Prices across all major markets have been almost stables over the last 24 hours, with bitcoin evolving around $650.
However, the only major digital currency to see a strong rise in price has been Mastercoin, the cryptocurrency that serves as the binding between bitcoins (BTC), smart properties and smart contracts built on the bitcoin block chain.
After falling to as low as $7 over the last few days, mastercoin saw its price rise by more than 350% to $26.
Mastercoin is the brainchild of J.R. Willett, a developer in Seattle. He raised 4,000 BTC (worth a half-million dollars at the time) in his own fundraiser last summer based on a white paper he wrote about developing a protocol built on top of Bitcoin, that would use the Bitcoin blockchain to store digital contracts.
You could use it for example to store car titles, extending the principles of Bitcoin — one person owns a certain value and is the only who can unlock and transfer it — to lots of other kinds of property.
Those who invested got the company’s own currency, also called Mastercoin, in return. “We’re a protocol layer on top of Bitcoin adding extra features,” says Willett, “We use Bitcoin like email uses the underlying layer of TCP/IP.
Mastercoin has been very open about how it’s spent its Bitcoin funds with a public spreadsheet of its expenditures. It offers “bounties” to develop a Mastercoin ecosystem in order to make the coin valuable, paying a group out of France, for example, to set up MasterXchange to allow people to trade Bitcoin for Mastercoin.
Despite that Mastercoin is notorious as being illiquid among cryptocoin traders. Indeed, concerns about Mastercoin liquidity appear to be real, as according to CoinMarketCap there are only equivalent of $12,000 worth in Mastercoin that are exchanged every day, compared to $50 million in Bitcoin.
Mastercoin’s market cap has been as high as $50 million, making it one of the most valuable altcoins, but its cap is less important than its trading volume when it comes to actually realizing that value. And its trading volume has been one of the lowest of the altcoins. It’s hard to sell it.
“With $23,000, the price of a Honda Civic, you could crash the Mastercoin market to $0,” says Dan Held, founder of Bitcoin market information app ZeroBlock, and director of product for Blockchain, a Bitcoin wallet service. “Owners of Mastercoin are stuck holding an absolutely illiquid currency.”
Mastercoin’s primary business model now is to issue business-specific cryptocoins to allow any entity to create its own cryptocurrency for its platform. Upon Johnston’s advice, Irvine decided this was the answer to funding MaidSafe. He planned to use Mastercoin to issue 400 million Safecoin to sell for $8 million.
Irvine thought it would take 30 days to sell all the Safecoin, but when the crowdsale kicked off on the morning of April 22, Scotland time, the Safecoin flew off the digital shelf. And it was going terribly wrong. There was a flood of orders placed in Mastercoin, and they did not stop at the promised 25% mark.
They had to abruptly end the sale within 5 hours. When people woke up in other time zones, they saw that the sale was already over, and they were stuck holding Mastercoin they’d hoped to turn into Safecoin. Irvine’s company meanwhile was stuck holding millions of dollars of Mastercoin, a completely illiquid, worthless currency instead of the $6 million in Bitcoin they’d hoped for.
Irvine was very upset and asked Johnston and Mastercoin how they were going to fix it. Johnston says his Bit Angels group had traded a bunch of Mastercoin for Safecoin. He convinced some of those investors — who he declined to name — to sell Safecoin they’d bought back to MaidSafe to sell to Bitcoin investors. “We didn’t make any money,” claims Johnston. But the sale did allow a bunch of people holding Mastercoin to exit their positions.
MaidSafe wound up with $3 million in Bitcoin thanks to the Safecoin loan from BitAngels. That’s funding for three years at the start-up’s current monthly price tag of $100,000 for operations. MaidSafe is now one of the largest holders of Mastercoin, sitting on around $2.5 million of it, the majority of which came from just 10 Mastercoin holders.
There were 2,000 people total who appeared to participate in the crowdsale, 1,900 of them buying Safecoin with Bitcoin, which is actually valuable and liquid.
Irvine has no idea who most of the 2,000 people are who sent cryptocoin to his company. “They are just addresses on the blockchain to us,” he says by email. He doesn’t know their motives: whether they invested in Safecoin because they believe in Maidsafe’s promise, or because they were desperate to get out of Mastercoin, or because they hope to turn a buck in the complex backwater of cryptostock trading.
Mastercoin has nine more crowd sales planned in coming months. Caveat crypto-emptor.