Blockchain Payments Adoption: Easier is Better
When it comes to our relationship with tech, easier wins. There is an an entire discipline focused on helping developers optimize their mobile applications for convenience. From where information is displayed on a screen, to how many clicks it takes to get to a key action. This discipline is focused on making life as easy for the user as possible because our engagement is fickle. That third click to get to a key action may be turning away a quarter of your prospective users.
As developers of blockchain powered payments applications seek to engage consumers, they must keep in mind that making our lives easier is prerequisite to making our lives better.
The adoption of the mobile web itself is a story of convenience’s role in driving technological adoption. When Apple launched the iPhone in 2007 and ushered in the era of smartphones, the mobile web accounted for less than one percent of all internet traffic. In the 12 years that have followed, usage of the mobile web has expanded at an explosive pace. This is despite the fact that the mobile web has been slower and able to support limited features relative to desktop for most of that time. Why adopt a technology that was less feature rich? Because it made your life easier. The “full” desktop web was “better” in that it could allow you to do more than you could in the mobile environment. But the mobile web made life easier – it lived in your pocket and moved more comfortably (and frequently) with you than your favorite pair of jeans.
“As developers of blockchain powered payments applications seek to engage consumers, they must keep in mind that making our lives easier is prerequisite to making our lives better.”
Blockchain projects to date primarily promise to make our lives better. These promises are as diverse as they are compelling. Some of my favorites specific to blockchain powered finance include:
1. Expanding access to financial infrastructure (for example, extending banking access to millions of consumers who are marginalized because their balance sheets and transaction throughputs are too small to offer attractive unit economics in the traditional model).
2. Democratizing the tools of modern finance through innovative use of smart contracts (for example, using decentralized prediction markets to allow smallholder farmers to hedge their crops with nothing more than an internet connection).
3. Enabling more efficient flow of capital across national borders.
But in order to make our lives better, the technology must first make our lives easier. I am a big fan of Metamask and grateful for its role as trailblazer, but it is unrealistic to expect the average (let alone the historically underserved) consumer to wrestle with Metamask in order to pay their utility bill. In fact, it is probably unrealistic to expect a twenty something year old techie to wrestle with Metamask anytime they want to purchase a digital collectible.
Consider once again the adoption arc of the mobile web. The mobile web was first made commercially accessible by Nokia in 1996. Over its first decade, the mobile web was cool and novel but unwieldy, and usage during that period was unable to rise to even one percent of total web traffic. The iPhone’s launch in 2007 made this cool, novel but unwieldy experience easy and intuitive. By 2015, just eight years later, the majority of internet traffic was mobile. There are other factors that undoubtedly contributed to this rapid adoption, but I have a hard time imagining (and welcome feedback on) any innovation that might have been nearly as catalytic as the smartphone.
Furthermore, mobile web usage has been driven primarily by “low friction” applications like consuming blogs, connecting with and staying in touch with friends, and ordering books. In more recent years, as comfort with and trust in the mobile web has increased, more complex and higher friction usage have become commonplace. Today, you can get a mortgage on your phone.
“In order to realize important promises like the democratization of the tools of modern finance, crypto needs its iPhone and crypto needs its Facebook.”
In order to realize important promises like the democratization of the tools of modern finance, crypto needs its iPhone and crypto needs its Facebook. It is hard to know exactly what these catalysts will be, but I wager that making the lives of consumers easier will be a foundational tenant.