Incremental Decentralization

Eric Chung
Apr 16, 2019 · 6 min read

Introduction

Web 3 UX has been the focus of many projects’ conversations in the last year for good reason. The BUIDL rally of 2018 was well-founded, but the catchphrase “If you build it, they will come” is clearly not applicable to novel technologies like blockchain and dapps that are still unfamiliar to the mainstream audience. Well-known issues like the cost paradox and key management hinders widespread adoption, and many bright minds have proposed promising solutions that are resulting in the emerging pattern of Incremental Decentralization.

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Can we land the leap across THE CHASM?

Minimum Viable Trust

At the risk of propagating another 3 letter buzzword, minimum viable trust (MVT) — a term coined by James Young — serves as the cornerstone idea of Incremental Decentralization. MVT refers to the prioritization of convenient, centralized features that add immediate, tangible value with the option for a user to introduce decentralization at their own convenience. The rewards of decentralization are many, and the user should be given opportunities to arrive at this conclusion on their own will through direct experimentation. Instead of sticking every new user into the deep end of the decentralization spectrum like we do now with poorly designed cookie-cutter molds, we let the users take ownership of their journey through Web 3.

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Clearly this cookie-cutter mold produced the intended result.

Multiple Graded Entry Points

That brings us to the provision of multiple graded entry points. This expands on the idea that users shouldn’t be defined by binary cookie-cutter molds of complete noob or Web 3 pro, and dapps would be better off meeting users where they are. Instead of making assumptions or imposing decisions about where they should be, dapps can provide a variety of opportunities for a user to “level up” along the spectrum of decentralization. Blockchain is all about incentives, so why not bake in incentives (both implicit and explicit) for users to self-educate themselves on the benefits, challenges, and means to get to the deeper end?

User Initiated Exits

A corollary to having multiple graded entry points is to enable user-initiated exits. If your user decides that a certain level of decentralization (and potential accompanying discomfort) is not her cup of tea, she could be given the option to add some centralization back into her experience. Centralization of features is acceptable only if users have self-custody and can exit anytime. Coinbase is an example of a service that has superb UX through centralization, but the inability to claim your private keys creates user lock-in and that is something we’d like to avoid.

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Giving users the option to exit at anytime increases their comfort level with trying your dapp.

Layer 2 First Design

Finally, we arrive at layer 2 first design for dapps. A number of useful layer 2 solutions have been invented and while they seem to feature in a number of planned product roadmaps, current utilization is few and far in between aside from the projects that built them. Coming from another angle, blockchain dapps should be data-informed just like any Web 2.0 apps, but there is a glaring lack of an analytics tool for off-chain activity. This demonstrates the current heavy skew towards on-chain transactions (understandably) but it’s becoming clearer that layer 2 solutions contribute immensely to a delightful dapp UX.

Conclusion

Incremental Decentralization as a pattern has been developing for some time now, but 2019 seems to the year that it will take the main stage to become a best practice. Incremental Decentralization is like cake frosting. Cake frosting is not necessary, but it makes cake look much more appetizing and prompts you to give it a taste. In a similar vein, you may be the best baker (developer) in the world making the best tasting cake (dapp). However, no one is going to try your cake if it doesn’t look good no matter how much you tell them it’s super tasty.

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You want your dapp to look like the cake on the right. Tasty inside and out.

Abridged

Bringing Usability to Web 3.0

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