02 July 2015

3 Questions Bitcoin Beginners Ask

I recently did a workshop at OuiShareFest conference in Paris, an introduction to bitcoin and the blockchain for a non-technical audience. I loved it. The attendees were from all over the world - many had signed up for my session in advance, and several more came after we met at the conference and I told them about my presentation.

ChangeTip integrations
At the end of the session (and for the rest of the week) I sent everyone their first bitcoin, €1 worth. For most people I sent it via ChangeTip, the great app that uses bitcoin for tipping, supporting writers, artists and charitable organizations, and making the world a genuinely nicer place in the process. I also tied the giveaway in via Twitter, since that's a simple way to send and receive tips, though ChangeTip is integrated with many apps, making it as easy as possible.

One of the best parts about the workshop came afterwards. People approached me and thanked me profusely, in Italian and Spanish and French, telling me that they had tried to understand bitcoin but it had been too dense and confusing. That this was the first time someone explained it clearly enough for them to grasp. That they were starting to see how the blockchain could offer all these other potential uses. And they asked questions - three of which stood out:

Why should we use bitcoin instead of fiat currency, especially when it's so volatile and insecure?

 In my talk I discussed the climate in which bitcoin was birthed, the disillusionment and distrust of governments, banks, and large corporations without the best interests of its users in mind. I brought up the economic struggles in Argentina and Greece, and the bank bailouts in the US and UK. The 3-day OuiShare conference itself addressed the conflicts between big "sharing" companies like Uber and the people who provided the services, not to mention others impacted negatively. So this audience had the background already, but had heard all about bitcoin's price volatility, Mt. Gox, and Silk Road. They believed the negative hype, repeatedly trumpeted in the news, and thought that bitcoin wasn't going to last anyway.

I could have also emphasized that the people who can most benefit from using bitcoin as a currency, however, aren't attending conferences in first-world nations. I'm talking about the unbanked and underbanked, populations that transact in micro-payments, who use their cell phones to pay bills, or who send remittances to their families back home every month. These individuals are laboring under exorbitant transfer fees, lack of access to credit or loans, and limited technological infrastructure. Check out some of the efforts of 37coins and BitPesa for examples of how bitcoin is another tool helping narrow the wealth gap around the world.

Who is running it all?

Even though I explained the peer-to-peer network, and this was a Sharing+Collaborative Economy conference, it was still very hard for people to grasp that this technology is truly decentralized. There continued to be a suspicion that someone somewhere can shut it down or break it or manipulate it all. Maybe I should have added this image of active bitcoin nodes to my presentation?

Source: getaddr.bitnodes.io

Why isn't it easier to use?

This question made me laugh every time I heard it, because I agreed. Why isn't it all easier to use? It reminds me that to use a tool created by brilliant engineers, we still need designers and educators and economists and writers and philosophers and more. It's also fair to note that we are in the early stages of this technology. I've heard it compared to the internet in the 1980's, which in the beginning utilized strings of numbers for email and dial-up modems to connect. Look how far we've come in 30 years!

The focus now is on the layers and services being built upon bitcoin and the blockchain. So the more people know about it and support its development, the more that momentum and engagement will propel it forward. This is exactly why I presented the workshop in the first place, and will continue to speak and educate the populace wherever I'm invited (check my Twitter for upcoming talks). I encourage you to come 'drink the lemonade' - it's delicious and exciting!

Photo credit: Scott Kennedy

Addendum 6-July-2015: This post has also been published on the Coin Congress Events blog - check it out and share it there!