Scoring Bitcoin Points Like Digital Airline Miles

bitcoin airline miles frequent points fly top photo

This is an opinion editorial by Michael Rhee, the founder of Wavlake and a contributor at Bitcoin Magazine.

Everyone loves keeping score. From likes and mentions on social media to airline miles and Starbucks Rewards, points tell us exactly where we stand in the commercial world. On social media platforms, they can mean more eyeballs and a feeling of validation. In the world of airlines and coffee shops, they can mean more free trips and frappuccinos.

Today, each of these scores lives in a walled garden. Like a gift card to your favorite store, these points are only redeemable at one place and are locked within a bounded context. I can’t convert the likes on my tweets to free coffees. Nor can I turn the views on my YouTube videos into discounted hotel stays.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Imagine a point system on the internet that everyone used, and could freely traverse a variety of platforms and applications, providing a unified definition of value across them all.

If visions of the coming metaverse are true, then this kind of interoperability will be the fabric that weaves it all together. I believe that bitcoin has a key role to play in building a more unified commercial world — both on and off the internet — serving as a single, shared measure of value that can move across real and virtual borders with no friction.

As the founder of Wavlake, I’m trying to build this world. Wavlake is a way for music listeners to directly support the artists they love, using bitcoin micropayments. It is part of a larger ecosystem of internet services that run on an open, interoperable standard for bitcoin payments. We’re witnessing the early stages of this dramatic change already. On Stacker News, users reward each other for posts and comments they like using small amounts of bitcoin. Commenters can then withdraw that bitcoin from the site and use it to tip musicians on Wavlake. Those same musicians can use their awarded bitcoin to stream podcasts on pay-by-the-minute players like Breez or Fountain. Podcasters can then take that same bitcoin and convert it into U.S. dollars using Cash App, or turn it into a gift card with Bitrefill.

To create this same unified experience with dollars would require careful coordination and cooperation between every closed payment network in the world. That means Venmo would have to work with Zelle and vice-versa, along with every other dollar-based payment app in existence. In contrast, Bitcoin’s open standards and permissionless nature uniquely enable any service to seamlessly integrate with every other Bitcoin service imaginable, without planning or mandate.

These unified commercial worlds are still small and experimental, but hold huge potential for our society and economy. As bitcoin adoption continues to grow, we will gradually close the loop and create a truly global, commercial system. Naysayers will finally be able to buy — or get a free — cup of coffee using bitcoin, throwing away the notion that it’s a useless and frivolous technology. This is the point at which Bitcoin fades into the background and becomes invisible, like the electricity powering your desk lamp.

This possible future state makes me wonder: Maybe not everyone needs to understand Austrian economics or triple-entry accounting or the Byzantine generals problem or how central banking works or WTF happened in 1971 — or any of the other, myriad frameworks for explaining this complex system we call the economy. Maybe most people don’t need any of this to “get” Bitcoin, in the same way I don’t need to know how to build every component of a phone in order to understand its value.

At some point in the future, bitcoin becomes the measure of our world. It will be just like airline miles, but for everything.

This is a guest post by Michael Rhee. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.