The role of media in blockchain adoption
As we enter a new decade, blockchain technology continues to struggle to cross the chasm and achieve widespread adoption. To be fair, the reasons for 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 by reviewing some of the different factors influencing blockchain adoption.
Blockchain technology has been going through parallel developments of developing the infrastructure and applications simultaneously unlike other technological developments in the past, in which infrastructure was completed before applications were introduced. 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 regulate blockchain technology. There are laissez-faire jurisdiction 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.
User Interface and Experience
One of the main obstacles users face in using blockchain applications is handling. We have not gotten to a point in the industry where blockchain-based products can be used without the users having knowledge of the underlying technology.
Education and Media
This is a crucial and delicate point. It’s not the media’s job to support the adoption of blockchain — or anything else for that matter. But media outlets are sources of information on developments that affect people’s lives. Thinking back to the early days of the internet, it can be discovered that the media played a huge role in helping us find out more about it. In this regard, media have so far under-performed in coverage of a technology with such far-reaching potential as the blockchain.
Misinformation and Fake News
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
Bitcoin’s is the world’s first and most adopted cryptocurrency has a special place in the history of blockchain, but it is not the only use case of the technology. It is just a part of the many solutions the technology has to offer. The issue here is that the focus of media reports is on bitcoin and cryptocurrencies while applications and benefits of blockchain already used in diverse industries remain vastly under reported. No wonder just about every explanation of blockchain to an uninitiated listener begins with, “Well, you’ve heard of Bitcoin.”
Too much Blockchain Jargon
Most blockchain-related news and content found on websites today are aimed mainly at industry insiders who have knowledge of the technology and its jargon. Understandably, the content is full of technical jargon and terminologies. The unfortunate side effect is the total alienation of anyone with little or no technical blockchain knowledge. Hence, making the industry remain 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. When someone in a high position as 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.
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 the story. Why confuse them with technical jargon?
Crossing the Chasm
Blockchain and Emerging technologies media houses should understand what their responsibility is to the blockchain industry and the public. The aim should not be to hype or promote anyone’s business, but rather provide clear and objective information on these technologies. Also, these media houses should seek to provide readily accessible and relatable blockchain information, alongside insider news and expert knowledge. Communication is a powerful tool. If the blockchain industry and if the 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.
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. Let’s work together and make Armstrong’s bold forecast come true.