Growing the Blockchain Community
NEO’s first ever DevCon wrapped up last Wednesday afternoon. Over the course of the two-day conference, a lot of great conversations arose among the speakers, panelists, and attendees. One recurring conversation stuck out, though. Over and over, developers, investors, and newcomers lamented blockchain’s barriers to entry for new users.
While the conference focused on NEO and developing its user and developer community, the discussion of user experience applies across blockchain technologies. Over the past year, blockchain has gained recognition in mainstream media. Along with the recognition comes new users who are interested in blockchain, but may not be technical enough to get started without help.
That being the case, blockchain adoption in 2018 and beyond will depend on improving the onboarding experience. Companies want to learn how to get started with the revolutionary technology. Software developers are interested in learning how to code dapps and smart contracts. Average users need help setting up wallets and using dapps.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the biggest themes coming out of NEO’s DevCon in terms of growing the blockchain community.
Blockchain’s User Experience Problem
Creating a wallet, sending tokens, using dapps, or operating a node shouldn’t be difficult. However, it’s overwhelming for new users to learn the ground rules for participating in the blockchain ecosystem.
Blockchain is similar to the internet in the early 90s. Websites were poorly designed and difficult to use compared to today’s web applications. The same trend in usability and mass adoption is likely to take place for blockchain over the next few years.
Right now, blockchain user experience is lacking, and small errors have huge consequences. For example, mistyping a wallet address when sending tokens could mean that those tokens are lost forever. New users commonly lose their private keys or misunderstand the security concerns of using exchange wallets.
This is partially an education issue. However, it’s also a user experience problem. Multiple speakers, panelists, and attendees touched on this core issue with blockchain during NEO’s DevCon. There are some exciting initiatives that prioritize design and user onboarding. These include wallets like the O3 gateway or Ethos that are mobile-first and designed to be intuitive.
When implemented well, good user experience design can be intuitive and protect users from making mistakes without sacrificing security. Making blockchain easier for first time users will be a key to driving adoption.
Lack of Unbiased, Hype-Free Information
Another key theme at NEO DevCon was the absence of unbiased information in the space. Often, it’s difficult to know what to believe on Reddit, Steemit, or blogs where so many posts seem to be shilling the latest ICO.
The mood at NEO’s DevCon was openly curious and interested in quality content from media outlets and reliable resources. Good journalistic sources like NEO News Today received repeated praise from speakers at the conference for their unbiased coverage of developments in NEO. There’s certainly room for more such sources for blockchain as a whole.
Need for Simpler Developer Onboarding
Many of the attendees at NEO’s DevCon were developers with significant experience in software, but little to no experience developing on the blockchain. During his panel appearance, City of Zion co-founder Fabio Canesin received multiple questions about getting involved with development projects on the NEO blockchain.
The interest is strong. However, there isn’t yet a clear onboarding tutorial series or resource guide for new developers to start coding smart contracts on any platform, be it Ethereum, NEO, Qtum, etc. Creating such a resource could go a long way toward adding new developers to the blockchain ecosystem.
It’s also not always clear where new developers should go to find projects they can participate in. Right now, the best bet is sending a message to the Discord or Slack channel of the platform you’re interested in coding on. A database of current reputable blockchain projects that need new developers would be a good place to start.
Producing Real Value vs. Speculation
DevCon was filled with references to ICOs that didn’t lead to real results. Indeed, this is one of the major criticisms of crypto right now. There’s a lot of investment money in the ecosystem. The easy access to capital means projects don’t always think through the practical use cases for their product.
Blockchain’s reputation as a speculative industry does the underlying technology a disservice. There’s real potential in blockchain and other public-ledger technologies to change the way we think about identity, supply chains, and building trust between parties. The challenge is few projects have produced solid, measurable results for real-world uses yet. When they do, they’re drowned out in the noise of blockchain as a whole.
Over time, however, we’ll see that projects with measurable lasting impacts will outlive the current hype, establishing blockchain as a valuable technological innovation instead of a hyped up trend.
Clear Path for Existing Companies to Start Using Blockchain
Many attendees at NEO’s DevCon were representing traditional businesses who were interested in seeing how blockchain could work for them. The problem? They didn’t know where to start or who to ask.
It’s easy to get a basic overview of blockchain technology from a Google search. It’s much harder to find someone knowledgeable enough in blockchain development to consult with your company and tell you if and how blockchain could work for you.
As the number and quality of blockchain developers increases, expect to see a rise in blockchain consulting practices that help small to mid-sized businesses figure out how to integrate blockchain solutions into their business models.
NEO’s DevCon showed us that there is significant, serious interest in blockchain use, development, and enterprise applications. However, there are roadblocks in the way of user and developer adoption. Overcoming those obstacles will be key to driving blockchain adoption over the coming years.
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