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Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales provokes fascinating Bitcoin debate on Reddit

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales

Above: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales

Image Credit: Flickr / HubertBurdamedia

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is the latest Internet entrepreneur to admit to “playing around” with Bitcoin.

Earlier today, Wales turned to online community site Reddit for advice on how to leverage Bitcoin, which he admits is “confusing.” On the subreddit, Wales described how he set up a personal account on digital wallet Coinbase to “play around” with the crypto-currency.

“Last night a bunch of people got all excited and sent me BTC [Bitcoin]. Obviously I’m going to cash all that out in a few days and send it onward to the Wikimedia Foundation so if you want to keep doing that, I’m ok with it,” Wales wrote, posting from his account JimmyWales1.

Bitcoin captivated the market in 2013, with its soaring highs and plunging lows (rising from $10 to $1,200 in the course of a year). The online currency remains controversial, however, primarily due to its connection with cyber crime and recent bad press following the shutdown of a key Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox.

In our introductory guide to Bitcoin, the experts predicted that the currency will soon emerge out of its angsty adolescence into a more mature, adult, stable form.

On the subreddit, Wales provoked a deeper debate about whether nonprofit organizations should take donations in online currencies.

According to Wales, the Wikimedia Foundation board of directors may determine that it’s a strategic move to accept donations in Bitcoin. Wales wrote that he’s planning to “re-open” the conversation at the next meeting.

The potential downside? “The more payment options we give people, the less they donate,” Wales wrote. However, he speculates that the Bitcoin community is both “close-knit” and “generous,” and the Foundation may be able to tap a new donor base.

If Wikimedia, a global nonprofit specializing in educational content, begins accepting donations in Bitcoin, it may spark a larger trend. Nonprofits have turned to Internet forums and communities to debate the issue, with an increasing number opting to experiment with Bitcoin.

“It’s better to think of Bitcoin as the most volatile commodities future in the world rather than as a currency,” Kai Stinchcombe, founder and chief executive of True Link Financial, told me via email. “It’s not a great way for Wikipedia to hold its funds, but there’s no reason not to accept Bitcoins and convert them quickly into dollars.”

Bitcoin investor William Quigley agrees: “Bitcoin has no peer when it comes to the low cost efficient transfer of funds,” he told me. “So when non profits evaluate the options, I think Bitcoin will be the preferred payment platform.”

Over 450 people have responded to Wales on Reddit, including support specialists from the Bitcoin community.

The conversation got heated over the ideal method for collecting donations in Bitcoin. One Reddit fan suggested that the Wikimedia Foundation should feature a Bitcoin donation button at the bottom of every page. Wales responded that it would be effectively a “promotion for Bitcoin in exchange for a very small net financial gain.”

What’s your take? Should nonprofits accept Bitcoin donations? Let us know in the comment section below. 


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