WordPress said Thursday it will accept bitcoins, opening up the blogging platform to payments from users in countries not supported by PayPal or credit card companies.
WordPress is free, open-source software, but the company Automattic offers paid-for features such as blog designs, custom domains, hosting partnerships and anti-spam measures.
As with many Web-based services, payments for those features are dependent on credit card transactions and eBay's PayPal service. But WordPress wrote on its blog that PayPal doesn't serve more than 60 countries, and credit card companies have restrictions due to political, fraud and other reasons.
"Whatever the reason, we don't think an individual blogger from Haiti, Ethiopia, or Kenya should have diminished access to the blogosphere because of payment issues they can't control," WordPress said. "Our goal is to enable people, not block them."
Bitcoin is an electronic currency that uses a cryptographic system to verify transactions. A bitcoin has no physical representation, such as government-issued paper or metal currencies, in that the coin itself is an encrypted number that is stored on a person's computer. It has a fluctuating value based on market demand, and as of Friday, was worth around US$11.20.
Hackers can steal bitcoins from a person's computer, but the system is generally immune to many of the kinds of fraud affecting PayPal and credit card companies.
Merchants benefit since there are no chargebacks: If you spend a bitcoin, the transaction cannot be reversed due to unauthorized fraudulent spending unless the merchant decides to send it back to the purchaser. Transactions are verified by the bitcoin system within an hour, and merchants do not need to collect sensitive personal information from users.
Since bitcoin's debut in 2009, a small but growing number of merchants are accepting the currency, but it has not seen mass adoption in part due to a lack of easy-to-use software tools, an unstable exchange rate and concerns over how governments may regulate it. Bitcoins can be acquired through exchanges, which often require cash bank transfers.
WordPress said it is using BitPay.com, a Florida-based company, to handle its bitcoin transactions. BitPay provides an API (application programming interface) for e-commerce sites that processes bitcoin transactions and handles the exchange from bitcoins back to cash, which is transferred to the merchant.
"With Bitcoin we join a new digital economy that doesn't leave anyone behind, essentially making financial transactions open source -- something WordPress.com is behind 100 percent," WordPress said.