Art by: Jing Jin

The developers of the Gems app are betting that “female adoption is a key milestone” for Bitcoin to go mainstream.

Listen to a group of men talk about Gems and the technicalities of how the app and protocol work, and you’ll hear their excitement about a social app that decentralizes social networking and rewards its users. 

They like the fact that Gems isn’t owned by a large, centralized company like Facebook, and that Gems won’t exploit users by selling data to advertisers. Instead, advertisers must pay users for ad views, but users can also choose an ad-free experience. They can choose to keep their identities and their data private, and the more they use the app, the more the app pays them.  

What I haven’t heard men mention during their discussions is that the design of the app is pink and its logo displays a diamond-shaped gem

I listened to one such discussion among men in late October, when Salon spoke with both Daniel Peled, CEO and lead developer of Gems, and Dario Mutabdzija of Koinify—the company in charge of the public sale of gems tokens (GEMZ) that started on December 1

One participant asked Peled about advertising within the app. He responded:

“Advertising is not the first step in our development. The first step is actually growing the network of users. One of the biggest problems that Bitcoin has is that it’s not appealing enough to women, to ladies. They’re the best adopters of social networks, if you take Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest. There’s a big reason why they are still not inside the Bitcoin ecosystem. The registration isn’t simple enough, and once they’re inside, they don’t have enough to do with it. Texting is something they love to do. Adding this token and monetization economy inside makes it very interesting between them.”

When I first heard Peled’s comments, as a woman I felt angry: Registration isn’t simple enough. Women don’t know what to do with Bitcoin. They love texting. When I mentioned this to him, he wanted to emphasize that these are mainstream issues, and that they apply to both men and women. The whole ecosystem of users is small, and there aren’t enough people embracing cryptocurrencies, for similar reasons—whether male or female.

One female, Adella Toulon—the vice president for special projects at CoinOutlet, Inc., an ATM company in the Bitcoin space—wrote her master’s thesis on Bitcoin. She was the first person, male or female, at her law school to do so. She titled it, appropriately, “Strength in Numbers.” When I asked her what drew her to Bitcoin, she said,

“I was drawn to it by the fact that all the smartest people I knew were talking about it. . . . I became further drawn into the space by the knowledge that such a technology could change the lives of the billions who are under and un-banked.”

I asked her what she thought of the Gems app. Like me, she also noticed its stereotypically female color. 

“I [do] find it fun and modern looking and I could see the appeal to women if we use the stereotype that women prefer pink. I understand the goal of trying to get more women using Bitcoin, but I wonder how well it works to . . . design something that tries to take advantage of a network effect, yet appeals specifically to women rather than [have] universal appeal.”

At the same time, she likes “the way that users get rewarded if they help to grow the network.” She says, “I am almost instantly drawn to something that encourages normal folk to use Bitcoin.”

That’s exactly what Peled is trying to do. In a conversation I had with him, he joked:

“Girls want Gems, not Bitcoin.” 

He believes that if he can increase the number of women who use cryptocurrencies, he may be able to increase the overall user base more than if he just focused on general cryptocurrency users, the majority of whom are men. He explains:

“Right now, about 3 to 5% of the Bitcoin ecosystem is women. If we want it to become mainstream we must get their interest. Female adoption is a key milestone for Bitcoin to have any chance to become mainstream.”

Attempting to get the interest of women has come with backlash from at least one man. “In the beginning,” says Peled, a man on the Bitcoin Talk forum reacted negatively to the app, the appearance of which a woman designed. (She prefers to remain behind the scenes.) The man said, “You'll face a hurdle just getting dudes interested in putting a Gem app on their phone.”

I haven’t seen any such hurdle among men in the online discussions I’ve witnessed. In spite of my own focus on the app’s feminine appearance, I’ve only heard men express excitement about how well the app is designed to work—to make registration simple, eradicate spam, protect privacy and data, and make use of the “attention model” to gain customers. That is, when someone wants your attention, and they don’t have your contact information, they have to pay you to get it. There will be no unsolicited ads or messages. 

This attention model is the method Gems is using to bring more attention to cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin—from both men and women. But so far it has been a bigger challenge for Bitcoin to gain attention from women. So why not try paying them—those who typically “control the house spending” (as Peled points out)—with crypto tokens?  

The model has received the attention of Miss Bitcoin, a platform designed to bring more women to cryptocurrencies. The personality was created to be “the gateway for all people, especially women, to step into the Bitcoin world.” Miss Bitcoin (whose lead members asked that they be referred to collectively as “Miss Bitcoin”) already has ambassadors around the world, “covering areas in the United States, Australia, Israel, UK, and India.” 

Miss Bitcoin explains her own initial attraction to Gems:

“The first thing that attracted me was the choice of the name Gems. From a branding point of view, I think it's much more sexy than just digital, cryptocurrency, Bitcoin. At the end of the day, not a lot of people care what's going on in the backend as long as it's fun, easy to use; and you, as the user, get to benefit from it.” 

Of course, men care what’s going on in the back end, and so do some women. Even so, the question of what women care about seems to be an eternal topic within the Bitcoin community: Why aren’t there more women using Bitcoin and attending Bitcoin conferences and meetups? 

Just about everyone in the Bitcoin community agrees that there aren’t enough women in cryptocurrencies. When talking about the number of women within this stereotypical “man’s realm” (as she calls it) of crypto technology, she cites her own figure that is slightly higher than Peled’s estimation. “Only 7 % of Bitcoin users in the world are women," she says.

Like Peled, Miss Bitcoin aims to grow female numbers by “[putting] cryptocurrency into the hands of financial decision makers.” Peled describes another of his goals as “transparency.” “People don’t have to know anything about Bitcoin” in order to use Gems. Yet, through the act of using the social app, people will learn about Bitcoin almost without trying. 

Peled hopes the wallet inside the Gems application will become many users’ first cryptocurrency wallet, which they will experience simply as a fun and profitable social app. Making the transition to a Bitcoin wallet from there will be easy because they will already be familiar with using cryptocurrencies and wallets. 

It will happen like this, Peled says:

“[We’ll do] the things we’re used to [doing] with Bitcoin. We can pay each other because we ordered a beer. We can say, ‘Give me that dress and I will pay you ten [Gemz],’ and so on. The gem value will be displayed inside the application. They will have value. Transferring value inside the social network is something very interesting that isn’t currently in the market. Teenagers and college [students], and the target that we were aiming for, will be very interested in such a product.”   

Later today, the College Cryptocurrency Network (CCN) will announce its support for Gems, which it calls “the newest disruptive messaging app.” Jeremy Gardner, the executive director of CCN, says:

“The [CCN] was founded with the purpose of creating a grassroots movement for blockchain education, innovation, and advocacy. . . . Gems will provide an excellent gateway for young people interested in cryptocurrencies to gain access in an intuitive manner.”

The alpha version of Gems is due out on December 30. The Bitcoin community will soon find out how far and how fast the Gems app will help it grow.   

[Disclosure: The author has edited promotional materials for Gems.]

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