The world's most popular web publishing platform has begun accepting Bitcoin, an international digital currency and payment system with no central issuing authority.
WordPress, whose software is used by bloggers worldwide, said Thursday that customers can now use Bitcoin in lieu of credit cards or PayPal to pay for upgrades.
While WordPress lets anyone build a website without charge, the company sells hosting and design services, as well as an ad-free version of its blogging platform. Andy Skelton, an engineer with Automattic, the company that owns WordPress, wrote Thursday in a blog post that it is accepting the unregulated currency to ensure universal access to its services.
"PayPal alone blocks access from over 60 countries, and many credit card companies have similar restrictions," Skelton wrote. "Some are blocked for political reasons, some because of higher fraud rates, and some for other financial 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."
BitPay, an Orlando-based company that helps online merchants accept the digitized currency as payment, will process payments on WordPress' behalf.
Bitcoin, which had an estimated 740,000 users worldwide in 2011, lets users move money instantaneously to others via the Internet.
Though a growing number of merchants worldwide accept Bitcoin, WordPress, which hosts roughly 57.8 million websites worldwide, is almost certainly the biggest to accept the virtual tender. Bitcoin Friday, a sale last week by about 74 merchants that take the currency, had uneven results and appealed mostly to existing users.
WordPress could help Bitcoin go mainstream. Roughly half of the most-visited blogs in the world use the WordPress platform, according to a study published in April by Pingdom, a website monitoring service.
WordPress approached BitPay several months ago, according to Anthony Gallippi, BitPay's founder and chief executive.
According to Gallippi, the platform provider hoped to enable users to pay with Bitcoin but had questions about legal and financial risks associated with the currency, which is not sanctioned or controlled by any government and trades at a volatile exchange rate to the dollar.
BitPay removes much of the currency risk for its client since WordPress will never take legal possession of the coins, Gallippi says. BitPay immediately converts the digital currency received from shoppers into dollars and guarantees an exchange rate for merchants.
Gallippi says he expects the move by WordPress to spur other merchants to overcome their concerns. "Now that WordPress has taken the plunge, there's an example the lawyers can review and look at and say ‘Maybe we can try it, too.'"