Last month, I spent the day with my grandmother; we had lunch, I fixed her computer, and we chatted about cryptocurrency. Since watching a 60 Minutes episode on Bitcoin, my grandma has been a major skeptic of crypto. In the past, I’ve set out to change her mind. This time, I just wanted to chat.

And apparently, that’s all I needed to do.

We talked about inflation, centralized banking, and the centralized nature of data storage today. After hours of discussion, she was open to the concept of blockchain and cryptocurrency — she understood the real, tangible use cases and seemed to genuinely believe in the potential for crypto and decentralized technology to improve finance, healthcare, and other sectors that face friction from centralization.

So we overcame barrier #1! Grandma believes in blockchain. What came next, of course:

How do people buy cryptocurrency and what can I actually do with blockchain?

After spending the morning fixing my grandma’s computer and helping her mark emails as read, I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to be able to use a Coinbase wallet to manage Bitcoin, never mind using a tool like MetaMask to engage with smart contracts. Wallets are too difficult to use and while Coinbase has created a decent user experience, it’s still too complicated. After hours of chatting and a serious breakthrough, she still can’t use the technology.

Users of cryptocurrency should think about wallets as a friend, as a helpful companion for navigating the world of crypto and blockchain. Instead, wallets are intimidating, confusing, and given the immutable nature of transactions — scary. Here are six huge problems that make wallets difficult to use:

The word “wallet” is deceiving — a crypto wallet isn’t like a normal wallet. A normal wallet holds your money — your cash is physically in that wallet. A crypto wallet does not hold your money, it is an interface for managing cryptocurrency. Wallets manage a set of credentials (public address and a private key) and generates an interface that allows users to check their balance, send cryptocurrency, and see the transaction history for a given address. In this sense, a crypto wallet is less like a typical wallet and more like a wallet with only debit cards.

#2: Different wallets for different blockchains

Ethereum? Metamask. EOS? Scatter.

Confusing? Yes.

Expecting users to use different tools for different technologies is just unrealistic. This is akin to expecting users to use different browsers for accessing Google services versus Amazon services, which requires users to (1) understand which blockchain the dapp runs on and (2) install multiple different authentication components.

#3: Expecting users to store a backup passphrase or private key

This is not only a security risk, it’s also unrealistic. First, if they lose their password, there is a high chance that they lose this file. Assuming, though, that users securely store their backup passphrase or private key file, another huge problem arises: when they lose their password, they still know this one piece of important information — and we’ve all been in oh crap, I forgot my password mode — it’s not pretty. Giving panicking users the single thing that they should not give anyone ever and telling them that’s their backup method is never a good idea because people will post it on Yahoo Answers, Quora, and everywhere else.

#4: Downloads or installations

The need to download software or install a browser extension to access a wallet is confusing and downloading anything is scary for most people. My mother, for example, is a tech-savvy person, but she gets freaked out when she has to download anything. Instantly, her BS-monitors go off, she feels much more comfortable in a webpage than on a desktop app.

#5: Multiple logins

We’ve grown accustomed to OAuth, making login more simple and seamless. Logging into dapps today feels like a throwback to pre-OAuth days. Every dapp asks for an email and adding an email for each new dapp creates a frustrating user experience.

#6: Authentication vs. Wallet

On Ethereum, writing-to or calling a smart contract requires payment of gas, which has made tools like MetaMask confusing because it provides the function of a wallet and an authentication component. When we use the word wallet today, we conflate authentication and wallet functionality and those two things are quite different. While an authentication components needs to have wallet functionality, the user experience of these two things should be separated. After all, you can’t send an email straight from OAuth with gmail — there is a level of separation between those two things that is necessary to help users understand that these are not the same thing.

Re-writing Wrongs

Solving the UX crimes of today’s decentralized tools is simple — actively choose to put the user first. That’s what we’ve tried to do with PhotoBlock, an authentication component that works for any blockchain. We’ve worked to mirror existing Web2.0 UX paradigms, providing users with a single login for any blockchain (or Web2.0 account), while maintaining decentralization. You can check it out here.

Until UX improves, my grandma won’t be able to use blockchain-based solutions, which effectively centralizes the use of this technology to those who have the patience and know-how. Nik Kalyani (Co-Founder ofTryCrypto, WhenHub, and blockchain subject matter expert at Udacity) wrote a great article with 10 ideas for improving empathy for users when it comes to blockchain, which are below (with a bonus idea by me at the end!). You can read the full article here.

Idea #1: KISS. Yes, so many dapp and blockchain product developers have forgotten this time-tested mantra — keep it simple, stupid. Make the UI dead simple…if everything is front-and-center, then it’s unusable. Focus on the 1–2 things that are most important to the user.

Idea #2: Skip the jargon. Similar to the communication rule #2, stop using language and terms that most people don’t understand. Ask a fifth grader to look at your UI to get a sense of where things could be improved.

Idea #3: Use familiar concepts. Blockchain isn’t mainstream yet…it’s nowhere close. If you want users to understand and use your product, you need to bridge new concepts with stuff they already understand. Pro tip: If you have a field labeled “Gas Price” you have failed.

Idea #4: Stop making assumptions. Don’t assume that users know that writes to blockchain need transaction fees. This is a foreign concept for most users. They don’t pay to post to Instagram, send email or add a file to Dropbox. You have to inform, guide and do some hand-holding.

Idea #5: Big numbers are scary. There is no reason for user interfaces to display 18 decimal digits or to show entire hex addresses. This is scary stuff for people. Show 2–4 decimal places and only the first and last four letters of addresses. Display detail on hover or touch.

Idea #6: Waiting. Users expect most actions to complete in a reasonable amount of time. This isn’t true with blockchain. Clearly communicate through the UI that the user has submitted a “request” for a transaction, and not a transaction itself. Set clear expectations about delays

Idea #7: Impact of actions. In most blockchain apps, write actions have permanent, irreversible consequences. Preview actions and clearly communicate to the user what impact their action will have, especially about non-obvious consequences separate from the immediate transaction.

Idea #8: Notifications matter. Actions on blockchain are always asynchronous and users have no way of knowing if their action was successful. It’s very important that your product establish a notification channel so you can keep them informed even when your product isn’t in use.

Idea #9: Ignorance is bliss. Your web app doesn’t show stupid graphs telling you how many transactions per second the back-end database is running. Why do blockchain apps feel the need to give users useless information about block times and hash rates? Enough already.

Idea #10: Be human. Your product is being used by humans, not robots. Use warm, friendly language and empathy when something goes wrong. A message such as “Error: Transaction failed.” is itself a total failure. Be conversational, but don’t be cute. Just be human.

Additional Idea:

Idea #11: Mirror Existing Workflows. Users have grown accustomed to the workflows of Web2.0 (OAuth, single-account logins, hiding private keys, etc.) Take advantage of existing habits to make blockchain solutions intuitive.

So, what does grandma think about all of this?

My grandma could understand blockchain, but the teams building these solutions need to try to understand my grandma, too. Empathy for end-users is not only helpful, it’s necessary if we want to see widespread adoption of blockchain in the coming years. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: decentralized technology accomplishes nothing if no one can figure out how to use it.

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