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Fred Wilson throws a little cold water on bitcoin enthusiasts

  • Union Square Ventures Fred Wilson has owned bitcoin for a few years.
  • He expects a downturn in the currency at some point soon.
  • The venture capitalist spoke before hundreds at a digital currency conference Thursday.

For all the excitement around digital currency technology in New York this week, venture capitalist Fred Wilson said it will probably take much longer for bitcoin to go mainstream.

"I've been trying to transact with bitcoin and a lot of cryptocurrencies for a long time. It's not that rewarding to do, honestly," Wilson, managing partner at Union Square Ventures, said Thursday at the Token Summit.

"It will probably be a long time before people understand what a blockchain currency is," he said.

Hundreds of developers, start-up founders and digital currency investors packed a New York University lecture hall for the all-day conference, which focused on how bitcoin's underlying blockchain technology and digital currencies, or tokens, could change the way business operates.

"I do think some digital currency will end up being the reserve currency of the world. I see a path where that's going to happen," Brian Armstrong, CEO of the Coinbase exchange for buying and selling digital currencies, said at the conference.

Coinbase said Thursday it suffered outages due to "unprecedented traffic and trading," according to Reuters.

The week was a big one for bitcoin, especially in the financial center of New York. The Token Summit followed a two-and-a-half-day digital currency conference called Consensus, both held in Manhattan.

Bitcoin prices climbed all week and skyrocketed to all-time highs above $2,700 on Thursday, raising some concerns of euphoria, similar to 1999 prior to the dotcom bubble.

Wilson compared the state of blockchain innovation to the early- to mid-1990s, when the internet's infrastructure was just being built. He pointed out that the only major consumer internet businesses at the time were Yahoo, eBay and Amazon.

Google came later, and Facebook, Uber, Airbnb and SoundCloud only emerged in the last 15 years, after the tech bubble's collapse in 2000, Wilson pointed out.

That doesn't give bitcoin the all clear. Rather, it's more likely that the currency and blockchain are still in an early phase, before overspeculation and before widespread adoption.

"I think there's a ways more we could go before the whole thing could come undone in a massive way," Wilson said, noting investors also need to be wary of scams, fraudulent use and challenges in technological development.

That said, the longer-term view is more positive.

"By the end of this decade," he said, "we should start to see native blockchain applications receiving massive adoption."

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