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The Surprising Numbers Behind Reddit's Bitcoin Freakout

Reddit appears far more concerned with Bitcoin’s value than its inventor’s identity.

Posted on March 7, 2014, at 5:33 p.m. ET

Traffic by day to Reddit's r/bitcoin subreddit.
Via Erik Martin/Reddit

Traffic by day to Reddit's r/bitcoin subreddit.

In the immediate aftermath of Newsweek's Bitcoin cover story, reportedly unmasking Satoshi Nakamoto as the cryptocurrency's inventor, media outlets turned to the subreddit r/bitcoin to try and gauge the reaction of one of the currency's most dedicated communities. The consensus was quick and clear: Reddit is "furious"/"reeling"/"exploding with anger." And while that appears to be accurate, according to the traffic numbers provided by the site, Reddit's Bitcoin community saw only a very slight increase in unique visitors and pageviews yesterday. From a traffic perspective, it was very nearly a normal day.

Erik Martin, Reddit's General Manager, sent BuzzFeed a screenshot of r/bitcoin's traffic over the last two weeks, noting that yesterday's traffic was "not nearly as big of a spike as last week," when Mt. Gox, then the world's largest Bitcoin exchange, shut down without warning on February 24, losing control of 850,000 bitcoins to the tune of nearly half a billion dollars. In the days following the Mt. Gox shutdown traffic to the subreddit topped out at over 500,000 unique visitors and close to 2 million pageviews. Yesterday, the site registered 131,845 uniques (only about 25,000 more than the previous day) and 768,936 total views.

If you've been following the Satoshi story and the Newsweek backlash online and across Twitter for the past two days that might seem surprising but Martin says that media coverage rarely moves the dial in terms of r/bitcoin's traffic. "Links and mentions in press don't really send traffic for the most part," Martin says. He notes that traffic to the subreddit is, "mostly direct. Some search. Twitter is probably sending most after that but [it's] kind of hard to track."

The absence of a traffic spike may also help to better define r/Bitcoin's audience as a more focused community of Bitcoin investors and speculators looking to discuss the value of the currency — presumably the individuals who have money tied up in Bitcoin and Mt Gox. It seems then, for all the frustration, confusion, conspiracy theories, and coverage, the identity of Bitcoin's inventor remains an obsession for some and a fascination for many, but a secondary concern.

The traffic spike is one data point but is also a reminder that stories about Bitcoin often contain two separate threads: there's the meta-story of a peculiar, anonymous, and ultimately confusing movement that's slowly inched its way into becoming a part of popular culture and then there's true believers, who've made an investment and have a stake in the currency. For the latter group, Bitcoin represents real money and, for some, high stakes. And while Satoshi's identity is a compelling, arguably important story with national appeal, it overlooks the larger concerns of a currency and community currently in a precarious position.

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