteran venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

Of course, there are still those who argue that the entire bitcoin bubble could collapse at any moment. Mark Williams, a lecturer in finance at Boston University, thinks that extreme volatility in the bitcoin market means the currency could collapse to 1% of its current price by June.

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