Conor Fallon

@confallon

The user experience of blockchain applications has a long way to go

People keep asking what is the killer app of the blockchain. It may already exist, if so, its hiding in a terrible experience.

Image copyright free by Markus Spiske

Readers note; I am really routing for blockchain, and I believe in it as a technology, it just needs some tough love right now.

I tried out a social media blockchain application today called Minds. It turned out to be really bad. There were usability pot holes at every corner and the product seemed very bloated, trying to replace Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all at once.

Conceptually this product could be cool; its a social network that allows you to earn tokens while you interact with people. Then you can use those social tokens to promote your own posts or to cash in. What could go wrong? Well, a lot apparently.

From the first screen it is immediately clear that little to no usability testing has been done on this product. I would wager not even internally. This is indicative of an immature UX strategy.

In defense of the guys at Minds, this is quite a common experience I have had with dApps.

Where do I sign up? What is a Channel? Should I set one up? Why is there video playing in the background, I’m on 4G here.

Why will someone use your blockchain app?

What we often hear when blockchain entrepreneurs talk about their platform and why people will flock to it is the following;

1. Data ownership will drive adoption

This is incorrect, this strategy is not a strong reason to join something. Data breaches are a reason to stop doing something.

I hear many blockchain entrepreneurs say “People are sick of Facebook mining their data” which may be true, but its only really relevant to a point. The tide may be turning on Facebook, but will it turn on Google? Probably not, its extremely difficult to live in a world without using Google. So the real insight here is that — yes some people may be sick of the government or companies spying on them, but it usually comes from a place of privilege, where you can say I would prefer to pay than get an ad driven service for free.

A reason to join something is because it allows me to do something I couldn’t otherwise do. Snapchat has funny dog faces that look like fun so I want to try that out.

2. Monitory incentive will drive adoption

Don’t assume that monetary incentive will solve all of your problems. In many instances monetary incentives actually work against participants, watch this:

Why are sites like Wikipedia and Mumsnet so good? Well, its because people are intrinsically motivated to help other people. What would paying participants actually do to the content of these sites? Do you think it would get better? Don’t assume that adding money into the mix is going to solve all of your issues.

You are far better aligning your features to the intrinsic motivations of your audience. And if you power the right parts of the site with monetary incentive, that may be the killer app.

The peasant and the chicken — a parable

This is a story from the biography of Che Guevara — which I read as an impressionable 14 year old, so the memory is a bit hazy, but it goes something like this:

Castro’s rebels liberated a Cuban town from an oppressive regime. In the aftermath Che spotted a depressed chicken farmer. “Why are you so sad?” asked Che “We liberated you from your oppressors!?” .

“Your soldiers ate my chickens. Before when Batista (the oppressor) came through our village, his soldiers also ate my chickens. When the next soldiers come, they will also eat my chickens”

And so it goes, the developer communities can argue about ideological implementations of networks and power distributions, but it may all be for naught if the product doesn’t actually do anything meaningful for people.

A plea to blockchain app designers

Learn the basics of product strategy, its been around since we’ve been designing physical products and has been tested time and time again; learn the Kano model, do research about your audiences, before and during product development. Test economic incentives before rolling them out. Learn about people’s inherent irrational biases. All this will lead to the adoption we now require to build our crypto-utopia.

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