Hurricanes and Blockchain

“low angle photography of gray metal chains” by Fré Sonneveld on Unsplash

Hurricanes

Living in the triangle area of North Carolina, we are usually far enough inland to not have to worry too much about the impact of hurricanes. I felt guilty when family members and friends across the country sent texts, emails and Facebook posts praying for us when the people on the coast face the real impact. Florence came and went and the only real impact near me was missing the sun for a few days. We were not nearly as fearful of Michael and yet the impact was more significant. We had downed trees, school closings and massive power outages. Personally, we lost power for less than a day, but it nonetheless felt like an inconvenience. We are so dependent on power and connectivity in our daily lives that it disrupts nearly everything we do. I have several friends who took the opportunity to unplug, disconnect and enjoy the peace and quiet. I myself struggled with this mindset instead thinking about contingency plans and to do planning. When something like a massive natural phenomenon disrupts our daily momentum, it is hard to not be in awe of how our lives can change so dramatically from one day to the next.

The Promise of Blockchain

New technologies frequently promise to change our way of life drastically and quickly like a raging hurricane, but rarely does that occur. Cars, electricity and the Internet are three exceptions, but even those technologies required time to permeate the culture. Learning and adoption take time. Blockchain is all the rage right now and promises to revamp our way of life as we know it, financial institutions and currencies being but one way. From a UX perspective, I see the adoption of blockchain as usability issue. The underlying technology needs to be presented in a way that is even easier to use than current technology as wide-spread human system agreement is required for effective use of blockchain.

I recently heard Stephen Rogers, VP Blockchain Initiatives, IBM Industry Platforms speak about blockchain solutions and how they are being used today in business settings for actual ROI. Although I think blockchain has a lot of potential, it will likely take longer than most expect to see marked improvement in the business applications of the blockchain. Yet with learning and communication, adoption speed will quicken.

Blockchain Technology: The Technical perspective

The underlying concept of blockchain rather simple.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.” — Don & Alex Tapscott, authors Blockchain Revolution (2016)
Source: https://blockgeeks.com/guides/what-is-blockchain-technology/

The technology required to implement it is anything but simple. Much of the information that is readily available on blockchain focuses on digital currency, but there is an exceptional podcast series called Hashpower by Patrick O’Shaughnessy that starts off with a more generalized blockchain explanation, before diving into the crypto aspect.

Source: https://ternio.io/

For a more technical explanation, Blockgeeks offers some free guides and an open source project called HyperLedger was formed by a community of corporations (over 250 of them) that are working on different applications and use for blockchain. Both are worth a checking out if you want to gain a better understanding of the how the technology of blockchain is formed and developed. For a focus on law, but also an overview of blockchain applications in other industries, Cat Moon wrote an article in Law Technology Today. Understanding the value of blockchain outside of crypto and fintech applications will promote the adoption of blockchain by increasing the cross-application understanding.

UX and Blockchain

Even though I find new technologies and different applications of those technologies fascinating, it all comes back to UX for me. From a UX perspective, here are three ways that I can see UX benefiting the adoption of blockchain.

  1. Targeted user entrance point/data entry points: The centralized ledger system does not preclude alternative user interfaces and flows for data entry points. The users of the blockchain platforms will come to the technology from different perspectives. Their ability to the input data in the manner that makes sense from their business perspective is highly important to adoption and habitual use.
  2. User interfaces simplicity. I do love simplicity! Simplistic interfaces and experience design in blockchain is extremely important to enable diverse parties to participate fully, a necessary requirement of blockchain effectiveness. Simplistic interfaces and experiences will promote the effective use of the system while enabling the focus that is required to accurately progress through the process flow. A clumsily built system with an ever-growing “feature” list will promote hesitancy and confusion of users causing the agreement system (not just the technology) to fail.
  3. The third way in which UX can help mainstream adoption of blockchain is through overcommunication with tooltips, personalized guides and chatbots, especially during the onboarding process. It is important that the user’s learning curve be taken into account. That will require over-communication and also providing the user with a sense of connectedness. Trust needs to be built into the system so that user can feel connected and sure of the action that she is performing. Tooltips will allow the user to peel back the features and functionality when they hit roadblocks or confusion. Analytics from toolips can help you understand which elements your users are having the most trouble with and allow the opportunity for iterating on those confusing elements. Personalized guides will walk your users each step of the way. They are not essential in all products, but with blockchain the walking through process will be helpful to ensure the user feels confident with the process. It would be helpful to have these guides for beginning users, but the definition of “beginning” user should be increased for blockchain over a more straightforward product. Walkme and Pendo provide tooltip and personalized guides. Chatbot are another way to promote feelings of connectedness. Intercom has a new chatbot and Zendesk has an establish AI chatbot option. Oddly they are both called Answer Bot?! Building your own is also a viable option.

So where it is doubtful that blockchain and the cryptocurrency application of BC will push through the business community like Hurricane Michael did through the triangle immediately changing the way business gets done, it is highly likely the effects are already making their way through our lives in small ways that will continue to expand.