With all the talk of Bitcoin bubbles from Hype Cycle haters, it can be easy to forget that blockchain was the toast of town as recently as the summer of 2017, which marked a peak of interest in Blockchain projects. People got excited about the idea of Blockchain as a solution to every problem imaginable. “What about Blockchain for doing my taxes? Blockchain for the carpool line at 3:00 p.m. dismissal? Blockchain so that I don’t have to feel this hangover?” But then the challenges of putting Blockchain projects into practice became apparent, and enthusiasts realized that that executing on ideas is harder than coming up with them. Alas, Blockchain cannot be a solution for everything.
One year on, the industry finds itself in a very different position. Though the crazed ICO frenzy is over, real platforms powered by Blockchain technology now exist. But a working product is nothing to jump up and down about. Success is measured by generation of active users. This is why I believe user-friendliness should be the primary focus of Blockchain projects this year.
We need look no further than the companies that survived the dot-com crash for examples of why user-friendliness matters. Amazon, eBay, Priceline, and Shutterfly are among the success stories. One characteristic shared by these platforms is that they started out by providing narrowly-focused services. Amazon was for buying books online, eBay for buying and selling unique items, Priceline for finding discounted rates on flights, hotels, and car rentals, and Shutterfly for ordering photos from the comfort of the consumer’s home. All of these online platforms provided users with services that were clearly defined. And when users checked out these platforms’ websites, they weren’t scared away by technical roadblocks. The sites were easy to use.
Unfortunately, many Blockchain projects are solving complex problems with complicated solutions. They would do well to learn from the example of Apple and its innovative iPod, which revolutionized the music industry by providing access to hundreds of songs via one device. Achieving this no doubt required immense technical prowess; but for consumers, the iPod was just a way to play all their favorite songs from a little box with a few buttons. Just because many Blockchain projects seek to reduce dependence on tech giants (i.e., Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple), this doesn’t mean we have nothing to learn from these companies — namely, the importance of user-friendliness.
In the meantime, I believe education is the key. We can’t expect consumers to get on board if they don’t understand what they’re getting themselves into. If you’re developing a Blockchain-based platform, it’s not enough to invent a solution that is merely serviceable; you also need to educate people on why it’s better than legacy, centralized versions.
It’s fairly easy to comprehend the pros of being able to download all your songs from your desktop onto a portable device, just as it’s easy to understand the benefits of buying books from an online store instead of making your way to a brick and mortar one. But the only way to hook customers using a legacy online shopping platform and get them to start using your decentralized one is to explain why decentralization makes your version better (and if it doesn’t, maybe you should rethink your project).
Here are three questions to ask in order to set yourself up for success in building a Blockchain-based platform:
- Do consumers understand why Blockchain/Crypto makes your platform better?
- Can consumers navigate the platform with ease?
- Do consumers enjoy using the platform?
The projects that answer these three questions affirmatively will be the ones that ultimately form the basis of the Blockchain ecosystem years from now. As with many great movements, the success of Blockchain will depend on having clear ideas and enacting practical solutions. Before the Blockchain revolution can occur, platforms will need to do a better job of explaining why decentralization matters, and work to expand their user bases to include those who aren’t experts in Crypto, Blockchain, or coding. The first step is to build platforms that are improved by Blockchain and that people love to use.