If you think bitcoin is mainstream, though, think again. According to an analysis earlier this year, there were only 1.2 million bitcoin addresses holding anything other than dust as of February.
Even its advocates admit that it has a long way to go. Curtis Fenimore’s attempt to promote bitcoin to the masses has stalled. Bitcoin Bigfoot, his grassroots effort to get posters and other materials promoting bitcoin out into the community, “hasn’t been all that active or relevant lately,” he admitted.
Fenimore raised all of the bitcoins for his public awareness effort when the price was over $700. Then, he spent the funds on Bitcoin Bigfoot after the price fell under $700. It was just the luck of the draw.
In the meantime, many people are still blissfully unaware of bitcoin. “We still have a very long way to go in absolute terms,” he suggested.
The perception problem may have more to do with depth than breadth. Bitcoin entrepreneur Erik Voorhees argued that around half the people he spoke to are aware of bitcoin, but only a small fraction understand it.
This is normal and expected, said Voorhees:
“Both the Internet and Paypal had a long period where people heard of it and sort of knew what it was, before they really tried it out.”
Conquering the learning curve
How will the understanding of bitcoin grow among the masses that have heard of it, but know little about it? We’re still in the speculation phase, where people hope to make a fast buck. This early, immature phase could work to the cryptocurrency’s advantage, said Voorhees.
Successive price bubbles create an effect called the ‘tide theory’. When prices spike, people wake up, smelling a potential money-making opportunity, and flock to bitcoin hoping for profit. That may be a short-term reaction, but it sparks a new wave of user adoption.
When the price slumps again, many of the people who arrived in that wave will slide away, but some will stay. Those remaining will have gained a deep understanding of bitcoin and its technology. With each successive bubble, the pool of adopters that continue to use the payment network increases.