What Ethereum should learn from Libra: a content perspective

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Unless you’re blocked by all of crypto Twitter, you’re no doubt aware of Facebook’s foray into blockchain: Libra. Like many people working in the Ethereum ecosystem I met this news with utter disgruntlement, but thought I should check it out anyway. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer, right? Maybe it’s not a maniacal scheme to achieve complete control over our financials as well as our data…

But as I read through libra.org, a few things really surprised me. Sure, it’s not perfect content design, but it attempted what so many blockchain companies simply don’t bother with: it used language we can all understand. It spoke about people, not protocols, and mentioned how Libra could impact my life. And I think this is something we can — should! — emulate in the decentralized community. It might be our only chance to achieve mass adoption.

So what should we be copying?

A refreshing lack of jargon

I think my favourite part of the whole Libra site is that you wouldn’t necessarily even know it was a blockchain product (until you get to the white paper, of course). From a quick scan of the page, you’d probably think Libra is a new way to transfer money anywhere in the world for next to nothing. Or as easily as “sending a text message.”

This is a tangible benefit.

This tells me what I can do with it and why I might care.

Now, this wasn’t perfect — I did have to connect the dots a little. The site isn’t crystal clear about how Libra will deliver on the promise…it just says that it “should be as easy as sending a text message.” However, that is something that I can imagine doing. And something I imagine will make my life easier.

Tell a story of value not tech

Some of you might be thinking, “but isn’t bad to obfuscate the product’s technology?” Well, how often do the websites we use every day talk about the TCP/IP or HMTL protocols of web technology they sit on top of?

The value of blockchain is not yet well-known or well understood by most people, so we need to speak in terms of real life value.

Facebook doesn’t describe itself to users like:

Facebook is a social network that uses PHP, compiled with HipHop for PHP and a “source code transformer” that turns PHP into C++

Yes, this is an extreme example, but it goes to show how unclear content starts to become when you fill it with technical jargon.

As another example, most people don’t understand how cloud storage technology works, they just understand the benefits. If cloud technology means you can access your files anywhere, from any device…

Blockchain technology means you can send money anywhere in the world, securely and quickly. Or trace the provenance of goods. Or prove the existence of your credentials without sharing all your personal data. Or own one-of-a-kind collectibles.

Now, I’m not suggesting you need to ram all the benefits of blockchain down users’ throats. You need to tailor the story you tell to your dApp. But this shouldn’t be hard —the user’s reason is probably the same reason you started using blockchain technology in the first place.

Here’s a way to translate tech into benefits, and it should sound familiar…ahem…user stories. Follow this format… We use [tech, e.g. blockchain], so that… [users can…]. And when it comes to articulating this in copy, just ditch the “users can” and lead with a verb for a punchy way of saying what your service can do for your users.

Mentioning “the blockchain” isn’t enough of a reason for most people to spend time in their busy lives to try your product. This might have worked as a strategy in 2017 when investors were queuing around the block for blockchain companies. But in 2019, your users aren’t VCs looking to cash in on the latest tech, they’re people who want to use products and services that improve their lives, make things cheaper or easier to get done.

Don’t just aim at devs

Of course, there are many projects way down in the Ethereum stack that still only need to target their content at developers. For example, products like Infura don’t need to necessarily follow this content design advice. However, there are plenty of products out there in the Ethereum space who should be writing content that works harder for a wider audience. Products with ambitions of convincing everyone, even no-coiners, to stray from their centralized counterparts. DeFi, collectibles, wallets, gaming, the list goes on…

Libra is aimed at both a developer and non-developer audience. You’ve got user benefits as well as more technical content that discusses scalability, programming, etc. This is in stark contrast to ethereum.org, for example.

Ethereum.org welcomes you to the website and assumes you’re a developer straight off the bat:

Ethereum is a global, open-source platform for decentralized applications. On Ethereum, you can write code that controls digital value, runs exactly as programmed, and is accessible anywhere in the world.

If you’re not technical, this makes no sense. What if I’m not a developer? There’s not really a sense of what Ethereum can do for you, or what is new about it.

As Ethereum’s flagship site, likely a first Google stop for a curious reader, maybe we should be making this language a bit more widely accessible? I understand that Ethereum.org’s primary purpose is probably to attract more devs to the space. And sure, you need builders to build stuff that users want. But you also need users in the space to help direct product teams on what to build. You need to talk about what you might be able to achieve with the technology to excite and interest potential users, who in turn grow the community and opportunities to build more stuff.

Libra talks about “reinventing money,” improving “lives” and “a simple global currency and financial infrastructure.” It’s vague, but it might just be enough to have users stick around to find out more. And it really stands out against the words and phrases I’m used to seeing on even the most widely used Ethereum dApp sites: your “nodes,” “protocols,” “smart contracts,” “keys,” “hashes,” “distributed web,” and “signing blockchain transactions.”

These are the terms that send users running because they demand so much knowledge to comprehend. This makes Ethereum products inaccessible for so many of the people we want to attract.

Think about all the traders and investors who’d be power DeFi users if it weren’t for the linguistic wall they immediately meet on most DeFi dApps. They don’t care that their crypto gets “locked up in a smart contract,” they care that it’s going to appreciate over time… that they’re going to see returns. This is something dharma.io and their “magical internet money” do incredibly well, for example, and they’re one of the few.

As it stands today, most Ethereum products can only communicate with a tiny subset of users already familiar with basic concepts and comfortable interacting with blockchain and Web3 technologies. We’re excluding anyone without a certain level of technical knowledge. Opening up this user group and improving your product starts with the content, explanations, and how we communicate in general. That’s what good content design aims to do, and I hope to see more of it in the next phase of ecosystem development.

If we start aiming our content at a wider, less technical audience and abstract away the blockchain complexity, the opportunities for growth and adoption will follow.

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