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XBT v. BTC search volumes: Indicators of Bitcoin mainstream acceptance?

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Although Urban Dictionary describes BTC as “Blaze that Chronic” or “Blame the Controller”, Bitcoin enthusiasts and traders will recognize BTC from their Coinbase (or preferred exchange) and Twitter as a shorthand for the cryptocurrency. While a Bloomberg search for the BTC to USD exchange rate leads to the equivalent XBT to USD page. Similar figures emerge as the two abbreviations mean the same thing. Just different settings with varying connotations.

BTC is the preference of the native Bitcoin community, and XBT is used in traditional finance settings. The divergent backdrops of BTC and XBT made me wonder if the popularity of either term could make them indicators to watch in terms of the relevancy of Bitcoin in the mainstream markets.

The births of BTC and XBT

BC was the original acronym given to the cryptocurrency at its emergence in 2008. But on the exchanges, the three-letter BTC started being used like an ISO code of a currency or stock on Wall Street. However, BTC doesn’t actually follow the International Standard Organization (ISO)’s ISO 4217. Conforming to these regulations was not much of a concern for the early adopters as Bitcoin was intended to be a departure from the centralized bankings system. Nonetheless, the crypto is yet to be accepted in most places and converting it into fiat currency is only practical—unless your landlord accepts BTC.

As Bitcoin gained more popularity and interest, in August 2013 BTC Geek leaked that Bloomberg terminal had added the coin to its ticker in 2013 — but as XBT. This abbreviation conforms to ISO 4217 since the first letters of a country code denotes the country. And because Bitcoin has no associated country in the way that gold (XAU) does not, it gets an X.

Just. Like. Malcolm.

Besides, although XBT was created to meet international banking standards, I personally, think it actually emphasizes the currency’s detachment from any nation-state.

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Dominance for Team BTC

XE.com also picked up XBT, but Yahoo finance did not — keeping it BTC. I have not seen a Bitcoin exchange use XBT. And when I took to Google trends in both the US and Worldwide, you’ll see the internet overwhelmingly prefers BTC.

And actually, there does seem to be use of XBT before 2013, but the search volume has not moved much since. Not even in relation to the price of XBT with just a slight uptrend in the past year.

If XBT continues to correlate with price, it could signal more mainstream acceptance.

As XBT is really a banker term due to its origins, this trend (or lack there of) seems Bitcoin was gaining enough relevance to be added to the terminal and then on the public website. However, the move to include XBT seemed more speculative than to actually trade the crypto — at least openly. Even Bloomberg does not implement XBT in their news copy preferring to spell out bitcoin when reporting on it. With blackmarket behavior and the unpredictable fate of Bitcoin remaining a part of the coin’s reputation, perhaps the lack of adoption of XBT is merely a conscious decision by banks to observe, plan, and not intrude on the community with ISO regulations. Still even with the likes of JP Morgan Chase, Credit Suisse, and BNY Mellon banding together behind Ethereum, the platform’s crypto Ether goes by ETH also bucking ISO standards.

At any rate, with the volatility of a shake weight, there does seem to be an uptrend in XBT search volumes over the past 6 months. This shift could be signaling a change in that positioning as both XBT search volumes and the price hit record highs last week. Of course correlation does not mean causation. The search volume of XBT has otherwise remained steady independently of its price, unlike BTC, which does move with price. Nonetheless, the fact that XBT searches has remained within the same range going in no strong direction since it was added to the Bloomberg ticker is curious. I will continue to watch the movement of the search use of XBT and the attitudes on Wall Street. Welcome any comments below.

Until then, BTC rebels, in large, remain free of the restraints of ISO 4217.

Olivia Chow

Consumer Trends Expert at finder.com with a growing interest in Bitcoin. She was the Lead Researcher for finder.com Money Transfer Awards. This 3-month study on the strengths and weaknesses of the remittance market further revealed the opportunities for cryptocurrencies to make an impact. @livtrends

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