Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin whitepaper laid out an intoxicating vision for a “purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash” — free of involvement and interference from third-party intermediaries.
Ten years later — despite much growth, shrinkage, excitement and hype — Bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies in general, have yet to be put to any significant use in commerce, which is a key reason why crypto markets continue to face such extreme volatility.
Crypto is currently too difficult and risky to use. This why it has not achieved mainstream adoption. Many other cryptocurrency and token-utility protocols have been launched to create variations that are faster, cheaper and more able to handle complex transactions. But very few have focused on how to make them easier, safer and more comfortable for people to actually use.
Bad Utility Equates to Bad UX
Imagine stopping people in the street to show them what it is like to use cryptocurrency with the incoherent crypto addresses, the lack of obvious route to learn the progress of payments, and the irreversible transactions — even in the event of payment errors.
It seems reasonable to assume few would be comfortable using cryptocurrency to conduct an exchange of value.
Praising third-party intermediaries is considered heretical in the blockchain world. But from the everyday users’ perspective, they at least can provide greater confidence that a transaction of value proceeds as intended. Checks can minimize errors, and errors often have the opportunity to be corrected.
For Satoshi’s vision of a “purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash” to become a broad reality, the user experience of sending/receiving crypto must be greatly improved.
In fact, the user experience needs to be better than that of sending/receiving value in the fiat world because transactions are irreversible. Users need near certainty on the accuracy of their transaction details — including where funds are being sent, the amount of funds, the type of funds, and the purpose for which they are being sent.
But all this needs to be achieved without a trusted third-party intermediary.
Efforts to address blockchain usability in a decentralized manner to date have almost exclusively focused on solving only one piece of the problem — the concept of human-readable “wallet names” to eliminate the need to deal with incoherent public addresses.
Those attempts have failed to make any meaningful impact on usability for a number of reasons. First, many of the attempts at wallet names are as complex as the usability problem they attempt to solve. Next, some attempts have been blockchain-specific, meaning that a user would be faced with a wallet name for one token but not for other tokens in their wallet.
Others have created “walled gardens” requiring all users to utilize specific browser plugins or wallets to obtain greater usability, but solving nothing for the multitude of users interacting with different wallets. Even if any of these efforts were successful, wallet names themselves are an insufficient piece of the usability solution, as they do nothing to provide confidence about the accuracy of transaction details, nor shared context for the purpose of the payment.
Here We Go
It’s time for wallets and exchanges to change the paradigm and enable dramatic improvements in usability across all blockchains. By uniting around a decentralized Paypal-like protocol, we can finally break through the barriers on blockchain usability.
This protocol should be open sourced and available to all. In other words, every wallet and exchange should be able to participate. We need a protocol that works with existing blockchains rather than competes with them. We need a protocol that doesn’t require them to change in any way, and won’t sit in the middle of transactions. Rather, it should augment blockchains by enabling all wallets and exchanges to provide a decentralized suite of information and workflow not previously possible.
A protocol like this would enable the first wallet names that work across every token and coin. Crypto users would be able to send a request for payment from within one wallet to another wallet — virtually eliminating the possibility of errors in sending tokens or coins. Cross-chain metadata could work identically for every token or coin so that transfers of value, regardless of token or coin utilized, could include secure details on the purpose.
And these capabilities would only be the beginning. A raft of other usability solutions could be built if everyone gets involved.
Calm After the Storm
The volatility experienced by cryptocurrencies over the past year would greatly diminish if crypto just became more consumer-friendly. As long as blockchain tokens and coins are limited to being primarily an alternative investment asset class, market adoption will be constrained.
The vision of a decentralized, peer-to-peer system for exchange of value is not only about accuracy in the ledger of transactions, it’s about the comfort and confidence of the user in the process of moving the value represented.
I’m optimistic that the whole industry is about to come together to solve these usability issues. Soon the average person on the street will not only be comfortable using cryptocurrency, but will finally find it superior to fiat currency for a variety of transactions.
Do you think a single protocol for interoperability between blockchains is the way to go? Will the industry unite to solve these pressing issues?
Images courtesy of Shutterstock
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