I’ve been thinking a lot about how the UX of the blockchain apps will evolve and came across this article from Techcrunch.
The linked article argues that new technologies always emerge in a specific context. Forcing old paradigms onto it may result in a ‘technologicall tiller’.
‘Technological tiller’ is a phrase coined by Scott Jenson, who is one of the UX leaders for Google’s Internet of Things efforts. The term refers to first automobiles that used a navigation mechanism used by boats — a tiller — before a steering wheel was invented.
Early car manufacturers applied a steering solution that was not suited to a new technology only because it was familiar to them.
How does it apply to modern UIs and interfaces then?
The article highlights the rise of the messaging apps like Whatsapp, Telegram or Slack and emergence of text bots.
While messaging has become central to our everyday lives, it’s currently only used in the narrow context of personal communications. What if we could extend messaging beyond this? What if messaging could transform the way we interact with computers the same way it transformed the way we interact with each other?
Why messaging is potentially better suited for blockchains from the UX perspective?
It made me think about applying this to the context of blockchain apps.
Are the graphical interfaces (GUIs) suitable for blockchain based applications? What are their advantages and disadvantages?
User expectations will vary depending on the interface they interact through. With the graphical interface, there is an expectation of an instant feedback. When pressing a button to take an action, I’m expecting an immediate response from the interface.
The problem with blockchain interactions is that users have to wait at least 15 seconds (as it’s the case with Ethereum now) for their action to be confirmed. The waiting time will vary depending on how fast miners will discover the next block.
This limitation might disappear once blockchains evolve and achieve faster block times. But for the nearest future, we can’t expect sub-second block times that would be necessary for a smooth blockchain interaction using a GUI.
But what about messaging?
What if we interacted with a smart contract on the blockchain using a text-messaging interface?
Could it be a better alternative if people are comfortably using messaging for so many use cases?
There are a couple reasons this could be a good UX choice:
- messaging is an asynchronous form of communication. The same 15 seconds of waiting time, which feels buggy on a GUI, is perfectly fine when using messaging.
- messaging as UX is aligned with the underlying architecture of blockchains. Accounts and smart contracts modify their state by exchanging ‘text messages’ with each other. Text messaging is a common communication pattern for blockchains and humans.
- users are already familiar with payments over SMS. Most of the SMS payment schemes are simple today, but we can imagine interacting with a cryptocurrency enabled bot using a messaging app.
- whatsapp, telegram or slack bots are exploding in popularity.
How the blockchain can add value to the messaging apps and bots?
In this context the blockchain acts as an:
- interaction layer for bots operating between various platforms — it provides interoperability and value exchange.
- audit layer — everyone can audit the bot behaviour as the open data is public. So the bot activity data is not again locked to the hosting platform (slack, whatsapp, telegram) but is publicly accessible on the blockchain+IPFS stack.
Not all bot activity would be time stamped and public. But as discovery of content is moving to virtual bot assistants, we need an open data backbone for these bots to interoperate on. The blockchain can provide that.
Today, we have one giant Google bot crawling the web and serving results via a proprietary interface.
Tomorrow, we might see it replaced by a mesh network of thousands of bots, serving results and providing discovery services via mobile text interfaces.
The blockchain would provide the common language and exchange layer for these bots and users interacting on various platforms. Similarly to Bitcoin being the independent ledger for user facing financial apps.
And the incentivization model I’ve outlined in my previous article could be used as foundation for ‘AdWords For Bots’.
What do you think?