Mobile apps are the roadmap to a potentially long journey for Web3 to overcome its UX challenges.
15 years ago Apple launched the iPhone, marking the biggest technological leap forward that most of us remember. There were many others —including the rise of the internet, Google’s ascent, Wikipedia’s impact, and VR/AR experiments— but none are as connected to a buzzworthy launch event.
The iPhone’s release unleashed more than 10 million mobile apps since 2008 via the App Store. Apple made this possible by delivering a user experience (UX) that made mass adoption a reality. Phones before then were far too difficult to use by the general population, and not fun either. This opened the floodgates for entrepreneurs and developers to explore every imaginable app as part of the infamous slogan “There’s an app for that.”
Just like it took a decade from Nokia’s first smartphone until the floodgates opened for mobile apps, it has taken a decade from the release of Satoshi Nakamoto’s Blockchain whitepaper until consumer applications started launching. These seemingly parallel paths of mobile apps and Web3 apps are a stark reminder that technological advancements don’t gain adoption until there’s an equally large leap in UX.
What we easily forget is how bad those early mobile apps were. Amongst the hall of shame were apps to heat your pocket and Facebook’s Poke app. Between 2008 and 2010 we were installing apps at a record pace trying to solve all kinds of problems we never really had. Still, there were steller proof of concept applications that eventually became integrated into the core OS, like the flashlight and news apps.
Web3 and crypto are going through a similar moment in technological innovation. Apps are being launched to prove the technology, sometimes before consumer applications exist. It’s not something to fault since it's part of a beautiful creative process driven by anticipation of possibilities. Creators build before consumers buy, until one creator has a breakthrough. That’s where we are today in Web3, with thousands of developers building their own visions of improving the future.
‘Crypto winter’ is changing all of that. The first half of 2022 has been rough for Web3 funding and hype, resulting in an accelerated need to focus on consumer problems more so than technological achievements. Ethereum, the blockchain that is the backbone of the majority of Web3 applications, lost three-quarters of its value over a six-month period. This essentially destroyed the value of products and tokens.
Based on what we’ve seen working on dozens of Web3 projects over the last two years, the sector is facing a significant drop in sentiment. Trust-building is the biggest challenge, specifically in these areas:
Building confidence that the solution is impactful
Building confidence that the business is reputable
Building confidence that newbies are welcome
Building user flows that are intuitive and inclusive
Interestingly, these four areas are the demand generation principles to launch any successful SaaS product. Web3 rode a rocketship of anticipation and excitement so didn’t need to worry about the front door experience in the way that most product teams would have to. Just like the apps that flooded the App Store, the buzz of something new led to a cooling-off period when many apps died off or were consolidated into more useful suites of tools. Web3 will likely face a similar phase when fewer apps will gain much bigger traction with the general population.
Core to this next phase of adoption will be addressing Web3’s major UX problem. While teams at Dapper Labs (makers of NBA Top Shot) and OpenSea hurry to address trust-building challenges, others will need to quickly recognize the importance of updated UX strategies to gain new users. When I test Web3 products with new users they don’t understand the value propositions and find conversion funnels to be cumbersome.
Most Web3 products fail to explain the basics effectively: what an NFT actually is, how valuations are decided, how to get money into a wallet, and why Discord communities matter. It’s not that Web3 entrepreneurs aren’t trying to explain these on their websites and materials. It's that this is written from their perspective and to an audience that ‘gets it,’ not to those who need to be sold on why to invest their hard-earned discretionary income into a product they’ve never heard of. And with stories of security breakdowns and thefts making headlines, building trust needs to happen more consistently and effectively than ever before.
To be clear, I'm a Web3 evangelist. But I’m also pragmatic and see a critical need for the sector to evolve or else be consumed by the mega-corps that already own the internet. Re-envisioning UX strategies and investing into simplified UX helped mobile apps move from disposable to life-altering. Web3 now has that opportunity. The products have been engineering-led thus far and by shifting focus back to the customer and their needs as they move through a sometimes disorienting experience, Web3 products can better showcase value propositions in ways that fuel demand generation.
An example of this is Friends with Benefits, one of the most celebrated tokenized communities. It became the proof of concept for Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAO) thanks to its early success and influence. Its extravagantly-designed homepage is short on details and pushes users into a slow and cumbersome join process without guidance about what to do. $FWB is an exclusive community so it may be on-brand but nonetheless, its iconic position in Web3 sets a standard for other entrepreneurs (who are much less capitalized).
Web3 builders would say the cumbersome join process is a result of the technical complexities of connecting multiple services. But looking at another iconic Web3 platform, Superrare, and you’ll find the same issues:
Unclear valuable propositions on homepage
Unclear path to learn about getting started
Friction-laden join process
FAQs buried deep in information architecture
Writing is generally not inclusive to new user mental models
These issues are all resolvable and our team at PH1 Research has supported many clients to identify and overcome these UX problems. This includes working on some of the largest Web3 initiatives launched to date.
A carefully crafted user research initiative can quickly collect the uncomfortable truths that teams need to hear. The key is a balanced recruitment process where you listen to super users, early adopters, churned users, and prospective users.
Looking back at the evolution of mobile apps, their major leap forward from fad to foundational was a direct result of making listening to users a priority. There’s no doubt the product teams of today’s Web3 startups already do that but they have been blinded by the LTV of current users and not the needs of new users.
As Web3 shifts from hyper-growth mode to finding sustainability, eliminating barriers to entry and creating a more inclusive tent for all users will be critical.
Thanks to Sarah Gregory's talk at UXStrat USA for additional inspiration