Michael Ou, CEO, CoolBitX
Sometimes challenges are their own reward: We train for a sport, practice an instrument, or learn a programming language precisely because it’s difficult and because we wish to prove that we can conquer adversity. Most consumers don’t want to devote the same sort of effort into acquiring, safeguarding, and growing their digital assets, which may prove a problem for the blockchain industry as it seeks mainstream adoption of its protocols and products. Thankfully, experts in cryptocurrency have begun recognizing that participating in cryptocurrency should not require marathon-style training or boot camp-style endurance.
Exchanges — Better Accessibility, More Users
Early in the last quarter of 2018, Coinbase, one of the world’s premiere cryptocurrency exchanges, was seeing upwards of 25,000 new users per day. There are dozens of exchanges; what sets Coinbase apart from the competition? I think it’s two things: the first is trust and the second is convenience. By virtue of its history of reliability, its use of cold storage “vaults” to keep coins secure, its well-connected backers, and its partnerships with long-established companies, Coinbase projects dependability.
It’s even, in stark contrast to many exchanges, commercially insured! Yet reliability is not all that’s necessary to succeed: Coinbase is as easy to use as a traditional e-commerce site, and its landing page avoids the jargon, slang, and industry-speak that permeate so much of the crypto web. If we want cryptocurrency to grow as we know it can, we can’t just talk amongst ourselves: We need to explain ourselves to the general public.
Bitcoin ATMs — Familiarity Is Profitable
“Bitcoin ATMs” are another way that cryptocurrency is finally making consumer inroads. We’re all familiar with automated teller machines; most of us interact with ATMs far more frequently than we do with flesh-and-blood bank tellers. By applying the form and function of these familiar devices to cryptocurrency, bitcoin ATMs lower barriers to entry and help normalize cryptocurrency.
Cryptocurrency is no longer an esoteric product of the web’s furthest corners; it’s becoming a commodity that is available at convenience stores and print shops. The simple user interface and explicit comparison to everyday technology make a new technology feel comfortably old-fashioned. And because we associate ATM kiosks with safety, many less tech-savvy users will feel more at home purchasing at physical machines rather than online: The machine interface imparts a sense of security because it so resembles a machine that we trust.
While cryptocurrencies offer the prospect of “trustless” money transfer between accounts, potential users must be persuaded that the system as a whole is trustworthy . The more Bitcoin ATMs there are on streets and in stores, the more the general public will come to trust cryptocurrency. We need more and we need them soon.
Wallets — Work to Do
Exchanges and ATMs offer tantalizing glimpses of the future of cryptocurrency, but many challenges still face the industry. Cryptocurrency wallets have grown far easier to manage in the years since they were first introduced, but they’re still relatively complicated.
After all, a wallet for traditional currency hardly needs an instruction manual: You place money, ID, or credit cards in, you fold it up, you put it in your pocket. Modern crypto wallets, by contrast, still require user education and extensive documentation. Even selecting a wallet is a challenge, as users must decide if they want an active hot wallet, an ultra-secure cold wallet, or a cool wallet that mixes the two.
The most powerful technology is often intuitive or self-explanatory; I believe that cryptocurrency wallets will eventually achieve this level of accessibility, and will do so without sacrificing the security that gives users peace of mind. For example, many potential cryptocurrency investors have avoided the field due to concerns about losing private keys. A wallet that assuaged this fear while being easy to use would bring many hesitant consumers into the crypto world.
Remember that simply having to enter credit card information before a purchase adds enough friction that many online shoppers abandon items in their shopping carts; current wallets are harder to use than the clunkiest e-commerce system. Designers have made great strides in the past few years, but further innovation is necessary. If customers can’t understand a product, they won’t use it.
In the past, some of the most convenient implementations of cryptocurrency have been among the least secure — Mt. Gox was easy to use but was hacked because it was insecure — and some of the most secure applications have been among the most challenging to use. Given this history, it’s tempting to imagine that any improvement to user experience must correspond to a decline in security.
Thankfully, the outlook has changed: Today’s wallets and exchanges are both more secure and easier to use than their predecessors from just two or three years ago. If cryptocurrencies continue to link security, convenience, and accessible design, mainstream adoption of crypto will follow.
The blockchain community has the chance to make crypto kiosks be as ubiquitous as traditional ATMs. Let’s tear down the barriers to entry, and let’s tear them down today.