Even though the end of 2017 witnessed a media frenzy regarding Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies which had reporters from all over the globe taking crash courses in cryptocurrencies, the price decline over the last year seems to have erased much of the previous hype. Is Bitcoin still mainstream? And if it isn’t, what could make Bitcoin go mainstream again?
What does going mainstream represents for Bitcoin?
Some readers might disagree from start with the premise of this analysis. With John McAfee boasting close to 1 million followers on Twitter, Cash App and Coinbase amongst the most downloaded apps in the US, Bakkt and Fidelity down the corner and a myriad of crypto appearances every minute on all kinds of news and social media, many would say that Bitcoin is still mainstream.
However, when looking at the estimations provided by scientific social research methods, attaching the 'mainstream' tag to any cryptocurreny seems rather premature.
On a study conducted by Ipsos for the Dutch bank ING, most European respondents (66%) admitted having heard of crypto, and although only 9% said they owned some tokens, up to 25% also commented that they expect to own some in the future.
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When it came to the US, percentages were similar although slightly less, with 57%, 8% and 21% responding affirmatively to the same questions, respectively.
These numbers show that even though about 1 in 10 EU and US citizens already own crypto and 6 in 10 have heard about it, only about 2 in 10 are contemplating it as a part of their financial future.
When taking the word mainstream on its most literal sense, a sense of majority emerges which is not present in the data shown by the previous survey.
What would it mean for crypto to go mainstream?
Vitalik Buterin once made a quite exportable trichotomy comparing the different levels of adoption of three well known human inventions, namely Esperanto, Linux and the Internet, which he refers to in this tweet:
I've talked before about the "Esperanto / Linux / the internet" trichotomy. In short:— Vitalik Non-giver of Ether (@VitalikButerin) October 25, 2018
* Esperanto: hobby/subculture for idealists and geeks
* Linux: never achieves wildest dreams, but still provides valuable role as competition and wins in unexpected sectors
* internet: wins big
Esperanto has about a couple million speakers. Linux is barely run on 1% of the world’s computers, although Android is almost entirely based on it (anyone else seeing the risk of central bank-backed digital currencies “linuxifying” Bitcoin?).
Numbers-wise, crypto appears to have already exceeded both Linux and Esperanto in implementation, judging from the previously mentioned ING report: if an approximate 10% of EU and US citizens hold crypto, there must be about 80 million hodlers without taking into account Asia, Africa or Oceania. A generous estimate taking into account the remaining continents should definitely stay under or around 150 million users: that is 1998 Internet numbers.
Expansion of useful technologies can sometimes be specially fast: On the year 2000, there were already 300 million Internet users.. Crypto adoption appears to be following similar growth patterns to the Internet in so far, although the price distraction was not as ubiquitous on its preceding technology.
From the three examples cited by Buterin, the Internet is the only true mainstream technology nowadays. However, it also provides the network and support for Bitcoin; therefore, with the current technology it cannot be expected that crypto would ever overthrow the Internet in use.
How can Bitcoin become more mainstream?
Getting underrepresented groups into crypto seems to be one of the key areas to work on. And women might just come first this time, as the same ING survey previously discussed calculated that they were almost twice less likely than men to own crypto, a large divide which does not replicate when splitting the population by age groups, although younger ones definitely have a higher representation in the crypto space.
Perhaps even more important than gender is the wider digital divide within or between countries or individuals, affecting their possibilities of using cryptocurrencies for mostly socioeconomic reasons. Good news for Bitcoin: most of the lessons learned while spreading the use of the Internet will be reusable for crypto.
Read more: Will Bitcoin recover in 2019?
Use cases as a pending subject, usability as a barrier of entry
With so much noise coming from big names such as Bakkt or Fidelity, it might seem as if the everyday investor is out of focus for Bitcoin predictions over the next months. Exchanges and regulators seem to be gathering more attention nowadays than other parts of the space which have much more strategic importance, such as the advances in the development of networks or the progressive achieving of new use cases.
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There are still many hurdles to overcome on the usability area as well. Even though large transactions and payments are definitely more cost and time efficient to fulfill using Bitcoin, smaller, everyday purchases and transfers to relatives or friends based on the same country or banking area seem to be still easier to complete using the traditional banking or cash system.
The goal seems clear, as Ripple has stated before: achieving payments in 30 seconds, with three clicks, making it as easy as sending an email. How to get there, on each cryptocurrency with their own particularities, is a very different story.
Read more: Will Bitcoin replace fiat money?
This Bitcoin ATM placed in Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport serves as a great example of the right mentality when thinking about expanding crypto use. Travelers can exchange their foreign money for crypto: this is a service which is undeniably more expensive, slower and more difficult when done with fiat, thus revealing a part of the true potential of Bitcoin.
Finally, the question of scalability remains, as there were doubts casted upon Bitcoin related to this when it boomed in late 2017, together with transaction fees. The continuously developing, almost-ready Bitcoin Lightning Network is posed to solve most of these problems, at least until the next adoption wave is over.