It’s been over 14 years since Bitcoin first graced the global stage, but despite a Cambrian explosion of industry innovation, the adoption of blockchain and digital assets at large is lagging. The reasons for this vary and undoubtedly include the volatility of the market and ongoing stigmas marring the industry. However, a large contributing factor is the awkward user experience and a distinct lack of simplified onboarding methods. 

Users don’t want to adopt a new technology that is confusing and risky, even if they’re aware of the potential benefits. Speedier and less costly transactions and verifiable digital ownership are great, but choosing which blockchain and wallet to use, learning to care for your private keys, managing gas fees, and performing transactions are far beyond most people’s comfort levels. This is one of the major hurdles holding the space back from broader adoption.

Sending and receiving cryptocurrency and other digital assets should be as easy as sending a text message. To onboard everyday users, Web3 applications need to be both trustworthy and simple to use. A trusted axiom when developing new products is “changing user behavior is hard… really hard.” Using familiar behaviors that unlock new benefits is the path to scale and adoption. 

Users want simplicity

Users typically don’t need — and often don’t want — to know what’s going on under the hood, especially if what’s under the hood is NFTs or blockchain. Instead, it simply needs to work from their point of view. This is important because once users can interact seamlessly, companies can step in and begin to offer unique experiences that take advantage of the benefits that Web3 offers. 

A perfect example of this comes from the recent “Collectible Avatars” launched by Reddit, which saw unprecedented adoption — primarily from Web3 rookies. Importantly, Reddit’s activation avoided any mention of NFTs. The assets were easy to understand and use, brought real utility to those who held them, and could be purchased with traditional fiat, not crypto. 

Bringing well-known and trusted companies into this movement will be critical to spreading adoption. These technologies need to be implemented by major industry players to breed customer trust. This isn’t a new revelation, either. Take PayPal, for instance, which gained prominence not only for its utility but because it was implemented by the well-established auction site eBay. Once people saw the PayPal brand associated with something they already trusted, consumers began to see the benefits it could offer.

To ensure brands want to build in this space, however, we need more than savvy, smoke-and-mirror marketing, and big-time partnerships. We need an entirely new paradigm for user onboarding, new at least in the crypto world. But it is actually quite familiar to the masses.

Old solution to new problem 

Despite numerous advances over the past years, onboarding remains one of the most recurring pain points for the decentralized industry, frequently standing between Web3 platforms and millions of potential users. This is why optimizing and enhancing user onboarding must be among Web3 builders’ main priorities for the space to unlock its true potential and reach mass adoption. One of the most profound solutions to this problem lies in utilizing everyday technology such as mobile phones — which represent the world’s most extensive unique global directory system effortlessly linking people from far-flung corners of the globe in a simple, cheap and secure way. 

Although numerous Web3 platforms incorporate third-party logins, such as Google, Facebook or Twitter to simplify user onboarding, this approach restricts reach to users who possess specific accounts, not to mention exposing them to potential data harvesting techniques of big tech. 

In contrast, personal phone numbers are more ubiquitous, inclusive, and readily accessible than social media platforms. Even if someone is indifferent to social media, they are likely to have a phone number, enabling them to effortlessly begin using digital assets.

Harnessing this approach opens the door to functional cross-industry campaigns that bridge the gap between the real world and the digital. Which is crucial to the vision of Web3 in the first place. Imagine a gamer who has connected their Web3 wallet with their mobile number. They click on a link that has an “NFT Starter Pack” to their phone number-based wallet. When they click the link, they not only get a wallet and NFT, they are launched into the game, fully authenticated and ready to engage. They can then leverage this wallet as a credential to play blockchain-powered games. One day the player opens a loot crate, but in addition to exciting new gear, they also unlock a free order of fries from a restaurant like Wendy’s. Since their wallet is connected to their phone, all they have to do is go to any Wendy’s, scan a QR code generated by their device’s wallet, and they can receive their free fries. The coupon they utilize is a one-time NFT sent to them, and their phone acts as the verification device confirming they control that wallet.

What this means is making NFTs about more than just trading media. Instead, these digital assets can act as certificates, access passes, credentials and pretty much anything else they need to be. Because of the immutable nature of blockchain, these assets are perfectly positioned to be a new, more engaging way for people to interact with brands and services.

Blockchain’s untapped potential

This stands to unlock an entirely new type of “token-gated” customer experience. Businesses can offer engaging new promotions and added benefits, incentivizing consumer loyalty by providing tangible rewards for those who hold their assets. In addition to expanded loyalty, the upside for brands is that they can have more control and visibility over these campaigns and accurately collect data surrounding what users respond to. This has traditionally been difficult for companies to do with such events, but utilizing blockchain makes building more focused and granular offerings much easier. As for consumers, they can unlock value-added experiences that enhance how they engage with their favorite platforms and products.

Bringing an easy access point to Web3 can also help bridge the physical world with the metaverse. Even offline, a phone could scan or generate QR codes allowing user wallets to interact with promotional materials and services. When online, platforms can connect to that wallet directly for sending or receiving transactions. This means that a user’s wallet will provide access to almost everything that a company offers, streamlining the experience and maximizing interoperability.

The ultimate key to all of this is simplicity and utility built around how users interact with brands. Wallets need to be as easy to use as the most popular Web2 applications, they need to work universally with services, and they need to offer real benefits. Once this is realized, a world of possibilities opens up for how businesses and consumers interact. This is what will drive actual global adoption. Until this happens, the Web3 space will continue to be a novelty and a fascinating technology, but not the world-changing new paradigm it aims to be.