Learning to trust: exploring the relationship between user engagement and perceptions of trustworthiness in self-sovereign blockchain systems (2022)
Blockchain can be characterized as a technology that enables social trust between actors. In Satoshi Nakamoto’s original vision, trust emerges through transparency, as the technology allows for expert users to verify any transaction by consulting a shared ledger. However, for lay users the technology itself can be quite opaque. Further, in private, permissioned medical blockchain applications, transparency can conflict with the need for confidentiality. This leaves an open question of how blockchain can enable social trust in these situations. Research on blockchain technology points to the importance of user experience design as providing a foundation. What then is the relationship between how users experience blockchain systems and how they may come to trust them? While there is some research exploring how user experiences with blockchain systems influences trust, the relationship between the front-end design of these systems, user engagement, which has been a major focus of user experience design for non-blockchain systems, and user trust in blockchain and distributed ledger systems has not explored previously. To address the gap in this nascent area of literature, this study presents original exploratory research on the relationship between user engagement and the user’s perception of trustworthiness with MYPDx, a prototype blockchain system that utilizes self-sovereign identity principles to enable patients to share genetic and other biomarker information with healthcare researchers. This research utilizes multiple methods to explore the relationship between user engagement and users’ perception of blockchain system trustworthiness, utilizing survey and interview data gathered during usability testing with a diverse sample of users (n=20). A strong positive correlation was established between the extent to which users found the system engaging and assessed the system to be trustworthy. The extent to which MYPDx was seen as usable was most strongly correlated with users’ assessment of its trustworthiness. Analysis of the research data indicates that users undergo a process of learning about the system through engagement, employing indicators from the system’s user interface to assess whether to trust the system. This study explores this interaction in more detail, presenting a theoretical picture of this phenomenon and design principles to inform future design and research.