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A Pilot Study of the Safety and Usability of the Obsidian Blockchain Programming Language

Authors Gauri Kambhatla, Michael Coblenz , Reed Oei, Joshua Sunshine , Jonathan Aldrich , Brad A. Myers

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Author Details

Gauri Kambhatla
  • Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, US
Michael Coblenz
  • School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Reed Oei
  • Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA
Joshua Sunshine
  • School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Jonathan Aldrich
  • School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Brad A. Myers
  • School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

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Gauri Kambhatla, Michael Coblenz, Reed Oei, Joshua Sunshine, Jonathan Aldrich, and Brad A. Myers. A Pilot Study of the Safety and Usability of the Obsidian Blockchain Programming Language. In 10th Workshop on Evaluation and Usability of Programming Languages and Tools (PLATEAU 2019). Open Access Series in Informatics (OASIcs), Volume 76, pp. 2:1-2:11, Schloss Dagstuhl - Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2020)


Although blockchains have been proposed for building systems that execute critical transactions, security vulnerabilities have plagued programs that are deployed on blockchain systems. The programming language Obsidian was developed with the purpose of statically preventing some of the more common of these security risks, specifically the loss of resources and improper manipulation of objects. The question then is whether Obsidian’s novel features impact the usability of the language. In this paper, we begin to evaluate Obsidian with respect to usability, and develop materials for a quantitative user study through a sequence of pilot studies. Specifically, our goal was to assess a) potential usability problems of Obsidian, b) the effectiveness of a tutorial for participants to learn the language, and c) the design of programming tasks to evaluate performance using the language. Our preliminary results tentatively suggest that the complexity of Obsidian’s features do not hinder usability, although these results will be validated in the quantitative study. We also observed the following factors as being important in a given programmer’s ability to learn Obsidian: a) integrating very frequent opportunities for practice of the material - e.g., after less than a page of material at a time, and b) previous programming experience and self-efficacy.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Software and its engineering → Domain specific languages
  • Human-centered computing → User studies
  • Human-centered computing → Usability testing
  • smart contracts
  • programming language user study
  • language usability


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