Steve Jobs was the master of customer experience. His vision and products reflected the power of his often-credited statement: “Technology should either be beautiful or invisible.”
Success in Web2 has always been about the user, not the technology. Through sleek design and beautiful user experience, consumers didn’t just own products, they fell in love with them. Ask the thousands who queue up days before a new Apple product launch. This guaranteed formula for success helped resuscitate Apple, bringing it back from an early grave to make it one of the most significant companies of a generation. There is a lesson that all of us in the Web3 space need to embrace — a message we’ve had for nearly eight years, but I guess we didn’t get the memos.
The Potential for Web3
When Ethereum released its smart contract technology in 2014, its potential for banking disruption seemed unparalleled. It had and still has all the hallmarks of enabling the financial foundation for the metaverse by providing:
• The internet of ownership through NFTs.
• The internet of value, enabling funds to be programmed and transferred directly from person to person without going through a bank.
• The automation of recurring royalties for artists and beyond, creating new automated business and financial models.
While these are all incredibly powerful, there is a significant problem from my perspective: The user experience redefines the dictionary definition of abysmal.
The Complexity of Web3 for Newcomers
It is easy for seasoned crypto users to forget the pain points and barriers we all went through as newcomers getting into the cryptocurrency space:
• Setting up a MetaMask wallet;
• Protecting our seed phrases as if our lives depended on it;
• Accepting variable and sometimes excessive transaction fees as a cost of doing business and;
• Recognizing scammers.
But for newbies, normies or other dismissive labels we throw at those who haven’t drunk our Kool-Aid, the learning curve is horrendous and, at worst, financially ruinous. One false move could be the end of so many promised dreams of financial freedom. Why would anyone endure such pain?
When a key influencer like Gary Vee rightly recommends to his audience that you need 50 hours of research before you buy your first NFT, you know there is an issue. Equally, when we tell newcomers to buy only what they can afford to lose, it’s as if NFTs bake in the expectation of losses as a de facto standard.
Finally, this pain empowers a group, giving them the lifeblood they crave: the scammers.
Scammers Love the Complexity of Web3
Because of the friction points and the complicated user onboarding, scammers just lie in wait, waiting for the right time to pounce on their newfound prey. With the ever-increasing push for the metaverse to succeed, it could be a future merry-go-round of opportunity. The complications of buying an NFT-based land parcel in the metaverse present a disconnect, and the scammers know this. They also know which buttons to push by:
• Pumping up the FOMO;
• Sending phony emails promising the earth; and
• Then delivering an atlas with graffiti marked on it, marked “sucker!”
While the OGs in the Web3 space facepalm, the newbies run scared. Their hard-earned cash disappears along with any sense of confidence in the crypto and NFT markets and, increasingly, the metaverse. While we accept these shortcomings as an occupational hazard, without embracing the necessary changes to make usability easier, Web2 providers have the upper hand in driving the mainstream adoption of the metaverse.
Customer Focus Is in the DNA of Web2
Web2 providers have already been through the long and painful journey of the user experience (UX). UX is now a defined science — and smartphones exemplify this. The iPhone is perhaps the pinnacle of user experience — it is as beautiful as it is easy to use.
Web2 providers have also spent so much time building gaming platforms. Many have hundreds of millions in their communities, as compared to the thousands in Web3. If they can make it easy to onboard people into the metaverse, their communities will likely follow. A river always finds its path of least resistance — it’s human nature in the digital age. We also need to ask the question, “Do newcomers outside of Web3 really care about decentralization or cryptocurrencies?”
All users want is to easily immerse themselves in new experiences — to be “in the internet,” not just on it. If Web2 providers get their act together — and the level of investment funds supporting them suggests they might — they could have an easy cross-sell to non-crypto-based communities. If their community can easily buy products with U.S. currency through a credit card, mainstream adoption could happen much quicker. We’re already seeing it with Fortnite organizing live concerts in their games, where millions embrace the events.
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Web3 technologies have amazing potential to transform digital ownership and funding. The challenge, however, is that the user experience for Web3 is not easy and may require some serious rethinking of the core technology that underpins existing cryptocurrencies. Without serious attention to the friction associated with the new user experience, Web2 will thrive, potentially driving the blockchain layer to, at best, be relegated to an invisible layer empowering niche aspects of the metaverse or, at worst, being wholly replaced by existing payment options that are easier to use.
Cryptocurrencies are undoubtedly powerful, but they are currently neither beautiful nor invisible and, without a shift in thinking, may languish, only to be relegated to the graveyard of ambition.