Editor’s Note: In interest of full disclosure, CoinDesk is a competitor of Bitcoin Magazine. This article is a guest submission by Tom Hashemi, an experienced professional who has conducted market research for Shell, PayPal, Toyota, KPMG, and the Digital Currency Council. The same observations he makes about CoinDesk’s representation of the entire Bitcoin community apply equally to Bitcoin Magazine.
“Making assumptions simply means believing things are a certain way with little or no evidence that shows you are correct, and you can see at once how this can lead to terrible trouble.” – Lemony Snicket
CoinDesk, one of the premier outlets for news and analysis on digital currencies, has made a request of its readers.
Fill in this survey, they asked, and we can finally put to rest whether the statement “the bitcoin community largely consists of young, white males” is true.
But will their survey give us such an answer?
The contribution CoinDesk has made to the bitcoin community is unquestionable.
The team has worked to legitimize digital currencies in the eyes of journalists in the mainstream media by providing a consistently reliable source of information.
But their market research skills leave much to be desired and threaten to damage their otherwise healthy reputation for quality information.
CoinDesk’s survey error lies in their assumption that their readers mirror the demographics of the wider Bitcoin community.
This is highly unlikely to be the case for two predominant reasons.
One: CoinDesk is an English-Only Outlet
On the one hand we have the huge amount of Bitcoin trade in China.
On the other, according to CoinDesk’s “State of Bitcoin 2015″ report, we saw new Bitcoin-related venture capital investment in 2014 in Japan, the Netherlands, Panama, Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden, Germany, India, Mexico and Argentina.
All of those countries have (at least) one thing in common: English is not the mother tongue.
Many of those countries are precisely the countries that will disprove the theory that bitcoiners are white American guys.
Why would non-English speakers visit CoinDesk to take a survey if they cannot read the language that it publishes its content in?
To put it another way, I am very interested in Middle Eastern politics but I have no idea when Al Hayat last ran a survey. Why? Because I don’t speak Arabic and so I never visit the site.
I also had no idea Al Hayat even existed until I Googled “top newspapers in Arabic.”
Two: Media Consumption Habits Vary
There is a second methodological fail: CoinDesk has assumed that the diversity of bitcoiners is fully and accurately represented by CoinDesk readers.
CoinDesk, as with every other media title, will have an appeal to a specific demographic.
Google can build a monopoly in the online search market because, to a large degree, we all want the same thing from a search provider: Give us what we’re looking for and do it quickly.
But no single media title can cater for everyone’s different tastes. We all want something different, whether that is political affiliation, content type or publication format.
As a case in point, despite all four being hubs of the bitcoin community, it is unlikely that Bitcointalk.org, Zapchain, the Digital Currency Council and CoinDesk all have the same user demographics.
If CoinDesk’s readers are weighted towards a specific demographic, then how can interviewing their readers give us an accurate picture of the broader Bitcoin community?
(And if you wanted to be really picky, how can you be sure that specific demographics aren’t more inclined to actually take the survey rather than ignoring it?)
The Changing Nature of Bitcoiners
In his blog of March 4th 2015, Ryan Selkis/TBI discusses the possibility of Abra being Bitcoin’s first killer app.
Selkis calls out the fact that the Abra CEO doesn’t mention Bitcoin once in his presentation to the Launch Festival 2015 (which Abra went on to win).
This is a clever move on Abra’s part given Bitcoin’s toxic reputation. But importantly for us, it tells us that there may be a large number of bitcoiners who don’t even know that they are bitcoiners.
If they don’t even know that they are bitcoiners, will a survey on CoinDesk help us figure out who they are?
“Making assumptions simply means believing things are a certain way with little or no evidence […]