Last year was huge for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The market cap at the start of 2016 was just $18 billion, and by the end of the year had risen to over $300 billion. Those who got in early jumped for joy as more people piled into the market. Yet, the real factor for cryptocurrency's long-term survival is not the current value of Bitcoin, but the potential for its mass adoption. 

Cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology have been compared to the internet in 1994. Before then, the internet had not really taken on a key role in society. Not everyone used it, and not everyone had access to it. It was during the tech boom of that time that mass adoption began and the internet became a household feature.

How far along is cryptocurrency in terms of its mainstream adoption? Let’s look at email, as an example. Email was invented in 1972, but it was only really used by hobbyists and engineers at first. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that email was used commercially, and in the mid 1990s it was adopted for widespread retail use.

The factors that governed this transition have a lot of parallels to cryptocurrency. In order for email to gain widespread approval and usage, the technology needed to be developed to a point of stability and offer valuable features to the user. The interface had to be accessible so that people other than engineers could easily use the functions. The user base needed to grow so that the tool would become exponentially valuable to new users; the greater the number of people who adopted email as a form of communication, the more valuable and functional it became.

Well-established cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are on a similar journey, and if they to be adopted for use by society, then many of the same hurdles need to be overcome. Bitcoin was invented in 2009, but it wasn’t really until 2016 that it became more accessible to the public.

Cryptocurrencies are still a long way off from mainstream adoption. Only about 1% of the world currently owns a piece of the pie. Businesses are starting to accept major cryptos as payments. Casinos have seen their revenues increase after accepting Bitcoin at their front desks, shops and restaurants. However, it is very early on, and there are still only a handful of places where you can use your Bitcoin to make purchases. When it’s accepted in every shop as readily as card payments are, then we will be witnessing full adoption.

The blockchain is perhaps cryptocurrency’s most stable component. The underlying technology has proven to be safe, secure and extremely difficult to hack, as well as being inherently decentralised. In that respect, the tech could be said to be relatively stable and ready for adoption. The problem here is the fluctuations in price. With such volatility in the market, it’s difficult to send or receive crypto-payments without some degree of risk. Until the price stabilises, it is unlikely that Bitcoin will be used by the public as a trusted medium for payments.

In terms of their user interfaces and accessibility, cryptocurrencies are making steps in the right direction. There are now plenty of exchanges (though they remain unregulated and hard to fully trust), currency comparison tools, brokerages and information all over the web. It’s still not easy for a noob to get involved, but it’s possible with a bit of time and effort. Additional tools and apps to make life easier will go a long way. For example, apps for free (or close-to-free) mobile transactions would likely improve adoption dramatically.

There’s still a long way to go before Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies become adopted on a mass scale, if indeed this ever happens. Continuing challenges include a lack of utilitarian value, a fluctuation in price that limits its use as a spending medium, and technological and regulatory barriers. Yet the future is bright, and the direction is promising. With more functionality and a higher adoption rate, we could one day be spending our Bitcoin wherever we go.