If there was one word that could describe bitcoin over the past year, it would be 'unpredictable'. So, with that in mind and armed with 20/20 hindsight at year's end, it's fun to go back and look at all the people who tried to do just that.
Whether they prognosticated over the entrails of dead animals or defunct bitcoin exchanges, actual data or emotional investment, the results were – perhaps unsurprisingly – often far off the mark.
A large majority of bitcoin fortune-tellers focused on whether the price would go stratospheric or tank, but other more thoughtful commentators looked at other aspects of the digital currency ecosystem, such as venture investment, politics, or emergence of alternative currencies.
Let's look at what the pundits predicted for bitcoin in 2014.
To put this year's price projections into context, they were made at a time when bitcoin's price had risen from under $100 to over $1,000 in a matter of months. Bitcoin had just emerged from Silk Road's shadow, its critics found themselves on mute, and positive media coverage meant even non-technological family members were beginning to ask about bitcoin.
Rather than make predictions ourselves, CoinDesk outsourced the task to readers with a poll right as the new year rolled in, and one bitcoin was worth $775.
The result was that 56% of the 5,500 respondents expected bitcoin's price to hit $10,000 before the end of the year. 31%, however, thought this unlikely and 13% responded "WTF are you smokin'?"
A Bank of America Merrill Lynch report in December 2013 said the bitcoin price "will stabilize around $1,300 per coin very soon".
Jason Hamlin of GoldStockBull penned a hopeful vision of $1,800 gold, a pardon for Edward Snowden and bitcoins for "$2,500 or higher" in 2014.
To be fair, not everyone who made a prediction about bitcoin in the past 12 months did so with a definite timeframe in mind, like the Winklevoss brothers' vision of a $400bn bitcoin market cap... someday.
In the midst of such a mood, predicting anything other than a never-ending bull run for bitcoin would have been seen as treasonous by digital currency's faithful social media followers. However, although there were definitely more level-headed expectations that probably struck closer to the target, they did not grab headlines at the time.
The only prediction we found that came anywhere near bitcoin's actual current price in the $300s was on BitBet – and it was referring to Christmas 2013.
The rapture of one year ago didn't stop some, however, from foretelling certain doom for the "unbacked" new currency.
One of the bitcoin community's favorite whipping boys is Boston University School of Management professor Mark T. Williams, also known derisively as 'Professor Bitcorn' for his pessimistic outlook on cryptocurrency.
Williams' own prediction was courageous in its short scope, which was bound to bring either victory or derision swiftly: he predicted in December 2013 that the price of bitcoin could go as low as $10 by the middle of the following year.
While his prognosis was arguably closer than most of the bullish statements, bitcoin also went nowhere near the double digits and Williams' quote went into the same reserve pile as economist Paul Krugman's 1998 dismissal of the new Internet economy's significance.
In May, however, Williams told CoinDesk he still believed bitcoin was "grossly overpriced" and that his $10 estimate would still come to pass at some point in future.
Blackstone Group vice chairman Byron Wien has long been fond of finishing the year with predictions. While he hit the mark as a fiat currency soothsayer by saying the Japanese yen would fall to 120 per US dollar, his crystal ball was less accurate on both bitcoin value and utility:
"During the year bitcoin’s acceptance collapses as investors realize that it cannot be used as collateral in financial transactions and its principal utility is for illegal business dealings where anonymity is important."
Having endured the subsequent Mt Gox collapse and its tortuous aftermath, Chinese and Russian legal uncertainty, BitLicenses, tax rulings and price slumps, bitcoin users will now have their confidence tested again by predictions for 2015. Will they be accurate?
Price overestimates, however, weren't confined to the heady days of December 2013. As recently as July this year, some could still see a four-figure bitcoin value within months.
CoinTelegraph posted a video in May that polled various bitcoin community figures on their opinions, with often hilarious results.
Founders Fund partner Geoff Lewis, speaking at London's CoinSummit event, predicted a price of $2,000. He added he will be "really bullish when there is low volatility", but estimated the value would soar to $2,000 or more in the next five months.
Bitcoin evangelist Roger Ver, well-known as a price bull, said Lewis hadn't gone far enough – though in Ver's defense, he didn't set a deadline and thus cannot be called out this time.
"I actually think $2,000 is a pretty conservative estimate ... we don't know for sure if it's going to happen in this year, but there's no doubt in my mind that bitcoin's price is going to be thousands of dollars and, almost for sure, tens of thousands of dollars for one."
Lightspeed India's list
Lightspeed Venture Partners' India office (LVPI) made a bold list of predictions in January that covered a broad spectrum of cryptocurrency issues beyond just price, and was shared widely around the bitcoin world.
While the list claimed bitcoin's price was "likely to range between $4,000-5,000 by the end of 2014", we'll set that aside for now and focus on its more interesting prophecies.
Lightspeed's early prediction that $100m in venture capital would flow into bitcoin startups was actually pretty conservative by comparison, given than $91.8 had already done so in 2013.
In reality, by the time of CoinDesk's Q3 State of Bitcoin Report appeared in October, over $290m had poured into bitcoin companies – and that was before Blockchain announced its $30.5m investment, along with Blockstream's $21m, PeerNova's $8.6m and others.
LVPI predicted the 'browser of bitcoin' would arrive in 2014, doing for digital currency what Netscape did for mass acceptance of the web in the early 1990s, and that blockchain-based services beyond those relating to currency and payments would emerge.
While more user-friendly services like Circle have launched to make bitcoin more familiar to those raised in a fiat/online banking world, and exchanges like Xapo, ANX and CoinJar now allow users to use everyday debit cards to fund their account balances, obtaining that first bitcoin remains a cumbersome process of setup and ID verification for most.
ChangeTip, armed with a new $3.5m in seed funding, is trying to make those initial steps into bitcoin easier – but as yet, it's difficult to say bitcoin has had its 'Netscape moment'.
Non-currency (or 'crypto 2.0') projects did continue to develop and emerge, including asset exchange platforms like Hyperledger, Counterparty, Melotic and NXT Asset Exchange. New 'smart contract' projects like Ethereum and Ripple Labs' Codius also appeared only in the past year.
Another notable LVPI prediction went as follows:
"There will be less than five altcoins (out of the 50+ in existence) that will survive 2014"
This was orders of magnitude off, as alts continued to proliferate this year. CoinMarketCap now lists over 500 cryptocurrencies and that number seems to rise and fall every week.
The prediction above ran counter to many others, which said there would be a growing interest in non-bitcoin cryptocurrencies. CoinDesk, too, predicted a "growing interest in altcoins".
Developers seeking to trump bitcoin on technology, features, utility and economic model (as well as speculators looking for another chance at early adopter status) cranked out altcoins at such a rate that CoinDesk's regular All Things Alt feature could barely keep up.
Consultant and author Tim Swanson wrote frequently that the number of digital currencies would grow, not shrink, saying in a paper that greater opportunities of financial reward for developers working on new coins, plus a glut of mining gear no longer suitable for supporting the bitcoin network, would see the number of alts continue to grow.
LVPI's final prediction? "Satoshi Nakamoto will be Time’s Person of the Year 2014." Well, perhaps spooked by Newsweek's ill-fated venture into that territory, Time went instead with a safer – yet very deserved – collective award to those fighting ebola in West Africa.
CoinDesk's first State of Bitcoin report for 2014 said "Adoption by more large consumer-facing companies (eg: Overstock and Zynga) will introduce bitcoin to a wider audience".
Whether more merchant acceptance has led to an increase in actual bitcoin use is still debatable, as decreased purchasing power led many bitcoin users to hold, rather than spend, their coins. There is little doubt, however, that bitcoin acceptance by marquee corporate names has kept digital currency in the headlines in 2014.
Although Byrne didn't specify a timeframe for this, Amazon responded to growing pressure from bitcoiners by quashing the idea altogether in April, saying it has no plans to "engage bitcoin".
While that might seem like bad news, few predicted that other corporate giants like Dell, DISH, Time Inc and Microsoft would be accepting bitcoin by the end of 2014, each giving the currency a much-needed legitimacy boost.
Brave new world
That few predictions really foresaw what happened in 2014 reminds us of one important fact: nothing like bitcoin has ever existed before.
Never in history have people had the technology to transfer wealth instantly, anywhere in the world, without trusted third-party intermediaries or restrictions based on logistics, cost, or regulation.
What the world will do with this new ability can only be approximated by defering to history and existing models. While we salute anyone brave enough to prophesize a bitcoin future that can be reviewed 12 months from now, it's important to not rely on them too heavily when making major investment or career decisions.
Do you have any predictions for bitcoin in 2015? Let us know in the comments below.
Fortune cookie image via Shutterstock
Whether they prognosticated over the entrails of dead animals or defunct bitcoin exchanges, actual data or emotional investment, the results were – perhaps unsurprisingly – often […]