For crypto and blockchain to get mainstream appeal, we need to look beyond our own closed communities

Gerry Lorca
For crypto and blockchain to get mainstream appeal, we need to look beyond our own closed communities

Here’s something Asia’s crypto companies learn from the World’s Fair

With cryptocurrency industry getting into the mainstream, there has also arisen a new subsector: crypto programming. Every week across Asia Pacific, there are countless seminars, workshops, brown bag sessions, conferences, and unconferences, all related to crypto. The industry, which once began with small meet-ups of the most fervent Bitcoin enthusiasts, has all grown up. If you wanted to, you could fill your calendar with these events and never have an empty week.

This boom in crypto programming brings with it both good and bad news. On one hand, this movement represents a professionalisation of the industry that is much needed. For crypto to be accepted into the wider financial technology, business, and venture capital industry, the community must first professionalise itself. These events are major step forward in that regard, as it’s where entrepreneurs and professionals in the crypto space can establish best practices, develop industry standards, and provide governance. Make no mistake: On an individual level, these events are about exchanging business cards and meeting people, but as a whole, they drive the industry forward.

You may recognise the bad news if you’ve attended several events in crypto programming. After a while, you’ll start to notice the same speakers again and again, as though they were all culled from an official pool. Many of your fellow attendees will also be familiar from event to event. That you will start to recognise familiar faces points to the underlying problem with the crypto industry:

They are designed by crypto enthusiasts, professionals, and entrepreneurs for other crypto enthusiasts, professionals, and entrepreneurs.

You must already be part of the crypto community to get anything out of a crypto community event

Most of these events, in short, are not designed for people with an interest in crypto, but who as of yet have no working knowledge. You must already be part of the crypto community to get anything out of a crypto community event, evoking the paradox of job posts that require several years of experience for an entry-level position.

The lack of crypto programming oriented toward true beginners is alarming because the vast majority of people are novices. With less than 1% of the population owning cryptocurrency across the globe, more than 99% of the world know next to nothing about the industry. For crypto to grow, we need more programming that caters to them, rather than just repeatedly targeting people who are already believers.

Also read: What does Southeast Asia hold for cryptocurrencies and ICOs

The World’s Fair provides a helpful case on the crypto programming industry can better reach new audiences. The concept of a World’s Fair may seem a bit antiquated now — as we have our choice of many different distractions – but they were very popular in their heyday.

Arguably the most important World’s Fair was the one held in Chicago in 1893, which was immortalised by journalist Erik Larson in his book The Devil in the White City. The World’s Fair at Chicago, like its predecessors and descendants, featured exhibits from most nations on earth, each designed to showcase the very best of that country’s culture, entertainment, and yes, technology.

The exhibits at the World’s Fair succeed because they are conceived and designed with the lay person in mind. They thus make an effort to engage in ways that programming for professionals would not, often through both their scale and interactivity. Attendees, for example, were invited to ride atop the world’s first moving walkway, board recreations of Christopher Columbus’ three ships, and watch short films in the world’s first commercial theatre. Exhibitors, in other words, were intent on captivating everyone, not just experts.

Make it accessible and arresting

The crypto programming industry in Asia, along with the companies who participate in them, should take a page out of the World’s Fair playbook. We need more events that demo the very best of our technology in a way that is both accessible and arresting. A crypto exchange like Gatecoin out of Hong Kong can set up a simulation based on real-time data that allows exhibit guests to try their hand at making buy-and-sell decisions, much in the same way that many of us learned economics in high school by doing paper trading.

Even more abstract parts of the industry can be geared toward beginners. Bitmain, which is headquartered out of China and considered the region’s flagship mining company, could for instance do an on-site recreation of the average mining operation in the region. An ambassador could then explain the day-to-day life of a living room miner, like a National Geographic narrator describing a remote tribe. So long as there is an impetus to engage, companies can succeed at doing so.

Of course, what will most effectively convert laymen into enthusiasts are demonstrations of consumer-facing crypto technologies, such as Pundi X out of Indonesia. Just this month, they powered crypto transactions for nearly 30,000 attendees at Ultra Taiwan 2018 in what would be the first blockchain powered music festival, and it would be ideal if their technology could be embedded in a similar way at crypto events.

Also read: How Pundi X plans to help Indonesians buy Bitcoin “as easy as buying a bottled water”

A point of comparison would be how the World’s Fair at Chicago became a de facto showcase for the then-still new alternating current system of electricity, which helped it win over the rival direct current system. Integrating the Pundi XPOS device throughout a crypto event would be more powerful than a stand-alone exhibit: People would be able to see that the technology can thrive in a real world setting. They can easily transact with their crypto via their Pundi XPASS at the designed terminals.

The takeaway

All of the above can only be made possible if we as a community admit that we have often been guilty of preaching to the choir. We need to pitch not only those in the crypto community, but the greater public we repeatedly say our solutions can ultimately help. This task will – like any good World’s Fair – require that we reevaluate our programming with an eye for empathy, immediacy, and immersion.

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