TL;DR A news article I wrote for IDG in 2010 was the first mainstream media discussion of Bitcoin. As a direct result, the individual believed to have created Bitcoin—Satoshi Nakamoto—said “the swarm is headed towards us”. He disappeared after posting that to a forum, and hasn’t been heard from since.
Let’s make this clear from start: I didn’t force anybody into hiding, or know Satoshi Nakamoto. But if what I wrote was indeed a contributing factor, I am not proud of this. The thought I affected anybody’s life in a negative way hugely upsets me. But now that Bitcoin is insanely popular, the incident has become infamous. It’s time to tell my story. /TL;DR
Back in 2010 I was a freelance journalist. I took work where I could find it. One of my jobs was to write news stories for PC World’s Bizfeed and Newsdesk blogs.
(Note for UK readers: PC World is one of the biggest US computing magazines/websites, and not a crappy tech retailer, like here in the UK!)
The goal with the blogging was simple and primitive: Break news stories before anybody else.
Doing so meant Google News would put our articles at the top of the list if that topic began to trend, because we got there first.
That meant clicks. Clicks meant ad conversions.
It was necessary for me to hammer these articles out, usually writing the required two per day by lunchtime. Because I was in the UK, this meant they were ready for the site’s US editor when she arrived at work, 9am EST.
It always made me smile when I approached a source for an interview and they said something like, “Sure, I can speak to you Thursday next week”. By that time my article would not only be published but literally old news.
It’s the toughest writing job I’ve ever had. Some of the articles I wrote did amazingly well, like when I covered the Sony PlayStation hacks and managed to reveal key developments before anybody else.
I got paid a fraction of a cent per click, and a single popular article would pay my living expenses for a week, or even longer.
Most articles I wrote sunk to the deeps of the ocean, leaving only a trail of bubbles behind. One of these was about how Wikileaks was asking for donations in something called Bitcoin.
Nobody back then knew what Bitcoin was. But I’d been following it as part of my general interest in open source technology.
So, I wrote the article. Remember: I had little time to do involved research. To write about something I already understood was a gift.
I wrote about how there was a mysterious guy behind it all: Satoshi Nakamoto. I can’t recall how I knew this. I think I just checked the official Bitcoin website.
Once the article was done, I immediately moved onto the next one, like I always did.
A few days later I got a few emails from people angry about the piece. I was accused of “lazy journalism”. They accused me of claiming Bitcoin was created by Wikileaks.
Reading the article now, I continue to believe these accusations are untrue. Offensive, even. Like any good journalist, I checked facts against canonical sources before submitting work to the editor.
The editor wouldn’t publish if I made stuff up. That isn’t how it works.
I promptly forgot all about the article, as I forgot about all the others.
Fast forward to 2019
Now working as a content writer at a software company, with the hack work of news blogging long behind me, I received a LinkedIn message from a journalist. He told me he was writing a book about Bitcoin.
Would I be interested in being interviewed?
What?! Why would he ask that?
By this point, Bitcoin was heading towards the moon. In that article back in 2010, I’d written that one Bitcoin was worth 20 cents. A coffee shop somewhere had begun accepting several in return for a steaming brew.
But now just one Bitcoin was worth over $9,000! I think I’m justified in using an emoji here:
It was making headlines in newspapers, with Nakamoto’s disappearance being a nut everybody wanted to crack. Where was he? Did he even exist?
“Your article made a huge impact,” wrote the journalist in his message to me.
I had to google my article to even remember what I’d written.
The journalist continued (and I paraphrase here because I haven’t sought permission to quote him):
“In the history of Bitcoin, your article made Satoshi Nakamoto panic. Pretty soon he dropped all responsibility for Bitcoin. He handed over the project to Gavin Andresen and then largely disappeared.”
Have you ever been told something that makes your stomach feel like it’s exited your body? That Charlie Brown feeling?
That’s how I felt. But it was also tinged with excitement. As a journalist, knowing something I’ve written had gone on to create such an impact was incredible. That’s why writers do what we do!
I told my wife. Her jaw dropped to the floor. We discussed what must’ve been going through Nakamoto’s head. Couldn’t I just drop him a line and say sorry, she asked? Um. Sadly not.
I told colleagues. One of them used a website that tracks backlinks to find the original forum post where, in 2010, Nakamoto had written about my article – literally his final message to the world before disappearing:
“It would have been nice to get this attention in any other context. WikiLeaks has kicked the hornet’s nest, and the swarm is headed towards us.” https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=2216.0
I had never seen this forum post before.
Using the backlinking tool, I discovered that forum post and my article had entered Bitcoin folklore across the decade since. Countless people had discussed its significance.
I had absolutely no idea.
End of story
And, really, this is the end of the story for me.
I didn’t get interviewed because I had nothing to tell. I never knew anybody involved with Bitcoin. I never knew Nakamoto. I have no inside information.
Yet here I am, an actual footnote in one of the most fantastic stories in computing and perhaps even world finance.
How do I feel?
I’ve been absolutely wrong two times about nascent technologies.
The first was YouTube. I was convinced it would never be more than people posting clips stolen from TV shows. I never believed there would be something called a professional YouTuber (although I’m so glad there are – I spend a lot of time at that website today!).
The second was Bitcoin. I installed the Bitcoin-generating software back in 2010, ran it for a day or two, and then uninstalled it.
A virtual currency?! What a crazy idea!
While writing this today, I setup my second Bitcoin wallet after that first attempt in 2010. Yes, really. I’ve watched from afar. I’ve laughed with friends about how if I’d just left that app running back in 2010 I’d probably be writing this from a personal jet right now.
But I’ve never actually gone back and created a wallet – until now.
If you found my story interesting, why not drop a few cents in there. See below.
Oh, and if Mr Nakamoto is reading this then… Sorry. Drop me a line. It’d be good to chat. I’d love to both know your story, and help share it with the world if you’d like that. Wouldn’t it be great to pick up the story at the point where it left off?
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