Making Bitcoin User Friendly

(Bitcoin image courtesy of TechCrunch)

I gave a talk this week at d10e entitled “Making Bitcoin User Friendly.” Really the talk was mostly about making Abra user friendly but I wasn’t allowed to directly sell Abra in my talk so….  This posting reflects a lot of my thoughts in preparing for that talk. I thought some of you would find it interesting. As always, I’m excited to continue the dialogue, answer questions and respond to comments below.

When I created Abra I was not trying to create a Bitcoin company. My vision was and remains building a global p2p money sharing app free of third party interference and free of all technical constraints beyond the smartphone itself. We believe we’ve done that with Abra. Our mission right now is simply to get Abra live globally as quickly as possible and generate meaningful usage volume along the way.

Our initial focus and our MVP (as we say in Silicon Valley…. both the place and the TV show) is ease of use for p2p money sends. This is a big cultural challenge. The US gold standard for domestic p2p is Venmo. The Chinese gold standard is WePay. The Kenyan gold standard is m-Pesa, etc.  All of the services have their unique cultural adaptations.  We need a single app that works in all of these countries that is intuitively easy to use in order to facilitate cross border transfers in any and every direction.

To achieve this vision we needed a business model and technical architecture that turned every Abra app install into a standalone cash bank– i.e. wallet– local to the phone itself. At the same time, we knew the user wouldn’t accept having to learn sophisticated computer concepts like public/private key cryptography or Blockchain. This is akin to early Netscape users not needing to understand TCP/IP to surf the web. Thus making the Internet easily accessible to everyday people for the first time.

In our current (early) release of Abra, we don’t expose the Bitcoin underpinnings of Abra to the consumer.  However, our service terms do make clear that the consumer is holding Bitcoin even if its value is protected (hedged) to the US Dollar or any other world currency that we support.  Again, the idea is not to “hide” Bitcoin but rather to enable our vision of an easy to use p2p global money transfer app.

An interesting side effect of our vision and our current mission is that we’re making Bitcoin easy and useful for the average person, for the first time, even if they’ll never know it. While the existence of the Bitcoin technology will remain hidden to most, we believe a subset of users will want direct access to Bitcoin in the Abra app, so one of our near term projects is to add support for Bitcoin as a currency within the Abra app.  Once we do this, a Bitcoin enthusiast in New York City could use Abra to send money for free to Mexico without the recipient having to know anything about Bitcoin. The recipient would be able to withdraw their “digital pesos” to their bank account or meet an Abra Teller and sell them in person.

Soon Abra will make it possible for Bitcoin holders to move Bitcoin in and out of the Abra app directly. This is a big design challenge as we can’t risk increasing the complexity of Abra for the average user who doesn’t understand or care about Bitcoin. At the same time, we feel that there are 3-4 million existing Bitcoin users who can take advantage of Abra in an innovative way — namely, sending that Bitcoin to anyone in the world and have it automatically turn into digital fiat upon receipt.  Or receive cash from anyone in the world and have it automatically turned into “raw Bitcoin.”

There’s a relatively small (but growing!) number of people who use Bitcoin today, but a much larger population who could benefit from the way Bitcoin enables near-instant, secure, peer-to-peer money transfer. If we can bridge the gap between these two groups, we’re well on our way to helping Bitcoin gain broader adoption and helping lots of people in the meantime.

Peace and Love.  -B

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