Virtual currency gains traction
A global electronic currency that isn't regulated?
Sounds futuristic, but it's here now. Bitcoin is a bank alternative invented by an anonymous programmer in 2009. There's no global, central clearinghouse. Bitcoins are an experimental digital currency bought and sold via online exchanges.
One of bitcoin's best uses is for making global peer-to-peer payments, says Donald Norman, co-founder of Bitcoin Consultancy, an advocacy group in London. Why? Transferring bitcoins to someone else is usually free. "To send cash payments elsewhere, you usually have to pay fees," he says.
Still, bitcoins aren't for the faint of heart. Their price can be volatile, Norman says. And huge electronic-commerce sites don't accept them yet. "But bitcoins are gaining traction," he says.