I recently attended the North American Bitcoin Conference, which took place this January in Miami, Florida. I started getting interested in all things Bitcoin and cryptocurrency when I moved to Miami about a year ago and quickly learned about the city’s ambitious plans to become the crypto capital of the U.S. My goal in attending this event was to discover more about this ever-evolving, complex, and incredibly exciting space. Here are just a few of the things I learned – from the realm of NFTs, to how Web3 will change the internet as we know it, to the unlimited potential of the metaverse – and what brands can do to be at the forefront of this new revolution (and avoid FOMO).
What are NFTs, and why do people care about them?
The Etherum blockchain website describes NFTs (non-fungible tokens) as tokens that can be used to represent ownership of unique items. They let people tokenize things like art, collectibles, and even real estate. NFTs can only have one official owner at a time, and no one can modify the record of ownership or copy/paste a new NFT into existence.
Some examples of NFTs include unique digital artworks, in-game items, and tickets that provide access to an event like a virtual concert. Some of the most famous NFT artwork examples include the Bored Ape Yacht Club, CryptoPunks, and Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” which sold for an eye-popping $69 million through an auction at Christie’s.
NFTs function as legally binding contracts which are traded over the blockchain. They authenticate both digital and physical assets, allowing artists, writers, musicians, photographers and other owners of intellectual property to protect and sell their work. This gives content creators digital protection and a platform from which to profit from their work.
NFTs also create an interesting social networking opportunity. Some conference speakers noted that buying certain NFTs can provide access to valuable communities where people can learn and connect with other enthusiasts, and even find mentors. Other speakers thought this could be the future of social networking, where people will be able to build communities based on the NFTs they own.
Web3: Welcome to the new internet
Before diving into what Web3 means, let’s look into Web1 and Web2.
Web1 was the first stage of the internet. In the Web1 era, there were only a few content creators and a huge majority of users who were consumers of content. Personal web pages were common, consisting mainly of static pages – think sites like MySpace and LiveJournal.
Web2 is the version of the internet most of us are using now. It consists of websites which highlight user-generated content, usability, and interoperability for end users. Web2 is built around the users, and content creators (for example, YouTubers and Instagram influencers) need to create a way to engage with them. This era is dominated by the applications we all know and use all the time, like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. It probably comes as no surprise that in Web2, big tech companies (like the ones just mentioned) hold the majority control of the internet.
That’s where Web3 comes in. It’s the next generation of the web, where internet services and mobile apps are rebuilt on decentralized blockchain technology. Web3 advocates, like Chris Dixon from venture capital firm a16z, say that building on blockchain technology will force companies to be interoperable and “give users property rights: the ability to own a piece of the internet.” Web3 is all about evenly distributing online power, thereby creating a decentralized web. One conference speaker talked about how with Web3, we’ll have a chance to go back to the root of the internet, before companies like Google, Apple, Facebook (now Meta), and Amazon took over and captured all the value. It’s this idealized form of the internet that gets people excited about the concept of Web3.
Next stop: The metaverse
The term “metaverse” was originally coined by the writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi novel, Snow Crash. The story envisions a virtual reality-based successor to the internet, and the story’s characters use digital avatars of themselves to explore the online world – often as a way of escaping a dystopian reality.
The metaverse that companies like, well, Meta, are envisioning seems much more utopian (at least for now). The metaverse as we currently think about it can be defined as an immersive next-generation version of the internet, likely rendered by virtual or augmented reality technology. The metaverse is where you, as your digital avatar, can shop, play games, and buy digital property. In fact, the metaverse version of the Taj Mahal is listed for 50 Ethereum (or $156,000) and the Eiffel Tower is going for double that price.
Companies like Roblox have already built immersive virtual worlds. Paris Hilton just recently hosted a massive New Year’s Eve party in “Roblox Paris World.” This can be thought of as a metaverse, or part of the larger metaverse. Another popular metaverse is Decentraland, where users can purchase virtual plots of land as NFTs via cryptocurrency.
What does all this mean for brands?
Things like NFTs, Web3, and the metaverse are only going to get bigger and more ubiquitous this year and beyond. Brands should enter this space now or risk getting left behind. One conference speaker put it in stark terms when they said that there will be two types of brands in the future: Web2 (aka “ancient” brands) and Web3 brands.
How can brands get started? As a first step, they should think about how they can harness existing technology to help them enter this space; for example, do they have an opportunity to create a virtual storefront using AR or VR? Using technologies that are already available – while keeping a close eye on newer innovations – allows brands to harness the power of current platforms while also thinking about what kinds of captivating customer experiences they might be able to create in the future. Getting into this space will also mean different things to different brands. A clothing company could create wearable virtual items as NFTs, for example; a movie studio could host a virtual party to promote a new film. It’s also really important for brands to understand the communities they’re hoping to interact with. They need to study the language used within those communities to not alienate people. This is one of the keys to being authentic, which is crucial for brands entering this space.
Keep on learning
These topics alone don’t even scratch the surface of everything discussed at the North American Bitcoin Conference. I walked away from the event with my head full of new ideas and concepts, but also with the sense that there is so much more to learn – and that’s what makes this space so exciting! Many people compare this time in the industry to the dawn of the World Wide Web. There’s a huge opportunity here, and I strongly encourage both individuals and brands to start learning and exploring to ensure they are part of the future, but also to have access to all the exciting opportunities available now.
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