A Bitcoin Adventure in Four Parts
—by Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian
Part One: The Deposit
I am proud to say I succeeded in donating BitCoins to the Internet Archive, but it took some doing. For your entertainment, here is my adventure in changing $100 into bitcoins, transferring them to the “wallet” that lives on my laptop, and then contributing them to the Internet Archive.
The first trick was to buy some bitcoins. After poking around, I found that I could use a wire transfer via the mtgox website. But, now, uh, I don’t recommend this approach. This is what happened:
To transfer $100, I asked my big bank to wire a hundred dollars to the bank MtGox suggested which is in Japan. Well, my bank cannot send dollars to Japan, only yen. And since I requested dollars, they had first transfer the money to JPMorgan, a bank that can transfer dollars. So far, so complicated.
I then waited the five days that MtGox said to allow for the transfer to conclude, but nope, nothing. I then entered the weird world of MtGox customer support.
After asking what happened to my money, and they have therefore determined that I was a risk, and that they needed to see a scanned passport and/or driver’s license to confirm the money came from an account of the same name. Even if I had given the scanned ID, it would not have matched the bank account that I had chosen. But the instruction had said nothing about a scanned ID, so worried this was a scam. Then this went back and forth several times, and my alarm bells started to go off.
They declined my request to speak with a manager, and repeated that they needed scanned identity documents. That’s when I requested that they return the money. Sure, no problem, as long as I first sent them my scanned passport and/or driver’s license. Creep factor: high and rising. When I asked how long they would sit on a transfer that never made it into any account before they automatically returned the money, they asked for … wait for it! … my full identification.
After wasting all too much time on what should have been a simple deposit, I received a terse message from the “MtGox.com Team”:
“The transfer in question is confirmed and credited to your account.In future if you are not willing to provide ID proof then please never send us any deposit again because we do not accept deposits without proof that it is actually from the bank account owner.”
My lesson: avoid MtGox.
Part Two: Installing the Software
I downloaded the bitcoin-qt application to my mac laptop thinking I would install it and create an ID. But this process takes days– and can fail. And did.
The bitcoin system is very cool—cryptographically secure, peer-to-peer, anonymous, and such—but it means that your computer is a first-class member of the system and that requires quite a bit of computing horsepower. Hours into the installation process, a friend advised me that it could take a day or so to complete.
There’s an small icon on interface that has a tool-tip to monitor progress. My progress was stymied by an error after a day, one with no recommended solution. Searching, I found a forum post suggesting that I delete some files from the computer’s application directory and start over again. Another day of processing, and Ready!
Part Three: Getting My Bitcoins into My Computer
I think I could have transferred the bitcoins directly from MtGox to the Internet Archive, but would have been cheating. I wanted to have the coins in my virtual pocket and then donate them– seemed more “real”.
The MtGox FAQ had an on-point entry, “How do I withdraw Bitcoin to my own computer?” After following the instructions, the bitcoin application on my computer said withdrawal was in process, but needed to be confirmed. Confirmed? Since bitcoin is this magic of deep math, it uses other computers in the world to confirm that you have the coins you claim to have on deposit. In an hour or two, my bitcoins were confirmed to be in my bitcoin client on my computer. Cool.
I wonder what happens when my machine crashes or is stolen, but I was on a roll, so there’s no looking back now.
Part Four: Making a Donation to the Internet Archive
The Internet Archive’s Donate page features a magic number, the bitcoin address needed to transfer the bitfunds. I cut and pasted that into the “Send Coins” tab in my bitcoin client program, labeled it for future reference as the Internet Archive, and pressed “Send.” I was hoping for that whooshing sound that iPhones make when sending mail, but nope, just silence. Not sure if I should celebrate, I stayed cool.
The next day, I asked June Goldsmith—the Director of Administration at the Archive who runs the Archive’s bitcoin client—if she had received it, and indeed she had. My donation made it!
Last year, we received a few thousand dollars in bitcoin contributions. So far this year, Internet Archive supporters have donated 186 bitcoins worth U.S. $2,400 at the current exchange rate.
I am rather proud of succeeding and now kind-of like the adventure. I feel like I am a member of a club and want to go buy something or donate some more.
If you find yourself similarly inclined, please visit the Internet Archive’s Donate page to support the world’s fastest growing library with bitcoins, dollars, time, books, and anything else.
Thanks, in advance, for your continued support.