Measuring the emotional journey of using crypto & how complexity impacts usage.

Leyth Hampshire
Aug 12 · 9 min read

The journey of understanding blockchain is a long road. Mass-Market adoption is a necessity for the success of this technology. A team of four masters students from the University of San Francisco’s MGEM program, undertook user experience research to really deep dive into the ethereum blockchain and identity the core pain points. Their findings, lead us to further realise the complications and struggles that need solving from this industry.


Why did we do we what we did?

Technology affects almost every aspect of our lives. Innovations in this field have the potential of changing things that are unchangeable, like democracy and the financial system. Blockchain is one of these technologies. Unfortunately, few consumers know what it is and how it works. These unknown factors can be unnerving for users and developers alike.

For blockchain to achieve its promise, it must achieve widespread adoption of the technology. We collaborated with Blocknative, a leading blockchain infrastructure provider, and San Francisco University to study how people use blockchain tools and identify the issues that prevent adoption.

So what did we do?

We conducted a qualitative and quantitative research project with 85 participants from across the globe. The participants came from the United States, England, India, Taiwan, Colombia, and 4 other countries. They were sourced from our network of friends, family, co-workers, classmates, and acquaintances through LinkedIn and Facebook.

We asked these blockchain novices to participate in a study that required them to use different Dapps, exchanges, and wallets. We then came up with a way to measure the emotions they were going through while interacting with these apps.

This was done to have a better understanding of which are the main pain points during the on-boarding process and also, bringing to light the importance of improving usability to promote adoption of the technology.

Stages of the Project

The project had a duration of 3 months and its goal was to find a way to measure the emotional response of decentralized applications users and bring to light the main barriers for widespread adoption of blockchain technology, which are onboarding and usability. To accomplish this, the project was divided into four stages.

Stage 1

In this stage, all members of the team went through a 7-step process that allowed us to familiarize ourselves with different tools based on the Ethereum platform and begin to understand how Blockchain works. All of the team members had heard of the term Blockchain before, but none had any experience working with it or completely understood how the technology worked.

Stage 2

Once all the steps were done and all of our reactions were documented, we started our research on blockchain and user testing. It was important to learn about both to come up with a way to record the emotional response of at least 25 people that would allow us to easily summarize and interpret the collected data. In this stage, we also considered the network theory to recruit candidates for the study.

Stage 3

Based on our research, we came up with a process to find the emotional response of new blockchain users while going through some of the steps we did in the first stage of the process. The steps include creating an account in Coinbase, acquiring ETH, transferring ETH to a hot wallet, exchanging different kinds of cryptocurrency, and even participating in a liquidity pool.

We created a primary selection survey where we could determine whether the candidates were interested in blockchain and whether they were willing to spend time using tools implemented in the Ethereum network. People who checked both these boxes were referred to as “crypto-curious”.

Once we selected all the crypto-curious to participate in the study, we sent them our secondary survey that was divided into two stages. We also sent requests for people who dropped out to fill out the exit survey. Finally, we collated all the responses and analyzed the data.

Stage 4

The final stage of this project consists of documenting and sharing our findings. Since we are looking to bring light on the challenges of adoption for blockchain, the results of our study and research are being shared right now with the blockchain community and with you!

How did it go?

It started out great. For the primary selection survey, we received 85 responses in total. Out of these 85 people, 56 were considered as crypto-curious. We then asked these 56 people to participate in the two stages of the final survey.

Our results showed that during stage 1 of the final survey, we received 21 out of a possible 56 responses… even though we had 49 unique visits. This could be indicated that people dropped out instantly once arriving at the survey. Our hypothesis around why this happened is because during stage 1 we requested people to invest in Ethereum. Even though it was only $10.00 USD in value, this was a barrier for people who were unfamiliar with or unsure of the blockchain space.

Furthermore, we asked people questions like “What comes to your mind when thinking about blockchain?” Some of the responses included ‘cryptocurrency’, ‘bitcoin’, ‘banks’, ‘finance’, and ‘computer stuff’. However, as the participants went through stage 1, we received responses that highlighted the confusion that surrounds this topic such as:

“The more I learn about the topic the more I realize that I know NOTHING.”

“Complicated but trendy. Everyone needs to know something about this for sure.”

Another core part of this research was to ask people about their emotional journey when going through the process. When asked about their emotions during the process of signing up in Coinbase, most people placed themselves in the middle of the Scared/Excited and Uncertain/Certain scales.

Next, we had stage 2 of the research. This involved multiple tasks that ranged from spending Ethereum online on crypto-collectables to using the investment tool Compound.finance. We received 33 unique visits in the second stage, however, we only received a total of 8 people that completed the entire stage 2 process. We believe this was largely attributable to the length of the survey.

However, we made iterations to make the survey shorter, and with less complexity. The uptake was not as much as we had hoped. The following are the emotional responses of the 8 participants for every step of the process. The graph below gives an overview of the average score marked by each participants pre and post the experience.

Steps include:

1. Acquire $5.00 USD worth of ETH in Coinbase or other exchange platforms

2. Transfer the ETH to a ‘hot wallet’ called Metamask

3. Buy a Cryptokitty or a Nifty Football Card

4. Exchange ETH for DAI in https://uniswap.exchange/swap

5. Exchange ETH for DAI in https://uniswap.blocknative.com/swap

6. Participate in a Liquidity Pool in https://app.compound.finance/

Above you can see the most common answers when asked about the emotional journey after the respondents conducted each step in the process. There were a few levels of extremes. For example, some people reported being somewhat excited when buying their first ETH and then becoming uncertain when trying to use the liquidity pool. We also asked them to map their emotions once they completed the steps, so we could track their emotions change over time. Surprisingly, our results showed that, on average, most user’s emotions stayed the same, with slight alterations. This, therefore, disproved our hypothesis of assuming that people would feel more comfortable as they went along. Instead, they appeared to continue unchanged on the same emotional journey.

When asked if there was something they would change about the Compound.Finance tool, participants once again mentioned the website was complicated They would include detailed instructions on how to invest in different cryptocurrencies. To the question below, only one person responded affirmatively.

“Will you continue using Compound Finance now that you know how it works?”

To the question above, only one person responded affirmatively.

Surprisingly, all participants seem to agree on the fact that even though the steps were straightforward, they did not really understand what they were doing. And their main thoughts on blockchain, once again included words like money, risk, grey zones, and fluctuating currencies. The feedback we got on the whole process was based around it being too long. This may also have been the main reason why some of the candidates lost interest when doing the survey and did not see or find value in completing it.

Main Lessons

Overall, we can come to a set of findings that summarise our outcomes and aim of the project. We can see that there were not any drastic changes in emotions with people, prior and post each action in the tasks set. Also, most people placed themselves around the middle of the Scared/Excited and Uncertain/Certain scales, as shown in the graphs below.= This could mean that the people did not feel particularly identified with the emotions in the scales.

Also, there were high levels of uncertainty from the start of the process, which was shown by our drop off rate. We noticed this and minimized the question count after feedback and made the survey it simpler. However, the uptake was still lower than we had hoped.

We found the biggest challenge from the feedback was the financial obligation of people who did not trust the space. This indicates issues in trustworthiness with the blockchain. Finally, those who did manage to complete the entire process said that, after the entirety of the tasks, they did not feel significantly more comfortable with the blockchain and did not feel they got great value from the process.

Implications for Space

Taking these learnings forward, we have realised that developing a process to help people to understand the blockchain is not as simple as the way we initially designed and deployed. There are huge mental stigmas that people need to overcome to make financial and time commitments to something they do not trust. The lessons align with the initial hypothesis of how ‘humans have their narrative they live by’ and this is very hard to change.

A quote that summarised this from our findings was when asked what parts were most challenging about the process:

“All. I do not understand what happened to my money. My investment and time were lost.”

With this in mind, we can focus on creating solutions that make the decentralized apps more transparent, more clear, and more understandable for the average user. Due to our limited time and resources, we had a very narrow view of the situation. However, we ideally would recommend for people to expand on this study and reach out to more people.

Conclusion

Even though there were challenges, we as a team managed to overcome them. Based on the results we obtained from the surveys, we came up with the following conclusions:

  1. There was a lot of interest from people of our network to be part of the Blockchain study. This is shown by the more than 80 people who signed up for the first survey.
  2. But, when selected people heard that they needed to buy ETH through Coinbase, there was a significant number of people that have decided to drop out. This shows that even people who were interested in learning about technology don’t trust applications in the space.
  3. Furthermore, people who decided to continue with the survey showed no variation in emotions from one step to the next. Also, most people placed themselves around the middle of the Scared/Excited and Uncertain/Certain scales. This lack of extreme emotions shows that none of the participants felt particularly identified with the scales selected.
  4. So, the process we created to measure the users’ emotions may not be the best way to get their honest feedback. The people who completed the survey felt that it didn’t allow them to learn the tech better and that there were no lessons from the process.

The results of the survey show that usability is a major issue that needs to be sorted as soon as possible in order for the technology to be widely used.

To verify these results, more research to back up these claims should be conducted by professionals in the field. One way this could be done is by using other methods of user testing, like focus groups. Meeting with candidates face-to-face may be better. This would provide more information and more honest feedback. Also, you could provide the space for participants to learn more about technology while going through the steps with them.

Finally, we as Masters students at the University of San Francisco found this research very valuable for our growth and learning about the blockchain space. We see huge prospects for the future if we are able to address these core issues. We would like to thank Matt Cutler, CEO of Blocknative, for advising this research and helping us interpret our results...and Sean O’Connor for helping us publish this article. If you are interested in hearing more about this study, please get in touch with the team:

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