Twelve years is the blink of an eye in historical terms, but it’s an eternity in tech. Just look at the cellphone, which went from niche accessory to absolute necessity in under a decade. Still, new technologies don’t always soar immediately: it took a quarter of a century for the humble washing machine to reach even half of U.S. homes.
This Halloween marked the twelfth anniversary of Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin white paper. In that short time, Bitcoin has transformed the way we think about money, but it’s still a long way from mass adoption. As a result, we need to ask some uncomfortable questions about what’s holding Bitcoin back.
What’s The Problem? The UX
In my mind, there’s no question that user experience (UX) has always been the biggest single obstacle to Bitcoin adoption. But not in the way you might think.
UX is a slippery term: it means different things to different people in different contexts. With Bitcoin, for example, UX extends far beyond the intuitiveness of individual exchanges or wallets. Since we’re talking about people’s investment, security is a — the — crucial consideration in any discussion about UX.
Bitcoin suffers from a usability problem that can’t simply be fixed with a new interface. This isn’t a technical error but a human one: the assumption that it’s safer to store coins with an exchange instead of keeping custody yourself. This can’t be fixed with a new user interface (UI); it requires a revolution in the way we think about Bitcoin security.
In the early days, poor UX didn’t really matter, since Bitcoin platforms were mostly used by traders and speculators who had the technical chops to navigate complexity. But when ordinary people started dabbling in Bitcoin, a host of exchanges and trading platforms focused their attention on developing “consumer-grade” user experiences. Ironically, this was the moment where Bitcoin’s UX problems really began.