BitPay, Bitcoin, and Where to Put That Decimal Point

Micro-bitcoins, milli-bitcoins, bits, satoshis. The topic of bitcoin
and decimal places has recently resurfaced in community debate. Here
are our plans.

The community and media have recently returned an issue of "where to put the decimal place." More than just a debate over naming ("bits or µBTC"), this is a human interface and technical issue that warrants careful consideration.

The following is a summary of our plans, followed by some discussion.

  1. Expand invoice amount to six decimal places, up from four. Completed on 2014-12-16!
  2. Drop leading zeroes from invoice amounts. Prices are now expressed in micro-bitcoins (µBTC or "bits").
  3. When necessary, add two decimal places to accomodate further bitcoin value appreciation.

Fundamentally, the goal is to move to micro-bitcoins (µBTC, "bits"). This is most compatible with existing financial software. Many popular accounting and finance packages have problems when prices extend beyond two decimal places. The move to micro-bitcoins ensures, both now and in the future, wider compatibility.

At a higher level, people are more familiar with prices expressed in numbers extending no more than two decimal places. This assumption is built into cash registers, speadsheets, amount input dialogs and basic, person-person real world transactions. Buying a coffee for 0.009123 bitcoins will be strange for many, while 9123 bits less so.

Moving to milli-bitcoins (mBTC) was another option. That option is less attractive, due to these two major factors listed (human expectations, software compatibility). It is also less attractive because use of milli-bitcoins implies further upheaval in the future, when a change to micro-bitcoins is necessitated. Best to make the change once, now, while bitcoin is young.

We will work with other Bitcoin companies to provide a smooth transitions for all users in the community.

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