Mainstream Adoption: Trust, Usability, Ease of Use
Because many of the ideas and concepts behind Bitcoin and blockchain technology are new and technically intricate, one complaint has been that perhaps cryptocurrencies are too complicated for mainstream adoption. However, the same was true of the Internet, and more generally at the beginning of any new technology era, the technical details of “what it is” and “how it works” are of interest to a popular audience. This is not a real barrier; it is not necessary to know how TCP/IP works in order to send an email, and new technology applications pass into public use without much further consideration of the technical details as long as appropriate, usable, trustable frontend applications are developed. For example, not all users need to see (much less manually type) the gory detail of a 32-character alphanumeric public address. Already “mainstream wallet” companies such as Circle Internet Financial and Xapo are developing frontend applications specifically targeted at the mainstream adoption of Bitcoin (with the goal of being the “Gmail of Bitcoin” in terms of frontend usability—and market share). Because Bitcoin and ewallets are related to money, there is obvious additional sensitivity in end-user applications and consumer trust that services need to establish. There are many cryptocurrency security issues to address to engender a crypto-literate public with usable customer wallets, including how to back up your money, what to do if you lose your private key, and what to do if you received a proscribed (i.e., previously stolen) coin in a transaction and now cannot get rid of it. However, these issues are being addressed by the blockchain industry, and alternative currencies can take advantage of being just another node in the ongoing progression of financial technology (fintech) that includes ATMs, online banking, and now Apple Pay.
Currency application adoption could be straightforward with trustable usable frontends, but the successful mainstream adoption of beyond-currency blockchain applications could be subtler. For example, virtual notary services seem like a no-brainer for the easy, low-cost, secure, permanent, findable registration of IP, contracts, wills, and similar documents. There will doubtlessly remain social reasons that people prefer to interact with a lawyer about certain matters (perhaps the human-based advice, psychoanalysis, or validation function that attorneys may provide), and for these kinds of reasons, technology adoption based exclusively on efficiency arguments could falter. Overall, however, if Bitcoin and the blockchain industry are to mature, it will most likely be in phases, similar to the adoption pattern of the Internet for which a clear value proposition resonated with different potential audiences, and then they came online with the new technology. Initially, the Internet solved collaborative research problems for a subgroup: academic researchers and the military. Then, gamers and avid recreational users came online, and eventually, everyone. In the case of Bitcoin, so far the early adopters are subcultures of people concerned about money and ideology, and the next steps for widespread adoption could be as blockchain technology solves practical problems for other large groups of people, For example, some leading subgroups for whom blockchain technology solves a major issue include those affected by Internet censorship in repressive political regimes, where decentralized blockchain DNS (domain name system) services could make a big difference. Likewise, in the IP market, blockchain technology could be employed to register the chain of invention for patents, and revolutionize IP litigation in the areas of asset custody, access, and attribution.
Bitcoin Culture: Bitfilm Festival
One measure of any new technology’s crossover into mainstream adoption is how it is taken up in popular culture. An early indication that the cryptocurrency industry may be starting to arrive in the global social psyche is the Bitfilm Festival, which features films with Bitcoin-related content. Films are selected that demonstrate the universal yet culturally distinct interpretations and impact of Bitcoin. The festival began in 2013 and has late 2014/early 2015 dates in Berlin (where Bitfilm is based), Seoul, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam, Rio, and Cape Town. Congruently, Bitfilm allows viewers to vote for their favorite films with Bitcoin. Bitfilm produces the film festival and, in another business line, makes promotional videos for the blockchain industry (Figure P-2).