On Thursday, Twitter announced that people who pay for Twitter Blue, a $3 per month subscription, would be able to change their profile picture to a non-fungible token (NFT). Doing so would change the shape of your photo from a circle to a hexagon to identify that you had in fact linked an NFT wallet, and didn’t just upload some random pixelated photo of a monkey.
In response, Elon Musk–who is never shy about saying what he’s thinking–tweeted three words that I think sum up what almost everyone is already thinking about Web3.0: “This is annoying.”
If you spend any amount of time online, you probably fall into one of three groups. The first are people who think that NFTs, cryptocurrency, and Web3 are the promised utopian future of the internet. The second are people who think the entire thing is, as Musk said, an annoying distraction. The third are people who have no idea what any of those words mean. Oh, to be so lucky as to be in group three.
To be fair, Musk didn’t just dismiss Twitter’s new “feature.” He followed it up with a more precise critique: “Twitter is spending engineering resources on this bs while crypto scammers are throwing a spambot block party in every thread!?”
He’s referring to the fact that almost every tweet from an account with more than, say, 10,000 followers eventually ends up with a spam bot reply promising Bitcoin riches. It is–to be sure–annoying.
The point Musk is making is that instead of making their products better, companies are spending resources, time, and energy chasing the shiny new thing. Sure, some of them would argue that the shiny new thing–in this case, the blockchain and all things crypto–is better. That might be true in some circumstances.
I think there’s also a reasonable argument that someone should be thinking about what comes next. Someone should be building a better version of the internet since it’s the thing we all depend on for, well, pretty much everything we do.
The problem is that “better” for now mostly means a way to make a quick buck as people pump insane amounts of money into things like Bitcoin and NFTs. The value of either isn’t based on an actual tangible thing–just hype.
For example, ask someone what it means to own an NFT. To be fair, most people won’t know what you’re talking about. Even if they’ve heard of an NFT, they probably have no idea what it means and they simply dismiss it as not important to their life. They would be correct.
Even those who do “understand” NFTs can’t actually tell you what they own. If you change your profile picture on Twitter to an NFT monkey, you don’t actually own the image of the monkey. You own a token that represents that image of the monkey. You basically paid for the right to say I paid for something, even though I’m not sure what it is.
Evangelists argue that promise of Web3.0 is that people will have the “option to own the internet,” what does that mean? What will you own? Mostly, it means you’ll own an intangible thing that has no actual utility or value, in hopes that someone else will come along later and pay you more money for the thing that still has no utility or value.
They are basically collecting Beanie Babies, which didn’t become valuable because they had more intrinsic value than, say, baseball cards or stamps. They were valuable because they were the hot trend at the time, and people who were willing to pay $1,000 for a rare stuffed toy were counting on the idea that, at some point, someone else would be willing to pay more.
At least Beanie Babies were a real thing. At a minimum, you could set them on fire and use them for heat when you realized you’d blown all of your money on something worthless and have nothing left to pay your utility bill.
The reason Musk’s tweet is a big deal is that he highlights the real problem with everything Web3. And yes, I realize that while Web3 encompasses blockchain technology including NFTs and Bitcoin, they aren’t exactly the same. Musk is an avowed fan of cryptocurrency, but not of Web3 generally. That problem is that a bunch of very smart people with a lot of money are chasing after a shiny new thing instead of making the thing they already sold to people better.
If you’ve built a platform, like Twitter, for example, it would be nice if you make it the best platform you can. Twitter is great for a lot of things, but it’s terrible when it comes to things like sending direct messages, managing bookmarked tweets, or editing tweets. Instead of fixing those things, it is investing resources in things that most users don’t care about, and that doesn’t make the experience better.
Of course, Twitter has a vested interest in getting people to connect their NFT wallets. Twitter wants to be a player in what it sees as the next big thing. The problem is, it isn’t making Twitter better for anyone who uses it today. That is, as Musk points out, annoying.