Usability is one of crypto’s biggest problems. Block times, private keys, and worst of all the address: a 64-character gibberish alphanumeric string, in which a single typo can make your money disappear forever. Not to mention the unsecure way these public keys are typically being shared, via text or email that can easily be intercepted, then changed, and the sender has no way to know.
Many attempts have been made to address the issue of human readable addresses, including blockchain-specific and platform specific solutions, as well as through the Decentralized Domain Naming Service. But to date, these attempts have fallen short and demonstrate that a blockchain and platform agnostic approach, which also tackles crypto usability and interoperability, is needed to drive adoption.
Let’s explore the three main categories that have been proposed to date:
Some blockchains utilize their own mechanism of human-readable addresses, but it only applies to the tokens or coins of that particular blockchain. Most notably, the Ethereum Naming Service (ENS) is one of the most well-known attempts at solving this issue (for Ethereum only, obviously). Other blockchains, including Stellar, NEO, Burst and Dash, also have their own mechanisms.
Many of these attempts are as complicated to use as the problem they are trying to solve and they require the wallets to invest time and money enabling user access with no immediate return on that investment to the wallet company.
Additionally, these types of solutions still lead to a future where a user will have keep track of a virtual rolodex of names – one for each blockchain – and some that have no naming system at all. Can you imagine if website all had different formats for their address and some simply used IP addresses?
The next category of human readable address solutions are platform-specific (a wallet app or exchange). These platforms provide a variety of additional features, such as the ability to send tokens to email addresses, over SMS, or to a list of contacts.
These type of solutions provide several highly desirable features, such as the ability to send funds to a user who doesn’t have a wallet yet (either the platform creates a wallet on their behalf, or plays custodian until that user signs up). In addition, these solutions often allow you to register a single name that maps to multiple blockchains’ public addresses.
For example, Stellar’s federation protocol that is currently live on StellarX lets anyone link their name, website or even email account to a blockchain address. Dash too has announced plans to include human-legible names in the new Evolution dApp, allowing anyone to “add contacts and pay them by name.”
In terms of features and usability – these approaches certainly fit the bill. The only problem? Most of these solutions only work if everyone is using their platform.
Want to send crypto to an email address? Sure – but you need to send that transaction from a specific app, and the person you send it to also needs to sign up for that app to receive the funds. If blockchain goes the way of Facebook, with only one dominant player, then a “walled garden” solution could work – but let’s hope that’s not the future we have in store.
Decentralized Domain Naming Services
The final category of naming solutions are actually addressing a different issue altogether, and it just happens to also address human readable addresses so gets confused with those needed for crypto wallets.
Blockchain naming services are a broad category of protocols that are focused on the decentralized web – i.e., decentralizing the infrastructure layer of the internet. This includes servers, file storage, and most notably – DNS.
DNS is the original human-readable naming solution for the internet. All websites live on a server that have an IP address like 192.168.1.1. Obviously not memorable, so DNS was invented, which maps something memorable like www.domain.com to that IP address.
Many platforms that seek to decentralize the web have to contend with the DNS issue. DNS is a highly centralized system, so in order for a decentralized web to truly exist, these domain name/IP address mappings needs to be accessible in a decentralized manner. But a human readable address for a web server is a different animal than a human readable address for a crypto wallet. Web servers store information for other’s consumption. A crypto public address provides a destination for sending funds and can provide information to those in possession of it of the amount of funds which that wallet holds. Whereas, a web address is nearly always publicly available without issue, a crypto wallet address is something that individuals and companies often may not want to disclose openly since the distributed ledger of transactions associated with it is, by definition, open to everyone.
The goal of a decentralized DNS for the web is a noble one but is ultimately tacking a different problem.
Crypto developers are finally realizing how important real names are for adoption. Ultimately, the issue with all these solutions is simple – none of them are agnostic enough for the future of blockchain.
The ideal solution to this problem would be blockchain-agnostic, platform-agnostic, and ideally, widely available to a significant portion of users with little effort on their part. But it’s not just about public address management, and there are certainly futures in which human-readable public addresses never become an issue (for instance, if blockchain is simply never adopted, or if only one or two blockchains ever gain popularity).
That being said, if cryptocurrencies are ever to achieve mainstream adoption, or to evolve beyond a speculative asset, then all blockchains need to start working together on a future where all users can easily, simply, and clearly transfer value with one another.
About the Author
My client is David Gold, the CEO of Dapix, which is building the Foundation for Interwallet Operability (FIO) Protocol. This self sovereign, decentralized, open-source blockchain protocol will transform the usability of wallets, exchanges and crypto payment processors by reducing the risk, complexity and inconvenience of sending and receiving crypto-assets.