Dissecting the onboarding journey for new users to NEAR Protocol

Layer 1s must understand the experience of users new to their ecosystems.

Read the full user research report, or scroll on for a high level summary.

Layer 1 protocols (L1s) have bold growth ambitions, and NEAR is no exception. But the growing number of L1s are fighting for attention — and funds — from the same pool of existing web3 users (without more compelling use cases and easier onboarding, adoption by non-crypto users remains a ‘one day’ goal).

We talk regularly in web3 about increasing adoption, but projects and protocols are swamped by the loud voices of those already onboarded and engaged. The problem of being too close to one’s own ecosystem and its existing users is that teams can forget to focus on the groups of people who have not yet adopted. What dissenting voices, naysayers and apathetic users are being consulted to understand their experiences, and attract that audience?

The OpenUX research approach

In January 2023, NEAR Foundation awarded OpenUX a grant to conduct exploratory user research that would benefit them and the broader ecosystem of builders. We decided to focus our user research study on the experiences of users who are brand new to the ecosystem, and investigate the discovery, research and onboarding phases of their journeys.

We recruited participants to the study, interviewed them, and then observed them going through the process of discovering and learning about NEAR, and then trying (and mostly failing) to onboard themselves. We began with users looking at tweets from NEAR (Twitter is a popular starting point for the discovery of new crypto projects). They then spent around 40 minutes visiting anywhere they liked on the internet to research what NEAR is, and whether it was right for them, all the way up to attempting to engage with a dApp.

We recruited our participants via Web3UX. The participants were those already well-versed in web3, actively transacting and engaging on other protocols, but had never used NEAR and in most cases knew very little about it.

Some key learnings

  • L1 ecosystems like NEAR need to adequately address all types of users in their messaging, not just developers. Dedication to attracting ecosystem builders can lead to off-putting messaging and poor signposting for the average web3 user (and we know from previous research for NEAR that developers are disappointed to be building in an ecosystem with few users).

  • Open and distributed protocol teams without a coherent UX and comms strategy end up with fragmented domains and products all across the web that cause confusion in the mind of the end user. The tooling and website documentation created at launch of a protocol or service that is “good enough” for motivated early adopters often gets forgotten about as more ambitious projects are initiated internally, and these legacy artefacts — no longer fit for purpose — become a hindrance to new users. The best messaging and documentation may be hidden deep within a site. How much should we expect of a brand new user to deeply research a new protocol when they may be already satisfied with the other options available to them?

  • Users want to understand uniqueness, use cases, backers and partners, and what real projects they can interact with. They need very clear ‘what next’ CTAs.

  • Trust remains key. Personal recommendations are the number one driver for whether a user decides to use a network or not.

  • “Try before you buy” experiences are essential for new users in a world where it costs real money to make interactions. If an L1 requires the user to hold a specific token just to sign into a dApp (you need $NEAR to sign in, not just to transact!), then the battle to onboard new users is even harder. The requirement for a user to commit to exchanging crypto into a new token, or on-ramping via fiat, in order to just to tell if a product or network is worth using is a huge ask. This is why Product Design and Protocol Design should go hand-in-hand; users should not be an afterthought after the code has been written.

Read the full user research report for detailed findings and recommendations.

Why ecosystem research like this is important

User research like this widens our perspectives, providing fresh eyes on all the elements of the user journey that we take for granted. L1s are in a unique position to conduct holistic user research; every part of the experience is important to them, not just a singular wallet, dApp or informational website. Individual teams will (hopefully) run their own robust UX research to optimise their part of the journey, but who’s looking at the big picture?

We encourage all web3 ecosystem foundations to conduct deep user testing of the experiences of new users. If you’re interested in speaking with OpenUX about how user research can support your own adoption goals, reach out to us.

And lastly, it’s the ambition of OpenUX to publish as much research as possible in order to equip the entire crypto and web3 ecosystem with robust and reliable insights. What published research would people like to see in the future? Let us know in the comments.

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