Decentralized apps, nicknamed "dapps," are a new type of web or mobile app run on a decentralized network with trustless protocols. Most commonly, they run on Ethereum's blockchain; although there are also dapps running on Ethereum competitors such as EOS and NEO. The central idea of dapps is that they aren't controlled by a centralized operator.
Some dapps don't use a blockchain at all, such as the microblogging service Mastodon. But it's fair to say that Ethereum, which was designed to be dapp platform from the start, is the reason dapps have become so intriguing to developers and early adopters alike.
The problem is, dapps can be difficult to both find and run. So in this article we'll tell you how to find interesting dapps to try out, and in a follow-up article we'll explain how to select and use dapps.
Why is the second article necessary? Because many dapps require you to transact with ETH, or at the very least secure your identity using a private key on the blockchain. Therefore using dapps isn't as straight forward as using a Web 2.0 app like Facebook or Twitter.
But first things first: where does one find dapps? Just like the Web in the mid-1990s, the most reliable method of finding a workable dapp is through a directory.
There aren't many directories currently, and those that are available are light on usable dapps. Indeed, where we're at with dapp directories is more like Jerry and David's Guide to the World Wide Web than the expanded version of that same directory a few years later (Yahoo!).
In any case, early dapp directories can currently be found both on the Web and inside some digital wallets. As we explained earlier this week, digital wallets increasingly act as web browsers for dapps as well as means of storing your cryptocurrency.
Most of the popular digital wallets are available as a mobile app, on iOS or Android. The two leading wallets that also act as dapp browsers are Coinbase Wallet and Binance's Trust. Both require you to download a mobile app.
What do I mean by the wallet is also a browser? In practice this simply means the wallet app opens up a browser window from within the app - similar to how the Facebook app opens an internal browser window when you click on an external link.
When you open Coinbase Wallet, you see a tab named "DApps." If you click that you'll see a fairly short list of dapps, most of which are related to trading, gaming, or other financial activities.
The category that most resembles the kind of app you'll already be familiar with is 'Social Media'. However it only lists 4 dapps, just one of which looks any good (the Twitter clone, Peepeth). I looked into one of the other listed dapps, Numa. It turned out to be a Twitter clone too, but the developer appears to have abandoned it.
The Trust wallet app likewise has a fairly short list of dapps, many of which are exchanges or marketplaces. It only lists two social dapps: Peepeth and one called Indorse (which wasn't in Coinbase's directory).
To get access to a wider variety of dapps, you'll need to visit a web page directory. In our view the best one so far is run by Blockstack, a browser company for the blockchain era. It's called App.co and markets itself as "The Universal Dapp Store."
It currently lists 304 dapps, ranked by amount of Twitter activity. That's many more dapps than the wallet directories, but still it doesn't seem very much. Is this all the dapps there are in the world right now?
No, there are many more dapps out there. Ethereum runs a directory called State of the dapps, which bills itself as “The curated list of 1,917 decentralized apps.”
However, as I pointed out in a post earlier this year, there are a couple of key differences between Blockstack’s directory and Ethereum’s. Firstly, Blockstack includes dapps that don’t use Ethereum’s platform (indeed, some of the listed dapps don’t even use a blockchain). The other key difference is user friendliness. Ethereum’s list is useful if you want to try out the latest developer experiments, but it’s not designed for the casual user. By comparison the 304 dapps listed by Blockstack are relatively mature, or at least able to be trialled without a visit to GitHub.
That said, when you dig into Blockstack's top 10, you quickly realise dapps are still very much a niche activity. None of the dapps listed by Blockstack have many users currently.
Even CryptoKitties, which experienced a brief craze at the end of 2017, has since seen its user base fall by a massive 96 percent. The analysis site Diar reported that at its peak, sometime in December last year, CryptoKitties had 14,194 daily active users (DAU). Now it’s a measly 510 users per day.
Why there aren't many dapps
The low user rates for dapps can be attributed to a few reasons. Firstly, as we've mentioned, dapps are hard to use. Secondly, Ethereum and similar blockchains have yet to prove they can scale to handle tens of thousands of users per dapp - let alone millions! Thirdly, there aren't that many compelling use cases for dapps...yet.
But remember Web3 is still very early in its evolution. Much of the infrastructure needed for blockchain apps to succeed is still being built. It's comparable to trying to use, for example, online video in the mid-90s. The technical constraints of that time (slow Internet speeds, browsers that weren't fully equipped to deal with interactive video content, and other obstacles) made it difficult for people to use those pioneering online video services. It's a similar situation for dapps today.
If you've read this far, you're no doubt itching to try out some dapps - if only to boast of being an early adopter once the rest of the world discovers Web3. How cool would it be to have been one of the first several thousand users of Mosaic in 1993, or Twitter in 2006? That's what it feels like using dapps right now, except of course we don't yet know if dapps will take off like Mosaic and Twitter did.
Stay tuned for our next post, which will explain how to get started with dapps and what the user experience is like.