January 28, 2021

Cryptheory

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Bitcoin: What Google search tells us about the rise and fall of the cryptocurrency

3 min read

Everyone had that one particular friend who, a few years ago, suddenly started talking lots and lots about Bitcoin.

The more animated they became about this imaginary nerd money of the future the more our eyes glazed over. We beat a hasty retreat and wondered sadly how friendly, geeky Kevin had fallen prey to what sounded uncannily like a digital Ponzi scheme, maybe even a cult.

Last week, Google searches for Bitcoin reached their highest level since December 2017, around the time that it reached its initial peak of almost $20,000 (£14,900).

That was also roughly the date lots of us were finally taken in by Kevin’s zeal, and pumped some of our own funds into Bitcoin. We cursed him every day for the next year as our investments plummeted in value, the cryptocurrency collapsing to just above $3,000 (£2,200) within 12 months.

bitcoin,
Google searches for Bitcoin have reached their highest point since the currency’s initial peak in 2017 (Photo: Getty)

‘What is Bitcoin?’

Now, though, savings accounts are offering derisory returns and your chances of winning that trusty Premium Bonds prize draw have become even slimmer (even if, poignantly, more people are searching “Premium Bonds checker” at the start of each month than ever before).

Amid this stagnation, Bitcoin has soared. It rose from below $5,000 (£3,700) in March 2020 to almost $30,000 (£22,000) by the end of the year (albeit with a few characteristically alarming dips along the way) and has set more records since. For many, despite its inherent risks – the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) warns customers “should be prepared to lose all their money – it’s never been so alluring, with hundreds of thousands of people in the UK searching “Bitcoin” every day, a five-fold increase within a month.

This is because it’s too late to ask Kevin about it now. We’re either embarrassed about dismissing him the first time around, burned all bridges after blaming him for our foolish late-2017 investment or he’s a Bitcoin millionaire and doesn’t talk to us any more. So instead, we google it.

You can immediately identify those who are entirely new to the concept because they start with the most fundamental question: “What is Bitcoin?”, presumably bashing it out furiously on their keyboards after another fruitless search for “Premium Bonds checker”.

The answer, that it’s a peer-to-peer cryptocurrency of mysterious origins founded on a baffling decentralised ledger system called the blockchain and regulated through digital “mining”, presumably puts some of these novices off.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 file photo, Jon Rumion, background left, talks with Michael Cargill at Central Texas Gun Works in Austin, Texas. Bitcoin has crossed the $40,000 mark, extending on a huge rally that started three months ago, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Bitcoin remains inherently risky, its resurgence punctuated with alarming dips (Photo: AP)

‘When to buy Bitcoin…’

Others, their curiosity piqued, delve deeper, with queries such as “how does Bitcoin work”, “why does Bitcoin have value” and even “how to mine Bitcoin” all gaining traction. Most, though, move straight onto practical matters, with significant search for “how,” “where” and, most pertinently, “when to buy Bitcoin”.

The cryptocurrency’s notorious volatility is the focus of much of the search. Some seek to make sense of these peaks and troughs, searching “why does Bitcoin go up and down so much,” while others just want to know “when will Bitcoin drop,” “how high will Bitcoin go” or, as the new year dawned, “will Bitcoin crash in 2021”.

All of these questions are impossible to answer, so the more indecisive users google “when will Bitcoin run out,” in an attempt to reassure themselves that there’s no danger of them missing the boat entirely. Some then decide to take the plunge, and join the tens of thousands of people around the UK feverishly googling “Bitcoin price” multiple times a day.

But where do you go from there? Well, a similar resurgence in search for the price of Ethereum and Litecoin suggests that these two, far more obscure cryptocurrencies are riding the wave of Bitcoin’s renewed success –  it’s probably there that you’ll find Kevin these days.

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