Visualizing Bitcoin’s Amazingly Fast Spread Around The World

You probably haven’t used a bitcoin. But from China to Tanzania, the underground currency is everywhere.

Bitcoin, the global digital cryptocurrency that isn’t tied to any central banking authority, has spread like wildfire around the world.


Because it allows for anonymity, much of its rise has been linked to illegal activities, such as on the shuttered drug marketplace Silk Road, and its value has been tied to speculators who ratchet up demand. But Bitcoin is also starting to be accepted as a mainstream form of payment for U.S.-centric sites like OkCupid and WordPress. Last week, even China’s web giant Baidu said it would start accepting Bitcoin payments for a firewall security service it sells. (Bitcoin demand has been growing rapidly in China in recent months, according to Wired).

As Bitcoin use grows, it’s fascinating to track where in the world Bitcoin is becoming popular. That’s exactly what John Nelson, a data visualization expert and cartographer at IDV Solutions decided to do with his map “The United Nations Of Bitcoin,” which maps bitcoin client software downloads since 2008 around the world and breaks them down by different operating systems. A big caveat to his map is that some downloads are anonymous and can’t be traced to a country, so these are left out.

The dots each represent an individual download and track pretty closely with Internet users around the world, Nelson notes–a trend that simply seems to verify the quick spread of Bitcoin in just five short years since it was introduced in a paper written under a pseudonym in 2008. The map below also shows the number of Bitcoin downloads relative to a country’s overall population size, with Canada, the U.S., Northern Europe, and Australia seeing the highest penetration.

From Nelson’s maps, it’s clear that Bitcoin is used on every continent, and has fully penetrated India, Southeast Asia, and a large chunk of China. There’s also a small mobile user base downloading the Android version of the software.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.