Even though decentralized blockchain apps have been around since 2017 (CryptoKitties was the first app to gain real user traction), adoption is still held back by an unclear value proposition to people outside the crypto industry. Add to this the fact that most applications available on the market today are slow, clunky, and too complex for the average user.
Although there are thousands of live apps out there, not many of them have regular users, and there is only a handful of projects that people are actually willing to pay to use (Ethereum based apps in purple).
If our industry’s end goal is mainstream adoption, we need to shift our messaging to focus less on tech and decentralization aspects and talk more about UX and value. We need to create plug-and-play blockchain solutions that people will want to pick up because they feel familiar and are easy to use.
Build stuff that just works
I come from the corporate travel industry, where I’ve been working for more than 20 years. Most of that time, I’ve spent doing software and product development. It took me quite a few years to realize that even though travel is always top of mind for me as an industry professional, it isn’t for people outside the industry. And it shouldn’t have to be.
Travel is just a necessity, a chore you need to perform for your business to thrive and grow (or it used to be, pre-Covid at least). And it should simply work. You want to spend as little time as possible managing your travel booking and getting to and from your destination. It has to be a hassle-free, seamless experience that doesn’t take up any more of your time and energy than needed for the actual traveling part.
This mindset should be mandatory for anyone working with software and product development and management, not just in crypto but across all industries. We need to design our products and processes to facilitate this optimization throughout the entire customer journey.
As a customer and end-user, you just want something that works. You don’t care which piece of technology was used to create your favorite app or whether or not its backend is open-sourced and decentralized.
And why do we insist on calling them dapps (the ‘d’ stands for ‘decentralized’)? How about we just start calling them apps so people can understand what we’re talking about. Introducing new technical jargon only adds to the perceived complexity of crypto. We’re excluding and alienating people.
Pitching blockchain to the legacy world
Convincing executives of legacy companies to invest in enterprise blockchain solutions is hard enough as it is and requires you to have more than great tech and fancy lingo in your tool belt. You need a deep understanding of the industry you’re pitching to, an awareness and appreciation of its problems and challenges, its major players and politics, as well as how the technical ecosystem works (and, most importantly, what needs fixing).
Because how do you convince someone who doesn’t understand blockchain or crypto that they need it to solve their problem? You might be one of those rare wizards with a combined tech and sales skillset who actually manages to convince senior management that blockchain is part of an inevitable future. Still, chances are they’ll be put off once they see how much investing in the tech will cost them in terms of time, money, and developer resources.
Risk aversion is simply too strong with most incumbents. They have limited opportunity and willingness to invest in emerging technologies, and this is why startups are usually the ones driving disruption.
And make no mistake, outside our little echo chamber, crypto is a niche. People still struggle with remembering their email passwords and managing online banking. Crypto’s additional security layer, with concepts like immutable transactions, cold wallets, private keys, and two-factor authentication, won’t make the masses embrace our solutions unless we obscure those elements for them.
To cross the chasm and reach users outside the crypto community, we need to fix the usability challenges by abstracting away that extra layer. For now, most of this work has to be done in the applications through user-friendly frontends rather than on the protocol level. This could change later when we hopefully get an environment with transparent interoperability between the major chains.
Just like most people have no idea how the Internet works — hands up if you know how many different protocols you are using reading this — at no point do they need to reflect over the fact that they’re interacting with a blockchain (we actually see the first examples of this with non-fungible tokens (NFTs)), or which chain. Nor should they get the feeling of being their own bank (this fact still scares me, to be honest).
Add to this the fact that to attract new users, we need to create entirely new experiences that weren’t possible without blockchain or that are at least ten times better than what’s already available in the market. No one said building blockchain for the masses would be easy.
However, we shouldn’t expect anyone to crack the crypto UX code overnight. The best user experiences are usually born from the cultivation of different ideas that evolve and mature through iteration.
Right now, there are new layer one networks entering the market that can serve as springboards for your innovation — projects that enable the creation of blockchain solutions that even your mom will be able to use. These next-gen networks bring features like easy tokenization and configurable smart contracts to let anyone design and launch their own blockchain project, literally in minutes, at minimal cost, and without any knowledge about coding.
This level of intrinsic simplicity and usability is a missing piece in the crypto industry today and will inspire and enable anyone to create the user experiences needed for the masses to go crypto. Combine this with easy-to-use developer tools and free, instant transactions, and crypto mass adoption in the coming years doesn’t seem too far-fetched after all.