Over a decade into the blockchain experiment, with trillion dollar market caps, billion dollar treasuries, precious few users and vanishingly little real world impact, this question is still worth asking.
Currently Polkadot UX and UI is fragmented across a number of different tools, sites and forums, each focusing on a narrow speciality and each battling to become the standard, whilst struggling to sustain or increase user interest and adoption as well as struggling to create sustainable business models.
This paradigm of development approaches principles of decentralisation through horizontal spread of UIs and applications, that each read and sometimes write to the chain state independently.
This is a natural process of unbundling, as Parity/W3F release centralised control of all aspects of the ecosystem to the community who for the most part are either inexperienced token holders or parachain teams who have raised external capital to deliver their own independent economy, which naturally leaves them less attentive to the common good.
In practice, this initial phase of disaggregation is useful as a discovery phase as it leads to independent entities discovering and capitalising (in the case of treasury spend) on pain points across the varying elements of the stack.
They each create solutions to each specific domain previously managed by the network creators and in time discover new issues that evolve naturally as an entirely new organisational paradigm emerges - a design space that does not fit comfortably within the bounds of startup convention.
For contributors, holders and newcomers, enduring this discovery phase the experience is chaotic, confusing and stressful as the ecosystem faces ever increasing fragmentation, poor user experience and the siloing of knowledge in disparate and often competing websites, interfaces, channels and apps.
This fixes one aspect of the problem, making content readable in each, but not writable, diminishing the user experience and further complicating an already complex process.
A symptom of poor user experience is addressed, but the root causes are not.
From the inside and outside it can feel and look very much like the network is entering a death spiral, however if we understand these networks more as organisms, we can see this transition as a metamorphosis - as a caterpillar cocoons itself before emerging as a butterfly.
If we approach the principles of decentralisation through both horizontal and vertical axes that each have a political element (see Fellowship manifesto) we can begin to see a path to unifying previously separate functions into a user-experience that gradually develops into something more like a Super-App that can more easily generate end-user fees for its consolidated workforce.
Very few ecosystems have attempted this, perhaps only Decred, an on-chain governed network predating Polkadot are delivering via their Decrediton App, which enables a complete, sovereign user experience, across settlement, chat, trade, governance, proposals, education and media.
Other ecosystems are gradually coming to the same conclusion as can be seen by the approach of reconsolidating network functions under an Operating System framework, UX and narrative.
NearOS, UrbitOS and EthOS are all examples of a move towards a more tightly integrated stack as teams realise that Apple’s approach to innovation is based on sound strategic principles and its products are great to use for a good reason.
With the re-emergence of consumer hardware products such as Solana Mobile, gimmicks like Pillz and Urbit’s Native Planet bringing more aesthetically pleasing home servers closer to reality, we can see that the whole industry is re-converging on a familiar go-to-market that attempts to square the circle of credible decentralisation and good user experience.
To be clear, none of these are example are original ideas on their own - what is different about these newcomers is the stack is not owned by business units within one large corporation who sets policy through top down hierarchies, with power and governance seated in a founder, CEO, executive suite or board.
With these new (blockchain?) operating systems, governance and politics can theoretically be dissolved through the full stack, whilst maintaining a foothold in existing legal systems, allowing on-chain elements to empower off-chain impact through real world (network) public services, rather than the Silicon Valley dreams of an escape to a digital only metaverse.
In this model independent individuals and teams contribute their talents through permissionless and open source processes, with payment in the network’s native token allowing for an open, public and cooperative model of development oriented around full-stack creative collectives.
Each creative collective emerges organically, with shared values and direction binding resolutely multi-disciplinary on-chain organisations together, rather than splintering off into the more intuitive domain based groups where expertise is focused around expertise such as ‘tech’, ‘media’ or ‘events’.
Each collective leverages a recurring stack but differentiates based on their vision and narrative, attracting different types of contributors to the creative initiatives they develop.
Diversity of interests is what drives horizontal decentralisation - for example a creative project might be maker communities around the world creating iconic sculptures together on the same day every year, it could be musicians collaborating on a artistic experiment, or a new supra-national but hyper-local political party attempting to challenge incumbents.
Decentralisation is therefore achieved through both horizontal and vertical axes, whilst also maintaining a close link between each layer of the stack, ensuring governance is determined at each layer, but is held together by a unifying vision and focus that ensures a cohesive user experience.
In practical terms, this Super-App may come in its initial phase to feel a little like an iteration of today’s media streaming apps, but it will not just be a ‘decentralised’ Netflix, but rather a new kind of operating system and media experience that obviates the need for YouTube, Discord or the current dependencies on which the crypto industry schizophrenically depends.
In the same way YouTube did not initially cannibalise TV, but instead carved out a unique new niche that was at first glance no competition to the media incumbents, so we will encounter a new kind of media experience - unlocking an unmet need in people desperate to contribute their talents and find meaning in building real world communities from the ground up.
A new Apple will eventually emerge from this chaotic substrate, but it will look and feel very different to the technologies we have come to call ‘normal’.
Instead these new blockchain settled operating systems will establish new philosophical frontiers that look weird, frivolous and toy-like in the near future, but will in the longer term propel humanity forward through the inevitable generational evolution in values, culture and narrative.
This is real systems change.