What bitcoin needs next: education and an ecosystem, says Marc Andreessen

Since its introduction in 2009, bitcoin’s had a bumpy ride — and that should come as no surprise. According to Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, ongoing press controversies over bitcoin amount to growing pains, and are akin to the media coverage he saw during the early days of the Internet.

“You don’t get new technologies from the mainstream. You get it from the fringe. It would be very unusual if this kind of thing wasn’t happening,” Andreessen said, while speaking at a CoinSummit on Tuesday.

During a panel appearance with Balaji Srinivasan, also a partner Andreessen Horowitz, the two venture capitalists discussed the growing ecosystem of bitcoin — and where they are looking to invest.

“We think of it potentially on the scale of the Internet. We think of bitcoin as mobile. It’s not one company, it’s broad,” Srinivasan said.

Marc Andreessen with Balaki Srinivasan and moderator Kashmir Hill from Forbes. Photo by Biz Carson/Gigaom[

Marc Andreessen with Balaki Srinivasan and moderator Kashmir Hill from Forbes. Photo by Biz Carson/Gigaom[

Right now, Srinivisan said he views the cryptocurrency as an inverted pyramid, with lots of news coverage on top but very few people working on the code and developing on the bottom. He said he’d love to see a Red Hat for bitcoin or companies that help with compliance standards or inspecting reserves so that another MtGox doesn’t happen.

As bitcoin goes mainstream, there will also be a need for people who understand the currency and can help with everything from installing an ATM in a coffee shop to helping websites accept micropayments in bitcoin.

“I think there are very few things that are going to grow like bitcoin consulting in the next few years,” Srinivisan said.

Before it can grow though, Andreessen emphasized the need for bridging the gap between the math world and the liberal arts world so the two can come to an understanding of the currency. It’s one reason why he’s been so vocal on Twitter and in responding to public criticism of the currency.

“When normal people think about money, they think about who they can trust,” Andreessen said. “On the engineering side of things, can you trust the math, can you trust the algorithms, can you trust the cryptography? I think the cultures have to come together. The engineering culture, we have to really work hard to be able to explain this stuff, articulate it, simplify it and we have to reach across and bring people with us.”