This week I finished reading Nathaniel Popper’s fantastic new book, Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money.

Aside from being a phenomenally engaging read on the origins of Bitcoin, Digital Gold is especially insightful in its portrayal of the cryptocurrency as a sort of Rorschach test: early efforts to promote Bitcoin were as varied as its proponents’ ideologies. For some, such as Hal Finney and the Cyperphunks, the currency’s appeal lay largely in its anonymity: the ability to conduct secure financial transactions, without the government knowing who the participants were, was seen as a pivotal technological breakthrough. For others, such as Martti Malmi and (to some extent) Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin’s rule-based money supply expansion was the currency’s raison d’étre, because it eliminated the need for central banks and the concomitant risks of devaluation and exchange rate volatility.

But what I found most fascinating was the gradual elimination of many of these early visionaries from Bitcoin’s public outreach just as the movement gained steam. Over time, the Erik Voorhees and Hal Finneys and Ross Ulbrichts and others like them either learned to moderate their ideological brashness, fell into legal trouble, or faded away. Meanwhile, financiers and venture capitalists like the Winklevoss twins and Barry Silbert, serial entrepreneurs such as Wences Casares, and even lawyers like Patrick Murck began to exercise increasing control over Bitcoin’s future – both in a literal sense, in that they gradually came to own a greater portion of all outstanding Bitcoins, and in a figurative sense, in that their financial stakes enabled them to shove aside some of the less savory characters (like Mt. Gox’s Mark Karpeles or BitInstant’s Charlie Shrem) and present a more sophisticated image of Bitcoin to the public.

Most alarming to some of Bitcoin’s earliest promoters is the fact that many of these later adopters embraced the currency for reasons having nothing to do with Ayn Randian libertarianism or Rand Paulian goldbug-ism. In some cases, most notably for the financiers, Bitcoin represented an investment opportunity, pure and simple. For others such as former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, Bitcoin dangled the promise of cheap and secure financial transactions. But the common thread throughout Bitcoin’s meteoric rise in public interest (before falling again, as it has in cycles) is that its appeal to the mainstream masses has coincided with a fairly aggressive sidelining of its far more controversial origins. Indeed, one of the principal reasons for creating Bitcoin – eliminating the need for trust in the financial system – has been almost entirely discarded by the masses who use it most, many of whom (including myself) are more than happy to store their Bitcoin addresses in centralized institutions like Coinbase.

I don’t have any particularly profound thoughts on this. But it does make me wonder about the broader applicability of this sort of transformation to other fast-moving trends. Not to be overly topical, but today’s Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage is the culmination of a movement whose success in changing American minds on a major political issue is virtually unparalleled. And yet, far from marginalizing its earliest proponents, the move towards marriage equality continues to draw regularly from its visionary founders: Andrew Sullivan and Evan Wolfson, for example. Of course, Bitcoin and same-sex marriage are worlds apart in too many ways to mention, but it is curious to observe the very different ways in which these movements progressed. For Bitcoin, the success of the concept has taken place alongside a set of leaders very different from those at the start.