Bitcoin is peer-to-peer digital currency. Like Napster or Limewire, it does not rely on a central trusted issuer, but upon a network. Currently, one bitcoin is worth about $0.90 US.

Why would you want to bother with bitcoin? There are many good reasons, not the least of which is to cut out the middleman. Taxes? Nope, can’t tax bitcoin transactions. Bank charges? Nope. Privacy? There is no credit card company or bank through which your exchanges pass, only a network that utilizes cryptographic digital signatures.

How does one get and use bitcoins? The easiest way to get bitcoins is to buy them. Here is a list of places to buy: https://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/Buying_bitcoins, including Bitcoin Faucet, a site where you can get a small amount of bitcoins for free. Gavin Andersen, one of Bitcoin’s developers, provides this service to encourage the adoption and use of bitcoins. It’s Bitcoin equivalent to “Grand Opening, Get a Free Ipod Nano!”

You can also “mine” bitcoins using a computer. You’re going to need significant processing power, however; in particular, a powerful graphics card, to see worthwhile results. Also, get ready to heat your house! I’m not kidding. The process generates so much heat that Scott Nelson of Noosworx.com heats his Vancouver, Canada, studio with his generators.

The site, http://www.bitcoinminer.com, is a good resource for setting up a miner. If all this sounds like more energy than you want to spend, you can also join a mining pool, which will have your processing power working with others to generate coins. Bitcoinminer.com also has a list of pools you can join.

Since bitcoin is so new, there are not a lot of places to spend your coins. The Electronic Frontiers Foundation accepts donations in bitcoin. There’s the wonderful “Bitcoin MegaStore” (where “mega” seems to translate more into a bombastic but desolate corner store in the bad part of town, than the big box retailer we generally think of when we see “MegaStore” – but this is part of the charm, isn’t it?) At the BCMS, you can buy things like a TV-Be-Gone, a greenhouse grow light, or a video recorder disguised as a remote BMW key. Bizarrely, among the surveillance-oriented and skirting-the-edges-of-the-law type products, you can also buy Canadian stamps.

The thing to do with bitcoin, if you are interested in using it, is to be both creative and pioneering. Maybe you can convince the Open Farm Tech guys, who sell kits to build your own industrial machinery, to sell you a tractor kit with bitcoin?! In other words, you need to create your own markets to use bitcoins, and you’re probably going to have the best luck amongst other forward-thinking, tradition-eschewing entrepreneurs.

If you want to invest in bitcoins, by the way, their value has currently tripled in less than half a year.

To use Bitcoin, you first need to download and install your “wallet” from http://www.bitcoin.org. It’s super fast, and completely easy, both to install and start using.

If you want to use Bitcoin on your Drupal site, you can use UC Bitcoin, “a bitcoin payment method for ubercart”. There’s also Bitcoin Address CCK field still waiting to be committed (but apparently, solid). Also waiting to be committed is this module to bind Drupal accounts to bitcoin accounts and addresses. Lastly, there’s the Drupal Bitcoin Group.

To learn more about Bitcoin, read the excellent Wikipedia article, or visit http://www.bitcoin.org. There’s an awesome (five minute long) Ignite talk on Bitcoin, at http://www.bitcoin.org, by Gavin Andresen, and this presentation by the CBC: http://www.cbc.ca/spark/2011/02/spark-139-february-27-march-2-2011.

Welcome to the Frontier!