By Matt Birchler
Topic: crypto
Posts: 8
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I’m Not Even a Fan, but This Ain’t It, Chief

Molly White: Far-right social network Parler launches an NFT platform where you have to pay with credit cards

On March 1, the far-right social network Parler announced their "CryptoTrump" NFTs.

Well that’s obnoxious, but what warrants the link?

Although Parler's press release contains a lot of their usual chest-thumping about "freedom from Big Tech", the DeepRedSky NFTs can only be minted with credit cards, with payments being processed through Stripe.

Glorious 😂

Where’s the Fun?

Charlie Warzel: Lessons From the Retro-Future of the Internet

So far, my experience with Web3 is different. A lot of its projects seem like unnecessarily complex and theoretical financialized tools in search of broader utility; “play-to-earn” blockchain-based games such as Axie Infinity represent, for me, a dystopian vision of leisure, if not a new era of “bullshit jobs.” Non-fungible tokens don’t personally appeal to me and, as some have shown, the technology does not appear to be fully decentralized.

Warzel describes the thrill and instant joy of previous technical revolutions, from talking to friends on Facebook to downloading music on Napster, and how he just doesn’t get that joy from all these web3…things. I agree with him wholeheartedly; everything I’ve seen (and I’ve tried to get into it, I really have) has had more of a “get in now so you don’t get left behind” vibe than something I actually enjoy.

Owning Nothing, Selling Nothing, Making a Quick Buck

Musicians are furious at website HitPiece, which listed their music as NFTs without permission

Musicians have taken to Twitter today to complain about a website that is ostensibly selling their music as NFTs without permission. HitPiece claims to sell one-of-one NFTs, meaning each one is singular and unique (as opposed to the endless iterations of ugly monkeys we are now subjected to).

And:

It isn't even clear exactly what HitPiece is purportedly selling, as they certainly aren't the original master recordings. The website claimed that "HitPiece NFT’s are one-of-ones and are the only NFTs for that unique recording in HitPiece," indicating they might only be unique in the context of HitPiece's platform — a sort of artificial scarcity in an artificial ecosystem.

This story really says it all to me; people who don’t own something, selling nothing, all to make a quick buck. If I “bought” a song from one of my favorite artists on HitPiece, I would not have the right to play the song, which is fine because I wouldn’t even be given an MP3 of the song with my purchase, and the artist wouldn’t make any money. I couldn’t bring the song into a game or music player or anything like that, I would just have a token with HitPiece that said I owned that “copy” of the song…which again, is useless.

Now listen, if HitPiece opened up submissions to artists and let those artists add their songs to the marketplace, then I’d be way more sympathetic. I wouldn’t use it, but at least it could defend itself by saying it’s a way for you to directly support the artists you love.

This all gets down to a fundamental problem with NFTs, and it’s that anyone can mint anything they want. The good version of this is that anyone who wants to sell something they made can get it out there (although they can do that a multitude of ways today, but I digress), but the bad version is that stolen content can be minted and sold as well. Or in this case, the idea of something can be sold.

If you want to support musicians today, the best thing you can do is go to their website and buy something from them directly. Buy their music, buy a physical version of music you stream on Apple Music/Spotify, buy a shirt, buy concert tickets… Or check if they sell their music though Bandcamp and upload the songs to your Apple Music library (I still can’t believe Spotify doesn’t allow this).

Web3's Instant Rush to Centralization

Moxie Marlinspike has written my new favorite piece about the modern crypto bubble. Read the whole thing, but a few choice quotes for me were:

It reuses the same connections, TLS session tickets, etc for all the accounts in your wallet, so if you’re managing multiple accounts in your wallet to maintain some identity separation, these companies know they’re linked.

Companies who make wallet apps have easy access to linking your "main" wallets with your "alt" wallets. Bye, bye privacy. Well, unless you trust the wallet-maker, but this is all supposed to be trust-free, right?

Then, on web3's instant move towards centralization:

Given the history of why web1 became web2, what seems strange to me about web3 is that technologies like ethereum have been built with many of the same implicit trappings as web1. To make these technologies usable, the space is consolidating around… platforms. Again. People who will run servers for you, and iterate on the new functionality that emerges. Infura, OpenSea, Coinbase, Etherscan.

A good example of this? The NFT he created and posted on OpenSea was removed by OpenSea (something, something, can't get cancelled in web3…) and he then became unable to access his own NFT in his wallet.

All this means that if your NFT is removed from OpenSea, it also disappears from your wallet. It doesn’t functionally matter that my NFT is indelibly on the blockchain somewhere, because the wallet (and increasingly everything else in the ecosystem) is just using the OpenSea API to display NFTs, which began returning 304 No Content for the query of NFTs owned by my address!

So yeah, he lost access to something he "owned" because the platform holder took it down.

I have only dipped my toe in the waters of web3. Looking at it through the lens of these small projects, though, I can easily see why so many people find the web3 ecosystem so neat. I don’t think it’s on a trajectory to deliver us from centralized platforms, I don’t think it will fundamentally change our relationship to technology, and I think the privacy story is already below par for the internet (which is a pretty low bar!), but I also understand why nerds like me are excited to build for it.

I tend to agree with this take. When I look at what's going on today with crypto and I compare it to my history of seeing new tech come and go, I keep being reminded of bittorrent. In the mid-2000s bittorrent was expanding into tons of spaces and many suggested that everything from websites to chat apps to basically anything making an internet connection would run over bittorrent. In time we saw that biottorrent did have a place, but it was far from everywhere. I think crypto does have a future, but I'm unconvinced it's going to do 1/10th of the things people seem to think it will today.

Solving Solved Problems

Solving Solved Problems

Ben Thompson in a subscriber update:

There was an incident with not totally legit NFTs being sold on OpenSea, and OpenSea blocked their sale. However, since the blockchain is not tied to OpenSea, one could go elsewhere to sell these NFTs. The unique power of crypto, right?

This, according to crypto advocates, is evidence of the allure of Web 3: because the blockchain is open and accessible by anyone, the stolen BAYC NFTs and the PAYC rip-offs can be sold on another market, or if one cannot be found, in a private transaction (leave aside, for the sake of argument and the brevity of this update, the question as to whether the fact that these transactions are irreversible is a feature or a bug).

But Thompson goes on…

Here’s the thing, though: this isn’t a new concept. What is the first answer given to anyone who is banned from Twitter, or demonetized on YouTube — two of the go-to examples Web 3 advocates give about the problem of centralized power on the Internet today? Start your own Twitter, or start your own blog, or set up a Substack. These answers are frustrating because they are true: the web is open.

As I've said a bunch before, I think that crypto will have a place in the future, but I think the applications of it right now feel like they're solving solved problems worse than the existing solutions.

So Far, Only the Good Guys are Here

A not so gentle intro to web3 - Koos Looijesteijn

Anybody can ‘mint’ an NFT of any piece of art (whether they made it, own it, or just found a picture online), or sell a token that claims access to a piece of land on the moon. But if you want to buy and sell real ownership of an object with such a token, you need to trust the party who created the token. That’s why certification agencies, government bodies and trading platforms exist. They put their trusted name at risk every time somebody does a transaction with them. Quoting Benedict Evans: “The blockchain can’t lie, but you can lie to the blockchain”.

Every single, and I do mean every single, story I hear from people who think blockchains are the future of everything involves trusting people to do the right thing. Everything from NFTs being minted by the people who made them to companies making all of their products interoperable to that Constitution thing that required you to trust the people at the head of the project to do the right thing. For something that is supposedly “trust-less” by nature, it sure seems like a lot of it only works (if it works at all) because “so far, only the good guys are here.”

Maybe It's Just a Product Nobody Wants

Another day, another company (or two) getting into crypto and their users being upset about it.

A few weeks ago I wrote how web3 projects need more product people to make better experiences, but now I'm starting to wonder if the problem here isn't a lack of product people, it's just a bad product.

A very common thing in product teams (and many other areas, I'm sure) is to demo something for a client (or colleague, or whoever), to have them say the thing is crap, and then spend an achingly long time trying to tell the client why they actually like the thing you showed them. You'll show the client why their concerns just aren't "logical" and that it actually does what they want, and the client will check their watch for when this meeting is over.

It's tough to watch someone do, and it's harder to realize afterward that you were doing it yourself. I've been there…it sucks.

So when I see all these seemingly good-intentioned crypto fans lamenting all this anger they see around crypto stuff being added to everything lately, maybe it's just a matter of the thing they're selling not being something people want, and they have to come in and say, "no, no, no, see you'll actually like this because…"

I don't think crypto is going to disappear, by the way. I think it will always have a place in the world, but much like bittorrent before it, it was new & exciting, people tried to use it for basically everything, and then it settled into being used for, well, nothing for most people. Blockchains likely have a more prominent future, but there's a lot of spaghetti being thrown at walls right now, and I think very little of it will stick because it's not actually making better products.

Move Past Buzzwords

Move Past Buzzwords

Reddit got some headlines over the weekend with their move to crypto, and the reactions have been exactly what you’d expect.

  • Web3 enthusiasts are like “YASSSS THE FUTURE!”
  • Crypto critics were like “oh great, not Reddit is wasting more electricity.”
  • Most people were like “what the fuck is even happening?”

I consider myself pretty technically savvy. I work in tech, I have been a tech enthusiast ever since my family got out first computer in 1995, and I think I have a pretty open mind for the future of tech. That said, stuff like this just makes my eyes glaze over. Here’s a bit from Reddit’s explainer:

People earn Points by contributing to the community, for example by submitting quality posts and comments. Based on these contributions, the community ultimately decides how many Points each person receives.

Ok, so far so good…I earn Reddit points when I contribute to a community on Reddit.

Your Community Points exist on the blockchain, independently of Reddit, where they can only be controlled by you. Neither Reddit nor moderators can take your Points away or decide what you do with them. It’s all up to you.

So my point totals live on the blockchain and Reddit reaches out to the blockchain to know how many points I have. Neither Reddit nor moderators can take them away, which I would have hoped would be the case before, but okay, now they definitely can’t I guess.

This is probably where a Web3 bro would tell me “if the community gets popular you can sell your points and make money, lets fucking goooooo!” And I mean, sure, I guess so, but who’s buying these? Am I selling my community points to people who want to get instant clout in a subreddit? Someone rich trying to accumulate a super-majority of points? Turning it around, as a member of the community, why would I ever want to buy points from someone else?

I’m also sure that believers will tells me that since the points exist on the blockchain, Reddit doesn’t control them, but everything I see in this rollout is that these tokens are only useful on Reddit and are entirely dependent on Reddit existing to be worth anything. These points are worthless outside of Reddit, so their decentralized nature doesn’t seem that exciting.

Maybe Reddit points should be called “internet points” and everything you do earns or loses you internet points. Then those points follow you around everywhere and determine how you experience everything in the real and digital worlds. Oh shit, did I just describe a Black Mirror episode?

Maybe this post will age like milk, but I think right now I think that if crypto enthusiasts want the rest of the world to take them seriously, they need to move past the buzzwords and show us why crypto is meaningfully better than existing solutions.

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