It’s no secret that a major barrier of entry to blockchain is just how difficult it can be to figure out what you are doing when you’re just starting out.
There are so many new terms to learn, so many things you have to do that are outside of your comfort zone, and so many concepts to wrap your head around. Not just in a technological sense, but in a political sense too. Worst of all, there’s anxiety. Blockchain isn’t fully regulated by any company or government, so an errant typo in an address or a mistake in securing your keys can lead to loss or theft of funds that are nearly impossible to recover. This is because in a decentralized space, there’s no customer support to take care of you, and no law enforcement to seek justice and compensation for you.
There’s also the overwhelming number of options; from Bitcoin to Bitcoin Cash, SV, Gold, Diamond, and Private. All of these claim to be the ‘real’ Bitcoin on some level. There’s also Litecoin, Ripple, Ethereum, Monero, and hundreds more. Each coin has its own community that fiercely defends and (seemingly earnestly) believes in the value and use-case of their coin. These communities are constantly attacking each other as if political or religious rivals. This ongoing ‘propaganda war’ has produced no shortage of contradictory information and ‘noise’ on all sides.
Basic common sense dictates that not all of these coins can be winners. Indeed the recent string of failed projects such as Bitconnect still looms over the community in the form of mocking memes and bitter messages; warnings against becoming too excited about or confident in your investments. Indeed, many people mock the very validity of the blockchain space, eager to claim that each and every coin, including Bitcoin itself, are destined to head to $0 once the wealthiest investors, developers, and exchanges have fleeced the average investor for all they’re worth by taking advantage of these deregulated markets and starry-eyed idealistic investors.
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The need for excellent design
Any developer on EOS or any other blockchain realizes that their users are going to be dragging in all this baggage with them when they sit down to do something as seemingly simple as working on User Experience, the wallets, exchanges, and other applications that will allow the Average Joe to easily communicate with the Blockchain. Many people who have heard about blockchain but don’t know much about it are afraid of it; even many of those who have done their research are skeptics. For this reason, if the UX is anything less than perfect, some people are going to use that to justify why they’re not interested in engaging with any blockchain product. If these new products are not easier, more convenient, and safer to use than the currently existing applications built for fiat, then they will simply not be used. Even those who are interested in the political ramifications of Blockchain are going to wait until crypto is easy to use. Most people involved in crypto today are only really interested in using it to hoard and trade their coins, as for the most part, that’s about all the UX really lets them easily do.
EOS at a baseline has already solved many of the problems plaguing crypto. 12 name account names mean that users can send coins with more confidence, without worrying if they insert an errant character into a long address. The free transactions also make users more confident in utilizing their account and your resources more frequently, instead of being worried about fees slowly eating away at holdings. The staking system means that users have 3 days to respond to their keys being compromised, and even if funds are stolen, EOS developers and block produces can be contacted. Stolen funds can potentially be frozen and eventually returned back to their user. All these things are possible because EOS was built to ride the line between decentralization and usability as finely as possible, whereas most crypto projects are built like Bitcoin. They sacrifice usability for the sake of being as decentralized as possible. This decentralization is valuable, so valuable in fact that it’s why I believe many projects such as Bitcoin are going to continue to exist alongside EOS as alternatives. But EOS’s design philosophy is what I believe to be the main aspect that will push the coin towards real mass adoption, potentially before other projects. This is for the simple reason that most average users prefer their funds to have a safety net. It’s also easy to keep someone’s attention span when they’re using a dApp; when the transactions are instant as opposed to taking what feels like forever.
However, this article is about the challenges of UX design on EOS. Which is why it’s important to critique how EOS is currently failing in its UX right now. Thankfully, these issues are solvable, and not fundamental flaws of the design that would require an entirely new project to fix.
The first issue is a major one that is casting a large, looming shadow over the entire EOS ecosystem right now, and that issue is CPU. The network simply is not up to the task of handling the number of transactions taking place on it right now, and that is resulting in many accounts being maxed out. This is the case even if those accounts have a large amount of EOS staked to CPU, and their CPU is frequently maxed out or even over the 100% threshold even if they aren’t doing anything. Even dApp developers that have thousands of EOS staked to support the transactions on their smart contracts are struggling to keep their CPU at manageable levels. The result is that the majority of users on the network are unable to transact properly. Ironically, many don’t have enough CPU to issue the transaction that issues more of their EOS to CPU.
This issue largely comes as a result of the network allowing for every account to utilize more CPU then they actually have allocated to them, a feature put in place so that those who don’t have much EOS staked can frequently transact. Since almost everyone goes over their maximum limit, users are effectively stealing CPU from each other without realizing it, to put it in layman’s terms. This feature is why accounts can be maxed out even if they make transactions very infrequently. The CPU issue is exacerbated by many Block producers simply being bad at their job, instead relying on vote buying/collusion and voter apathy to remain in their position, despite the fact that their poor performance is harming the network’s ability to sustain its transaction volume.
Solutions in Development
Thankfully, both the CPU issue and the voting issue are being addressed at the same time in the form of a solution called REX, or the Resource Exchange. This is a system built into EOS that everyone will have access to, and will allow everyone to rent out their staked CPU and NET to the REX and receive payment. Using the REX also requires users to both stake and vote their EOS, thereby account holders are financially encouraged to vote without their vote having to go toward any one particular producer for a good payout, meaning they can pick what they believe to be the best producers that will be good for the network. Hopefully, a separate upgrade to the network should allow dApp developers to pay for the CPU of their users when those users are engaging with their smart contracts. Further upgrades, known as multithreading, should also grant users more CPU and NET per EOS staked.
Other issues don’t have solutions immediately on the horizon. Currently, EOS has no fiat gateways, so the only way to buy EOS is with other cryptos such as Bitcoin. This is a huge problem because ideally, EOS’s UX experience should have nothing to do with the experience of using Bitcoin. However, anyone interested in buying and using EOS will have to learn about Bitcoin security, bitcoin exchanges, and potentially sign up for two different exchanges in order to get to EOS, hypothetically, the only coin they actually care about. There have been talks about dApp developers to allow users to pay them directly in fiat. In fact, there have been some dApps that have created built-in exchanges on their websites though as of current they have only offered crypto trading pairs. While useful, these solutions only improve the usability of specific dApps rather than the ecosystem as a whole.
Account Creation & Security
Another issue is the confusion associated with creating new accounts on EOS. While most crypto wallets can be used for free, EOS accounts have to be paid for whether by a service or by another private user who already owns an account. EOS Lynx has a clean interface and is currently the easiest way to make an EOS account, as a direct $1 payment can be made with a card to pay for an account with staked resources on a phone wallet or PC. However Lynx does not have ledger or other hardware wallet support, and it offers your private key to you in plaintext in order to save it. BIP39 recovery seeds are not standard practice on the EOS network in general, which can be a liability for security and the user experience. It’s important that private keys and recovery phrases can be stored offline on paper or on hardware wallets, but long private keys are more easily stored on vulnerable computers than on paper unless someone takes the time to print them out. Lynx also only supports a small variety of dApps. The scatter wallet is more user-friendly in the sense that it can be used on any dApp, and runs in the background unobtrusively. However scatter also lacks a fiat on-ramp, making account creation and importation difficult. As it is, I feel that the easiest way to own an EOS account is to have owned one since Genesis, since holding EOS on an Ethereum address allowed you to backup your EOS using a BIP39 passphrase, and the Ethereum wallets are better established.
In conclusion, it comes down to CPU, voting, fiat gateways, account creation, and security. REX is solving two issues and is adding the additional incentive of passive income, but account creation and fiat gateways still need a lot of work, and currently, hardware wallet support and BIP39 or something similar needs to become a network standard in order to give crypto users peace of mind. In the end, the user experience isn’t just about sleek, futuristic-looking and colorful menus. The most important thing is that the common, skeptical user is not confused or irritated when using the product, they need to feel safe and excited while using it. The fewer middlemen, and the fewer steps that need to be taken in order to perform simple tasks, the better. EOS at a baseline has already done a lot of work towards making users less irritated and impatient when using a blockchain, but it could also benefit from some standard security practices from developers on other blockchains. When the user experience is so easy and relaxing to use that people don’t have a reason to think about the technical backend, that’s when the perception surrounding that product will begin to shift towards the positive.
Author: Alex from Token Valley
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the particular author. Token Valley is a dApp discovery platform seeking to bring together the dApp community in a transparent manner that encourages further growth in the space.