NEAR: The Most Usable Blockchain
Usability is the biggest hurdle to Web3 adoption today. When a user first interacts with a dapp on most chains, they first need to go through the arduous process of creating an account and acquiring some type of token to perform even a single action in an application.
The journey doesn't get easier as they continue. They need to sign transactions whenever they interact with the blockchain in a non-read-only fashion. Even with browser plugins, which arguably makes the experience more tolerable, the constant struggle to go back and forth between the dapp and the user’s wallet can be highly frustrating and confusing.
A seasoned Web3 user may find nothing wrong with the experience, yet there is a huge gap between the aforementioned user journey and a typical user journey in a Web2 app. Consider YouTube: when a potential user signs up, they only need to provide their email address. When they click on a video to watch, they don’t pay for the video before they start watching it.
If the user determines that YouTube is of great value to them and does not want to watch ads within a video, they can sign up for YouTube Premium, a subscription service where they pay a recurring fee every month. The experience is quite simple for the user. This kind of simplicity and accessibility is sorely lacking in most Web3 products today.
One might argue that it is the responsibility of dapp developers to ensure a great experience for their users. That is not entirely true. Fundamental features such as the account model, block time, transaction fees, and the smart contract programming model are determined by the protocol.
Although some features may be replicable on the application level, the harder it is for developers to develop a dapp, the less likely they are to spend time polishing the experience for their users. This vicious cycle ends up hurting end-users and, as a result, the entire ecosystem. Conversely, the more support the protocol has for usability, the easier it is for developers to build usable dapps, which in turn attracts more users.
Usability is also not just about making it easy for users to use the platform. One could argue that the biggest usability problem of Ethereum today is its low transaction throughput. 12 transactions per second is too low given the amount of demand and is precisely what led to the rise of new layer one protocols that aim to address the scalability problem, as well as the introduction of layer 2's and modularity solutions on ETH itself. In essence, the scalability problem is also a usability problem.
Conversely, building an infinitely scalable blockchain in a vacuum does not achieve anything if no one ends up using it. In a similar vein, if a blockchain has security vulnerabilities that lead to users losing their assets, it is not usable either.
NEAR’s vision is a world where creativity is no longer limited by technology. The ecosystem’s goal is to reach one billion active users in the first five years. That would not be possible without centering the protocol around usability. After all, how could there be one billion users if it is hard for people to join the ecosystem and interact with applications?
Today there are 20 million accounts on NEAR: that is 2% of the way to a billion. If we are to succeed, usability has to be at the center of the ecosystem at every layer, including protocol development.
The Web3 usability dilemma described at the beginning of this post can be solved. The introduction of meta transactions will remove the need for users to acquire NEAR tokens before using apps built on NEAR. If NEAR supports secp256r1 keys, the onboarding process will be even easier as a smartphone will map directly to an address on-chain.
Users can then pay a subscription service in fiat to have the application pay transaction fees for them and sign transactions easily through the secure enclave they have on their phone. The Web2 experience is now within reach without middlemen or the risk of demonetization.
Delivering the benefits of the Open Web to everyone depends on prioritizing usability and accessibility all the way down to the core protocol technology.
This is what it means to create without limits: if we solve as many developer obstacles and usability problems as possible at the protocol layer, all the layers higher up the NEAR stack also become more usable and make NEAR the best place to build Web3 applications.