It’s easy to forget just how young the crypto ‘industry’ is.
I even do it myself sometimes. Compared to many people I was in quite late, specifically the autumn of 2013, and even then I poked it with a stick rather than got actively involved. It was just so damned hard to buy anything and I wasn’t even sure I understood it properly. It all seemed a mass of messy information — much of it contradicting itself — and it took real perseverance to get anywhere. Yet, despite all of this, I could see the potential. It would surely only be a few short years before Bitcoin, and perhaps a few select altcoins, would be the primary method of transacting globally.
But that was well over 5 years ago. Global adoption is still a distant goal and I still can’t buy coffee using Bitcoin anywhere. Well, as easily as you can with a contactless card anyway. As some of my regular readers know, the cafes I owned at the time were early Bitcoin adoptees, but frankly, it was a hell of a pain in the arse to take those payments. The cafes are sold now, but I’m not so sure it’s that much easier even now, in 2019.
So, is it all over for Bitcoin et al? If we haven’t even managed to sort this yet in all this time, it’s got to be a dead duck, right?
Well, no actually.
I often see the analogy of crypto now being equal to the internet in the early 1990’s (I wrote a blog on a variation of that subject previously) and if you were actually there and you spend some time really thinking back, it’s an even closer analogy than may first be apparent.
You see, the early internet was also a wild west of outrageous claims and scams, a regulatory nightmare for official organisations and law makers and full of people who were well meaning but had absolutely no idea how to make it work beyond a conceptual level. Companies were increasing their values a hundredfold by adding the words ‘dot com’ at the end of their names and people bought the stock without really understanding how it was going work. It boomed, it crashed. It wasn’t ready. The tech hadn’t caught up with the hype. We’ve seen the same over the last couple of years with crypto.
Internet history is also littered with failures. Back in 1996, for example, IBM launched the ‘World Avenue Online Mall’. It was revolutionary. Groundbreaking, even. For the first time, major US retailers were coming together in a sort of virtual mall powered by IBM, a veritable retail portal. They were first to market in many ways with this concept and it should have been a lasting success. And yet, I bet you haven’t even heard of it.
The trouble was this was 1996. Even at Microsoft, where I worked at the time, only senior management has access to the internet on their PCs and almost no-one had it at home. Only dial up was available and it was, well, crap. Processing fees for credit card transactions were expensive and hard to set up, as was being part of it for the retailers. Even so, we all knew about it at Microsoft and there was a sense of “Why didn’t we think of that?” in the air.
A year later, global use of the internet had gone from (very approximately) 50 million users worldwide (roughly where Bitcoin is now) to around 100 million users worldwide. (compare than to the 3.5–4 BILLION users now!) Yet, The World Avenue Mall was finished. The model was flawed, and the number of users was just too small. The press announced it’s closure on July 9th 1997.
Did this prove that on-line retail was never going to work? Ask Amazon, another company that was vilified by the press at the time as being one that would never break even, let alone make money. I think they seemed to do OK in the end.
Market downcycles are the best time for development. It sorts the wheat from the chaff. You’re not blinded by huge daily increases in your net worth because instead you’re focused on delivering, as efficiently as possible, your product or solution. This has been true for the cryptosphere as well, where it is currently a full time job just to read the articles about the next developments from the various communities as they happen. Like thousands of ants working to build an efficient nest to live and thrive in, developers, solution finders, influencers, investors and engineers and quietly, confidently and relentlessly building huge swathes of a new global approach across the entire planet. Disruption is coming, and, to be frank, it doesn’t matter whether with you agree with it or not, it’s coming. To quote “Field of Dreams”, “If you build it, they will come”. They’re building it. They’re going to come.
I have no doubt the infrastructure will ultimately be there and the problems will be solved. Problems that seem insurmountable right now, such as combing speed, security and decentralisation in a perfect blockchain. Or solving Bitcoin’s power problem. Or creating a legislative framework that is certain and makes sense. Or finding a way to store crypto easily and safely — something the industry seems to fail at constantly. All of this issues — and many more — are being beaten into submission by teams of extremely skilled and entirely dedicated people. But, for me, that’s only part of the issue. That’s backoffice stuff. At the front end, we have another set of issues to solve before we go mainstream. And that, too, is coming.
For me, it’s about the user and their experience. It’s about making it so damn easy to use xxxxxxx (insert name of your preferred cryptocurrency here) that it doesn’t make sense to use anything else. More has been happening on that recently than I’ve seen in some time and this is the part that excites me most. When you build it, and they come, the momentum is formed to solve the remaining problems. The Network Effect is achieved.
I’ve spoken about Wirex before of course in a previous blog and I continue to use their services. Why would I change? It’s cheap, instant, easy and does everything I need. It’s hard to make any further improvement here. I even talked about it in some detail in my second book ‘How to Explain Bitcoin to your Mum‘.
But making crypto easily spendable through debit cards is just the start. Focus on adoption is growing rapidly. Just a quick search on the net reveals the projects and announcements that have surfaced in the last few weeks alone — all of them are fantastic for the space.
Paying employees in crypto is now possible. It was previously fraught with difficulties to do with fair value and taxation, but not now. It can now be done quickly, easily and legally as explained here. Personally, if I still owned a company with employees, I’d be stockpiling it to reduce my payroll later on as the price inevitably rises, but that’s just me …. or is it just me?
Phone makers, especially Samsung, are coming in on the act in a move which, if I’m honest, I didn’t see happening for some time yet. Integration of crypto buying, storing and spending on a native level is a game changer. At a stroke, the next wave of phone upgrades will see millions of people set up for crypto, even if they don’t yet know it. Education might have to come later, but the mere fact that the capability is there from the get go is going to intrigue a certain percentage of people immediately.
And then there are people like David Gold who are working to make crypto user friendly through the Foundation of Interwallet Operability. We’ve been here before of course. Think back to DOS. Then to Windows 3.1 and then Windows 95, if you can think back that far. If you can’t, maybe you can remember having to press keys multiple times to send texts on a tiny black & white screen compared to today’s fully specc’d word processors at our finger tips. The transition drove adoption and made it so easy that even people who have to wear reading glasses can happily and easily text each other.
These are just a few examples, there are dozens of other projects, large and small, being developed simultaneously with a view to making the use of crypto a simple, daily ‘non-event’. Mass adoption is coming — I have never, ever doubted that — but I’ve never been sure of timescales or which currencies will actually win through. My portfolio is varied, and I add to it all the time, although I spend too, such as XRP through xrptipbot and Bitcoin through Wirex. For me, this is just a natural step of using it, but in x amount of time, this will be the norm for increasing numbers of people.
And of that part, I am absolutely certain.