Web3 has received a lot of hype from cryptocurrency proponents as the next evolution of the internet built on a foundation of blockchain technology, but thus far, adoption has lagged due to the complexity of onboarding into Web3 and a lack of tools to help users with the process.
Wednesday’s announcement of a partnership between Microsoft and Aptos Labs to create the “Aptos Assistant” chatbot to help new user onboarding into Web3 is an example of the efforts companies are taking to help with the process, but there is still a lot of work to be done if the global population is to one day become Web3-capable.
To get a better understanding of the challenges facing user onboarding into Web3, Kitco Crypto had a conversation with Elena Sinelnikova, co-founder and decentralization coordinator for the Ethereum layer-2 protocol Metis and co-founder of CryptoChicks, a non-profit organization that has become an international hub for educating women and youth in blockchain entrepreneurship and technology in 56 countries.
“Putting users back in control is the main value proposition of blockchain-powered Web3 platforms,” Sinelnikova said. “But that’s also their biggest challenge vis-à-vis legacy systems – it’s the root of blockchain’s complexity from the end user’s PoV.”
She noted that the seamless and hassle-free nature of Web2 is due to centralized ownership and control, and said end-users “pay a hefty price for this convenience as centralization increases counterparty risks like manipulation, censorship, de-platforming, and so on.”
Web3 is intended to transform this dynamic and make using the internet more user-focused. “By enabling genuine ownership and control for users or community members, it fosters autonomy and self-sovereign digital interactions,” she said. “This radically transforms our lives online.”
“But at the same time, end-user autonomy introduces multiple layers of backend complexities, which only highly skilled developers can solve, given adequate know-how,” she added. “It’s a paradox where you have to choose between simplicity and a high degree of end-user control. You couldn’t have both.”
While the backend complexities have presented a major roadblock in the past, Sinelnikova said that ongoing developments will “soon make this problem obsolete,” and “already have, to some extent.”
“The complexity of blockchain-based platforms is due to how the components interact,” she said. “That’s why simplifying Web3 processes requires a holistic approach, with a series of related efforts. Developing user-friendly interfaces and streamlined onboarding processes are the two most important requirements. The onboarding part is especially crucial because a rough experience here can be pretty much a deal-breaker for most potential users.”
While simplifying Web3 protocols and applications is a main focus for companies moving forward, Sinelnikova warned there’s a limit to what can be done, and said, “some people will always find things challenging.”
“So, besides innovating rich experiences, it’s also necessary to educate people about Web3, how to use it, and so on,” she said. “Because familiarity begets simplicity – things you’re familiar with are also often easier.”
She added that when compared to the Web3 space from two to three years ago, things have steadily changed for the better as the industry has moved from needing to know Command Line Interface (CLI) to interact with robust protocols to having straightforward and intuitive user interfaces as the norm.
“Thanks to emerging Layer-2 solutions and ‘Smart L2’ platforms like Metis, Web3 users can now access fast, secure, and cost-effective digital transactions across sectors and use cases,” she said. “General computing capabilities have also improved significantly in recent years, as have core aspects like privacy, security, and above all, scalability.”
When it comes to what still needs to be improved, Sinelnikova said the onboarding process for many platforms is still confusing and complicated, “particularly with regard to integrating KYC/AML procedures in a way that balances regulatory obligations and end-users expectations.”
Attracting more users to the Metaverse
On the topic of ways to attract new users to the metaverse, Sinelnikova highlighted “genuine, long-term utility” as the most important factor.
“The metaverse must be value-driven to achieve sustained user interest and adoption,” she said. “It can’t be just another digital realm where people spend time. It must rather adopt frameworks and business models that unleash the true potential of the underlying technologies. Because that’s what the metaverse is meant to be – the space where all Web3 components come together for an immersive, futuristic user experience.”
She noted that top brands like Louis Vuitton, Adidas, and Nike establishing a presence in the metaverse has helped provide an adoption boost, but said it’s important that we “ensure fair opportunities for smaller enterprises, retail merchants, or even individual-led businesses” moving forward.
“The same applies to budding content creators and so on,” she added. “Unlike Web2 digital forums, the metaverse must truly be a community-oriented digital realm where anyone can thrive as long as they put in the effort, irrespective of legacy.”
Sinelnikova also said that seamless interoperability and scalability are two keys to the future success of metaverse platforms, but cautioned that this “will require some work on the technical front, which is already underway.”
One recent development that holds significant promise in helping onboard users into Web3 was the introduction of ‘account abstraction’ on the Ethereum network. In simple terms, account abstraction enables the creation of smart accounts and offers a path to a more user-friendly blockchain experience.
“The word out there is that account abstraction will help onboard the next one billion users to Web3. And it’s indeed possible,” Sinelnikova said. “By practically turning Ethereum-based wallets into smart contracts, it can boost the user experience 10x, be it in terms of security, seamlessness, or simplicity.”
She noted that one of the best features of account abstraction is that it removes the need for seed phrases, which “is much-needed for mainstream users because the hassle and risks of managing private keys or seeds is currently one of their biggest pain points in Web3.”
“In the past four decades of using the internet, it’s clear how we fail miserably at keeping passwords safe,” she said. “And the stakes are much higher in Web3 since losing seed phrases could mean losing your entire portfolio. The entire responsibility of not making mistakes is on the users, which isn’t altogether desirable.”
Account abstraction also allows familiar Web2 features to be integrated into Web3 while maintaining the self-custody paradigm. “For example, you can use social restore or biometric verification to restore lost wallets – i.e., the Web3 alternative to ‘forgot my password’,” she said. “You can also pay for gas in any token, not just ETH, or even fund transactions for others.”
“There’s endless possibility, but the crux of it is that account abstractions – currently via EIP-4337 – can make Web3 relevant and accessible for the masses,” Sinelnikova said.
Metis is doing its part to help increase the adoption of Web3 by implementing many of the benefits added through account abstraction, including boosting scalability and developing user-friendly interfaces. “At Metis, our main goal is to help non-Web3 individuals and firms with their Web3 transformation,” she said.
The need for regulatory clarity
Another thing that would help facilitate onboarding new users into web3 is greater regulatory clarity. “But it’s important to note that regulators are also taking baby steps, as is the broader Web3 industry itself,” she said. “There’s still a lot we can learn from each other, and that’s what we must do.”
“The problem with regulatory uncertainty is that businesses don’t know what to expect,” Sinelnikova said. “They don’t know for sure what’s right or wrong, either. And this ultimately hurts the end-users and investors who put their funds into projects that suddenly get taken down, often without clear justifications.”
She noted that the EU has made considerable advancements on this front with the passage of the Markets in Crypto Assets (MiCA) bill, as has the U.K. with its legislative efforts, but said authorities in the US “often regulate via enforcement rather than policy, which is very destabilizing overall.”
“I believe progressive, multilateral, and clear communication can solve the ordeal, fostering collaboration instead of unhealthy competition,” she said.
Attracting talent to web3 development
Another key piece to increasing the adoption of web3 is attracting both up-and-coming as well as experienced developers to the blockchain ecosystem.
“Implementing strong incentive models and profitable revenue streams can help,” she said. “Developers might come to the space for passion, but they’ll need proper access to resources and income to continue in the long run.”
She also said that “steep and lengthy learning curves are a key deterrent for new people wanting to explore blockchains and related technologies,” so “building systems that ease the learning curve for developers will help attract more people to start creating in Web3.”
Women in blockchain and Web3
When asked what she feels is the main thing keeping more women from getting involved in the blockchain industry, and what could be done to improve this, Sinelnikova said the beauty of Web3 “lies in its non-discriminatory nature.”
“For the first time in centuries, we now have the tools to ensure equality and fairness, embedding progressive principles in code,” she said. “Of course, we must make sure to avoid championing the ‘tech-bro culture’ in Web3, and it should be our priority from the get-go. Web3 is and can be a safe space for everyone, where opportunities are based on merits and actual contributions.”
Outside of the “general constraints that women have historically faced worldwide, there’s not much stopping them from joining Web3,” she said. “And on the brighter side, we have many inspiring figures in the space already, solving problems for end-users, as well as potential co-workers.”
Recommendations for newcomers to Web3
As for her advice to individuals looking to get involved with blockchain technology and Web3 for the first time, Sinelnikova’s biggest suggestion is that they “Enter Web3 with an open and long-term mindset.”
“We’re still in the early days and there’s a long way to go,” she said. “And in this journey, the sooner we focus on value rather than hype, the better it will be for the future. Moreover, make sure to do your own research and nurture an adversarial mindset – approach things critically, not blindly.”