Web 3: The road to mass adoption

Ask any thought leader worth their salt and they will tell you that web3 is the next big thing in the computing space. Ask any product manager however and they’ll tell you a different story. Presently, it is challenging to build web3 products for the masses. The available solutions require users to have a basic level of crypto-literacy. New users coming to the crypto world have to go through a learning curve. Driven by the allure of crypto, most users are willing to invest the required time or money. However, if the benefits of web3 were to percolate to all, the user experience needs to be simple and easier to comprehend. This article tries to highlight the challenges for mass adoption of web 3 applications, summarize the work done till now and highlight a few areas worth exploring to achieve the same.

Let’s start by summarizing the benefits of Web3 applications. The term web3 is used to refer to the third wave of internet applications, one which focuses on decentralization. These are the successor to applications being used presently, also referred to as web2. The objectives of the web3 revolution are as follows

  • Give the control back to the users of their personal and business data
  • Reduce dependency of users, such as buyers and sellers, on centralized intermediaries.
  • Build more resilient and available applications
  • Enable a token ecosystem that is designed as a part of the application and not tagged on as an afterthought.

Applications built inline with the Web3 ideology are called DApps or Decentralized Applications. They leverage smart contracts deployed on blockchain platforms such as Ethereum. Polygon, BSC, Solana, etc. and Web3 APIs, such as web3js. Additionally, they rely on wallet apps such as Metamask or Phantom wallet. These wallets store the user’s digital identity and authenticate it through public-key cryptography. This identity is persisted on a hardware controlled by the user, either on his/her personal computer or a hardware wallet. User’s can interact directly with smart contracts and the blockchain through these wallets.

Despite the obvious advantages of web3 DApps, users still face the following challenges –

  1. User’s need a basic understanding of cryptography for using their wallet apps securely and safely. The web2 user switching over to web3 might be overwhelmed.
  2. With the elimination of middle men, also comes an additional responsibility on users. Transactions signed and initiated cannot be reversed. This is especially true for financial transactions, where banks and payment gateways allow you to dispute transactions and reverse transactions
  3. Since the user is in control of their digital identity, if they lose control of their wallet, they lose access, including tokens held by them.
  4. Decentralized applications hosted on public blockchains like Ethereum, require users to pay a fee for smart contract transactions. This is a significant hurdle and the end-benefit might not be clear to the user outright. Users also need to buy crypto to pay the fee. This can further deter their interest
  5. Support for mobile in the web3 world is rudimentary and still a bit complex from the user’s point of view

 

 

Many successful solutions have been implemented to iron out these challenges. These are as below-

  1. Many DApps chose to centralize some aspects of their platform so they have more control and can improve the user experience. Some operational features of DApps are kept offchain to reduce the transaction fee spend by the user. Eg. Opensea’s NFT minting mechanism.
  2. Many applications follow the middle road between web2 and web3. They allow users to signup and access with email or their social media accounts but require the user to connect a web3 wallet for transactions. Eg. Rally.io, PlotX.io
  3. The ENS (Ethereum Name Service) is an ambitious project. It creates a web3-wide standard for easy to remember names for addresses to receive tokens, crypto or NFTs. These names can also be used as domain names
  4. The Ethereum Gas Station Network (GSN) project allows DApps to pay for crypto transaction fees on their customer’s behalf
  5. Browsers like Brave and newer versions of Opera are designed for web3 and ship with many native features such as an inbuilt wallet
  6. The Wallet Connect protocol allows user’s to operate web3 DApps on their mobile by connecting their web3 wallet app

 

However mass adoption still remains a challenge. Following are some of the areas worth exploring –

 

  1. Leverage mobile phones for storing identities and biometric for authentication.
  2. Authentication workflows where details are obfuscated but at the same time they cannot be tweaked easily to steal the user’s tokens or NFTs
  3. Explore standards that allow dispute resolution using trusted oracles and smart contracts
  4. Allow intermediaries which de-risk the user but prevent lock in and dependency
  5. It is a bad idea to throw out the baby with the bathwater. We should reinterpret web2 workflows that are time tested for the web3 world
  6. DApps should self-evaluate and self-regulate and the focus should be on keeping the product easy to use and the customers safe. A community wide rating system for DApps would be handy here
  7. Decoupling of payment and tech infrastructure in the web2 world has its advantages and disadvantages. It is handy to explore the risks of coupling both.
  8. Support for offline transactions and using feature phones or kiosks should be explored in areas with no or low connectivity.

 

It is widely acknowledged that web3 is currently in Geocities phase. It is much-needed enhancement to web2 and but it has a long way to go for widespread user adoption.

 

The article is contributed by Mr. Ishan Roy, He heads the Blockchain initiative at the Centre of Excellence for Emerging Technologies (CEET) at the Tamil Nadu e-Governance Agency (TNeGA).