Worldcoin is not what we meant by making crypto mainstream
Substituting grandiosity for functionality isn’t the most effective way to win over new audiences
Midjourney modified by Blockworks
You can’t knock Sam Altman for trying.
Worldcoin, the latest brainchild from OpenAI’s CEO, presents itself as an ambitious reach for crypto adoption. The project’s mission to create a “more human economic system” in the face of AI progress through crypto sounds great in theory — until you get around to how it wants to achieve that goal.
Worldcoin’s dystopian vision of retina-scanning, total economic centralization and technocratic solutions to the real threat of AI job replacement has rightfully set off a tidal wave of criticism and regulatory scrutiny around its invasive privacy and security implications.
On top of simply being creepy, Worldcoin’s rollout completely subverts crypto’s ideological foundation of being private, decentralized and secure. It asks users to give away control to a “trusted” agent outside the scope of a government while jettisoning individual, peer-to-peer ownership — essentially stepping toward digital authoritarianism. Worldcoin’s potential scale, however, does track with crypto’s original vision of being an alternative to the traditional financial ecosystem, born out of the 2008 banking crisis.
But substituting grandiosity for functionality isn’t the most effective way to win over new audiences — particularly when biometrics are involved. Sam Altman isn’t wrong about wanting to make crypto ubiquitous, but builders on the frontline of blockchain development shouldn’t be following in Worldcoin’s footsteps to reach that precipice.
Do we need to dumb down crypto?
Any crypto veteran will tell you that rebuilding the financial ecosystem from the ground up is no magic trick. It’s taken tireless work to inch crypto toward mass adoption while balancing its core philosophy and functionality as an actual currency.
But in a culture and society that increasingly values convenience and accessibility, it’s a hard ask to get a significant amount of the global population on board with an entirely new and complex monetary system.
It’s not that traditional finance is the most understandable and accessible sector, yet nearly everyone on the planet interacts with it in one form or another. You don’t have to be a financial or technical whiz to check your bank account balance or transfer money to a friend.
Crypto, on the other hand, demands an intensive information prelude before diving in, even for people with a financial background. In a sense, this unnecessary complexity also fuels the ongoing disconnect between the wider industry and regulators trying to craft fair crypto rules. For the most part, regulators are smart people, so you can’t make the argument that they just don’t understand it.
Crypto projects aiming for mass adoption need to pivot from the fruitless task of re-educating the general public on an elaborate financial and technical ecosystem. But that doesn’t mean dumbing down its more technically complex components or enticing people to hand over a picture of their eyeballs for free crypto. You just need to be more inventive.
Making crypto ubiquitous
Crypto doesn’t act as universal as it perceives itself to be. And to match its ambition with usefulness, projects have to rewire their compass when it comes to technical growth and development. The three ingredients here are real utility, retaining crypto’s ideological roots and a trajectory toward seamlessness.
When crypto products are as easy to access and interact with as, let’s say, Apple Pay, PayPal or even Robinhood, that will be a true indicator that the industry has reached ubiquity. Reaching that point means creating products and tools that don’t take years and a hyperactive Telegram account to fully grasp.
Part of that challenge comes from recalibrating product roadmaps and being honest about what blockchain technology can functionally achieve. Instead of shifting the world’s axis to accommodate crypto, its real-world utility lies in fixing the aspects of finance that nobody wants to deal with. The blockchain is at its most functional when it’s optimizing tedious tasks and eliminating hassle — not used by new forms of intermediaries.
Read more from our opinion section: Worldcoin isn’t as bad as it sounds: It’s worse
To be clear: Crypto needs to co-exist with the current financial reality and how people have interacted with money for centuries to thrive authentically. But enabling new financial flexibility while maintaining peer-to-peer directness and decentralization will launch crypto’s development outside of the box that most projects place it into.
Blockchain builders and leaders don’t lack imagination when it comes to brand narrative, but they should lend that inventiveness to making the actual product great and accessible first. As nice as a brand story is, it will only get you so far without the technical infrastructure to back it up.
The crypto community’s echo chamber would also benefit from internalizing an authentic outsider’s perspective, much like the traditional financial industry.
Leaders must understand that not everyone that uses crypto is going to be a zealous HODLer. It’s not as though the average person that uses a bank is fascinated by finance. Rather, they treat it as a utility and a tool for safekeeping their money — maybe investing it in the stock market every once in a while. Crypto should strive to function in the same way.
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