It hasn't exactly been a year of progress for supporters of bitcoin, the world's most popular virtual currency.
Regulators prosecuted several bitcoin-related fraud schemes, some tax authorities cracked down on the use of virtual currency, and the price of bitcoin lost more than 50% of its value, leading Quartz reporter Matt Philips to dub it the "worst investment of 2014."
But as the year draws to a close, bitcoin is still kicking amid a few glimmers of progress.
First, the number, and size, of merchants accepting bitcoin continues to grow. Just this month, Microsoft (MSFT) announced it would start accepting payments in bitcoin in the United States for apps, games and other digital content on its Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox platforms.
Microsoft's move followed similar actions by computer vendor Dell, satellite-television service Dish Network (DISH) and travel site Expedia (EXPE) earlier in the year. In September, eBay's (EBAY) PayPal said it would add bitcoin acceptance for merchants through its Braintree unit. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Time magazine said it would start experimenting with bitcoin as well, accepting subscription payments for Fortune, Health, This Old House and Travel + Leisure.
The virtual currency also became a more serious financial instrument with the start of bitcoin-based options trading. It isn't exactly the top derivatives venue in the country, but the North American Derivatives Exchange, or Nadex, is now trading binary options on the price of bitcoin, giving financial market participants new ways to hedge or bet on the currency's moves.
Bitcoin still faced opposition from many leading finance figures -- JPMorgan Chase (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon called it "terrible" -- but some executives started to think differently. American Express (AXP) CEO Ken Chenault, speaking at the New York Times Dealbook conference last week, sounded like a man with an open mind, comparing the rise of virtual currency to the impact Napster, and later iTunes, had on the music industry.
"The protocol of bitcoin is going to be important," he said. "I don't know how this is going to evolve," he admitted, though he added that he believes "there's room for a lot of players."
Finally, although consumer usage of bitcoin failed to take off to the degree supporters had hoped, there was slow and steady progress. Bitcoin even made into the Black Friday/Cyber Monday hype, with a reported $300 million spent on those two top holiday shopping days. That made the currency the ninth most-popular payment platform used on those days, according to merchant-services firm Bitnet.
Ultimately, the plunging price got a lot more press in 2014 than bitcoin's growing acceptance and usage as a payment alternative. Bitcoin supporters need to hope for some stabilization on the pricing side so more of the positives can get the attention in 2015.