STOCKHOLM, Jan 20 (Reuters) - A Nordic venture capital firm says it has built the world's largest database of businesses dealing in Bitcoins in an effort to shed light on a virtual currency which has seen its value rocket in the past year.
Creandum said the database contained more than 300 companies trading Bitcoins - ranging from exchanges to payment processors and gambling companies - and was intended to give entrepreneurs and investors an overview of companies with a significant role in the Bitcoin system.
Bitcoin is essentially software code that defines units of value, which users can move back and forth among themselves. Unlike other virtual money transmitters, its value isn't pegged to a hard currency like the U.S. dollar or the euro - it is determined by the demand for Bitcoins.
Since its launch in January 2009, the system has grown popular with people who lack confidence in the traditional banking system, though it has also aroused concerns it could be used for money laundering.
Creandum, which has invested in fast-growing Nordic tech firms such as online music streaming service Spotify and payment solutions firm iZettle, said it hoped to encourage Bitcoin enthusiasts to participate in the development of the currency.
"This year and next year the Bitcoin needs to prove itself as a payment mechanism, and it could go either way," Creandum associate Joel Eriksson Enquist told Reuters.
"Our hope is that the database will work like Wikipedia, with more and more contributors and more comprehensive data," he said of the open-source site which can be found at bitcoin.knackhq.com/btcdb.
Creandum has not invested in any Bitcoin-related companies but is looking at a couple of players and Enquist himself is holding onto 10 Bitcoins he bought last year for a little over $100 each - just for the fun of it.
The Bitcoin has recently traded above $1,000, up from $10 at the start of last year and fuelling concerns of a bubble.
Creandum said it may take another three years before it is clear whether Bitcoin is a bubble, or whether this is "the beginning of a new world".
In December, the digital currency was dealt a blow when the People's Bank of China banned financial institutions, though not individuals, from trading in Bitcoins.
U.S. prosecutors are also sitting on millions of dollars worth of the currency which had belonged to Silk Road, an online market that authorities say was a conduit for purchasing drugs and computer hacking services.
Creandum's database lists 46 Bitcoin exchanges in North America, 24 in Europe and 21 in Asia. BTC China and Europe's btc-e and Bitstamp are the biggest exchanges, with the three seeing 2.5 million Bitcoins traded on their platforms in the 30 days to Jan. 9.
While there are about 100 virtual currencies, with new ones appearing every week, Bitcoin is by far the best known.
E-commerce site Overstock.com recently announced its plan to become the first major U.S. retailer to accept the digital currency. Dating site OKCupid also allows Bitcoins as a form of payment. (Editing by Mark Potter)