Coinbase co-founder Fred Ehrsam recently appeared on the 1776 Podcast, where he was asked about the adoption of Bitcoin in the United States and international markets. While there has been a lot of noise related to merchant acceptance and use cases in developing countries, the reality is there still aren’t as many people using Bitcoin today as some expected.
Ehrsam noted that there probably aren’t that many Bitcoin users in the developing world, which is often touted as one of the technology’s major demographics. He then covered two of the current roadblocks to greater Bitcoin adoption: education and ease-of-use.
What’s Holding Back Bitcoin Adoption?
In Ehrsam’s view, the knowledge gap is what’s holding back Bitcoin at this point in time. While it’s easy for technically-savvy individuals to understand why Bitcoin is useful (or may be useful in the future), the average person on the street is still looking at the digital value-transfer system with bewilderment. Ehrsam explained:
“There’s definitely a huge knowledge gap …. There are two primary things that I think will close that gap. One is some base level of knowledge. The second is services that are built such that these people don’t really have to understand the underlying protocols in the first place.”
At this point, it’s unclear to the moms, dads, grandparents and less technically inclined friends of Bitcoin users why they should use this new technology. The vast majority of users are still simply holding the digital store of value as a speculation, and potential new users are often turned off by the complexities associated with Bitcoin applications. This is a point that Gemini co-founders Cameron and Tyler Winkless and Blockchain Capital Managing Partner Brock Pierce have all made in the past.
Most People Don’t Know How Email Works
Ehrsam also stated that completely new technologies are also sometimes extremely difficult to grasp, even for highly educated individuals. He pointed to the infamous “What is Internet?” clip from an episode of “The Today Show” in the ‘90s as an example of this phenomenon.
Ehrsam also noted that, even today, most people don’t understand how various Internet protocols work. He stated:
“The reality of today is you could go up to many different people on the street ‒ maybe even around the offices here [at 1776] ‒ and say, ‘Hey. How does email work? How does SMTP work (the protocol that underlies email)?’ I’m guessing that less than 10 percent of people could give you a solid answer, but the reality is that we all use it every day anyway.”
Bitcoin Needs More Intuitive Apps
Although many people do not understand Bitcoin, that does not mean it cannot be a useful technology for large amounts of people. In Ehrsam’s view, the key to mainstream adoption is building intuitive apps that normal people can use. He explained:
“I think it’s our job in the ecosystem to create software and applications, which bridge the gap without necessarily this entire learning process on the underlying technology, which really is irrelevant, I think, to the end-customer.”
1776 co-founder Evan Burfield, who was also featured on the recent podcast, added:
“I don’t think an entrepreneur trying to do business across multiple African countries needs to understand the concept of Bitcoin miners to figure out that he can do business in a more secure way with lower transaction costs [via Bitcoin].”
Ehrsam agreed and added, “The particulars are less relevant.”
Some Bitcoin applications, such as Abra and Freemit, are moving toward the model of hiding the underlying technology from their users. This strategy may continue to expand as Bitcoin startups begin to target individuals outside of the digital currency community.
Kyle Torpey is a freelance journalist who has been following Bitcoin since 2011. His work has been featured on VICE Motherboard, Business Insider, NASDAQ, RT’s Keiser Report and many other media outlets. You can follow @kyletorpey on Twitter.