Bitcoin me! 1JDDn6cHgzqsRtgQJZwhToJPAX4oYZg19T
If that “sentence” makes any sense to you – you’re not a muggle. Muggles (for want of a better epithet) don’t want to invest a lot of time into things which don’t fit with their mental model of how the world works.
Without getting into a philosophical discussion on what money is and how value is generated – let’s look at how Bitcoin works in practice.
Failing to Design is Designing to Fail
Bitcoin is doomed to fail. Pick a reason why.
- Governments will ban it.
- A proprietary alternative will spring up.
- An EMP will destroy enough Internet infrastructure to seriously disrupt it.
- Naughty hackers will commit massive fraud.
- Normal people will be too confused to even start consider it.
All are a possibility. The most likely is ignorance and apathy generate by crappy execution on lack of focus on the normal user.
Before it became big and a bit crap, PayPal started off with a very simple idea.
- Send money to an email address.
- Receive money sent to your email address.
Pretty damn simple. If I have money in a PayPal account, I can send it to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Alice receives an email saying she now has money in her PayPal account (and if she didn’t have one previously, an account has been created).
Now, there are caveats, and charges, and edge cases, and multiple points of failure. But the idea is simple.
How Bitcoin Works In Practice
- Install software onto your PC.
- Configure it.
- Find some way to convert cash into BitCoins.
- Copy and paste long, incomprehensible random strings, with no user-friendly error detection.
- Use the software to send coins with no out-of-band communication for confirmation.
Now, each of those points in of itself isn’t insurmountable. But taken together they present a rather formidable challenge. With PayPal, Google Checkout, or regular bank transfer, the flow is
- Get recipient’s ID (either an email or a short string of number)
- Create an instruction via web, mobile, voice, SMS, or in person.
- Recipient receives confirmation.
I’ve left off the “set up” stage because most people already have at least one method of payment at their disposal. Even if they don’t, setting up a PayPal account is trivial compared to setting up Bitcoin.
Designing For Humans
Bitcoin, at the moment, isn’t designed for normal people. It’s designed for geeks like me. And even I can’t be bothered to set it up.
But if Bitcoin – or any other currency – wants to fulfil its destiny and revolutionise “money”, it needs to be easy for normal people to understand and use.