In the spring of 2014, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology unveiled an ambitious plan.
Spurred by active enthusiasts on campus, the prestigious US university raised $500,000 with the goal of distributing $100 in bitcoin to every student on campus. Completed in the fall of 2014, the project would spur similar experiments at campuses around the globe.
But despite the buzz around the so-called bitcoin airdrop, not much was known about its success or the impression it left on students. Now, a study by MIT researchers has provided new details by using the event as a way to research "early adopters", or individuals likely to be among the first to use or evangelize for a new technology.
Though the study seeks to broadly answer questions about early technology adoption, the incidental findings in the report provide context about how the bitcoin airdrop was received by students.
For example, the study indicates that 3,108 undergraduates signed up for a digital wallet, with 89% reporting they were new to the digital currency. Thirty-five percent of those were interested in bitcoin as an investment, with 20% noting an interest in its use for online transactions.
The study also interpreted the "cashing out" of bitcoin into traditional currency as a sign an early adopter had given up interest in the technology, meaning it provide details on how inclined students were to keep the funds.
Researchers obtained data from hosted digital wallet providers to track the rate of bitcoin sales, finding that early adopters (those who signed up early to receive bitcoin) were more likely to cash out of bitcoin when they were delayed access to the digital currency relative to their peers.
The report's authors wrote:
"The more we delayed such a person, the more likely they were to cash out immediately as their need for cash became more and more pressing."
According to the study, 11% of students sold their bitcoin within two weeks of receiving it, though the researchers suggest it was possible the funds could have been transferred to another wallet service.
Ultimately, the study is inconclusive about the nature of the sales, suggesting that early adopters may have been more informed about the price of bitcoin. However, it noted these students did not "cash out on average at better prices" than their peers.
For more details, read the full report by Christian Catalini and Catherine E Tucker.
College student image via Shutterstock