Blockchain Needs Simplicity

Blockchain, Innovation, Investing | October 5, 2018 By:

While the promise of decentralized, trustless, transparent and immutable systems is amazing, everything about blockchain is currently harder, slower, more expensive, and more cumbersome than traditional database-driven tech. In fact, from a user perspective, a blockchain’s capabilities are closer to those found in 1988-era computers than 2018 computers. The parallels to 1980s technology are fascinating. Data transfer and transaction speeds bear an uncanny resemblance to connection over a 2400 baud modem. The average smart contract draws on a computation power that’s not even as powerful as a Commodore 64. And everything is expensive – on a blockchain, just like in 1988, you pay a lot for computation power, disk storage, and data transfer.

While it’s a fascinating playground for a computer scientist – putting all your performance optimization, assembly language, and procedural generation skills to the test is certainly fun, it’s an unfamiliar playground for even technologically proficient users. And the average person finds it totally impenetrable.

Blockchains offer an amazing amount of security… if you do everything right. Any mistake you make could cause you to lose access to your account, lose all of your coins, or have them hacked away from you, or even transferred into the wrong place. And there’s no “undo” function, and no helpful customer service person able to fix your problems. This just doesn’t meet the needs of the average person. Because, let’s face it, the average person reuses passwords between accounts, uses familiar facts such as birthdays for passwords, and writes down their password on a post-it note stuck to their computer. The average person is not ready for, and will never be ready for, creating, storing, protecting, and remembering a 12-word mnemonic seed phrase.

Luckily, that’s not a huge problem. There’s another fundamental challenge that protects average users from losing a bunch of money in the blockchain, and that’s the terrible user experience of most blockchain applications. The average person won’t even get as far as creating a new account, because the user experience of most blockchain applications is so much worse than the experiences they’re used to from the likes of Instagram, Snapchat, Airbnb, or Uber. Instead, they’ll stick to using centralized services that prioritize seamless interactions and great UX.

For blockchain technology to become mainstream, we have to solve both of these problems. User experiences need to become as seamless as the best traditional web applications. And we have to have user accounts that balance security and accessibility.

More accessible user accounts might be a hard pill to swallow for the blockchain “true believer,” as they almost certainly require a trusted third party – such as Google, Apple, Facebook, or your bank (no, not your bank – banks are pretty bad at the “accessible” part). But let’s get real here – far, far more cryptocurrency has been lost to user error, forgotten keyphrases, and people just plain dying, than has been lost in hacks and scams. When thinking about security, we have to take into account the capability and willingness of the user. If highly tech-savvy early adopters can lose $10 billion in Bitcoin, us regular folks have no hope. So, for the user who uses their dog’s birthday for all their passwords (and has it on a post-it note on their monitor), an easy-to-use system with good customer service, and a password recovery method will provide far more security than what current blockchain solutions offer.

Accessible accounts are an easily solvable problem, even if it’ll upset the purists. Delivering a great user experience is harder. We can assume that the blockchain app developers who want to attract will, at a minimum, use current user experience best practices, and remove as much friction as possible. However, there are some fundamental facts about blockchains that are harder to work around. Blockchain transactions take a long time to complete, so there’s lots of waiting. Transactions cost real money, so that’s a big barrier against new users trying your service. And transactions are complex – there’s a lot to learn, and a lot of variables that could cause you to lose a ton of money, or have your transaction fail.

There are technologies coming online on several blockchains over the next 12 months that can solve the waiting with ultra-fast block times, and reduce the transaction costs to a level where applications can simply eat the cost of onboarding new users, without the users paying. The complexity is something that can be mitigated by app developers, but requires a heavy investment in technology and user experience design to shield new users from complex transactions.

The platforms that can solve these three issues for the average user, not just the technically proficient user, are the ones who will be the big winners over the next two to three years. We’re building our games and platforms with a laser focus on removing every obstacle between users and features, with this exact goal in mind, and we’ll continue to encourage every other developer to develop user-focused blockchain applications.