Usability has seen a massive shift in the last decade. We’ve gone from requiring practically Ph.D. level knowledge to access cryptocurrency to simply being computer or smartphone literate.
In the early days, very few people could have performed the 1st blockchain transaction but now a toddler could perform one on your phone by mistake! So usability has certainly improved, but some might argue that it is quickly traded off in decentralization. Let’s look at the facts.
Inverse Relationships Within the Blockchain Ecosystems
Decentralization and usability are a dynamic spectrum and some components of blockchain may still reflect an inverse relationship between the two. The Blockchain ecosystem is evolving, but as it evolves, the network effect takes hold, and so does the Lindy effect.
The Blockchain ecosystem relies on many separate systems and areas of interest for developers. Onramp exchanges provide a means of EFT or credit card purchases by handling storage in a ‘secure wallet’ with keys outside of your control, but if the CEO should die, he could take the keys with him to his grave. Not your keys, not your coins, as the saying goes. Cryptocurrency ATMs also provide a cash-to-coin transaction if you additionally download an app.
Transaction Usability and the Real World
Components that make up cryptocurrencies are everywhere and being used widely by humanity, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.
Most shopping malls offer free parking if purchases are made at their flagship stores where a QR code is printed on the receipt. While QR codes were invented for the Japanese automotive industry, it is also commonly used for wallet transactions and security authentication.
The postage system is a model for transaction fees and mempools; the more urgent the parcel’s delivery, the more the transaction costs and the higher the priority in the mempool. The lower the priority, the lower the shipping costs and the lower the priority in the mempool.
Online banking portals provide the same function as a cryptocurrency wallet because banking online requires you to perform the same tasks as you would do with most wallets. Most banks also have an immediate payment function charging an additional cost much the same as the next block transaction fee.
If you can use a search engine, you can use a block explorer. Granted the acronyms and new terminology might require the same learning curve as the rules of a board game, but surely even your granny can do that judging by the number of seniors using social media today.
Just look at how well the world accepted the introduction of the barcode scanner used for price checking at all major retail stores. It took two decades since its creation before barcodes became universally accepted and commercially successful. But the integration is so complete now that most stores use the system and many introduced self-checkout lanes because price scanning with this tech reduced errors and its simple usability required little to no training.
It is clear to see that mankind is in a constant state of technological evolution, and as our tech evolves and advances, so should we.
Disaster Recovery Options
With crypto, you have the power to control everything about your interaction with the rest of the world, which requires work on your part, or the extreme opposite of having no control by allowing an exchange to do the work for you.
Depending on what protocols you put in place and what you want to accomplish, taking control can be a painstaking annoyance but when done, you could have achieved complete sovereignty and become antifragile.
Delegating this responsibility to an exchange isn’t a bad thing either if they are located in nations that provide strong regulation and government-backed insurance, but any amount over the threshold could still be lost. This does require work in the form of intensive research.
Some things you can recover from and some things you can’t. For example, just like you can change your car tire if you have a spare, likewise if you backup your address and private key or wallet, you can recover from a corrupt device or program.
You can’t recover/fix a coin vulnerability, however, you can notify the developers and they can resolve the problem – Etherium edited the blockchain for the DAO hack and recovered what was stolen. If Bitcoin did this, crypto as we know it, might be over.
The Crypto Ecosystem
Unless you had a friend who would not stop trying to give you some cryptocurrency to get started, your first point of contact with crypto was probably some type of cryptocurrency exchange – and for some people – your last point of contact, too.
Exchange companies can be either centralized with ease of use or decentralized, and oftentimes more complicated.
The two major reasons we use crypto are as an investment vehicle or as currencies.
Investing the Blockchain
To acquire more crypto through investment diversification coin swaps, or exchanges, you can even use atomic swaps.
Uncensored, unrestricted right-to-invest options are available which opens the door to risk as the local financial regulatory authority cannot help you if you don’t know who you are trading with. An ease of use option would just be to HODL.
Spending the Blockchain
As a currency, web payment portals are available at selected merchants and act the same as Mastercard or VISA portals.
Some banks offer QR code scan software built into the mobile banking app a simple QR code scan at the merchant that facilitates the transaction for ease of use, the only limit currently is with the amount of time until the next block or 3 blocks are processed.
Non-Custodial and Centralized Crypto Debit Cards do bridge the two worlds magnificently but are not available world wide.
Uncensored / unrestricted right to spend or purchase from any merchant is the driving point.
Converting users takes time
Some people would rather wait and don’t want the hassle of the onramp exchange as an intermediary before funds reflect in their accounts or don’t want to deal with tax issues.
They would rather use international banking as it is acceptable and the standard for most businesses and people using remittance.
It is more complicated and not user-friendly and could also require multiple visits to a bank branch to be successful, but people are happy with this knowing their funds will reflect eventually and be accessible.
Transacting the Blockchain
Wallets have come a long way and are striving for market share in a fiercely competitive sector of the industry. Some are as simple as banking apps and can act as vehicles to exchange one coin into another.
Banks will act as intermediaries for you to buy and sell shares and they will also hold them for you. Nothing about the crypto wallet is new except the technology. People have been transacting for thousands of years with the written word wallets, we’ve just digitized the transaction.
Crypto Debit Cards does pose a single point of failure and transactional risk but allows one to transact anywhere. Wallets also allow you to save and can act as a layer of security, depending on whether you’re using a hot or cold wallet.
Confirming the Blockchain
We have been conditioned not to worry about certain things, and unless you’re a die-hard crypto boff, full nodes and mining are something that happens in the background.
Most end users have little or no regard to running a full node nor should they if blockchain is to become mainstream. I don’t write down the serial number of each fiat currency note I use, nor have I met anyone who does.
Mining is in the same camp as full nodes and it should ideally only be done by a specialist for-profit or a hobbyist for enjoyment. The average user should not have to worry about it at all.
If you need to convert out of fiat but want to do it with maximum untraceability, then yes, mining is the best route next to Casascius Coins. Additionally, mining also provides heaps of problems to solve to become extremely profitable, but the knowledge gained can’t be learned without practice.
Governance, Who Governs Whom?
The Crypto ecosystem has many checks and balances, developers, miners, stakers and masternodes but ultimately, the end user decides everything simply by choosing what to invest in and what to transact in.
Finding the Balance Between Decentralization & Usability
Cryptocurrencies ultimately do have a learning curve but are considered usable by today’s standards. We live in an age where if you can use a search engine, you can implement a solution. Blockchain exists within the real world, and only time will tell how much further we can take it.
It’s not easy to find a merchant to transact with but it’s not impossible, and if you’re out there looking for one, social media will have a solution before you’re back from making coffee. The internet is full of people willing to share their knowledge and help other people.
Your level of involvement with crypto is your own choice. You can start with an exchange, a wallet, multiple coins, mining, coding your own wallet, doing payments via ham radio or maybe be the first person to build a satellite that mines in space, thus solving the cooling problem.
We have evolved to the point that usability is a given and decentralisation is a choice and maybe a birthright for children born post January 3, 2009.
About the Author: Jesús Cedeño is a doctor turned cryptocurrency and blockchain enthusiast who loves sharing his thoughts on his website Crypto Coin Society to simply crypto in order to make it more accessible to the masses.