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By ending bitcoin support, Stripe shows what a mess bitcoin is right now

The nature of bitcoin is changing, and this payment giant wants out

Someone put these useless bitcoin tokens in a cash register with fiat money (Photo by Kevin Sanders for Modern Consensus).

Internet payment processor Stripe is shutting down its bitcoin compatibility after supporting the cryptocurrency for nearly four years. A post on the company’s blog told the story on Tuesday.

Founded in September 2011, Stripe won hearts and minds in the tech scene when it introduced bitcoin payments in March 2014. The company was already a leading platform for moving conventional money over the internet, but now it would be among the earliest of its ilk to implement cryptocurrency as the monetary techno-wonder it purported to be.

At the time, company leadership just glowed about bitcoin. They loved that it operated reliably around the world and moved money between places where the existing financial infrastructure either wasn’t reliable or didn’t exist. Neither Stripe users nor Stripe itself held any bitcoin; the company worked with a number of partners to convert digital currency to fiat in near real-time. Despite the crypto-magic happening behind the scenes, Stripe’s bitcoin payments were, in essence, perfectly conventional financial transactions.

That is all coming to an end.

“Bitcoin has evolved to become better-suited to being an asset than being a means of exchange,” writes Stripe product manager Tom Karlo. “And of the businesses that are accepting Bitcoin on Stripe, we’ve seen their revenues from Bitcoin decline substantially. Empirically, there are fewer and fewer use cases for which accepting or paying with Bitcoin makes sense. Therefore, starting today, we are winding down support for Bitcoin payments.”

This feature will be phased out over a three-month period as Stripe works with affected customers, but the last day is already marked on the calendar: April 23, 2018.

Stripe’s right: bitcoin really is less useful for payments these days. Transaction fees are climbing as the network handles more and more traffic, and confirmation times are longer than they’ve ever been. By the time a transaction is confirmed, Bitcoin’s value can fluctuate (for better or worse) to the point that you end up sending or receiving a completely different amount of money than planned.

Only time will tell if this move holds meaningful impact for bitcoin at large. Although the cryptocurrency world loses what was once a sensible, easy way to move bitcoin around the world, none other than NASDAQ is looking to get into bitcoin futures trading.

It’s too hard to tell at present if bitcoin is going nowhere or everywhere.

Dylan Love is an editorial consultant, contributing reporter, and fiendishly curious technology enthusiast. He owns no cryptocurrencies.