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Twinkle, twinkle, little bitcoin

With the trial involving the black market website Silk Road underway, you may be hearing a lot about the shady-seeming digital currency known as bitcoin. Its value soars; its value plunges. Its origins in the high-powered computers of a scattered population of bitcoin “miners” has the feel of an elaborate fiction. And its anonymous, unstable nature can make getting your mind around it rather like studying a handful of water.

But if the prognosticating and bickering over bitcoin is enough to eclipse its promise (and there are some fascinating possibilities in the notion of a decentralized currency), there is a better (and more soothing) way for you to tune in to this burgeoning economy.


BitListen is an online bitcoin visualizer created by interactive designer Maximillian Laumeister that tracks real-time bitcoin usage and translates it into something like a data-driven wind chime. As individual bitcoin transactions enter the “blockchain” (bitcoin’s master ledger), they emerge as a field of twinkling, ascendant bubbles, each scaled in pitch and size to the amount of bitcoin spent.

Its music is random, searching, sparse, but constant. Even if the details and the logic of bitcoin continue to elude you, BitListen tells the tale of a powerful force still pulling itself together. Or it’s just something pretty to listen to while you clean the house. Pro tip: For an extra robust experience, open a second browser tab to the slightly busier knockoff, “Listen to Wikipedia.” (And don’t actually listen to Wikipedia.)


Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at mbrodeur@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.