Crypto’s First Year In The Mainstream
We’re 10 months into a year of non-stop crypto mania — dogecoin SNL dips, Salvadoran volcano Bitcoin mining, and Tom Brady NFTs — and it doesn’t seem to be going away. It’s also only getting harder to write about the world of crypto with any sort of nuance.
Like everything on the internet, there are now clear lines drawn between the people that are rabid about blockchain-based technology and those that think it’s dumb, or worse, immoral. There is the assumption, at least within Twitter discourse, that if you are politically on the left, you are anti-crypto and if you are pro-crypto, you’re a libertarian fascist. Though, in my own reporting, I have found things are much grayer. All that said, after the better part of crypto’s first real year in the “mainstream,” it does feel like we’re getting a better look at the things that will probably be looked back at as a weird post-pandemic crypto fad and what might actually be here to stay.
The first big sign of where this is all headed is the success of Axie Infinity. I first wrote about it in September. It’s a Pokémon-style monster collector game built on NFTs and its players are making serious money playing it. This week, The Information reported that Sky Mavis, the developer behind the game, raised $150 million in Series B funding and that Andreessen Horowitz currently values it at $3 billion. That’s a lot! Earlier this summer, OpenSea, one of the largest NFT marketplaces hit a valuation of $1.5 billion. So, it’s clear that venture capitalists are betting big on NFTs, but they’re betting even bigger on NFT-based games.
I am less optimistic about NFT art, however. Twitter is awash in (very funny) jokes about how awful a lot of NFT art is and users are now screenshotting themselves right-clicking and saving different NFT art, claiming that they now own it. I came across an NFT project yesterday that is indistinguishable from furry fetish art.
There are other issues that have popped up, as well. OpenSea, the NFT platform worth over a billion dollars, is awash in very expensive Hitler art. And just this week, the anonymous developer behind an NFT project called Evolved Apes vanished with $2.7 million of investors’ funds. Users who funded the project are now scrambling to figure out a way to move forward with it. Another NFT project loosely associated with the rapper Lil Uzi Vert was accused of a similar move — what’s commonly referred to as a “rugpull” — earlier this month, as well. And I came across a project last month that is trying to raise 200,000 ETH ($713,358,000 USD) for what I think are just animated GIFs of different planets?
I’m not anti-NFT, per se. I think there are interesting projects being created with them. I thought the smashed up NFT toilet was particularly inspired. But I am sort of waiting for something that really breaks through. To get a better idea of how this all works, I made my own NFTs this year. I figured worse case scenario was I’d spend a few hundred bucks to learn how the whole market works. I’m happy to report I did make some money and it will absolutely being going back into upcoming Garbage Day projects. But a few readers emailed to say they were disappointed about it. Fair enough. I felt weird about it too. But actually more readers told me that they would have been happy to buy stuff from me or financially support a Garbage Day project, but they don’t invest in crypto. I ultimately decided to keep the NFT crowdfund going indefinitely and now I just think of it like a digital merch store. You have ethereum and you want one, go for it!
But I also quickly realized that I felt weird about really pumping my NFTs. I think there’s a real psychological element to building and sustaining hype for this stuff and I simply do not have what it takes to loudly evangelize a custom crypto token attached to animated GIFs my friend Jon made. I feel like a Kickstarter would have been easier?
The platform I used to mint the Garbage Day NFTs with is called Mirror and I actually got a chance to briefly meet several members behind it. I still think it’s a cool idea and, this week, it opened up to the public fully. If you’re curious about how to mint an NFT or crowdfund using crypto tokens, it’s probably the most user-friendly blockchain platform I’ve used. (It still wasn’t that easy tbh.)
The next big thing on the crypto horizon is the DAO, or a decentralized autonomous organization. This is a needlessly obtuse way of describing an internet community you have to buy a custom crypto token to enter. In practice, these are basically Discords run like shareholder meetings, where whoever owns the most tokens has the most say in what the community does with the group fund. The possibilities of this are exciting, but as someone who has spent most of my adult life advocating for better and stronger and more egalitarian access to online communities, it feels like creating an automated system of internet governance based around whoever is the richest in a virtual currency is a real step backwards…
Also, as tech journalist Richard MacManus wrote this week, blockchain-based internet architecture is complicated to build, hard to use, and actually much more limiting than current web applications. Glitch CEO Anil Dash, sharing MacManus’ post, made a very excellent point: “The overwhelming majority of actions on ‘Web3’ apps flow through a small number of centralized, regular Web 2.0 platforms, which are vital for usability, performance, and stability. So they’re susceptible to the weaknesses of *both* architectures.”
That’s sort of the rub here with all of this stuff. As much as crypto evangelists want to envision a brand new internet, fueled by a NFT gold rush, we still aren’t there — and may never get there. There was a great piece in New York Magazine last month about how Francis Suarez, the mayor of Miami, is trying to transform the city into the crypto capital of America, a sort of blockchain-based Upside Down version of Silicon Valley. Except, as the article notes, as fun and exciting as everything seems on Suarez’s Twitter, the actual political landscape (and doomed topography of the crowded sinking city) aren’t instantly bending to the will of online hype.
The same thing is happening across the entire cryptosphere right now. I think NFTs and gaming are a natural fit. As is crowdfunding. But I have yet to be convinced that million-dollar Picrews are the future of social media — regardless of how much Jack Dorsey likes them. Instead, I think a lot of the current hype will, eventually, wear off and when we do finally get a good look at what kinds of blockchain technology has real staying power, I suspect it’ll be a lot more boring than what people are imagining. And when that happens, I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want to be the last one holding a $8000 lion cum face NFT.
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New Catastrophic Data Leak Dropped
I’m beginning to suspect that the internet is not ok, guys. If only there was any sort of historical precedent for what happens to society when unregulated monopolies are allowed to dominate an industry. But, alas…
A leak of Twitch — all of it, like, the whole site — was posted to 4chan last night. It was shared as a 125GB torrent and according to The Verge it includes years worth of creator financial information, Twitch’s source code, and basically all of Twitch’s content and comment history. The torrent that was posted to 4chan doesn’t include personal information like passwords or users’ email addresses, but there’s nothing to say that another torrent couldn’t be on the way. Apparently, the leak did include the company’s threat models, which, ironically enough, may not have included 4chan…
The Bad COVID Bot Paper
A study published in May 2020 is making the rounds on Twitter this week thanks to a viral tweet from crime novelist Don Winslow, who tweeted, “The Carnegie Mellon study found almost half of the Twitter accounts calling for America to reopen during the *HEIGHT* of the pandemic were likely bots.”
The study, titled, “Nearly Half of the Twitter Accounts Discussing 'Reopening America' May Be Bots” was published by Carnegie Mellon University and pretty much every misinfo/disinfo researcher I follow on Twitter seems to be in agreement that it is absolutely not as definitive as it seems. And those people are almost pathologically incapable of agreeing on anything, so that really says something.
“Trash methodology to use to find bots,” research Josh Emerson tweeted. “Study is garbage.”
“It was 50% exhibiting ‘bot-like characteristics,’” the DFR Lab’s Emerson T. Brooking tweeted. “That figure [was] taken from a CMU press release in which the underlying [study] was never released.”
Perhaps, more than bots, the bigger source of misinfo online right now is from crime novelists who share conclusions from flawed studies without even bothering to link to them!
A Good Tweet
An AI Is Getting Really Good At Pokémon
This is a fascinating look at how complex Pokémon is, but also, how machine learning can be implemented to get better at it. The AI being used to play is called the Future Sight AI and you should definitely watch the whole video because it’s great, but if you’re curious how the AI did, it kicked ass. The AI can build its own teams on Pokémon Showdown, a competitive Pokémon battle simulator, and it’s getting better and better the more it plays. It’s currently performing in the 10% of all Pokémon Showdown players. Uh-oh.
Here’s A Really Good Ad For HBO’s Show Chernobyl
A bit of context. This is an Instagram post from a Love Island star from the UK named Eyal Booker. You’ll have to clickthrough to see the whole post, which is incredible. Craziest thing of all: This was posted in September… of this year…
The Couch Guy Thing
If you missed this whole thing. Last month, a TikTok user named @laurenzarras secretly filmed herself surprising her boyfriend at college. Due to the slowness of him reacting (and probably the fact that he’s next to two girls) when she walks in, TikTok users immediately said he was cheating on @laurenzarras and started analyzing the 19-second video for “red flags” that he was abusive or whatever.
A quick aside, but this is actually a problem spreading across the entire internet right now. I am a very avid reader of Reddit relationship subreddits and they have basically all in the last four months devolved into endless accusations that everyone’s romantic partners are abusers. It’s a very weird trend!
But on top of the abuse speculation trend, I think the absolute torrent of Couch Guy conspiracy theories is a really interesting development for TikTok as a platform. It seems like there is now the expectation within the app’s community that there must be a secret nefarious dimension to all content posted to the platform. I wonder if this is a weird algorithmic quirk stemming from the huge amount of content about the Gabby Petito case or if it’s the other way around and the popularity of the Petito story was actually part of a larger conspiratorial shift on TikTok.
Anyways, Couch Guy made a TikTok of his own and told users to stop being weirdos and go outside and touch grass, which I think is always a good suggestion tbh.
Just Click Play On This Video And Don’t Read The Title Or The Comments
This was sent to me by a reader named Houston. Like I said up top. Don’t read anything. Just click and let it enfold before you.
Another Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a real bad tweet about feet. (This isn’t NSFW, but I feel like it should be???)
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***