Thoughts on GRC: How the user experience could be improved (1)

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Thoughts on GRC [002] – How the user experience could be improved (1)

In my introduction I talked a bit about the BOINC/GRC relationship and benefits, but also mentioned that there are a few aspects that might keep people away from GRC. This article will focus on these very aspects from the perspective of a newbie GRC miner.

There have been a few discussions lately on reddit, github, steemit and slack about possible strategies to attract more miners, since more miners = more computation = more science. While I agree with this sentiment, I think we should take a look at current roadblocks first:

semi-required investments & resource availability (newbie) user experience lack of long-term investment options (GRC only) lack of long-term applications (GRC only)

I feel these are the four major aspects that prevent non-/semi-altruistic people to join Gridcoin, respectively to start mining in order to contribute to the BOINC/GRC relationship and/or to simply make profit. While the (newbie) user experience, as well as semi-required investments and resource availability impact both GRC and BOINC, the lack of long-term investment options and applications is rather currency related and does not directly impact BOINC, yet may influence future development of this collaboration depending on what choices will be made.

Points 3) and 4) will be discussed at a later time – right now, I would like to focus on 1) and 2) during the first few articles of this series, since there is plenty to discuss imho. Besides I consider these two roadblocks more relevant regarding the BOINC/GRC relationship, especially for potential miners who are not interested in making profit with the coin but would rather support BOINC and are looking for a way to get a tiny reward for their semi-altruistic intentions.

Let’s begin with the semi-required investments first, as well as resource availability, because this is something that prevents people from joining in the first place – or at some point discourages people to continue, depending on how someone was introduced to BOINC/GRC.

What I mean by semi-required investments is the (not really essential, but often perceived as essential) need to invest into hardware in order to participate. Looking at BOINC only, there is no high-end hardware required since there are plenty of tasks that run on old machines. With the availability of tasks that require high-end hardware and with the introduction of Gridcoin, it seems to have caused an artificial dilemma: people who are semi-altruistic start to calculate which projects are worth their computing power, respectively which projects have the best rewards for their system in a certain amount of time.

This is causing two issues:

i) For one, people who have old systems but want to make more profit are led to believe that their contributions are meaningless, possibly coming to the conclusion that they shouldn’t run any BOINC tasks in order to mine GRC but rather not waste any resources at all. These people either never really get involved with BOINC/GRC or lose interest quickly because "their numbers" don't increase fast enough.

Another group of people (let’s call them hardware investors) actually does have enough cash to upgrade their hardware and may do so, as long as they can find project tasks that generate enough GRC to at least get their investments back, as well as operating costs. Among these are also people who want to make actual profit, while at the same time supporting science. Hardware investors will not quit right away because they are still willing to support the science, especially because they already spent some cash on a better rig – but there might come a point when they decide to focus on more profitable mining, which basically reduces the potential amount of resources for BOINC over time.

ii) The second issue is – other than gravitating towards more profitable mining – that some projects may experience a decrease in popularity based on the BOINC/GRC relationship and how the current system is rewarding contributions (resource donations).

This then may force projects to adapt to a situation that didn’t exist before: a competition among projects to convince users. Currently it is really difficult to analyze this effect, but taking a look at newbie discussions one can sure find recommendations what projects to pick in order to have a better start. I'd argue this draws away potential miners from certain projects in the long run.

The other aspect is resource availability, which is basically the availability of hardware and electricity in a broader context. With the latest development in crypto, respectively the recent mining hype, hardware (especially GPUs) have become less available either due to massive increase in price and/or due to bulk purchases of miners. This also had impact on BOINC/GRC newbies during the past months if someone wanted to buy certain GPUs to optimize their system.

Furthermore, electricity costs can differ a lot, which also can be seen as resource availability because people with high cost of power will either try to find high return projects, high profit coins (not GRC) or just not mine at all.

I would argue this is neither the fault of BOINC nor GRC, since it can simply be attributed to well known human characteristics. Yet, these are (for some people) legit reasons to not join BOINC/GRC after consideration of all aspects – or less motivation to continue to contribute, thus moving on to mine other coins instead.

One might argue that we do not want these kind of people anyways, right? If they are not willing to donate their resources to BOINC for free and even are not satisfied with the rewards they get opting into the Gridcoin team, then their attitude is simply not compatible with the mainly altruistic approach of BOINC/GRC, thus: disqualified!

However, if we want more people to join the BOINC/GRC efforts, we need to think about solutions how we could motivate potential miners, despite high energy costs, despite lower rewards compared to other coins, and despite old hardware.

When Gridcoin was introduced, it was the first step to convince semi-altruistic people to give BOINC a try. And while I think the collaboration was a good choice, it wasn’t enough. Now there are a few hypothetical options that could create incentive:

a) better rewards, especially for newbies b) better project/task filters to find profitable projects faster c) better rewards for older systems d) better rewards for users with high electricity costs

Note: these four hypothetical "suggestions" have caused a lot of confusion. Please read the comments for further clarification.

Before you get mad, please let me explain the thought process behind these suggestions first. The main problem seems to be that some semi-altruistic users (especially newbies) need more convincing than others. A better reward system (read: more GRC = more profit), a better “how can I make profit faster overview” and some sort of “electricity cost multiplier” for certain user groups would increase their motivation to join and also keep them long-term.

The very core of this approach is basically leveling out major differences based on location, it would factor in regional living standards due to global economic developments and would also change over time depending on what is going on on this planet. It would create a link to geopolitical and economic circumstances.

To be honest – while I like this approach in theory – I think it wouldn’t work out well. Simply because it depends so much on the monetary reward system – not to mention the complexity to code this properly. But even if this was possible, it wouldn’t really change much imho because it’s still all about the science money in the end.

As a side note: it would support old systems (which consume too much power anyways) and in general encourage a rather wasteful contribution. Especially because of the link to BOINC and thus science, we should consider a more environmentally sustainable approach. This is something we should keep in mind for the future about the very nature of BOINC/GRC. Because – as cool as it is to use old and/or "high consumption" hardware to help out science – efficiency and proportionality should be discussed imho.

I don’t think BOINC/GRC's main motivation should be mining GRC for profit and I also don’t think it would be healthy for the relationship long-term. Instead I would like to suggest an approach that might transforms non-altruistic people into semi-altruistic people, as well as semi-altruistic people into more altruistic people. But why?

Because someone who is in for the profit will move on once there is something else to make more profit with. And people who are just semi-attached to a project because of semi-profit will also leave at some point if they can't find a reason to stay, e.g. something of real value or meaning regarding their resource investment.

Therefore I think we need to work together more closely with the people behind BOINC, but especially with the scientists. I am convinced that promoting their work and helping them becoming more popular will allow the entire BOINC/GRC symbiosis to achieve something really great that could have positive impact on the entire science community: a massive increase in participation.

This will have mainly two outcomes imho: for one, it will benefit science a lot. The fact that many people actually do not realize how important it is to contribute to BOINC and how much it helps these scientists is another reason why we need to spread the idea by using GRC as a promotional asset. At the same time, GRC will benefit a lot because new miners will join the project. This will make GRC more popular as well because it won’t be just some little coin but a currency that stands for a certain standard and attitude, alongside meaningful utilization of resources.

So finally, some actual suggestions what could be done to achieve a long-term incentive to join BOINC/GRC despite the current drawbacks compared to other coins:

1) Better/more interactive project/task overview

What we really could use is a Whitelist 2.0 that functions as a major intersection between BOINC and GRC. It should contain up to date information about each project, available tasks and results of past computations. This basically includes direct links to published papers, as well as a project summary explaining to people what the project is about, etc. These informations are mostly already available on different project sites but it can be a real hassle to find out more about these projects.

I suggest something like a wiki that can be easily edited by scientists and dedicated curators (could be payed with GRC). It may also include suggestions for hardware setups or some comparison charts to help estimate power consumption among other characteristics. It also could include promotional material like pictures, graphics, etc. pretty much everything that turns a boring "we are currently looking into xyz" into a more hyped version.

2) More communication with scientists to help promote their projects

This could include all kinds of things, starting with the above mentioned wiki-like interactive Whitelist 2.0 up to making/sharing content about projects, e.g. related videos, interviews, podcasts, etc. If we can help them promote their projects, more people will develop an interest and long-term incentive to actually contribute. This is something most people really underestimate, but looking at how Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, Brian Greene or Carl Sagan promote(d) science, they certainly were able to fascinate kids and adults alike by showing the exciting aspects of science.

3) Project roadmaps

This is also a bit 1) and 2) but an important aspect, which I would like to talk about seperately. People need to see/understand what their resources are used for and why that matters. There already are research goals listed on some sites, but they need to be more visually appealing and readily available imho. [email protected] uses animations to display current tasks – I don’t think we need this inside the client, but we could introduce similar interactive visual content for the interested audience who maybe doesn’t want to read about a project just yet. Having such material creates not only incentive to check out a project in order to consider helping out but also might motivate to dive deeper into the project itself even though the science behind it might seem discouraging at first glance.

4) Project suggestion hub

We have (or had) polls to vote on projects. In regard of manipulation concerns, but also general availability we should maybe think about implementing a project suggestion hub where people can make a case for projects that are not whitelisted or should be re-listed. Since I’m a newbie I don’t know how this was handled until now and what criteria have been relevant – but I would at least suggest to have a solution that gives insight into different projects – all in one place – so people don’t have to browse different sites to find out if they want project X to be whitelisted or not. GRC should be decentralized – but the information can be centralized for a better overall user experience.

5) Additional prestige reward systems

The gaming industry introduced achievements – love ‘em or hate ‘em – they are now a feature most people want to see these days because it gives them a feeling of actual achievement. How about we implement something similar that functions as an “emotional reward” for all the work a user’s computer has done? I really think such a system would encourage people to stick with certain projects a bit longer and develop some sort of beneficial relationship, possibly leading to a permanent contribution. The prestige reward system would give miners all kinds of badges with hopefully silly titles and quotes that are referencing scientists and/or science fiction characters, rewarding miners step by step for achieving certain goals. So many options to do this and make it a fun challenge for everyone, possibly adding some reasonable GRC rewards when reaching certain milestones as well.

I think this is enough food for thought for now. I will cover the above mentioned (newbie) user experience in [003] of this series sometime later this week, focusing mainly on setup, configuration and user interface. I also might include a more in-depth segment on the prestige reward system and how that could be implemented.

I’d like to emphasize these are just my humble suggestions based on my first 6 weeks being part of the BOINC/GRC experience.

Feedback is always welcome and I’m really excited to have a constructive discussion :)

Thoughts on GRC [003] – How the user experience could be improved (2)