Why Blockchain Should Be Invisible

11/22/2017 07:56 am ET

By Alex Linebrink

Blockchain has a problem that not enough people are talking about. It’s a problem preventing mass adoption and crippling applications that utilize blockchain technology. It’s not the first time someone has had this problem and it won’t be the last, but it’s definitely urgent. The same issue has killed multibillion-dollar efforts by some of the world’s largest corporations. And it needs to be talked about — and fixed — as soon as possible.

In short, the problem is visibility.

More specifically, end users see too many aspects and requirements of blockchain technology. As long as wallets, public and private keys and other added difficulties and learning curves are included, software built on blockchain technology is doomed.

In 2011, Google launched Google Wallet’s near field communication (NFC)-based mobile payments. That was a full three years before Apple Pay. It was heralded as a revolution in payments: a physical wallet killer (you can keep every credit and debit card right on your phone!) with clear security benefits. It didn’t stick.

As a habitual early-adopter, I forced myself to use Google Wallet mobile payments early and at every possible opportunity (which wasn’t very often). When I reached an NFC-capable pay-station (usually only at a CVS or other mega-chain) I would clumsily whip out my phone, unlock it, open the Google Wallet App, select my card, activate payment mode and then tap it on the register. If I was lucky, my payment would then be complete. I’d often still have to end up using my card.

Needless to say, nobody used it and smartphone-based NFC payments died during the next three years. Between the difficult setup (which often involved calling your card company while following the setup prompts in Google Wallet), multiple steps in the app and lack of support (both by card companies and retailer pay-stations), the Google Wallet mobile payments functionality was practically dead before it started.

Why? Because it was too visible. All I needed was to make a payment. Swiping a card was effortless, quick and worked nearly everywhere. With Google Wallet, consumers saw too much of the process and had to actively watch for places that supported their newfound tech fad.

Three years later, Apple Pay re-opened the door to mobile payments by eliminating many of those steps. They began to make the technology invisible and left the user simply “making a payment” once again. Google followed by re-launching mobile payments under the Android Pay name. And today, mobile is the fastest growing payments segment and on a path to triple by 2021.

Blockchain technology is revolutionary.

Blockchain promises transparency, security and ultimate ownership to users. Those promises have the potential to transform any application built on the blockchain. The first killer blockchain app is obviously payments (cryptocurrency), promising users ownership of their money, free from restrictions (and faith in) governments, banks and credit card companies. But hundreds of more applications are on the way: everything (from bets to remittance to social media) is hitting the blockchain hard.

For those applications and blockchain benefits to reach the masses, they have to come without added complexity or difficulty -- no 34-character wallet addresses, no private keys and certainly no special hardware can be exposed to the end user.

Blockchain needs to stay in the background, invisible to its users, or its benefits will never be realized.

This is not meant to be a treatise on why blockchain technology will never succeed. Quite the opposite: I believe blockchain will eventually be connected to nearly every web-application. It will transform existing applications and create entirely new opportunities yet-to-be imagined.

This is simply a call to those building applications on the blockchain, just like we’re currently doing with my company: We’re out of the proof-of-concept phase and need to start thinking about pushing blockchain technology to the world. Now is the time to start creating user experiences that hide its bumps and complications. Let’s make blockchain ready for mainstream by making it invisible.

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Alex Linebrink is Founder/CEO of Passage. He's a serial fintech entrepreneur and blockchain/cryptocurrency geek.

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