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Much attention is given to scaling blockchains on a technical level – more specifically, the ways in which they can be upgraded or improved to store more transactions and accommodate more users as the systems grow. But if users don’t feel confident, safe and comfortable using cryptocurrency, will that even matter?
A recent survey of crypto holders found that 75% felt less than completely confident that their transactions would go as planned. 55% had one or more problems when sending crypto including those who had a complete irreversible loss of funds.
Much effort has been expended in overcoming the scalability issues faced by blockchains, however, considerably less effort has gone into making cryptocurrencies easier to use in the first place.
It’s difficult to refute claims that the underlying technology is slow, cumbersome, risky to use and comes with a steep learning curve. To the non tech-savvy, the system is unintuitive and still too technical – even in some of the most popular wallets.
Consider the typical transaction flow – a sender must query the receiver for a complex and lengthy public address when they wish to make a transaction, before pasting it into their wallet software, setting the mining fees and waiting for the transaction to be included in a block. Their illegibility means that they are susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks.
A popular form of malware is designed to modify clipboard data, and other man-in-the-middle attacks are all-too-prevalent. Some argue that is why QR codes should always be used to capture a public address. But QR codes only work if the user is physically present with an interface to the counter party’s wallet. They require a clunky additional step of scanning such a code. They require use of a mobile device and QR codes themselves can be hacked and replaced with one that has the hacker’s public address. On top of all of this, there is no confirmation of the funds being transferred successfully, and given the inherent privacy risks associated with address reuse, a new one must be used each time a transaction is made to the same party.
Add to this the reality that blockchain transactions are irreversible with no trusted third party to call to “stop payment” if there is an error and the psychological discomfort of crypto users is understandable. Contrast this to how easy it is to use a centralized service such as PayPal or Venmo. It’s perhaps unfair to compare what are, under the hood, two radically different means of wealth transfer. However, the masses will continue to use whichever method is more user-friendly, less risky to interact with, and more apt to have readily available customer support if something goes wrong.
To scale socially, transferring wealth with Bitcoin, Ethereum or Litecoin or any cryptocurrency needs to be as simple as exchanging funds when using incumbent services. Even stable coins like Tether, whose primary purpose is to improve the adoption of crypto in commerce by eliminating price volatility, will never achieve broad adoption if it isn’t super easy and safe to use.
Tackling poor cryptocurrency UX requires abstraction: that is, wrapping the overly technical processes with aesthetically-pleasing and easy to use functionality in a manner somewhat similar to how the Hyper Text Transport Protocol (HTTP) eliminates the need for users to have to interact with complex underlying protocols like TCP/IP and creates greatly enhanced user interface experience. A great deal of emphasis is placed on the concept of ‘programmable money’, but a critical layer – that is, the front-end – is being neglected.
Users should never have to know what a complex public address is in the first place. Transaction confirmations should be clear and understandable. Data needs to be able to be included with transactions indicating what they are for, and the method of moving value has to go beyond the risk and limiting “send only” capability that crypto supports today. For example, the ability to send a request for payment (think order cart, invoice, etc.) securely and decentralized or the ability to establish recurring payments for subscriptions.
All of this is impossible today and can’t be solved by an individual decentralized wallet because the problem exists, technically speaking, between them. In the same way that no endpoint on the internet could deliver the capabilities of HTTP by itself, the usability issues need to be resolved by the crypto industry at large through the establishment of a usability standard that spans across all wallets, exchanges and crypto payment processors as well as across all blockchain tokens/coins.
Wallets attempt to tackle these problems by themselves, with varying degrees of success, but it’s time for the various stakeholders, wallets, exchanges and crypto payment processors to coordinate and work together to launch an industry standard protocol that can deliver the leap to dramatically improved usability for blockchain like the Web did for the Internet.
A former dot com entrepreneur and 11+ year venture capitalist, David Gold is CEO of Dapix, Inc, a venture backed company, which has launched the Foundation for Interwallet Operability (FIO) and FIO Protocol, which will revolutionize blockchain usability.