Coinbase gives college kids $10 of bitcoin in bid to spur virtual currency use

Virtual currency is grand in theory, but do ordinary people actually use it? That may explain why wallet service Coinbase has taken to giving it away to students at the world’s top 500 universities.

In a blog post this week, the well-funded San Francisco start-up announced it’s giving $10 worth of bitcoin to those with a “.edu” address who sign up for a Coinbase account, and that it hopes the giveaway will “spur the growth of the ecosystem.”

The promotion, which was inspired by a similar giveaway at MIT, is not a bad idea since colleges are full of early adopters and because the offer will let the company tout a growing number of Coinbase-related apps, which include a Reddit-tipping tool and an SMS-based payment service.

Coinbase is also trying to add a touch of college rivalry to the promotion with a leaderboard that currently shows the University of Illinois out front, followed by the University of Texas and UC Berkeley.

The Coinbase promotion may serve to create buzz in some quarters, but it will curious to see how many students continue to use the service after their $10 is depleted — or if many of them will even find a place to spend their bitcoins in the first place.