It wasn’t just the aftershock of the WikiLeaks affair that made 2011 a pivotal year for Bitcoin. Imitations came first: developers used Bitcoin as a blueprint to create new forms of digital cash – sometimes called “altcoins” – that added new functionality. Namecoin and Litecoin, two prominent examples, were both launched in 2011, turning the space into a competition between multiple cryptocurrencies. Others that followed were little more than jokes – Exhibit A: Elon Musk’s Favorite Dogecoin – used as speculative fodder in online markets; others were pure frauds.
That year, Vitalik Buterin, a 17-year-old Russian-Canadian programmer, began working on the launch of a specialist publication. Bitcoin magazine. Two years later, Buterin was instrumental in creating Ethereum, which sparked a paradigm shift across the scene. Currently the second most valuable cryptocurrency, Ethereum’s move, was to extend the Bitcoin logic to domains other than money, with the aim of creating a decentralized ecosystem in which, in theory, entire digital companies could be created and run without staff or top management. If Bitcoin wanted to be stateless money, Ethereum’s plan was to become an internet without big tech.
And 2011 was the year Texas-born libertarian Ross Ulbricht launched Silk Road – an online marketplace for illicit drugs that existed on the dark web and used Bitcoin as a means of payment, earning him the seedy label of criminal currency fighting still shaking off a decade later, even if illegal activity accounted for only $ 10.0 billion, or 0.34 percent of global bitcoin transactions, in 2020. If Silk Road could have popularized Bitcoin with a new audience (drug buyers), it was the notorious demise of Silk Road in October 2013 that arguably caused Bitcoin usage to spike around the world.