What We Want to Know When We Search for Bitcoin

Google's suggestions tell us a lot about the current state of the hot new digital currency.

A Raspberry Pi bitcoin mining rig (Adafruit)

Bitcoin, the newish digital currency, is a hot topic today, as legislators on Capitol Hill took up the issue of regulating this new form of money.

We started to wonder what people outside DC wondered about Bitcoin. So, we modified a bot to scrape all of Google's suggestions when people started to search for Bitcoin. Imagine typing "bitcoin a" into Google's search box and copying what the search engine's suggestions are. Then "bitcoin b" and "bitcoin c," etc. That's what the script does: it's a probe of the hivemind.

What it creates is a kind of ABCs of the digital currency, and it represents a compendium of issues that relatively large numbers of people are wondering about.

New Bitcoins enter circulation when computers solve some very complex mathematical problems. Doing this computation is called Bitcoin mining and it's what many of Google's suggestions relate to.

There are plenty of other search strings you'd expect: "bitcoin ATM," because the first one was recently installed in Vancouver, BC, or "bitcoin arbitrage," because that seems like a good thing to do with currency. There are the names of clients (Qt), trading platforms (Kraken), and other companies in the ecosystem (Zip Zap).

Ah, but some things are more revealing of Bitcoin culture. Look down at f: "bitcoin faucet." A faucet, in the lingo, is a site that gave away free Bitcoins in exchange for, say, getting SMS ads.

Or at k: "bitcoin khan academy." The online learning startup has a great video introduction to the currency.

Or down at X: for its infancy, most people abbreviated Bitcoins BTC. But recently, XBT has come into usage, following the model for other valuable things not issued by a country (like gold: XAU).

Fascinatingly, only four geographic regions are mentioned: Kenya, Korea, San Francisco, and Zimbabwe. Together, they form a constellation of places that are interested in digital currency for related, but slightly different reasons.

In other words, this list is a snapshot of the topics and issues that are swirling around Bitcoin right this very minute. It'll be different in a few months, and in a few years, all record of it will have been erased by the new collective concerns of Internet searchers.

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