Kin and the mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies
For as long as cryptocurrencies have been in existence, proponents have looked to their utility as a unit of account and a store of value as core features. The adoption endgame for Bitcoin and other digital currencies is mainstream adoption as transactional currency. Therefore, the earliest startups in the blockchain space were wallets and remittance apps aiming to bring fast, cheap, and borderless payments to everyone in the world on smartphones and the web.
Yet, the volatility of pure cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin seems to be a significant barrier to entry for mainstream adoption, along with its steep learning curve. Though the mechanisms of digital currencies are hardly more complex than the implementation details of a bank, the challenges of obtaining, securing, and managing them has so far limited the product to a predominantly technology-savvy audience. The vigorous price movements of this new digital asset class incentivizes users to hoard it as a speculative investment rather than employ it as money. Today, most cryptocurrency users are the technical early adopters of blockchain technology, and their top use case for digital money is investments in other blockchain assets.
However, we are observing that in early stages of cryptocurrencies, their volatility serves an interesting function. First, it attracts users to speculative returns and helps to build up aligned user bases which assuage the chicken-and-egg problems of technology products. As more users join a cryptocurrency’s ecosystem, it in fact becomes more useful as money. Simply because a larger class of participants is willing to accept it as payment, its users become more likely to transact in it. And second, increased liquidity eventually counteracts the volatility often found in thinly traded markets. Though other factors contributing to price movements certainly persist, cryptocurrencies become more viable at scale.
Kik’s blockchain project, Kin, is interesting because it recognizes and embraces these properties of pure cryptocurrencies. As described in the Kin position paper, the Kin Rewards Engine will very explicitly leverage the incentives structure of an early-stage cryptocurrency to build an ecosystem and network effect. Moreover, Kik is the first traditional consumer technology to venture into the cryptocurrency space and to bring its mainstream audience with it. Building a digital economy propelled by real, “early majority” users — one where actual digital goods and services are being exchanged online —would make Kin one of the few digital assets out there whose fundamentals we can model in a traditional way.
Ultimately, mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies is not likely to happen by educating and converting one consumer at a time. Instead, it will be more likely to occur by offering mainstream audiences a chance to interact with digital currencies in highly usable and compelling ways within applications they love. Thus the Kin Foundation’s open source approach that brings Kin to a cross-platform set of digital services is an exciting strategy for aggregating network effect and mainstream use.
As I wrote previously, innovation happens slowly over time by introducing economic efficiencies to legacy structures. Cryptocurrencies offer obvious improvements in the way people make payments, move value and receive rewards online. It’s only a matter of time before digital currency shows up in your favorite digital application — like Kik.
Jake Brukhman is co-founder at CoinFund, a blockchain technology research company and private cryptoasset investor. He is also a lead advisor to Kik on the Kin project. Please go to kin.kik.com or join the Kin Foundation Slack to learn more about the Kin project, and the CoinFund Slack to learn more about blockchain technologies.