Completion of user research report: How node operator experience insights can help Rocket Pool continue to enhance the security of Ethereum

How does Rocket Pool encourage end users to become node operators, and what stops users in the first place? What is the balance of effort vs reward needed for users to complete the set up of becoming a node operator? How do we encourage someone who’s just learning about what a node operator is into someone who is actively contributing to the network?

Over the last 3 months, OpenUX has been working with Rocket Pool on a grant-funded user research initiative to deeply understand, and find ways to improve, the experience for node operators in the Rocket Pool ecosystem. The goals of our study were to:

  • Illuminate the existing user journey of becoming a node operator
  • Identify the pains and blockers that prevent an interested party from setting up their own node
  • Identify ways to encourage more people to become node operators

We want to thank all the contributors who supported us in shaping and executing this research, with special shout outs to Waq, Patches, Langers and Val. And thank you to the many participants who took part in the study, either by survey or interview, and shared their experiences.

Please read our full report here, which is packed with insights and includes lite personas and recommendations to the organization: https://storage.googleapis.com/rocketpool/RocketPool-NodeOperator-UX-Report-Jan-2024.pdf

Here is a pdf of the user journey map (best downloaded and viewed in a pdf viewer, not browser) https://storage.googleapis.com/rocketpool/RocketPool-NodeOperator-UserJourneyMap-Jan2024.pdf

@lansman (Victor Lansman) who expertly led the research has done a ~25min video overview of the insights too Loom | Free Screen & Video Recording Software | Loom (apologies for the sound quality, the Northern Lights must have been interfering!).

Here are just a few key learnings from our study to whet your appetite:

1) Procrastination is the enemy of completion. Users need a suitable ‘trigger’ to encourage them forward with their investigations into becoming a node operator.

The Fogg Behavior Model can be used by all product teams and protocols to explore whether they have the 3 necessary elements to encourage someone to use their product. According to the model, for a behavior to occur, there must be a convergence of high motivation (the person really wants to do it), sufficient ability (they are capable of doing it and/or the process is not too complicated/expensive etc), and an effective trigger (a moment in time that prompts them to action). If any of these elements is missing or too low, the behavior is less likely to happen.

Many in the Rocket Pool community are really interested in becoming a node operator. They are motivated by the potential returns and ethos driven, and many are able to follow and complete the process, but without a ‘trigger’, or moment in time that moves them to action, they get stuck in procrastination; trying to decide exactly what the right option is for them, what hardware to get, how to optimize their set up, etc.

Current ‘triggers’ are pretty limited, one-time events. They include: when the Rocket Pool beta went live, when Rocket Pool was launched, when LEB8 was announced and when staked ETH was enabled. While Rocket Pool has more updates in the roadmap, leaning on such rare events can be a limiting factor for the protocol’s growth.

Our recommendation for Rocket Pool is to generate more ‘triggers’ that create a sense of urgency, and prompt people to commit. An example of a trigger might be a Node Operator Introductory Course, which inspires someone to begin converting their interest into action.

2) Not all node operators are equal. Rocket Pool needs to shape a bundle of benefits that can appeal to this diverse set of users with different requirements and motivations.

Our research segmented participants to the study by two main factors: the amount of ETH they had bonded, and their technical ability. There were many notable differences in the needs and pains of these cohorts, and we encourage readers to check out the Segmentation & Insights chapter (2) in the full report, but here are some notable learnings:

  • Node operators with more ETH bonded have greater concerns around tokenomics. The required exposure to RPL makes many potential users feel hesitant about becoming a node operator. While the token is volatile, it also comes with a high yield for RP node operators. Therefore it’s important to nuance the understanding of RPL through making sure the upside is clearly communicated.
  • Those with less ETH bonded are likely to attain fewer financial benefits from staking than those with more. Therefore it’s vital that Rocket Pool promotes the ‘softer’ reasons to be a node operator (community, exploring and learning about crypto, and helping to keep Ethereum decentralized). If Rocket Pool fails to communicate the softer benefits then people might rely solely on a rationalistic cost/benefit analysis. In that case alternatives with less effort, upfront investment and responsibilities will seem attractive in comparison.
  • Less technically able node operators are more likely to struggle with node setup. The concept of consensus and execution clients is something that even most technical users need to learn in the onboarding journey. While this requires conceptual understanding of how Ethereum works, it also translates to tangible decisions with consequences for people, since the choice of clients affect hardware requirements and performance. Rocket Pool could optimize the experience by creating a more intuitive onboarding journey that prepares users for what’s to come, and provides the right level of guidance, at the right time, to aid decision-making.

3) There are different reasons a user might drop-off at different stages of the user journey to becoming a node operator. These include:

Awareness stage (discovering Rocket Pool)

  • The user knows about Rocket Pool, but assumes it doesn’t meet their needs,they might perceive that the effort or risk is not worth the reward. They might also have criteria (technological, legal, practical, ideological, social or cultural) that Rocket Pool doesn’t meet.

Consideration stage (attracted to the value proposition of becoming a node operator)

  • The user might choose another option due to tokenomic and/or security concerns, smart contract risk, be dissuaded by feedback from others, or be concerned about DAO governance – or just get stuck in indecision due to complexity, lack of information or motivation.

Choice stage (choosing Rocket Pool as the right option for them)

  • The user might come across usability barriers. They encounter a steep learning curve, and don’t have the resources they need to help them overcome the challenge. They may lack time, skill, funds, or motivation.

Read the full report here: https://storage.googleapis.com/rocketpool/RocketPool-NodeOperator-UX-Report-Jan-2024.pdf

What next?

  • If you have questions or comments about this research study, please ask in this forum!
  • We hope to do an AMA about the research in the Discord. If you’d like us to present the work to any specific teams, please let us know.
  • We’re hoping to engage the internal team and wider community to ideate and co-design possible solutions from the ‘Opportunities Library’ that can be implemented to ensure the continued success of the protocol in attracting and retaining node operators. More on that soon.
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This is fantastic. Thank you for all your work on this. It was a pleasure to help as a community member and via the GMC.

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Took notes as I read the report in a thread.

Interesting read, some “things to keep in mind”. Wrote a bounty from something in here already, have 1-2 more likely.

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Thanks for this great thread Val!

GMC are also taking a detailed look at how this report may inform and inspire their work, talking about a dedicated presentation and AMA with them – if there are any other parts of Rocket Pool that could benefit from this kind of presentation, please let me and/or Georgia know!