How a currency made the internet a better place09 Jul 2014
Note: This is my first backed and published article on Contributoria, the Guardian's crowdfunded journalism platform. Many thanks to the Contributoria team, the Dogecoin community, and all the Dogecoin people who helped me write this piece by answering my questions.
How a currency made the internet a better place
At the dawn of 2013, crypto-currencies rolled in mass over the internets. Bitcoin was not enough, people wanted more. Among them, one started with the aim to make fun of all these new currencies with exotic names, created God-knows-why. It re-used a popular meme and its emblem: the Shiba Inu dog and the Comic Sans font. Dogecoin was created.
The movement started more than four years ago, when the first draft of what is called today a crypto-currency was launched on the internet, under the name of Bitcoin. Bitcoin's creator(s) is still unidentifiable, but the alternative money represents today a market capitalisation of more than $10bn. It became a valid mean of payment for many web services, and there is even a Bitcoin ATM in Vancouver.
Dogecoin was part of this cypto-currency trend. To those unfamiliar with what Bitcoin or Dogecoin are, they are basically virtual currencies that use cryptography protocols for anonymity and security. They are not controlled by a state or a central bank, but are regularly issued by a computer program. The value of the currency is determined solely by the market supply and demand.
But Bitcoin has been associated with the 'dark side' of the internet, because of its anonymity and untraceability. Jackson Palmer, co-creator of Dogecoin, said to Vice in December 2013: “A lot of crypto-currency—namely Bitcoin, with its history with Silk Road—has been sitting in the shadows. It’s associated with the dark web. "
Far from this image lives Dogecoin. A glance at the community's Reddit page /r/dogecoin will be very convincing. Silly fonts, rockets flying 'to the moon' whenever a user up-votes a post, and pictures of this cute dog, once misspelled 'doge.'
Despite the coin's value oscillating between small fractions of a cent, the community attracts new users every day and proved to be more than yet another joke in the crypto-currency world. Ross Nicoll, Dogecoin developer, remember how it all started for him:
Like many, I was first introduced to Dogecoin by being tipped a small amount of Dogecoins, and I think that first impression of being given something by the community is powerful.
'Tipping' is a common thing in the community: the members give each other 'tips' for participating, in the form of a dozen to a couple of hundred coins. A software, called DogeTipBot, was developed to allow Reddit members to send and receive tips incredibly easily. The TipBot is currently being extended to Facebook and many other social networks. Ross Nicoll said when we first contacted him that 'the community isn't great as following instructions not to tip,' and he was right indeed, considering the amount of tips we received when we presented this article project to the community.*
So, what is Dogecoin? Is it something new? /u/beasleyd2 said: “Dogecoin has done nothing new with the tech except use an aggressive inflationary model. The community and what we do with the coin is what makes Doge.... well Doge!”
About the economic model of Dogecoin, Ross Nicoll said: “Dogecoin is one of a very small number of crypto-currencies with an inflationary economy, meaning coins are unlikely to increase in value indefinitely (in comparison to crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin). I hope this encourages people not to hoard coins for their own gain, but instead to tip or spend their coins.”
Combined with the actual value of the Doge, the economic model of Dogecoin can be a powerful invitation to tip. The fact is that, by giving away this stranger who made a funny joke on Reddit 10 Doge, you are in fact sending him $0.003 (as today's approximative value). That doesn't cost much, but as Ross Nicoll said, 'That first impression of being given something by the community is powerful.' Billy Markus, co-creator of Dogecoin, agrees:
People were figuratively throwing Doges at each other as a kind of kudos - like a new Facebook like, only this had some monetary value associated with it.
“People were figuratively throwing it at each other as a kind of kudos - like a new Facebook like, only this had some monetary value associated with it. I think the generosity of the community started to emerge from the tipping culture.”
This generosity also expressed itself in successful fund-raising campaigns that started from the very beginning of the currency's existence, as Billy Markus recalls:
The first initiative was something completely absurd – raising $30,000 to send the Jamaican bobsled team to the Olympics.
“The first initiative was something completely absurd – raising $30,000 to send the Jamaican bobsled team to the Olympics - and not only was it successful, but the funds were raised in just a few days. That success set the stage for future fund-raising for charitable endeavors like doge4kids (training service animals for disabled children) and doge4water (funding a 'faucet' of water wells in Kenya). Some individuals took it upon themselves to do their own smaller efforts as well, for example I remember someone bought pizza and essential supplies for the homeless with dogecoin and filmed himself giving it to a homeless shelter.”
These campaigns made Dogecoin famous. One of the last and most successful saw two Reddit communities (NASCAR and Dogecoin) rally behind unsponsored driver Josh Wise. $55,000 (or 67 million Doge) were raised and allowed the Dogecar to compete at Aaron's 499, then at several other races. For Ross Nicoll, these fund-raisings are part of today's community: “The 'Save Dogemas' campaign started not long after I discovered Dogecoin, and the Jamaican bobsled campaign after that, and these worked to help define the Dogecoin community. It's natural for any group to attract like-minded individuals, and from that initial spark of generosity has grown the community we see today.”
It remains difficult to understand what led a simple project, although trendy at the time, to what constitutes Dogecoin today: this community of 'shibes', as they refer to themselves. Billy Markus said: “When the community started it had a general 'fun' aura - it was some perfect storm of a popular and silly meme coupled with people excited about getting on the ground floor of a crypto-currency (Bitcoin had been on everyone's mind after it made its crazy rally to $1200 per coin). Considering the whole thing started as a lark and was inherently absurd, we tried to keep it light and fun, all the while the popularity was exploding and things were happening so quickly.”
And 'shibes' still define themselves this way. /u/fiddy_doge notes two traits that characterise Dogecoin users: “A) A desire to have fun, and a willingness to act silly and not take themselves seriously. B) A lot of pro-social traits (kindness, politeness, tolerance, charity, etc). I think it's fair to say that /r/Dogecoin is generally admired for this, and for being so welcoming to newcomers.”
According to him, these 'pro-social traits' are inherited from Jackson Palmer directly, and spread directly in the community. This desire to 'do good' definitely defines Dogecoin. When talking about the community's actions, /u/mumzie, /r/dogecoin moderator and creator or /r/dogeducation, gives credits to Dogecoin for offering these opportunities, acting as a catalyst: “There are many opportunities for people to be generous and in a wide variety of ways. (…) I think people like to do good things, be generous in ways that they can, as their life and situations allow. Dogecoin provides an avenue to do this, in a community that embraces it.”
That is because Dogecoin is very flexible and inviting to beginners, in particular thanks to new initiatives that helped shape a very easy access to electronic wallets and coins exchanges, as well as many learning opportunities, as /u/beasleyd2 said :
“Doge allows you to make your own. Whether you're a serious investor, someone dedicated to service and charity, lighthearted redditor just wanting to have some fun, Dogecoin provides an open and welcoming community to learn about Digital Currencies. (…) The Dogecoin community will answer the same questions for the 10,000th time to each individual wanting to learn.”
Dogecoin may very well go 'to the moon', in the end. But its goals are very far from Bitcoin's. And that's good news for the community. Billy Markus, talking about 'the most successful project [he has] spent four hours starting,' is happy with what his project has developed into: “I think some combination of the inherent absurdity / fun of a meme-based currency, plus the tipping culture, plus the initial large scale fund-raising that was done all worked together to show the community the impressive things that could be achieved with digital currency when people work together toward a goal.”
The community is self-organised, without hierarchical structure or representatives – so far. Even Jackson Palmer and Billy Markus, if they are still active, stepped down from any apparent leadership role. Many things are happening to the Dogecoin users, and their community pages are every day literally flooded with announcements and debates. Still, they seem to manage to find their way, thanks to several respected members. In the last days, many 'shibes' were very seriously and vehemently discussing an issue related to the trademarking of Dogecoin. Billy Markus intervened after the debate, less than a day ago, by proposing 'a new rallying cry: 'Keep Dogecoin Absurd', asking the community not to become 'the exact thing' it was 'originally parodying.' His message is currently having a large and positive echo among the users.
We have all heard stories about cyber-bullying, witch-hunts, and online hate in general. People do type tough, and many find a comforting refuge behind their screen to act violently, although few would behave the same way in a real-life environment. The Dogecoin community is surprisingly at the opposite of this sphere, and their message of hope, as expressed by /u/beasleyd2, is touching:
That is why people choose Doge. We are making the world a better place by just being good people... I think the world needs this community more than ever.
Disclaimer: we received 4060.55 DOGE, transferred at the address D9ay7asVebJteCCWmEhMw5Z9i96xV4wHKS . This amount, equivalent to £0.75 as of today, will be sent to one of Dogecoin supported charities.