As a designer, it’s an incredibly exciting time to be involved with the blockchain space. With the emergence of a decentralized “Web 3.0”, we are seeing lots of smart people thinking harder than ever about how to deliver the best possible experiences to their users.
The UX challenges posed by blockchain are well documented, but a lot of these problems have fairly straightforward solutions. Of these difficulties, there is one I think is both particularly important and challenging: how we allow our users to connect to and interact with the blockchain.
It’s tough because solutions here demand a balance between two essential principles: ease of use and decentralization.
Major strides have been made in making dApps easier to use, however, the barriers are still high. For a typical non-blockchain app it would be absurd to expect users to download and set up a different application before they can even see if the software seems useful (as we do currently with MetaMasketc.). Some projects have taken the route of abstracting wallets behind user/password logins while taking custody of private keys. This smooths out friction for entry-level users but carries significant risks for the company and can lock in a highly centralized approach to solving the problem.
Decentralization is at the core of what makes blockchain special. It allows ownership of a system to be shared in a trustless way between many different parties while preventing a single entity or group from having too much power. The problem is that taken to its furthest extent; it creates a high friction user experience.
On Ethereum, the most decentralized way to interact with dapps is to host your own node and sync the entire Ethereum blockchain. Setting this up is a major undertaking from both a technical complexity perspective and a financial perspective (hardware requirements for full nodes aren’t trivial anymore).
This means that the way projects allow users to connect to them will always fall somewhere on a spectrum of decentralization. The choice is about finding the right place on the spectrum for the users of a given project. However, the choice is typically made with a “one size fits all” approach where the company decides for their users from a few common options, some of which I’ve just mentioned.
Our approach to this problem is a little different and has been heavily shaped by the market we serve. Codex helps you to take care of your most prized possessions. Our protocol creates digital identities for unique assets — recording, verifying, and securely storing important information about the assets you own. Our initial market is the $2T Art & Collectibles (A&C) asset class. It includes everything from digital CryptoKitties to more traditional things like fine wines, watches, or a Picasso.
“One size fits all” doesn’t work for us because we are trying to bring together the worlds of A&C and crypto. The solution isn’t to force two kinds of users into a single approach, but instead to allow users to choose.
We are creating two different ways to access the registry, one for what we call “Crypto Users” and the other for “Fiat Users.”
- Crypto Users understand public and private keys, are comfortable managing them, and want control over how they do so. They access us via MetaMask, purchase CODX with crypto, and stake directly it to reduce their fees for actions on the platform. They also have control over what wallets they wish to use to manage their Codex Records.
- Fiat Users don’t know anything about private keys or public keys. They have never used a dApp, and have never heard of MetaMask. We want these users to be able to access Codex without knowing the blockchain in ways they are already comfortable with (eg, username + password or with a phone). Our current thinking is to solve this via smart contracts to avoid the need for private key custody. We would have a centralized platform that handles the blockchain abstraction for these users, such that they can pay in fiat and the platform handles the token/ETH transfers for them.
While this does mean that fiat users will be initially accessing the system in a highly centralized way, our goal is to teach them over time about the complexities of the blockchain. When they become fluent enough, “Fiat Users” can eject from the centralized system. This converts their accounts into “Crypto User” accounts, and they can continue to manage their assets in a decentralized way via the wallet of their choice.
We think this approach is the sweet spot for us on the decentralization spectrum. It allows us to remove a significant barrier to entry for non-technical users while encouraging the system to become less centralized over time.
Today, the art and collectibles asset class has no registry at all because stakeholders in A&C have never wanted to trust a single party with control over all that information. We want to create a registry that no one group controls in which users have much more privacy than in today’s world. The goal isn’t total decentralization for its own sake. It is to decentralize power over an industry.
This mostly requires that the parties controlling the registry can’t access any personal data. It doesn’t mean that users can’t trust third-party developers who make their lives easier. After all, individual collectors trust their dealers and art advisors with their assets today. That’s very different from trusting information to a government or centralized registry.