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Bitcoin standards addressed by four major organizations

ISO, W3C, Unicode, and IANA are four standards authorities that can help bitcoin grow, become more accepted, and useful worldwide. Bitcoin was recently addressed by the last of the four, ensuring that Bitcoin is accessible in a standard way, on every platform and medium it can be.

The standardization of things like symbols and abbreviations is a bureaucracy-filled quagmire of fees, lawyers, and very long wait times. When in comes to introducing something completely new into the world, there are at least four different organizations that have the final say over the symbol and abbreviation, at least in bitcoin’s case.

At long last, after seven long years of existence, bitcoin has finally been accepted by the last of the four organizations, and standards for how bitcoin looks and is interacted with across all operating systems, platforms, and devices are now set.

UnicodeIncorporated in January 1991 in California, the Unicode Consortium is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) charitable organization, founded to develop, extend and promote the use of the Unicode Standard. Members are corporations and organizations in the computer and information processing industry including Adobe Systems, Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle Corporation, and Yahoo!

Unicode is the organization that officializes symbols like ‘$’ or ‘+’, and even lesser-known ones like ‘Ƀ’. Only Unicode-accepted symbols will be available in keyboards and fonts as a standard. This is arguably the most important standardization to achieve for currency symbols.

In May 2011, Bitcoin enthusiast Rick McGowan applied for Bitcoin’s Unicode acceptance, but it was quickly rejected. The use of the bitcoin symbol in running text had not been demonstrated well enough, and there were also concerns over Intellectual Property rights, “because is using the symbol as a logo.”

For years now the community had settled for using the ‘Ƀ’ character for typing bitcoin’s symbol, an approve Unicode character used in Vietnam and the phonetic alphabet. There was even a campaign by graphic design studio ECOGEX to get ‘Ƀ’ popularized throughout the bitcoin community, however, it still didn’t gain enough traction.

Recently, however, bitcoiner Ken Shirriff submitted another application, on October 2. Shirriff has successfully submitted a Unicode standard before, and knew what he’d be up against.

Yesterday, exactly one month after submission, a tweet from Adobe employee and Unicode representative Ken Lunde was sent out stating that Shirriff’s application has been accepted:

Ken Lunde Tweet

Bitcoin now officially has its’ own Unicode character. Your computer likely doesn’t know how to produce it yet, but when it does get that upgrade, scheduled for June 2016, you will be able to type the bitcoin symbol with the code U+20BF. Future keyboards could even be made with a bitcoin key on them, that produces the symbol with just one button press like the ‘$’ sign does today.

Bitcoin core developer Luke Jr quickly responded to this news, and put together the first font for Android that uses the new bitcoin symbol. If you know what you’re doing, you can download it here and install it today.

W3CYesterday we announced the acceptance of Bitcoin Payments into the underlying protocol of the World Wide Web. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which created and maintains the international standards for the internet, is a 400-plus member organization that constantly works with the public to develop Web standards and guidelines.

Led by the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, and CEO Dr. Jeffrey Jaffe, the proposed standards are meant to be added to the underlying protocol of the internet itself, allowing for nearly effortless payment of any type from any source of payment, including bitcoin, that you have chosen in your browser preferences.

The standard is scheduled to be deployed across all platforms sometime next year. Afterwards, when you come across something online you need to pay for, such as to gain access to a pay-for-entry website or buy a product, the browser will know what payment methods you have available and attempt to pay with your preferred method. To the user, this would look something like a single pop-up that says “are you sure you want to pay for this using your bitcoin wallet with a balance of 0.224?”

You can read more about the W3C standards here.

ISOThe world’s largest developer of voluntary International Standards, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an independent, non-governmental organization with 162 member countries. ISO members are national standards bodies around the world. With more than 20,500 published International Standards covering almost every industry, from technology, to food safety, to agriculture and healthcare, ISO International Standards impact everyone, everywhere.

In August 2013, then-Executive Director of the Bitcoin Foundation, John Matonis, made a detailed effort to have the Currency Code XBT allocated to bitcoin in ISO 4217, which is where all of the international currency codes are kept. While official acceptance as a currency code has yet to be accepted, Wikipedia lists XBT as an "unofficial" currency code for Bitcoin now. It appears that requests for official inclusion must come from banks and payment processors, not from individuals, and therefore it will take another major, organized effort that includes banks and financial institutions in order to get it fully officialized, if that is possible at all. Today that unofficial XBT code is used on charting and trading platforms across the finance industry, such as Yahoo! finance and Bloomberg.

Despite the longtime use of “BTC” by the Bitcoin community as the original, informal currency code, ISO has already declined requests to allocate  BTC for bitcoin, as it begins with "BT,” the country code for Bhutan.

The designation of “X,” at the beginning of currency codes, specifically means that it is a non-fiat, non-government-issued “exception” of a currency. Another example of a currency code starting with X is “XAU,” which represents the precious metal Gold. This code is often used in trading the metal on international markets. At least bitcoin is in good company.

However, since the Euro was first launched as XEU, and eventually granted the better acronym EUR in time, many bitcoiners still hold out hope that XBT will eventually become BTC. Until then, you can now use XBT in any trading platform or finance tool.

IANAOne of the internet’s oldest institutions, with activities dating back to the 1970s, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is a department of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

“The IANA team is responsible for the operational aspects of coordinating the Internet’s unique identifiers and maintaining the trust of the community to provide these services in an unbiased, responsible and effective manner.”
—  – Internet Assigned Numbers Authority

These are the guys who have the final say whether we use an “@” sign in the middle of your email address.

Getting addresses of any kind linked to their proper application on your computer requires what is called a Resource Identifier, (RI) which is basically a tiny, standardized association between address types and the programs that use them. A common RI that you may be familiar with is the “Mailto:” association, that tells your computer which email program to launch if you click on an email address.

Dave Thaler, a Microsoft employee, has submitted a simple standardization scheme for Bitcoin payment links, and as of September 2012, Bitcoin has been given its’ own RI, “Bitcoin:” linking bitcoin addresses to your preferred bitcoin wallet. The scheme is based on Bitcoin core developer Luke Jr’s accepted BIP0021, an amendment to the bitcoin code that allows bitcoin to interact with operating system request schemes.

Now that all four standardizations are complete, it is hard for anyone to make the argument that Bitcoin isn’t integrating well into society. Especially during the summer of 2016, when the Unicode symbol becomes live, and the W3C releases its’ payment protocols, signs of bitcoin will be on everyone’s computer and smartphone.


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