The best way to find serious traders of the digital currency Bitcoin is to log onto Internet Relay Chat—that bare-bones, plain-text experience that hasn’t changed much since its creation in 1988—around midnight, and jump into one of the many conversations dedicated to the phenomenon. Bitcoin, a decentralized payment system that approximates cash, has been quickly gaining popularity since May, when its bit part in a Gawker story about an “underground website where you can buy any drug imaginable” turned into a starring role in stories like Fast Company’s “Funny Money: Is Bitcoin the Future of Currency … Or a Total Scam?”
One indication of how far the currency has evolved: the emergence of Bitcoin derivatives. Despite reluctance by merchants to embrace the new money and a near-constant stream of crises, from cyberattacks to technical failures, the two-and-a-half-year-old technology—carefully designed by a group of anonymous programmers to serve as a standard for digital payments without the need for a central authority—seems to have staying power. This is especially true among its investors, who have graduated from simple transactions like buying and selling to negotiating options and futures contracts.