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Demystifying dApps - Why the mainstream is not adopting them!

As a software developer, I get super excited like a kid on Christmas Eve when there’s a new technology to play with and often, if I really like it, I’ll use it just for the sake of using it. Blockchain is one such technology that fascinates me very much, from both technical and sociological point of view. I believe that our society will continue to go towards more decentralized solutions and that distributed applications (dApps for short) will become the main type of applications we’ll use for everyday services. But is everyone truly excited about this like I am..?

Since I work in the blockchain space, I think that my surrounding environment isn’t showing me the complete picture because most of the people I know are blockchain aficionados. This reminds me of an episode of Silicon Valley in which they launch a product based on the positive feedback they’ve received from a closed beta only to find out that ultimately the number of daily active users was very low. The disaster happened because all the people participating in the beta program where fellow engineers and tech-savvy users which do not represent a realistic user base.

During a vacation trip to my home country, I had the opportunity to talk with dozens of people that do not work in my same field and do not have a particular interest in technology, but at least they are practical with smartphones and using online services for streaming and shopping. So I thought that it might be an interesting experiment to see what they know about blockchain and if they would like to give it a try to use some dApps. I’ve asked them consistently the same three questions, helping them understand some key concepts whenever they didn’t know about them.

First I wanted to test the waters and have a basic understanding of what is the preexisting knowledge of what my test subjects already know about the blockchain space.

Have you ever heard about blockchain or Bitcoin?

I felt it was necessary to add Bitcoin to my inquiry because I believe it is a bigger buzzword than blockchain, even if it’s less related to dApps than the latter.

Almost all people that I’ve spoken with have at least heard of blockchain and Bitcoin, mostly from traditional TV news outlets that have talked about them during the bubble of late 2017. So far, so good!

Although they have heard about such things, none of them got curious enough to do some personal research on either one. As a result, their only knowledge of the subjects was a bit lacklustre:

  • Other than the fact that it exists and it has something to do with Bitcoin, no one had any idea what a blockchain is.
  • Bitcoin is a virtual currency of high value that “can make you rich” (recurring quote from many people).

Screenshot taken from Steemhunt

Next, I had to give a quick crash course on what is a blockchain and what decentralized apps bring to the table compared to traditional ones so that I could continue with my second question:

What do you think about dApps on the blockchain?

More than half of the people answered positively with some degree of interest.

The most recurringly liked feature was pseudo-anonymity since many dApps require little to no information on the user. Another praised aspect was the transparency that comes with having the chain and smart contracts publicly accessible and auditable. Finally, the less echoed appreciation was for the direct control over one's coins and tokens.

Based on this feedback, I would imagine that the average Joe would enjoy some of the essential benefits of dApps. However with the answers to my last question I was proven wrong...

Would you use dApps today?

For one reason or another, no one intends to try out dApps in the near future. Not one single person among the ones I’ve talked to. Ouch.

Here are some of the replies I received:

“I don’t get any cryptos straight away when I start?”

People do not see any immediate reward for starting to use dApps. Today, users usually get some rewards when joining a new platform like for example a month of premium features, a special in-game item or just discounts on a first purchase.

“Nothing of what already I use is there and I don’t see anything else interesting.”

People want to get things done and entertain themselves on the web: online shopping, streaming services and so on. Currently, there isn’t much of all that on the blockchain: the most there is to offer are exchange platforms, games and gamified services.

Also, the lack of big well-known companies in the blockchain space also contributes to keeping people away from it.

“I can’t use cryptos like real money.”

If cryptos are a currency, people expect to be able to spend them as easily as they would spend their local money. Sadly, there are very few real-world businesses (restaurants, pubs, shops, etc) and traditional online platforms (Amazon, eBay) that accept cryptocurrencies.

“I don’t like being responsible for my private key. What if I lose it?”

Centralized services offer tools to recover or reset a one’s account credentials should the user forget them. However, if you can't remember your wallet’s private key, there is no way to recover it, and it would be lost forever.

Even those who were intrigued about the idea of being in complete control of your assets backed out and said that they wouldn’t accept the risks.

“I don’t use a computer that often and on mobile, it looks much more complicated.”

sn’t it a bit ironic that in today’s mobile-first world the usability of dApps on mobile is more limited than on the desktop?

Things, however, are in motion. Trust Wallet is tackling the issue with a store-like dApp explorer integrated into their wallet app but not all current dApps support it. Metamask also seems to be on the works on something for the mobile ecosystem but nothing concrete for the time being.

ETHEREMON dApp (my new Ether Monster!)

“If I have to pay for each action in games I don’t care.”

For any action you want to make in EOS Knights, CryptoKitties or any other blockchain-based game, you must perform a transaction which always involves spending some cryptos. For this, casual gamers are not interested as they are not interested in spending frequently in games.

Instead, people are used to free-to-play, ad-supported games or one-time purchase titles in app stores.

Conclusions

This experiment opened my eyes on two things. The first being that common people do not care about the underlying technology of service or if a different approach to services, in the long run, will bring more benefits than existing models: they just want to get things done today, quickly and comfortably. I most likely already realized this but didn’t want to accept it.

The second realization is about the current dApp ecosystem: the current user experience is nowhere near that of established ones offered by tech giants, both in quantity and quality.

Ultimately, most ordinary people do not see any immediate advantage in using dApps today, and even the few that do see something of value do not think that it’s worth dealing with the concerns they pointed out during my research.

Maybe dApps are not ready for prime time, because it requires some degree of technical knowledge from the user, but I’ve seen this ecosystem grow rapidly in the last couple of years and it continues to do so almost relentlessly that I’m still convinced that it will eventually reach the point that it will be easily accessible for most people with plenty of meaningful solutions to offer.

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(Main photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash)

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About the Author

Matei Radu

Since being eight years old brat, Matt’s affection for computers only grew up with him. As an experienced Full-Stack Developer, with a focus on Kotlin and Javascript, he advocates for the open-source philosophy and community empowerment through software.

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