Having a cheerful, over-the-top dog meme as its mascot shouldn't cause people to take it less seriously as money, says Ben Doernberg, a volunteer on the board of directors of the Dogecoin Foundation, a nonprofit organization that started in December 2013. Alexander Hamilton, Abe Lincoln and George Washington are portrayed on our currency looking stern and sober for a reason: To instill confidence that those bills and coins will have value for years to come.
"For young people who spend all of their time on the Internet, I don't know that it's any more weird to have a guy from the [1700s] there than a dog," Doernberg, 25, says of U.S. currency. "I don't think it makes any more sense to have Ben Franklin there than Doge."
Like many other cryptocurrencies, Dogecoins are mineable, meaning you can acquire them without paying in cash, as long as you have a reasonably muscular computer equipped to do some number-crunching with its spare power. There are already more than 64 billion Dogecoins in circulation, worth more than $34 million. The popular bitcoin, which leads all cryptocurrencies with a $6 billion market cap, has a current supply of 12 million.
One bitcoin costs $529.50, while one Dogecoin is worth .059 cents, according to recent prices. Or, to put it in more relatable terms, $1 will buy you 1,691 Dogecoins.
That's quite a low barrier to entry compared to bitcoin, which dovetails with the idea that Dogecoin is meant to be used as currency and not as a speculative investment. "It's not as focused as something you hold for 10 years and hope the price goes up," Doernberg says.
Dogecoins are gaining popularity. A man in Wisconsin is selling his vacation home for 100 million Dogecoins. That equated to about $135,000 in early March, but this weekend, it only amounted to around $59,000. PC builder Xidax accepts Dogecoins, and they're accepted by GoCoin for international payments.
Dogecoin supporters also recently raised $50,000 in the digital currency to sponsor NASCAR driver Josh Wise in a May 4 race at the Talladega Superspeedway. The sponsorship fee was raised in Dogecoins, which a private buyer bought for $50,000, says Kevin Dusenberry, who managed the NASCAR fundraiser for Dogecoin.
"Josh is the true embodiment of what the community represents," Dusenberry says. "He's an underdog and the Dogecoin is an underdog."
Wise, 31, of Charlotte, N.C., says he's thankful for the sponsorship, and thinks they picked a good race because drafting is allowed at Talladega, which should help an long-shot racing team like his.
"Talladega is really a race that levels the playing field," he says.
Having the gold Dogecoin logo as the dominant image on his car is something that Wise, and much of the general public, will view as a bit of a surprise. "Until a week ago, I had no idea it even existed," he says of Dogecoin.
Whether using a Doge to tip someone online because you like their video, or buying a song or something else online, the ultimate goal of the people behind Dogecoin is that we should all be able to use it easily for small, daily purchases such as a newspaper or going to a movie, and not as a speculative investment for your child's college fund, Doernberg says. "The goal is to actually be the online currency," he says.
"It's just so much easier than putting in a credit card," he says.
A problem with credit cards, he says, is that chargebacks and the standard 2.9 percent fee that credit card companies charge merchants prevent many businesses from accepting them for small purchases.
"The question with all these digital currencies is how do you get to the point that you can take it anywhere and someone will accept it?" Doernberg asks.
Buying Dogecoins is easy enough. You can transfer money from your bank account to a virtual wallet full of Doges. Dogecoin also has its own virtual wallet. Trading them back for dollars, however, is more difficult, Doernberg says, though there are markets such as Moolah that allow it.
A problem with cryptocurrencies is that because they're so new, they often gain value fast and can become significantly more expensive to buy from week to week, says John Arsenault, a Denver lawyer who represents a VPN company that accepts cryptocurrencies. Wide swings in value don't happen as much with currencies backed by governments.
Such price changes can make cryptocurrencies more popular with speculators, Arsenault says. "A lot of the value of a cryptocurrency is based on the Internet's perception of it," he says.
And here's another fun twist to using virtual currency: The IRS recently ruled that such payments are considered property and should be reported as income, making them subject under some circumstances to the capital gains tax. If you're making money as the market for a virtual currency rises, you'll have to give some of it to Uncle Sam. And no, the federal government won't accept Dogecoins as payment for a tax bill.