Bitcoin has received a lot of attention this year, for all the wrong reasons. Forget the mystery of "Satoshi Nakamoto," the pseudonymous programmer (or programmers?) who developed the decentralized Internet currency and payment system. Disregard the wildly fluctuating exchange rates between bitcoins and fiat currencies. Ignore all the attention Bitcoin is getting from the Winklevoss twins, and the central role Bitcoin played in an underground drug marketplace shut down by the feds.
This is why Bitcoin matters: It shows what is possible with money in this century. And in doing so, it puts the legacy U.S. banking system to shame.
Consider a report this year in which the Fed described several "features that are desired increasingly by end users [and] generally lacking in many legacy payment systems." Bitcoin has them all.
A real-time validation process assuring the payer's account has enough funds? Check.
Assurance a payment will not be reversed? Check.
Near-real-time posting/availability of funds to accounts? Check.
Masked account details, eliminating the need to disclose account information? And how.
Bitcoin demonstrates money can be sent anywhere on the planet, at near-zero cost, almost instantaneously, without traditional financial institutions. Whether it eventually goes mainstream, remains a niche payment method for online transactions or gets regulated out of the United States, Nakamoto has set a high bar for the industry.