The Big Long: Crypto Jargon & Adoption
“Truth is like poetry…and most people fucking hate poetry”
CDOs. Halvenings. CDSs. mBTC. Sub-prime loans. Hard fork. Synthetic derivatives. Bbps. Soft fork. Traditional finance has been critiqued for years for using technical jargon in order to confuse and complicate simple products or transactions. Sometimes the underlying contracts are complicated and complex language is warranted, but other times there are more sinister motivations behind this. Not only does it justify banker fees, it ensures higher barriers to entry. Average Joes cannot, and are deterred from, fully understanding their financial plans. Financiers show you that only they can do what they do.
Look at the 2015 movie, The Big Short, documenting the 2007–2008 financial crisis. How the hell do you explain a “mezzanine R.M.B.S. synthetic C.D.O.” in an entertaining, blockbuster worthy way? Put Margot Robbie in a bathtub, sipping champagne, and seductively explaining tranches in a CDO. Suddenly, “poetry” is bearable.
Many crypto believers may be feeling rather self righteous right now. After all, the genesis block of bitcoin quotes the article title, “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.” A tongue in cheek reference to the fallout and failure of the banking world during the 2007–2008 financial crisis. But for all that crypto’s main ethos is to buck the traditional financial power structure, to bring Average Joes into the financial sphere and empower them to own their own wealth, we seem to be shadowing many past mistakes of finance.
“Halvenings. Hard fork. Soft fork. mBTC” are crypto terms. Say these words to people already working in crypto and they will likely know these terms. But say this to someone else, a “normie” outside of crypto, and you will get a blank stare in return. So much for bitcoin being accessible to everyone.
Why does this obfuscation of language seem to be such a growing trend in crypto? Is it unconsciously or deliberately done? Do we emulate traditional finance in a, somewhat ironic, attempt to become legitimate? Are we trying to show “normies” that, just like the bankers, only we can do what we do? Or perhaps it is simply a thriving crypto culture being a victim of its own success. So successful, it has turned from culture to “cult.”
A less charitable explanation ties into some of the more nefarious aspects of the crypto industry. The year of the ICO was 2017, numerous of which turned out to be either outright scams or criminally negligent projects. In a bid to gather more investors, many of these projects were motivated to use and promote overly complicated technical terms to elevate their projects. As potential investors publicized and “retweeted” projects they heard about, they perpetuated the use of these technical terms to build the hype.
Social media and crypto twitter can be powerful tools of communication, but can also lead to a dangerous feedback loop that further segregates the crypto community from the broader populace. Even worse, these scams have helped stoke the fire of negative mainstream media coverage, further hindering the broader conversation and education of crypto. Now, with the downturn in the market and regulation closing in, many of these projects are shuttering.
But, amidst this chaos, there is opportunity. This is a moment when we have the chance to recapture the narrative surrounding crypto. Even if there are multiple explanations as to why this is happening, there is a clear reason for why crypto jargon is such a problematic trend. We’re having a massive adoption problem in crypto. We’re trying to have the next wave of people understand, adopt and use crypto. This wave of people are those not working directly in crypto, but maybe are more open-minded and curious. They’re willing to open up and read a news article or analysis. Given all the negative mainstream coverage surrounding crypto and Bitcoin, it is all the more important we engage these users and that we remain open, inclusive and transparent. Crypto is an evolving and early stage technology, engagement and accessibility are key.
But, people are also lazy. If they need to continuously look up words as they read an article, they are more and more likely to be deterred from finishing or reading another article. And, just as with finance, if you keep putting roadblocks in their way, eventually they will stop trying to overcome them.
Crypto doesn’t (yet) have a “Margot Robbie” to immediately grab people’s attention, but there are ways to combat the rise of crypto jargon. Everyone speaks about the importance of user interface and user experience (UI / UX), but there is more to user experience than a pretty and simple design interface. A simple click of a button does no good if the user still has no idea as to the meaning of what they are doing.
Often times we get so wrapped up in a particular project that we scoff at the idea that someone doesn’t understand what a “cold wallet” or other “simple” crypto term may be. Ask those “normies” if they understand the product and process that is going on when they reach your site. And yet how many blockchain project sites do not bother to include an FAQ? They expect their product to be readily adopted by users, but provide no explanation on the basic crypto terms. Perhaps we need to expand the idea of UI / UX to include a simple FAQ or tutorial.
Take a look at the impressive job done at MyCrypto, who quickly realized how imperative it was that new users must comprehend the meaning and importance of a recovery seed. The opening screen to the site greets you immediately and takes you through several slides on the basics of holding your money in a wallet.
At the end of these pop-up slides, there is a direct link to their support center which goes through every nuance to understand and set up an account, including a “A Glossary of Common Terms in the Ethereum / Crypto Space.”
Zcash is another project that the community should emulate. The website contains a comprehensive, thorough walk-through of the project. Most importantly, it includes a designated FAQ page to bring together all of the key topics on which someone might have a question. Incredibly simple, painless and quick for any newbie to find the answer to their questions.
Both of these projects understand that they may be someone’s first foray into crypto. Whether they understand the terms they read, become excited and have a good overall experience will shape their impression and adoption of crypto. If someone visits an article or project website with no understanding of what the project is talking about, they will turn away.
Hopefully FAQs, tutorials and glossaries will become more prevalent as the push for adoption becomes more powerful. Even Fidelity has gotten in the game and recently introduced their own glossary for clients.
But overall the most important step to take is awareness. Awareness of what terms you are coining. Are they absolutely necessary? Do they add to someone’s understanding? Is the term accessible and clarifying?
Perhaps you believe that the crypto jargon and its effects are not so severe. That everyone must know and understand these terms referenced in this article. If you are so confident, then I challenge you this holiday season, to mention these terms to your relatives over Christmas dinner.
The inception of Bitcoin in 2008 followed on the heels of the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression. Satoshi shunned the ideas and tactics of the traditional financial system. When only those in the financial system can grasp the technical jargon, only they can properly comprehend what is happening. The hope of Bitcoin is that any person can be included in the financial system and be empowered to take complete control of their wealth. If we are to continue to follow this ethos, then crypto language must reflect this. Any person needs to be able to clearly understand the mechanics and purpose behind crypto. Without this, we risk echoing the mistakes of traditional finance past.