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Using Unfamiliar Words In Web3

Using Unfamiliar Words In Web3
"Ethereum is a decentralized blockchain platform that establishes a peer-to-peer network that securely executes and verifies application code, called smart contracts. Smart contracts allow participants to transact with each other without a trusted central authority. Transaction records are immutable, verifiable, and securely distributed across the network, giving participants full ownership and visibility into transaction data. Transactions are sent from and received by user-created Ethereum accounts. A sender must sign transactions and spend Ether, Ethereum's native cryptocurrency, as a cost of processing transactions on the network." - AWS

The above hurts my brain.

But its not actually wrong. Its trying to describe what Ethereum is. And I think it does a good job but its really only understandable by a very small group of people.

Software Developers.

Something fascinating is happening in Web3. For the longest time only very technical and dedicated people could even begin to understand what this "thing" is. But now things are shifting.

The Clarity Demand

People of all technical levels are now starting to "cross-pollinate". We're seeing discourse happen between the most experienced veterans and very new people within this space.

With all that talking. A shared language starts to develop.

As a highly technical person, you cannot simply speak to a newcomer like they know what you do.

So instead, you try to:

  • break concepts up into small pieces
  • give them the "gist" of it
  • use stories & metaphors
  • and try to contextualize the topic in a way that your audience can understand

As a newcomer, you have no idea what is happening. You can ask about literally anything.

And that is amazing.

The fact that newcomers can ask you questions that you would've never even considered is a gift.

They start to ask questions like:

  • What's the point of a wallet?
  • Why do I have to keep a private key?
  • Why do I need a wallet to use this website? Can't I just make an account?
  • Where does ETH come from? Is it for security purposes? Why do I have to pay to work with this website?

This puts everyone else in an interesting position. These questions point to fundamental design choices that were made by the people who created the web3 software. It invites us to re-imagine what web3 can look like outside of what we've assumed to be the best way for users to interact with the blockchain.

From Questions To Understanding

As these newcomers begin to ask more and more questions, we can notice the need for us (collectively) to bring more mental-model-friendly language to these conversations.

The rest of this article is an exploration into alternative ways to use language to explain web3 jargon.

The Wallet

When most people hear this word, they correctly imagine the wallet or purse that they use every day to hold money, their cards, pictures, and more.

a pocket-sized, flat, folding holder for money and plastic cards.

So when we talk to newcomers about a DIGITAL wallet. What can we do to make it very clear as to what this thing actually is.

My Take: Call it a wallet but think of it as a keychain

The most challenging part of understanding the role of a digital wallet is seeing that its fundamental role is to provide users access to a given account on the blockchain.

That is it. A wallet is basically a way for you to access your account so long as you hold the correct key.


If you LOSE the key, then you lose ALL access to the wallet.

By using the metaphor of a key-chain, we can really make the point clear that the private key is what is giving you access and that losing access to that key is not good.

What's the general principle here?

Tailor the system's language to the language of the user.

If you're going to use a name that represents something users may already be familiar with in real life, ensure that there is some similarity in functionality between the two.

If you call something a wallet, make it act & feel a bit more like a wallet.

As an aside...

People don't have a lot of attention to spend on these things every day. So try to get your point across using language a 6th grader in school would understand.

The takeaway:

Use familiar language. And use language that meshes well with existing mental models.