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At Bitcoin conference, two 'gurus' draw a crowd

5:39 PM, Dec 11, 2013   |    comments
A sign displaying Bitcoins accepted is seen on the front door of the Old Fitzroy Pub in Sydney, Australia. (Photo: Cameron Spencer Getty Images)
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LAS VEGAS (USA TODAY) -- In the highly insulated world of Bitcoin devotees, a small clutch of early adopters are treated like rock stars.

Shortly after his panel on investment opportunities, former child star Brock Pierce (The Mighty Ducks) was engulfed by a throng of admirers. He wasn't surrounded for his acting chops but for making a small fortune investing in Mastercoin Foundation, which lets people create their own cryptocurrency using the Bitcoin computing protocol.

"Next year will be the year of Bitcoin," says Pierce, managing director of Clearstone Global Gaming Fund and an advocate of virtual currency since the late 1990s.

"Brock Pierce is the Godfather of virtual currency," says David Johnston, CEO of Engine, and another early adopter of the digital currency.

Johnston snuck in his comment during an interview at a reception, where he was frequently interrupted by admirers seeking advice or offering congratulations. "The best analogy I have (for Bitcoin) is it's email for money," he said, between sips of a root beer.

Johnston and Pierce are Bitcoin gurus trying to bring the complicated concept to the masses. High-profile events like the Bitcoin conference here this week is a good start, but the field needs a "killer app" to break through and reassure the general public, Johnston admits.

"Big movers will emerge," he says. "The next Google or Facebook will come from Bitcoins - and it will be every bit as large as search and social media."

Michael Terpin, co-founder of Bit Angel, an angel-investing firm, was at the front of the Internet wave in the 1990s and senses an equal - if not larger - splash from Bitcoin. "A Princeton economist told me that only drug dealers and weapons dealers use Bitcoin," he says. "But this can be bigger than the Internet."

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