We Need Web2 User Experience To Get Us to Web3, Not Blockchain Protocols

To unleash blockchain's creativity, awkwardness and quirks in the Web3 user experience must be fixed.

To unleash blockchain's creativity, awkwardness and quirks in the Web3 user experience must be fixed.

There is a joke in tech circles that "if the user experience is bad, it must be Web3."

While the focus on incorporating blockchain technology is a priority, there is a growing concern that, in the pursuit of this innovation, valuable lessons learned from Web2 in terms of user interface (UI) design are being overlooked. This oversight is hindering the broader adoption of this new technology. 

Web3 should embrace proven user experience (UX) practices from Web2 rather than reinvent the wheel, ensuring a more familiar and user-friendly transition into the next phase of the internet. If they don’t, they risk alienating mainstream consumers and creating products accessible only to a small, tech-savvy niche of crypto natives.

Years have been spent painstakingly creating fluid and understandable user interfaces for Web2 and mobile applications. It has been demonstrated that clarity and simplicity deliver engaging and productive user experiences. These principles have resulted in billions of users flocking to social media platforms, content destinations, travel services, streaming venues, and e-commerce giants. 

The allure of Web3 espouses a radical departure from the norms of established Web paradigms. However, the shift to blockchain technology, decentralization, and cryptographic ownership should not come at the expense of user experience. 

Here are three reasons why Web3 needs more Web2:

  • The average user prioritizes usability over blockchain technology. Complex onboarding processes, jargon-filled interfaces, and lack of intuitive navigation hinder adoption and alienate them.

  • Familiarity with Web2 interfaces fosters trust and engagement, enhancing comfort and security for users entering the Web3 space, promoting further exploration and engagement.

  • Simplicity and clarity are key for promoting accessibility to a wider audience. Web3's decentralized nature is innovative, but its user interface doesn't have to reinvent the wheel. 

Amidst the majority of Web3 apps that have no chance of gaining mainstream adoption, there is a new generation of apps that are not so smitten by Web3 geekiness and prioritize Web2 ease of use instead. Here is a sample.

In the dining category, Blackbird looks like a restaurant loyalty app to the user. Somewhere in its technology structure, blockchain magic enables unique, non-transferable badges (NFT-based) that users earn as a visit counter. There is also a private cryptocurrency akin to airline miles that can be exchanged for restaurant perks, all with very little transaction friction.

In decentralized finance (DeFi) where apps tilt on crypto nerdiness, Prime is a cross-chain prime brokerage service that lets users deposit, borrow, repay, and withdraw cryptocurrency across 8 different chains seamlessly. This sounds like a boring trait in traditional finance because currency fluidity is taken for granted (though at the cost of a lot of inner friction). In the blockchain world, Prime represents an advanced level of tucking-in interoperability across blockchains while hiding it from the user. 

In social media, Warpcast looks almost exactly like Twitter (now known as X), but behind the scenes lies a social network protocol with a few web3 features such as blockchain-based identity, encrypted authentication, and decentralized data that the casual user need not worry about unless they want to. The initial experience is very mainstream Web2, while the platform gently surfaces Web3 snippets. 

In the sports fantasy world, Silks lets you take ownership of a jockey, a horse, and land for your stables. The most interesting aspect is a synthetic 1:1 linkage from your fantasy (NFT) horse to a real one that could be racing at the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, or other known races. No one else owns that relationship. You can follow the real horse’s activity via a virtual stable dashboard on Equibase. When the horse wins, your account is credited 1% of earnings, automatically deposited in your (crypto) wallet. 

In messaging, Converse is a simple messaging application with embedded wallets. Users create any number of accounts, and a crypto wallet automagically appears, enabling you to send/receive cryptocurrency or even collect event tickets. Converse flipped the traditional crypto wallet model by embedding it inside a messaging app, elegantly and without obfuscation. 

In the money transmission field, several new apps are vying to replicate Venmo’s popularity with a fresh approach. Among them are Beans, Code, and Sling. Even Coinbase has entered the fray with the simple thought of generating a special link that can be shared across messaging apps to enable stablecoin transfers. 

What is common to all these lighthouse examples is a voluntary design goal to not force the user to geek out on Web3 from the first encounter. Rather, Web3 is hidden and appears at the right moment, allowing the user to get their feet wet before deciding to venture further. 

Blockchain purists might disagree with this approach by stating that everything must be decentralized from the get-go. They argue that, if you sign on with Google credentials, for example, you’re defeating the purpose of decentralization.

However, the counterargument is grounded in user experience best practices: let users take Web3 in incremental doses. Small, familiar ones first, bigger ones later.

If we want early adopters to invite their friends into Web3, we need to let them ease themselves into it by tucking crypto features under a Web2 veneer. You don't typically get too many first chances. 

By prioritizing user-centric design, Web3 can truly revolutionize the internet experience, making it more accessible and intuitive for everyone.

In the long run, the popular blockchain protocols that we know today will be little more than stepping stones for developers. They are not legitimate consumer on-ramps. The true on-ramps will be user-friendly apps that will bring in millions of users.

A version of this post was publised in Fortune Crypto, These Web3 companies are embracing Web2 principles to reach users more interested in restaurant rewards than blockchains.

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