Crossing the chasm: The role of media in blockchain adoption
Who says, “no news is good news”? In fact, no news – or little news – about blockchain technology is really bad news. What’s wrong with the current relationship between blockchain and media?
It has been 30 years since the release of Geoffrey Moore’s bestseller on marketing and adoption of high-tech products “Crossing the Chasm.” As we enter a new decade, blockchain technology continues to struggle to cross the chasm and achieve widespread adoption. Hasn’t the blockchain community read the book? To be fair, the reasons for the slow adoption are many and complex.
On October 31, 2008, in the midst of the global financial crisis, Satoshi Nakamoto released the whitepaper that formed the basis of Bitcoin. It was a radical idea, a non-sovereign digital currency based on a technology developed in 1991 – blockchain. Today, 12 years after Bitcoin was launched, blockchain technology is used in a wide spectrum of applications, from cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to supply chains and gaming. Yet it has reached only around 40 million users. The role of media in driving adoption is of course just one aspect, but – as we will see – it has an overarching effect. Let’s begin with a survey of the different factors influencing blockchain adoption.
Number of blockchain wallet users worldwide from 3rd quarter 2016 to 3rd quarter 2019
Main factors influencing blockchain adoption
Unlike other technological developments in the past, in which infrastructure was completed before applications were introduced, blockchain has been going through parallel developments of the infrastructure and applications simultaneously. The industry is continuously improving technology, finding working solutions for technical issues and enabling scalability. That said, let’s remember that this ongoing development is a normal course of events – think of the early days of the Internet.
Regulations: a double-edged sword
Regulations can either support or discourage adoption. Regulators around the world have taken various approaches to regulating blockchain technology. There are laissez faire jurisdictions as well as restrictive regimes. As can be expected, excessive and heavy-handed regulations tend to slow adoption, while more freewheeling markets see more participation. Interestingly, however, some regulators that have been quick to lay down the law on blockchain and cryptocurrencies have actually fostered broader adoption by building investor confidence. Switzerland is a prime example.
User interface and experience – ongoing issues
One of the main obstacles users face in using blockchain applications is handling. The industry has not reached the stage where its products can be simply used with no knowledge of the underlying technology. This is crucial in a world where we constantly interact with devices that function intuitively despite their inner complexity – just look inside the housing of your Smartphone if you want an example.
At the same time, it must be said that there are technically functioning products that people are simply not using. Ari Paul of BlockTower Capital recently commented on this paradox in a tweet about Defi products. It is clearly not enough to build a better mousetrap – the look & feel of the solution must capture the spirit of the time and the marketplace to gain traction.
Education and media
This is a crucial and delicate point. It’s not the media’s job to support adoption of blockchain – or anything else for that matter. But media outlets are sources of information on developments that affect people’s lives. Again, consider the early days of the Internet. Where did you – or your parents – find out about it? What created interest? In this regard, media have so far underperformed in coverage of a technology with such far-reaching potential as blockchain. In fact, much media coverage has probably done more harm than good in terms of educating the broader public.
Misinformation, fake news, sensationalism
It’s an open secret that many media outlets publish sponsored content without disclosure. In addition, uncertainty about the technology and the flood of often conflicting reports on developments give rise to misleading information. Pitched battles between industry competitors take place in social media and subsequently make headlines, while new developments that can improve people’s lives are largely ignored. No wonder public trust in blockchain applications is slim.
Fixation on Bitcoin and speculation
As the world’s first and most widely adopted cryptocurrency, Bitcoin has a special place in the history of blockchain. It is an established and valued asset class. But it’s not the only use case of blockchain technology. In fact, cryptocurrencies are just one small part of what the technology can do. Yet the applications and benefits of blockchain already used in diverse industries remain vastly underreported. No wonder just about every explanation of blockchain to an uninitiated listener begins with, “Well, you’ve heard of Bitcoin.”
Too much technobabble
News and content on most blockchain-related Websites are aimed mainly at industry insiders who have knowledge of the technology. Understandably, the content is full of technical jargon and terminology. The unfortunate side effect is total alienation of anyone with little or no technical blockchain knowledge. The industry remains a black box to the general public.
What are the media’s responsibilities?
Consider the important role high-quality, mainstream media outlets play in keeping us informed on, say, political developments. Donald Trump makes a speech extolling his country’s achievements at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, and we can hear and read responses in almost real time. We can form an educated opinion about what his statements mean regarding transatlantic relations, his ongoing election campaign or the current impeachment proceedings. We don’t have to be political scientists. The media can and should live up to the same responsibilities regarding technological developments, including blockchain. More media outlets need to objectively inform and educate the public about the potential of the technology, its benefits and risks, the applications and how to use them.
Why should the users understand blockchain in the first place?
Along with the responsibility to inform and educate, media outlets also have a duty to respect those users who simply don’t care about the underlying technology. This of course goes for the blockchain industry in general as well: the vast majority of users care about the benefits blockchain products bring to them, not how they work. We all want to know why we should change a familiar habit and use a new solution. Some of us want to dig deeper, but most people are content enjoying the convenience of new technologies – end of story. Why confuse them with technical jargon?
Brian Armstrong of Coinbase recently predicted that at the end of this decade, there will be one blockchain that manages to reach a billion users. Whether or not this will be the case remains to be seen, but it’s safe to say that it won’t happen by itself. And the current state of blockchain media doesn’t speak in favor of it.
Bridging the chasm
We at Blocks99 want to fulfill what we see as media’s responsibility to the blockchain industry and the public. It’s not about hype or promoting anyone’s business, but rather providing clear and objective information on something that will revolutionize finance and other industries. Although it’s not always easy, we seek to provide readily accessible blockchain information, alongside insider news and expert knowledge. Our series of “quick reads” and glossary, for example, allow readers to conveniently fill knowledge gaps they might have.
Communication is a powerful tool. If the blockchain industry and if media can consistently and understandably answer the questions of why users should adopt a given application and how to use it, we can build a bridge across the chasm to mass adoption. Let’s work together and make Armstrong’s bold forecast come true.
About the Author:
Sophia Ha Ho is a Vietnamese-born technology entrepreneur living in Munich. A proud mother of a bright seven-year-old Vietnamese-German boy, Sophia lives between the two cultures. She is a global citizen who believes in the power of connecting people across geographical, cultural and political borders to foster positive changes. Sophia is the founder of CryptoStoriess and co-founder and CEO of Blocks99, a council member at the Digital Economist. While passionately building Blocks99 as a blockchain media tech company, Sophia enjoys coaching C-level executives and entrepreneurs on how to embrace social media and other channels to build an appealing personal brand and promote their businesses in the digital sphere.
This piece reflects her personal opinions and does not necessarily represent the views of Blocks99 as an independent media portal.
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