Since the launch of Ethereum Name Service (ENS) in 2017, Web3 users have been able to replace the long strings of characters that make up a cryptographic address with a more easily remembered blockchain username or Web3 domain name. For example, Ethereum (ETH) users can now send crypto to network founder Vitalik Buterin under his username vitalik.eth without knowing that his address is 0xd8da6bf26964af9d7eed9e03e53415d37aa96045.
But despite this breakthrough, which greatly facilitates the identification of users, almost no one has taken advantage of it. There are over 200 million unique addresses on Ethereum, but only 2.2 million .eth names were registered in January. This means that at least 97% of Ethereum addresses are not associated with an ENS username.
This lack of usernames creates user experience issues in the Web3 ecosystem. Imagine if the first email addresses were made up of long strings like 0x7a16ff8270133f063aab6c9977183d9e72835428 or 0x3A7937851d67Ee2f51C959663749093Dc87D9C9a. If that had been the case, email might not have survived as a practice.
But despite this initial lack of adoption, there is evidence that the tide is turning in favor of Web3 usernames. A few recent advancements in wallet and messaging apps can accommodate more users than ever before.
One such advancement is better wallet integration with free usernames.
Free wallet integration and usernames
Wallets have had the ability to understand Web3 names for a long time. According to the Metamask changelog, it introduced the ability to send to an .eth name in October 2017, right after the launch of ENS. Other wallets have followed suit with this feature, including Coinbase Wallet, Trustwallet, and others. Some of these wallets have also integrated with rivals ENS Unstoppable Domains, Space ID, Bonfida and others.
However, these wallets still display a crypto address to users by default, as new users are usually not given names automatically.
For a user to receive crypto through their Web3 name, they must first register a username with a particular name provider. This means determining which provider to use, navigating to the providers interface and going through the registration process.
To make matters worse, names can be expensive. ENS names typically cost $5 and expire after one year, while unstoppable domain names that don’t need to be renewed typically cost between $20 and $40. Compare that with how easy it is to sign up for an email address for free using Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo. etc., and it’s easy to see why most crypto users don’t have Web3 usernames.
A few wallet apps have tried to solve this problem by giving free domain names to their users. For example, the Coinbase wallet allows new users to register a single .cb.id username for free, once a year, and the Kresus wallet also offers its users a free .kresus username that can contain up to to 8 characters.
This practice of giving out free usernames started only recently. And some popular wallets like Trustwallet and Metamask still don’t offer this feature. But as more and more users enter the Web3 ecosystem, this can lead to greater adoption of Web3 usernames over time.
Another recent advancement is the integration of instant messaging.
Chat messaging with Web3 usernames
Some messaging apps have started to implement Web3 names as usernames, increasing the usefulness of these names beyond the payment use case. An example is Blockscan Chat. It allows users to send instant messages to any Ethereum address or ENS username.
Caption: Blockscan Chat interface. Source: Blockscan
When messages are sent using the Blockscan chat, they produce alerts on the Etherscan block explorer. If the recipient sees the alert and logs into the app, they can read the message. The app developer claims that all of its messages are end-to-end encrypted. So while anyone can see if a particular user has received a message, only the sender and receiver can read it.
Web3 usernames are not an absolute necessity to use Blockscan chat, as they also allow users to send messages to crypto addresses. But the names make it much easier for users to find their way around the app.
Another example is Grill.chat, a messaging app running on the Subsocial (SUB) network. When a user first registers, they are assigned a random username. But they can optionally attach an Ethereum wallet to their account. If they do, the app automatically converts their random username to their .eth username.
Being able to find other users to chat with via their web3 usernames is arguably a more useful feature than being able to send crypto with them.
After all, the crypto community is still small. If a crypto user needs money from friends or family, it may be best to use traditional web2 apps like Venmo or Apple Pay, as friends and family may not know how to use a wallet. Web3. But if someone wants to discuss crypto and Web3 apps specifically, being able to search them by username could prove to be a huge advantage. This additional use case may encourage more users to adopt Web3 names in the future.
Another recent advancement in Web3 names is cross-channel names.
Cross-Channel Web3 Names
When Web3 names were first invented, ENS was the only protocol that could be used to create them, and it could only be used on Ethereum.
But the Web3 ecosystem has since grown to encompass many different channels. And as the number of strings has grown, so has the number of naming protocols. Users can now register Polygon (MATIC) usernames from Unstoppable Domains, Solana (SOL) usernames from Bonfida, and Arbitrum One (ARB) and BNB Chain (BNB) usernames from Space ID.
This fragmentation between chains can make integration difficult for wallets and block explorers and confuse users. For example, suppose someone’s Polygon username is newton.crypto. But when they go to register the same name on BNB Chain, they find that newton.bnb is already taken, so they register einstein.bnb instead. When a user looks at that person’s address on a block explorer, either name may appear, depending on which one the developer of the block explorer has chosen to display. And whichever one is displayed, it might confuse users.
In this case, for example, if a user wants to send crypto to newton.crypto via BNB Chain, they can easily send it to newton.bnb instead, which will turn out to be the wrong recipient.
A few Web3 companies attempt to solve this problem by creating a unique name for each identity across multiple channels. For example, the Redefined app allows users to register for a username on Arbitrum One, but use it to receive funds on 8 other chains: Polygon, Optimism (OP), BNB Chain, Solana, Bitcoin (BTC), Fantom (FTM), Moonbeam (GLMR) and Proche.
To make this functionality possible, Redefined allows the user to write an address or username for each network in the Arbitrum smart contract via a “manage” tab in the app. Once the addresses are listed in the contract, anyone can initiate a transaction to the correct address using a “send” function in the app. To send funds, the sender only needs to know the recipient’s Redefined username, not the recipient’s name or address on a particular channel.
Redefined usernames start with an @ and have no extensions. For example, @newton and @einstein are possible redefined usernames.
Did.id, also known as “.bit”, is a similar project that runs on the Nervos network. It allows users to register for a .bit username that works on 39 different networks, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Polygon, Solana, Bitcoin Cash (BCH), Internet Computer (ICP), and many more. Registration can be done directly with a Nervos network wallet or indirectly using Polygon.
Did.id does not have a user interface with a “send” function. However, it is integrated with nine different wallet apps, including imToken, Tokenpocket, MathWallet, Huobi Wallet, Bitkeep, HyperPay, AlphaWallet, ViaWallet, and MIBAO. It is therefore available to senders who use these wallets.
Cross-channel usernames are another new development that could boost the adoption of Web3 usernames over time.
When will usernames catch on?
Despite this progress, it is still unclear how long the mass adoption of Web3 usernames will take. Currently, over 90% of Web3 addresses have no username associated with them. So there is a huge hill to climb in terms of adoption. And in the meantime, users still have to cut and paste a complicated string of characters to find someone’s Web3 identity.
There’s also still a lot of friction for users, including the still high cost of registering a name for users of most wallet apps.
Even so, these advances could pave the way for the mass adoption of Web3 usernames at some point in the future.