web3 is going great
January 18, 2022 4:31 AM   Subscribe

web3isgoinggreat.com is a schadenfreude filled timeline curated by Molly White that collects the grift, scams, hacks, and "rug-pulls" that seem to define the cryptocurrency ecosystem. She's also written about how blockchain-based systems are not what they say they are and that after more than a decade, it's not still early days for these projects. Extra bonus reading, Paul Butler's "Play-to-earn" and Bullshit Jobs, which explores the dismal grinding of the web3/NFT based games through the lens of Graeber's thesis about useless work, Nicolas Weaver's "The Web3 Fraud", which illustrates how web3 will still need all the same infrastructure since there is no actual decentralization there, and Natalie Weizenbaum's deeply disappointing list of otherwise decent people who are issuing NFTs.
posted by autopilot (217 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
 
And previously this month on metafilter: The NFTs must flow!, about the SPICEdao overbidding for a copy of Jodorowsky's Dune storyboards, THERE IS NO LAND DROP, about the "Blockchain City" in Wyoming scam, and This is a gold rush, Moxie Marlinspike's deep dive into the design flaws of the NFT ecosystem, plus A Modest Proposal to issue MeFi NFTs (which somehow involved the mods getting hash codes tattooed on their bottoms).
posted by autopilot at 4:45 AM on January 18 [8 favorites]


I was disappointed to learn Aphex Twin sold an NFT, even if he spent some unspecified portion on planting trees or whatever. It sucks when one of your teenage heroes goes rotten.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 4:48 AM on January 18 [10 favorites]


Was similarly saddened to see the Leonard Nimoy estate subjecting "intimate photos from the actor's life and career" to the NFT treatment, blockchaining the childhood hero of mine and environmentalist. Maybe there should be a database of crypto hero disillusionment; it would be centralized, probably.
posted by johngoren at 4:59 AM on January 18 [9 favorites]


The Paul Butler item is an excellent, short, thoughtful write-up, thanks for linking it.
posted by gimonca at 5:06 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]


My big disappointment was probably Susan Kare selling NFTs of her Macintosh icons.

I'd say Holly Herndon, but I had already written her off as the patient zero of this epidemic.
posted by acb at 5:07 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]


Not Wong Kar-wai!
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:17 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I can't fault artists for selling their own art, no matter what the platform. I just can't.

Jesus Christ do you have any idea how hard it is to make a living with art? You don't get to judge me, just like you don't get to judge sex work.

Everyone else; the rakers, the bros, the bullshitters, the criminals, the launderers, the straight up grifters... they should rightly be reviled. As forcibly as you like.

But, just remember, if you sell your shit and receive "tokens" be sure to convert that smoke into fiat currency ASAP.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:23 AM on January 18 [14 favorites]


R. Evans and S. Alexandra also did a fun two-part Behind The Bastards tear-down of cryptocurrencies and NFT's.
posted by progosk at 5:28 AM on January 18 [4 favorites]


I can't fault artists for selling their own art, no matter what the platform. I just can't.

But they're not selling their art. They're selling scams. Nobody receives their art. They receive an unregulated financial instrument of dubious (likely no) value.

This is honestly not significantly different from a celebrity (or micro-celebrity) using their reputation to shill for "alternative medicine" scams. If you're scamming people for money, you are a scammer and we should absolutely fault you for it. Your chosen profession being difficult does not absolve you of it.
posted by a faithful sock at 5:32 AM on January 18 [77 favorites]


Another excellent Molly White piece is her live-tweet thread while watching the cryptoland video (also previously this month on the blue "Look at the quality of this 3D animation"). That project is so deep into Poe's Law that no one is sure if it supposed to be satire.
posted by autopilot at 5:41 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]


What is the scam in an artist selling a piece of digital art as an NFT?
posted by imabanana at 5:42 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Artists I know who are selling art in the NFT realm absolutely do treat the transaction as the sale of a unique work.

Boiled down, yes, an NFT is just a piece of paper saying "I OWN THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE" but if the artist doesn't sell another NFT representing the same piece of art, it's still the sale of a unique piece of art. Semantics doesn't change it.

But we've had this argument on the blue before and there's little point in rehashing it over and over. Mind the gap.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:42 AM on January 18 [8 favorites]


I was disappointed to learn Aphex Twin sold an NFT,

RDJ always seemed like he was someone into practical jokes and not exactly afraid of money. If someone came to me with an NFT scam and it cost me nothing to gain a lot of cash, can't say I'd turn them down. I'd feel no shame in rug pulling these fools. There's a Cinderella aspect about all of this. Gotta turn it into dollars before it turns back into a pumpkin
posted by dis_integration at 5:42 AM on January 18 [4 favorites]


Golly, it's hard to believe that technology invented so you could buy heroin on the dark web is so full of grift and scams.
posted by tommasz at 5:47 AM on January 18 [16 favorites]


What is the scam in an artist selling a piece of digital art as an NFT?

Somebody comes to you and says, "I'm selling people pieces of paper that claim they own the Brooklyn Bridge. They won't actually own it, and in fact they receive no benefit from it, and also there's nothing stopping me from selling this same thing on a different color piece of paper a million times. I'd like to pay you to use your status within a community to help me sell them these things".

Do you agree to do it?

That's basically what artists are being asked to do when selling an NFT: use their status within the community to sell people these scams. The only difference is that instead of "You own the Brooklyn Bridge" it's "You own this piece of art I made".

The person buying it of course doesn't actually own it. The artist isn't actually stopped from basically selling it again, if they wanted. And also the only reason anyone thinks this thing is worth money in the first place is because either they're a scammer driving rampant speculation to drive up "value" (and then sell and get out) or a mark who has been conned into believing that these things have value.

There is no ethical way to be involved in the sale of NFTs. It is fraud all the way down.
posted by a faithful sock at 5:58 AM on January 18 [28 favorites]


Boiled down, yes, an NFT is just a piece of paper saying "I OWN THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE" but if the artist doesn't sell another NFT representing the same piece of art, it's still the sale of a unique piece of art. Semantics doesn't change it.

But do those artists codify the exclusivity of the sale? Like, is there a contract that stipulates that this NFT represents an exclusive license to the artwork and no other licenses will be issued and only the holder of the NFT can exhibit the artwork? Or is it just a pinky swear that they won't issue any more NFTs while retaining 100% of the rights to the IP?

A lot of this seems to be have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too hand wavyness. Like, the artwork is infinitely reproducible and an NFT is akin to a print. Except NFTs are often being sold as if they represent more than just the ownership of one print of an artwork because otherwise what the hell does an NFT represent if the artwork is infinitely reproducible?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:01 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]


Golly, it's hard to believe that technology invented so you could buy heroin on the dark web is so full of grift and scams. - tommasz
jwz had the same thought: How the Cryptobros have fallen: the through-line from Assassination Politics to monkey JPEGs. He also, as one of the founders of Mozilla, helped create a public outcry over Mozilla accepting cryptocurrency donations, which lead to them walking it back since the way to get a corporation to behave ethically is to create a PR disaster for their comms team.
posted by autopilot at 6:10 AM on January 18 [17 favorites]


It's JPEGs of cartoon monkeys wearing hats.

That is literally what NFTs are for.

Gorillaz twenty years too late.

Actual artists know how to sell their art. It's hard, and it's shit, but actual artists work like dogs to do it. How do I know? A) I'm an artist B) I buy art from other artists - friends, acquaintances, strangers. The site in the OP demonstrated very clearly that NFTs are a scam - every fucking day there's a rip-off, a breach, a scam, a theft, a lawsuit, or a controversy.

And it's still fucking monkeys. In hats.
posted by prismatic7 at 6:12 AM on January 18 [9 favorites]


I've bought physical prints of original art where it's supposedly a limited print run. I don't own the artwork, I just own a print. I don't even own an exclusive print because it's labeled as #135 of 500. And there's no guarantee that artist won't simply do another print run.

NFTs seem to be marketed on the expectation that there's some exclusivity to owning the NFT but without any guarantees that the thing the NFT is actually exclusive--i.e. no one's actually selling any IP or exclusive licenses to display artwork--the NFT only represents ownership of a hash in a distributed ledger. And that seems kind of wasteful given all the computing power that's needed to keep the system going.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:14 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]


> I can't fault artists for selling their own art, no matter what the platform. I just can't.

I certainly get the sentiment, but is there some kind of principled reasoning that would support this? Art is one of the main reasons we should exist, stipulated. But what is it that exempts artists from the obvious (I think) obligation not to participate in scams? Or more generally, to not act like assholes? It's very weird to me that I can't fully disagree, but I don't know why.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 6:19 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]


If an artist wants to sell off full rights to a piece of their art such that the buyer receives not just a copy of the work but exclusive ownership of the copyright so nobody else can every buy an "official" copy (except from them), they can just do that. Artists have been selling the rights to their creations for generations; the legal mechanisms involved are pretty standardized at this point and don't require setting a patch of rainforest on fire.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:29 AM on January 18 [21 favorites]


If you think that selling an NFT of an artwork is meaningless, wait until you hear about selling an NFT of a chess game.
posted by clawsoon at 6:32 AM on January 18 [4 favorites]


Mostly I just wish people had this much anger about all the other unnecessary things that are cooking the planet.
posted by imabanana at 6:36 AM on January 18 [6 favorites]


Thanks for the post, so filling and tasty!
posted by Bella Donna at 6:40 AM on January 18 [4 favorites]


Mostly I just wish people had this much anger about all the other unnecessary things that are cooking the planet.

Many of those things have at least barely plausible cover stories justifying their necessity. This stuff is nakedly useless, which I think is why it draws more ire.
posted by clawsoon at 6:42 AM on January 18 [29 favorites]


It's JPEGs of cartoon monkeys wearing hats.

(5 seconds later) “We regret to inform you that the cartoon monkeys are racist
posted by acb at 6:45 AM on January 18 [12 favorites]


Yes, feeding polar bears into the ever growing maw of insatiable hunger is bad, but we have to keep in mind that the ever growing maw is now only as large as Argentina or Norway. We should hold off on our condemnation until it consumes an important country.
posted by Pyry at 6:47 AM on January 18 [5 favorites]


I'm sort of OK with artists selling NFTs in some circumstances, particularly not-famous artists who previously had no market. Mostly because I've seen artist friends make their first meaningful money, particularly in digital and generative arts. There is a real thing going on here, a new online market for selling digital art. It doesn't really require all this cryptocurrency blockchain bullshit but that's where it's happening.

The key ethical difference is the folks I respect are selling the NFTs directly at reasonable art prices, $100s or $1000s mostly. And they're not hyping the NFT as some bold new investment that's going to go to The Moon. There's a fun community of these folks clustered around Hic et Nunc that seem sincerely about the art. There is some trading but mostly it's small time., "I sold a piece so I have the TEZ to buy a piece from this friend of mine and we're all supporting each other". It's a social thing, not some financial scam. And Hic et Nunc is Tezos based, which being proof of stake does not light a forest on fire for every transaction.

There's definitely a bunch of questions about authenticity and legitimacy of digital art purchased as a NFT. Nothing's physically (or legally, probably) stopping the artist from minting or selling other copies of that art. But that's been a question with digital and generative art from the beginning. The NFT is an embodiment of a social contract, a promise from the artist. It's not that different from a limited series print or photograph with a signed piece of paper that says "23 of 50" and a promise there will never be more than 50. The NFT system is a guarantee about as strong as that, I don't think it's complete nonsense.

So I've seen NFTs actually work as the fantasy story says for artists. But it's a pretty small market. Meanwhile almost all NFT activity is fraud, or barely disguised neo-Nazi propaganda (jinx acb), or just garbage intended as a way to fleece people out of money. There's a criticism that even the legitimate NFT artists are culpable because they're providing plausible deniability for the vast majority of NFT transactions which are fraud. I see the truth in that. Then again I like seeing small artists get paid.

Back to the original post here, NFTs are only part of this "Web3" nonsense. The other part of that is a bunch of cryptobros and venture capitalists somehow trying to conjure the next big tech trend out of thin air. It's pretty much all complete fabrication as far as I can tell, and I say this as someone who built Web1 and was part of the development and deployment of Web2. Blockchain is a terrible technology basis for things we use the Web for.
posted by Nelson at 6:52 AM on January 18 [11 favorites]


There is some trading but mostly it's small time., "I sold a piece so I have the TEZ to buy a piece from this friend of mine and we're all supporting each other". It's a social thing, not some financial scam.

A very, very large number of MLMs, Ponzi schemes, and outright scams get framed as "social things" and "supporting each other," though. Isn't that what they said about LuLaRoe?

The question is not "have some small artists made money on NFTs," it's "would they be better served by NFTs or by commissions/raffles/adoptables/other non-blockchain methods of selling their art for real money"?
posted by All Might Be Well at 7:03 AM on January 18 [12 favorites]


There is no way to sell NFTs (or interact with most cryptocurrencies) without contributing to and participating in their problems. At least none that I've ever seen. They're bad for the environment (energy usage, huge increase in e-waste), they've been created by literal scam artists exploiting lack of regulation of a new financial instrument with techniques that are are literally illegal for any sort of anything that has regulation (see wash trade which is where most of the high value of NFTs actually come from. Being illegally bought back and forth secretly with a shared pool of money, people just losing the ETH transaction gas fees (like, scammer A loans $200k to B, "sells" NFT X to B for $200k but A, pretending to be C, immediately buys X back from B for $400k and then B pays the $200k back to A. A has "lost" transaction fees but now has a record that one of their NFT sold for $400k and "doubled" in value. Then they convince mark M they have to hurry up and buy their last of their exclusive NFTs for a deal of "just" $300k, which no one will ever pay that much for outside of the inflated prices.)

Like "good" people who don't intend to be scammers often take part in this that are scams. (MLMs etc.) And sometimes the "good" people incidentally make money doing it, but it's still wrong to contribute to and further scams. Even if you benefit from them.

IRS has new rules regulating cryptocurrency related transactions so people are going to have to start reporting more so the NFT/crypto crash could happen this year as people realize it'll be harder to scam people.
posted by skynxnex at 7:10 AM on January 18 [11 favorites]


Rug pull latest
posted by chavenet at 7:15 AM on January 18


The crypto.com shutdown for a few hours chavenet linked was in no way a rug pull. They were concerned they had a security problem and shut down for a few hours. Then came back saying "Withdrawal services have been restored. All funds are safe."

I do not like crypto.com and still think almost all of the cryptocurrency world is transparent fraud. (Let's not even get started on Tether; when that collapses the whole thing is going to fall apart.) But it's worth being precise about the particular kind of malfeasance folks are doing. Crypto.com did not conduct a rug pull. The troubling part is they very well could in the future and the only thing that might protect people who are scammed is Singapore law. The Japanese version of that worked out very poorly for the victims of Mt. Gox.
posted by Nelson at 7:32 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]


would they be better served by NFTs or by commissions/raffles/adoptables/other non-blockchain methods of selling their art for real money

I think they would be, but right now the new market is connected to NFTs. I hate that too. I'm hopeful that when the NFT mania finally ends that this new online art market gets transferred to some more simple, non-fraud connected transaction system. I've asked artists many times "why not just have someone trusted like Sothebys run a ledger of ownership of digital works?" It sure seems like that's a better solution to me. My question is met with blank stares, then an answer that's some combination of "as if they'd ever be that innovative" and "what makes you think we'd trust Sothebys". I think they're wrong but in this exact moment the NFT world is filling a small niche for a particular kind of art that no one else is.

Again expanding this to "Web3" (whatever that is), the tech mismatch is the same problem as with the art market. Yes, you can do some Web-like things with blockchains. No, it's not generally a good idea. Blockchains are very inefficient, slow, non-scalable databases. They are a poor match for Web infrastructure. To take a specific example; one "Web3" idea is that you'd pay for stuff you read online by transferring small bits of cryptocurrency as payment. I think micropayments are a neat idea! They are also a failed idea; there's literally 20+ years of Web experimentation with tip jars and other forms of payments that have all gone nowhere. Blockchain does not address the reasons micropayments have failed. Making the micropayments require an unregulated currency that takes an hour to transfer in a global system that can only handle 7 transactions a second is not going to solve the problem.
posted by Nelson at 7:39 AM on January 18 [5 favorites]


Mt. Gox

I can't not mention that the original name is MTGOX -- Magic: The Gathering Online eXchange. It was a site founded to enable selling virtual cards for the online version of a trading card game. It only got re-styled as "Mt. Gox" to obfuscate this and make it seem more credible when the operators realized it was way more profitable to be a bitcoin exchange (which is saying an awful lot, given how profitable selling virtual trading cards back and forth like stocks is!).

It sure came as a big shock a bit down the line when through either incompetence or malice they "lost" hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bitcoins (at today's "value" it would be tens of billions of dollars) and were shut down.
posted by a faithful sock at 7:44 AM on January 18 [7 favorites]


Mostly I just wish people had this much anger about all the other unnecessary things that are cooking the planet.

I've got lots of anger to go around. Want to see me fly off the handle you just have to bring up grass golf courses in the desert. Or fuxking granite counter tops in a new house with minimum insulation. Or bike lanes being used for snow storage. Or billionaires. The list of rage inducing injustices is long and varied.

But NFTs are a particularly egarious example like rolling coal whose only purpose, despite some people using it for good, is ultimately a scam. Eg a tulip grower being able to swap a tulip straight across for a house doesn't make the people profiting off of tulip exchange any less scammy.

The guy with a unsellable garage full of Amway participated in a scam even if they actually like some of Amway's product. Being a victim is still being a participant especially if it is lending legitimacy.

NFTs have reached the saturated level where people who have no idea what they are talking about are flogging the technology and it is so annoying.

I wouldn't be surprised if some of the people on Natalie Weizenbaum's list are participating in NFTs in a ironic or performative manner or have been taken in by a scammer so I'm not quite as ready to pillory them forever. But I'm going to lose some respect for them in the same way I would if they rolled up to times square and set 50 barrels of oil ablaze for no other reason than someone paid them to do it.

(As an aside artists could already pinky swear to transfer the rights an NFT embodies with a simple boilerplate contract. But that would require enforcement via courts instead of blockchain and the courts have centuries of law to block scams so of course the scammers don't like it. Better to "enforce" via the lawless wild west of the block chain where you can still make money with snake oil, adulterated ketchup, tax avoidance and melamine laced baby food. Where scams so common they have names are still flying under the legal radar.)
posted by Mitheral at 7:50 AM on January 18 [16 favorites]


Mostly I just wish people had this much anger about all the other unnecessary things that are cooking the planet.

Don't underestimate how much anger I have to go around.
posted by octothorpe at 7:56 AM on January 18 [21 favorites]


Googling to make sure "blockhain" isn't a clever shibboleth (see the typo in the OP) is pretty damn amusing.
posted by stevil at 8:02 AM on January 18


If you're taking a dump on artists selling NFTs and you are NOT in a safe, stable, secure job with a roof over your head getting at least three meals a day and a reasonable assurance of a decent retirement situation, your commentary may have worth. Otherwise, you're just punching down. Check your financial privilege.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:06 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


> "We regret to inform you that the cartoon monkeys are racist"

wowwwwww that's amazing thanks for the enlight smh
posted by glonous keming at 8:09 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]


I've also been disappointed by Holly Herndon in this; she does cool musical work, and it is profoundly disappointing to see her shilling NFTs. But I'm curious, how is she "patient zero"?
posted by vernondalhart at 8:18 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


There's room for simultaneously going "Ehh, I don't *like* it, but there's only so far my critique can reach" (for people trying to extract value out of an especially meatgrinder system) &

"The veneer of respectability that is provided in aggregate is being used to let a system ride that's ~98% scam-by-weight, is consuming resources on a scale of nations (and no, using Tezos doesn't make you immune so long as the network is so built around uni/poly-swaps & buying dirty tokens to trade for clean ones), is being used to steal from other artists possibly more than there is 'legit' artists using it, etc. etc."

In other words, I'm not going to say boo about Naomi Wu selling a 3d scan to get paid in a restrictive system while she's simultaneously getting shut down by Patreon, demonetized by Youtube, etc. We're collectively creating the conditions that make that her best viable option.

But that doesn't mean I should hold back on the issues of the proposed replacement system, nor go full laser-eyes and start boosting my latest totally-not-a-rugpull MeFi-NFT series where the most famous/infamous posters & posts are financialized.
posted by CrystalDave at 8:24 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


She and Mat Dryhurst have been pushing the fantasy of crypto as “decentralisation” and an artistic tool hard, and have been responsible for introducing and legitimising it to many people in the arts.
posted by acb at 8:24 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


If you're taking a dump on artists selling NFTs and you are NOT in a safe, stable, secure job with a roof over your head getting at least three meals a day and a reasonable assurance of a decent retirement situation, your commentary may have worth. Otherwise, you're just punching down. Check your financial privilege.

I am not, lol. I both qualify for government aid in the US and have spent money in 2021 commissioning digital art from a friend. You can throw this smug nonsense directly into a lake.
posted by All Might Be Well at 8:25 AM on January 18 [47 favorites]


"I was disappointed to learn Aphex Twin sold an NFT... It sucks when one of your teenage heroes goes rotten." posted by -- They sucked his brains out! at 6:48 AM on January 1

I lost any love when he whined about mask mandates and shutting down during the start of the virus. It was like a song or writing on his soundcloud, I'm like come on, Richard.
posted by symbioid at 8:30 AM on January 18 [4 favorites]


Artists selling NFTs aren't just selling their own work as NFTs. They're selling the idea of NFTs as a viable business practice for artists, as a valuable way of conveying "ownership" of art, as an ethically sound trade that costs nobody anything to participate in.

I'm not one to condemn artists for trying to make a living doing what they do, but NFTs are not a victimless crime, and the "victims" here are not the artists in question.

anyway, here's a funny tweet
posted by rorgy at 8:42 AM on January 18 [18 favorites]


John Ireland on ESPN Radio: "We (Lakers broadcasters) got an email from management to call it strictly the 'Crypto.com Arena'. We were told not to use 'The Crypt' or any variation of it."
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:50 AM on January 18 [5 favorites]


If you're taking a dump on artists selling NFTs and you are NOT in a safe, stable, secure job with a roof over your head getting at least three meals a day and a reasonable assurance of a decent retirement situation, your commentary may have worth.

I'm sorry, but that's just nonsense. This crypto shit is helping burn the planet down, and all of us along with it. Further, if you really want to talk privilege, crypto shit is destroying the lives of people in developing countries, first. No amount of money is going to save humanity from cooking itself, and that goes for artists, as well. Where the climate is concerned, everyone's commentary is valid and important, who isn't actively helping that process along.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:08 AM on January 18 [38 favorites]


"We (Lakers broadcasters) got an email from management to call it strictly the 'Crypto.com Arena'. We were told not to use 'The Crypt' or any variation of it."

Just for fun: Why You Should Avoid Companies That Put Their Name On A Stadium.
posted by gimonca at 9:11 AM on January 18 [5 favorites]


For a site whose enlightened-if-unspoken motto is "Anything goes between consenting adults," I am surprised and disappointed at all this hate directed at artists selling NFTs to willing buyers.
posted by PhineasGage at 9:17 AM on January 18


I am surprised and disappointed at all this hate directed at artists selling NFTs to willing buyers.

If this was simply a cash-on-the-barrelhead sort of transaction with no other ramifications, I would be inclined to agree with you. It's not, and it seems disingenuous to state otherwise especially given the history of discussion around crypto in general here on the blue.
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:26 AM on January 18 [29 favorites]


Where'd you get that libertarian-ass motto from? Could we perhaps replace it with "Externalities? Never heard of them!" or "It's just not the same if my art-buying *isn't* helping destabilize multiple countries"
posted by CrystalDave at 9:26 AM on January 18 [32 favorites]


It's no different than selling snake oil, homeopathic medicines, invectim for COVID, or mega churches to willing buyers. The fact the buyers are willing doesn't mitigate the damage being done to both the world's systems and the willing buyer. It should be obvious that not all types of transactions are good or at least neutral even if all parties are willing.
posted by Mitheral at 9:27 AM on January 18 [17 favorites]


Everyone here going on about how rude it is to criticize artists for doing this probably needs to reread On Smarm stat, since half the comments here read like they were taken verbatim from the examples Scocca provided nearly a decade ago.
posted by rorgy at 9:28 AM on January 18 [6 favorites]


I dunno, I'm more disappointed by the people whose moral stance is basically "it's OK to destroy the world as long as some people I know make money in the process"

Nice to see so many art-adjacent folks have the same moral fiber as Exxon.
posted by aramaic at 9:28 AM on January 18 [15 favorites]


So calling it "The Klept" is also out of the question?
posted by Slackermagee at 9:28 AM on January 18 [12 favorites]


Another way of saying "externalities" is "not all of the adults involved are consenting."
posted by clawsoon at 9:44 AM on January 18 [28 favorites]


Given the art world's role in money laundering, I'm not really sure why selling an NFT is worse than flying to Europe for a biennale.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 10:02 AM on January 18 [5 favorites]


Let's separate out the two main critiques shared here and elsewhere.

1. It's a waste of energy/bad for the environment. I share the dismay about the energy density of crypto, but we all make environmental choices all the time. Who here eats meat? Who here flies on airplanes? Who here drives a car? Sure, I would love to see crypto regulated even for this reason alone. But I don't sneer at sculptors who drive huge, wasteful trucks to haul their raw materials or finished art works.

2. It's a scam. It isn't if the buyer wants what they're buying, even if it's a disembodied thing. If buyer wants "bragging rights" and is willing to pay for it, it's not anyone else's business to say no. Celebs are paid appearance fees all the time so people can shake their hand and then tell their friends about it. I know a women who is totally into the "Lucifer" TV series and paid a fortune to go to a fan-con and meet the star for 90 seconds, and she has been bragging and telling the world about it ever since.

I think NFT's are a wasteful farce for many reasons. As I have posted in other threads on the topic I routinely roll my eyes at friends who are convinced this is the future, rather than a fad. But I still will not criticize an artist (or other seller) who finds a willing buyer for even 'imaginary' wares they are selling to another adult.
posted by PhineasGage at 10:22 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I keep thinking of the connections, indirect and convoluted between NFTs and both the written word and DRM. We've had hundreds of years (at least) now of artists whose medium is the written word relying on copyright for better or for worse to make a living. And decades of dealing with the impact of the digital world on this. And yet we accept that the written word is infinitely reproducible and non-rival and non-scarce and it's both a blessing and a curse.

So much of the NFT craze appears to be centered around digital visual arts, the descendent of photography. Photography has had its own long struggle with reproducibility.

I think NFTs are a lie of an answer. Digital works are just like novels, they are infinitely reproducible. And I don't want to accept "look away" as an answer to the questions being raised. Is an NFT just DRM except artists and nerds like it this time? The poor starving artists being defended here don't have to take it upon themselves to answer the fundamental questions but they're not going away. If NFTs aren't DRM or IP, then what are they? Anne has created some digital work and anyone can see and appreciate it, but only Bob can "own" it.

What does Bob really own? And the answer, as plain as day, is that Bob owns a cryptographic token useful for resale in a speculative frenzy, and the art is decorative and epiphenomenal. The speculation, the trading, that is the entire point. The artists are just cover.

I'm also reminded of the photography award scam

https://www.dpreview.com/news/1611347594/is-it-fraud-monochrome-photography-awards-judges-speak-out

The basic idea in a nutshell, is that the contest organizer, a scammer, invites people to enter their photographs into a contest for a modest fee, say $10. They receive, ideally, 100,000 entries. What in the world is the mark possibly expecting to receive for entering their photo in a contest? Perhaps a modest prize, and perhaps some esteem. The scammer immediately throws 95% of the entries in the trash, because, who gives a shit? And no one, especially not well-known photographers, has time to look at all that shit. Then they pay a few thousand to some well-known photographers to judge the remaining photos. This is where the esteem comes from. Let's review the budget here: Ideally the scammer gets a million in entry fees. They pay out a few thousand in prizes and a few thousand for the time and (most importantly) the reputations of the judges. Kaching. And the marks get what they deserve for thinking that paying someone to tell you whether your photo was any good was a good idea.

What is the culpability of the photographer judges? Personally, I judge them harshly. I think when you get paid as part of a scam you're a scammer. Not "understanding the details" is the standard operating procedure for scammers and their hangers on. It's willful. And when you're getting something for nothing you know it. And when you're selling your reputation as cover for a scam you know it.

And when you claim you're selling your art but you can't really explain wtf that could possibly mean or even understand it yourself...

It's terribly hard to find patrons and supporters. Easier to find marks who want to make money and perhaps deserve what they get.
posted by Wood at 10:26 AM on January 18 [9 favorites]


PhineasGage, I think the critical difference that makes this different from the appearance fees and "bragging rights" that you mention, is that NFTs are resaleable. Your friend's pleasure at owning her own experience is not transferable. The entire reason this is being pumped is by speculators. It can't be separated.
posted by Wood at 10:30 AM on January 18 [6 favorites]


I hear you, wood, but I disagree that the presence of speculators in this market means artists selling NFTs are inherently playing into a scam. Speculative frenzies have existed for millennia, and arguments over "what is the definition art?" got especially interesting starting in the early 20th Century. I bet Marcel Duchamps and many other early 20th Century artists would be loving all the controversy around NFTs, and taking full advantage.
posted by PhineasGage at 10:50 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


It isn't [a scam] if the buyer wants what they're buying

That "if" is doing some impressively heavy lifting in this sentence.

The entire enterprise of selling NFTs is a speculative bubble being pumped up by bad faith actors whose goal is to keep buyers confused as to what it is they are buying long enough to inflate the value and then cash out. That the marks don't actually understand what it is they're buying is the entire point.

You might as well be arguing, "It isn't a scam if a buyer wants the swamp land in Florida they're buying (which has been falsely represented to them by the seller as being usable, commercially developable land)".
posted by a faithful sock at 11:18 AM on January 18 [18 favorites]


I bet Marcel Duchamps and many other early 20th Century artists would be loving all the controversy around NFTs, and taking full advantage.

I feel like pharmadouche buying the one of a kind Wu-Tang album is kind of relevant here. If the sale of the album were a kind of performance art piece about the horrors of late stage capitalism and grotesque inequality, having pharmadouche buy it would be absolutely perfect. But I feel like it clearly wasn’t intended as that sort of performance art, it was just a stunt for bragging rights and to make some money. There surely is some clever way to make a grand artistic statement through NFTs. Maybe there is something worth the environmental cost. But just participating in the scam is not clever, subversive, etc. It’s just adding your own brick to the pyramid scheme.
posted by snofoam at 11:25 AM on January 18 [6 favorites]


Since this is the closest thing we've got going to a blockchain megathread, and I don't want to flood the front page with blockchain posts, I'm hoping this is the best place to put this:

Sex toys, cybercrime, and cycling sponsorship: The bizarre tale of NextHash
posted by clawsoon at 11:39 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Artists are largely the victims of the NFT scam, not its perpetrators. The problem for artists is that in order to get the token onto the blockchain in the first place, so that is can be sold, the artist has to pay for the token to be "minted", which requires real money to be exchanged for cryptocurrency in order to pay the fee for the "miners" who use it to pay for electricity (generated from fossil fuels) to run the blockchain. Few artists who go through this process will get even a fraction of their money back in sales.
posted by cyanistes at 11:42 AM on January 18 [14 favorites]


NFTs are resaleable

Some of these NFTs like the Susan Kare issues are done with the excuse that 'all the profits are going to some charity', which just makes me think, if the NFTs are so valuable why not just donate them directly to the charity?
Oh the charity would rather have hard dollars than some digital chicanery, so why not just take the money and give it to them directly?
posted by Lanark at 11:50 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]


I bet Marcel Duchamps and many other early 20th Century artists would be loving all the controversy around NFTs, and taking full advantage.

Dali, maybe, but not Duchamp, who, when he realized how quickly he could churn out ready-mades, set himslef a strict limit because he disn't want to dilute the idea (and maybe become a hack). He was a joker, but not so much of a grifter.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:54 AM on January 18 [17 favorites]


Few artists who go through this process will get even a fraction of their money back in sales.

If you're lucky they'll offer to pay you with your own artwork.
posted by clawsoon at 11:57 AM on January 18 [9 favorites]


1. It's a waste of energy/bad for the environment. I share the dismay about the energy density of crypto, but we all make environmental choices all the time. Who here eats meat? Who here flies on airplanes? Who here drives a car? Sure, I would love to see crypto regulated even for this reason alone. But I don't sneer at sculptors who drive huge, wasteful trucks to haul their raw materials or finished art works.

I think this is a little off base -- for example, one can limit one's air flights, but often they are the only way to make a trip in a reasonable amount of time. On the other hand, no one is saying that artists shouldn't sell their work -- just that NFTs are a bad vehicle for doing it, in that they really don't add anything to the the experience that can't be done with other tools and they are very energy-intensive. If blockchain was the only way to get things done, there could be a serious argument that it's worth burning an increadible amount of energy to run them, but experts keep saying over and over, that it doesn't really do anything better than existing tools and often quite a bit worse.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:00 PM on January 18 [5 favorites]


autopilot, thanks for introducing me to the writing of Molly White -- beyond the blockchain and web3 stuff, she has a bunch of other posts that are very worth reading.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:03 PM on January 18


NFTs aren't DRM. For them to enable DRM, your music/video/hologram player would have to be hardcoded so that it refuses to play any digital file for which the blockchain doesn't contain evidence of your right to do so. Leaving aside the externalities for now, this has advantages over a more centralized system in that the evidence of your "ownership" isn't dependent on a single "PlaysForSure" service which could be turned off in the future. But I think it would still suck.
posted by Slothrup at 12:10 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


Leaving aside the externalities for now, this has advantages over a more centralized system in that the evidence of your "ownership" isn't dependent on a single "PlaysForSure" service which could be turned off in the future.

Moxie Marlinspike had an interesting piece recently talking about how pretty much all access from non-server devices to various blockchains now goes through centralized services anyway.
posted by clawsoon at 12:16 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


Leaving aside the externalities for now, this has advantages over a more centralized system in that the evidence of your "ownership" isn't dependent on a single "PlaysForSure" service which could be turned off in the future.

It does still rely on an external service though, even if it is a distributed one. For the average user, PlaysForSure is not really that different to MemeCoin2785Blockchain or whatever in terms of dependability. Both are services that might not exist in 10 years.

By way of analogy: the website you visited to download a given file might go down in the next 10 years, when you might need to download it again. A DHT torrent (let's ignore tracker issues for the sake of argument) is distributed and so doesn't have a single point of failure, but it might be devoid of seeders in 10 years time too.
posted by Dysk at 12:45 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Funny thing about scams is, lots of people make money from them. "My artist friends made money from NFTs" is not as strong a rebuke against NFTs being scams as some of you seem to think it is.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:51 PM on January 18 [11 favorites]


Nicolas Weaver’s “The Web3 Fraud”, which illustrates how web3 will still need all the same infrastructure since there is no actual decentralization there

I found this take technically compelling, but when juxtaposed w/ Moxie Marlinspike & Tim O’Relly’s takes it seemed less compelling, kind of a missing-the-forest-for-the-trees thing. NFTs are a scam, but some kind of infrastructure - knowledge, talent, piles of computers in remote places- is being built up, and all of that energy is going to be dissipated somehow when the bubble finally pops. Weaver is probably correct to think of the challenges of working with all of the nonsense that Etherium entails as nerd sniping, but if a lot of smart people are burning their midnight oil obsessing over something, whatever value is to be had will be squeezed from that creation eventually. It just won’t be pictures of apes.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:06 PM on January 18


I understand where the concern for scam and dislike for shills come from. But to be honest nft projects seem to be new public flogging subject. Yes. it is early but how else can it mature without being so?
posted by poppypetalmask at 1:07 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


but if a lot of smart people are burning their midnight oil obsessing over something, whatever value is to be had will be squeezed from that creation eventually.

The Dutch now have beautiful tulip gardens, for example.
posted by clawsoon at 1:10 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


but if a lot of smart people are burning their midnight oil obsessing over something, whatever value is to be had will be squeezed from that creation eventually.

The Dutch now have beautiful tulip gardens, for example.

So the O’Reilly piece gets into this, actually - the question is whether the NFT bubble is a bubble like the tulip bubble or a bubble like the dot-com or railroad bubbles - things that burst but left behind big infrastructures (service centers, talent, and big players like Amazon in the first case, lots of rail infrastructure in the latter). This current bubble is building up a lot of people who understand the blockchain and its ins and outs in ways that I don’t. It’s also developing a lot of people interested in identifying where electricity is cheap, and it appears to be causing lots of computing infrastructure to be laid down in those places. It’s producing something, I just don’t know what.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:19 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


The FIRE industries (finance, insurance, real-estate) is a much bigger energy consumer and just general all-round menace to society and the planet than the exchange of digital 'collectables' over blockchains (especially the new generation of energy-efficient blockchains). And blockchain technology is an innovation with a potential, long-term, to substantially replace these industries (along with their shareholders, executives and lobbyists), with pure open-source code. There will be a lot of scams and ponzis along the way too. But these have accompanied all of history's innovations in money and finance. It is the root of all evil after all.
posted by moorooka at 1:22 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


I don't know how someone can look at the finance sector and think 'the problem here is that there aren't enough highly volatile unregulated speculative instruments'.
posted by Pyry at 1:25 PM on January 18 [15 favorites]


And blockchain technology is an innovation with a potential, long-term, to substantially replace these industries (along with their shareholders, executives and lobbyists),

Why? I don’t see why that would happen, and am asking.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:25 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


A lot of charred high-end graphics cards and ASICs that are useless for anything other than mining specific cryptocurrencies (or as very inefficient heaters), more CO2 in the atmosphere, and the knock-on effects of shortages of parts (such as the aforementioned graphics cards, and indeed hard drives) whose prices were pushed up by crypto speculators. Possibly a lot of resentful libertarian-adjacent dudebros who lose everything to obvious rugpulls and are fit for radicalisation by fascist groups recruiting the aggrieved, and a few lucky and/or shrewd individuals in the top quartile of moral flexibility who have a lot of money to spend. Perhaps they will become the new Medicis and enrich humanity's patrimony with treasures for the ages, though we know they'll just spend much of it on coke, hookers, private jets and tacky crap.
posted by acb at 1:27 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


Whatever revolutionary potential cryptocurrencies ever held has at this point been completely subsumed by people whose grandest ambition is reproduce the current pyramid-shaped financial system with themselves at the top.
posted by Pyry at 1:31 PM on January 18 [5 favorites]


The FIRE industries (finance, insurance, real-estate) is a much bigger energy consumer and just general all-round menace to society and the planet than the exchange of digital 'collectables' over blockchains (especially the new generation of energy-efficient blockchains). And blockchain technology is an innovation with a potential, long-term, to substantially replace these industries (along with their shareholders, executives and lobbyists), with pure open-source code.

The software industry doesn't have any of the regulation or physical presence requirement of the FIRE industries -- it's already pretty much devoted just to the operation of code. The software industry (along with their shareholders, executives and lobbyists) has had far more potential to be substantially replaced with pure open-source code for half a century now and counting; how's that going?
posted by Superilla at 1:35 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


Going to Maine, the belief that we must get something eventually out of all this effort requires, I dunno, a cross between Whiggish optimism and a deep anti-understanding of entropy. It is entirely possible to just ruin valuable stuff for no good at all. Even if there are some intermediate states before the cooling ashes, those states needn’t be useful to anything you like, either.

Also there’s plenty more useful stuff all that skill and energy could go to right now .
posted by clew at 1:38 PM on January 18 [4 favorites]


The FIRE industries (finance, insurance, real-estate) is a much bigger energy consumer and just general all-round menace to society and the planet than the exchange of digital 'collectables' over blockchains

Paring out the (very small) portion of the crypto infrastructure nessisary to transact NFT's and comparing it to a huge swath of the global economy and ignoring the rest of that same infrastructure is a really, really bad comparison.

(especially the new generation of energy-efficient blockchains).

energy efficient is in the eye of the beholder here

And blockchain technology is an innovation with a potential, long-term, to substantially replace these industries (along with their shareholders, executives and lobbyists),

[Citation Needed] also, God help us if it does happen to be true

with pure open-source code.

It's open source? OH! never mind what I said above. that makes it OK.


There will be a lot of scams and ponzis along the way too. But these have accompanied all of history's innovations in money and finance. It is the root of all evil after all.


Just because the past was shitty, doesn't mean we need to repeat it.
posted by Dr. Twist at 1:40 PM on January 18 [8 favorites]


Blockchains can replace - or at least transform -traditional finance in much the same way that the internet transformed traditional media. When information can be exchanged online, a whole bunch of information rentiers and gatekeepers are made redundant. Now value can be exchanged online, but the technology - and of course the regulatory response - is in its infancy. We can't predict exactly how it will develop. But a world in which you can exchange value peer-to-peer, anywhere in the world and outside the custody of any intermediary, using open-source technologies, has potential - for good and bad - that doesn't exist in a world where you can't do this.
posted by moorooka at 1:40 PM on January 18


Just for clarity, my first preference is communist regime nationalising the finance sector and banning all cryptocurrencies. But the status quo is not my second preference.
posted by moorooka at 1:44 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I get it, you have a thing for unworkable systems.
posted by acb at 1:45 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Blockchains can replace - or at least transform -traditional finance in much the same way that the internet transformed traditional media.

No, they cannot.

The very nature of how information has to be dispersed in a mass distributed blockchain means that a transaction is multiple orders of magnitude more costly than one via a traditional centralized system (or a distributed system with a small number of nodes in the graph). There is not a way to fix this without literally breaking the laws of physics as we know them.

There's a reason that Bitcoin can only handle about 7 transactions a second worldwide.

There is no additional computing power or network bandwidth you can throw at that problem, meaningfully, that wouldn't then be many orders of magnitude faster to throw at the existing alternatives. And Moore's Law hasn't really been keeping up to a point where that magical power/bandwidth seems to be coming anyways.

Distributed blockchains probably have a place, somewhere, doing something -- but pretty much all the speculation around how they'll revolutionize [choose industry here] is total bullshit being pumped up by people hoping to be the first movers into a space that becomes valuable so they can cash out.
posted by a faithful sock at 1:54 PM on January 18 [28 favorites]


Good one acb , but if you are calling the current system of finance capital and their pet central bankers "workable" I don't agree.
posted by moorooka at 1:55 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Wish the world could put a complete moratorium on this sort of energy-expensive new technology that serves few meaningful purposes besides getting people richer. Yeah yeah yeah we’ve all done bad environmental things but could we just stop adding new carbon-spewing technologies for five minutes here.
posted by vanitas at 2:03 PM on January 18 [7 favorites]


Faithful sock, the scaling trilemma in blockchain is well understood, and the solutions in development for scaling these systems means losing some of their inherent qualities, but that doesn't mean that centralised custody is the only solution.
posted by moorooka at 2:07 PM on January 18


MetaFilter: the belief that we must get something eventually out of all this effort requires, I dunno, a cross between Whiggish optimism and a deep anti-understanding of entropy
posted by oulipian at 2:12 PM on January 18 [7 favorites]


some of their inherent qualities

lol, "some". OK. Sure. Keep moving those goalposts.

We get it: you hate the current system. I'm not a huge fan of it myself either. But, "a techno wizard will solve it in the future, somehow" isn't a thing I'm gonna hang my hopes on for replacing it, particularly when all the wizardry currently being employed is focused almost entirely on profit via speculation schemes that would be illegal if you tried them in existing markets/systems.
posted by a faithful sock at 2:12 PM on January 18 [8 favorites]


Going to Maine, the belief that we must get something eventually out of all this effort requires, I dunno, a cross between Whiggish optimism and a deep anti-understanding of entropy. It is entirely possible to just ruin valuable stuff for no good at all. Even if there are some intermediate states before the cooling ashes, those states needn’t be useful to anything you like, either.

I mean, I’m mostly just cribbing from Tim O’Reilly who, as I wrote, I found reasonably persuasive. This could be a tulip bubble - and a bunch of it certainly is - and it could be an dot-com bubble. There are a lot of players with a lot of money who seem to think it’s a dot-com bubble.

Also there’s plenty more useful stuff all that skill and energy could go to right now .

Yes! But that skill and energy doesn’t find that useful stuff cool, and hasn’t been persuaded to do so by the argument that the blockchain is a hot mess. So a lot of talented people are going to be trying to make this cool, stupid thing useful.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:16 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


A single Ethereum transaction uses 243kWh.

Contemplate that for a moment. You can power an average US (!!) household for eight days on a single transaction.

Bitcoin is even worse.

Crypto is quite possibly the least efficient technology yet invented by humans.
posted by aramaic at 2:38 PM on January 18 [28 favorites]


Since this is the blockchain megathread, I'll toss this in: Sex toys, cybercrime, and cycling sponsorship: The bizarre tale of NextHash
posted by chavenet at 3:01 PM on January 18


There are a lot of players with a lot of money who seem to think it’s a dot-com bubble.

The dot-com bubble was the result of economic reality smacking down all of the 'new economy' BS that had intermixed with the services that were actually able to provide value. It was not efficient in that a lot of businesses with sensible value propositions got axed in the wash, while others, like Amazon managed to hang on even though they had failed to show any net profits by that point. But a lot of the rot and nonsense got cut out.

The blockchain bubble is the return of the rise rot and nonsense. It is a video gaming mentality applied to financial and monetary systems. A video game, no matter how complex, is human comprehensible, can be lost without serious consequences, and can be relatively easily patched. The financial and monetary systems are vast and complex beyond the ability of any one human to fully understand, have real world consequences in terms of human life when they glitch, and patching the system takes years.

From several centuries of experience we know that the money-for-nothing drive rears its head at a societal scale on a regular basis. We know that for the lion's share of money-for-nothing rushes and financial fads more devastation is left in their wake than shared wealth. Blockchain has all the hallmarks of one of these fads.

Blockchain tech has had ten years to find a useful, real-world application. It has not. The reality of how blockchains work versus their ad-copy is stark. The 'distributed' ledger is in fact only kept by a couple of central locations. It is a slow and difficult medium of exchange. It does not meet any actual needs in the market, except as a method of circumventing the rules that have both served to stabilize the systems and to limit the financial capability of criminal organizations. The NFT's Must Flow discussion and especially Moxie. Marlinspike's article are about how NFT's are not even about owning the art (or whatever data) that they purport to, but rather are just a way of attributing ownership of a URL without regard to what that URL is pointing to. Of course the ownership of the URL is also not something that the NFT can provide because the DNS resolution has f-all to do with the NFT.

That artists deserve to get paid for their work when others are using it to make money is not at question. That digital artists should have the ability to control the distribution of their work is the same issue that the RIAA and MPAA have been fighting for years. And you can be sure that if they thought that the blockchain could be a solution they would be using it.

This is not a defense of the status quo. I would love to see deep and abiding reform limiting the financial sector and its urge to innovate the rest of us into destitution. That is a longer and much wonkier conversation. This is a reminder that riding a makeshift raft on the ocean is not made better by trying to also load it up with flotsam on the premise that the other floating things will make things better.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 4:15 PM on January 18 [13 favorites]


Good points! I do think a reasonable caveat is that Moxie Marlinspike thinks that the blockchain is here to stay, though. He’s on the side of the “it’s a dot-com bubble” I think.
posted by Going To Maine at 4:31 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


That digital artists should have the ability to control the distribution of their work is the same issue that the RIAA and MPAA have been fighting for years. And you can be sure that if they thought that the blockchain could be a solution they would be using it.

The member corporations of MPAA and RIAA (and American Publishers Association and many other "content" industries) are all pursuing many new ventures and investing heavily in NFT tests.
posted by PhineasGage at 4:40 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Crypto is quite possibly the least efficient technology yet invented by humans.

And the biggest reason for that seems to be unsolvable by more efficient hardware, since the core idea is built around a Red Queen effect: You have to keep running just to stay in the same place.

If you invent a more efficient mining chip (as Intel is is rumored to be doing), the incentive built into how blockchains work is still to buy as many mining rigs and consume as much electricity with them as possible.

So instead of destabilizing Kazakhstan and Kosovo by chewing through 180 quintillion hashes per second to generate a new Bitcoin every ten minutes, more efficient chips will change everything by destabilizing Kazakhstan and Kosovo by chewing through 180 sextillion hashes per second to generate a new Bitcoin every ten minutes.

It is inherently energy maximalist.
posted by clawsoon at 4:45 PM on January 18 [4 favorites]


It is inherently energy maximalist.

It’s like the opposite of a perpetual motion machine. Has there been any successful technology that made itself increasingly inefficient by design?
posted by snofoam at 5:05 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


perpetual promotion machine
posted by glonous keming at 5:11 PM on January 18 [7 favorites]


Blockchain tech has had ten years to find a useful, real-world application. It has not.

The peer-to-peer transfer of value is the original application. Today billions of dollars in value are transferred outside the custody of the banking system every day. Whether it's objectively "useful" or not, it is clearly being used. The universe of promised blockchain applications has not emerged, but smart-contracts have only really moved from proof-of-concept to functional platforms in the past 24 months or so. A few years ago the community of smart-contract developers did not exist. This is still a nascent technology and it might just turn out to be a passing fad, but it also might not.
posted by moorooka at 5:13 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Has there been any successful technology that made itself increasingly inefficient by design?

Corporate accountability, printer ink, roads, gig based delivery services, There are probably others. Sometimes it is more profitable to be less efficient.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 5:16 PM on January 18


Corporate accountability, printer ink, roads, gig based delivery services

I’m not sure any of these are what I would think of as technologies, at least as far as what I can guess you mean about inefficiency. An inefficient business model can increase profits, but that doesn’t mean the technology is getting increasingly inefficient. HP makes money selling super expensive ink cartridges that have a tiny bit of ink in them. They don’t develop new printing technologies that require ever increasing amounts of ink to do the same amount of printing.
posted by snofoam at 5:23 PM on January 18


I hate the term "engineer's disease," but it occurred to me while washing dishes that crypto is a sort of inversion, created by its sufferers. "I can't begin to understand how the actual economy works, so I'll create a frictionless spherical-cow economy simulation that is perfect in all ways, and then we'll just re-map the existing rusty old economy onto it."
posted by Rat Spatula at 5:27 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


The Dutch now have beautiful tulip gardens, for example.

Ironically, the Tulip Bubble wasn't really a bubble, that was a myth more or less popularized by Charles Mackay, whose research style is best described as "making sh*t up." Now, it is true that people spent a ton of money on tulips, and, when they went out of fashion, some suppliers lost a bunch of money, but it was really more a conspicuous consumption (aka "the rich being gaudy assholes and spending a ton of money on useless things") situation than a speculation bubble per see. More or Less did an episode on it. There are great classical bubbles, like the South Seas Bubble and the various Railroad bubbles in the US's Gilded Age or Railroad Mania about 50 years earlier in the UK, but the Dutch tulips are a different beast.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:27 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


The New Yorker investigates When N.F.T.s Invade an Art Town: "Marfa, Texas, is known for its highbrow arts scene. A new gallery is unsettling that image."
posted by PhineasGage at 5:27 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


The peer-to-peer transfer of value is the original application

None of the major blockchains are able to handle a high enough transactional volume to be used in a peer-to-peer way in daily life. If you put all the throughput of Bitcoin and Ethereum together they could not handle the volume of actual peer-to-peer transactions handled daily by just Venmo alone.

These things are only peer-to-peer in theory. In reality they're just not suited for anything but large, infrequent transfers, and if you tried to switch the world's existing electronic transactions over to them they would keel over.
posted by a faithful sock at 5:33 PM on January 18 [8 favorites]


It’s also developing a lot of people interested in identifying where electricity is cheap, and it appears to be causing lots of computing infrastructure to be laid down in those places.

If you look at the details of the infrastructure being laid down, though, it's hard to see how it might have future use like the dark fibre left over from the dot-com crash did.

They ship in a bunch of computing hardware which can only do one thing, so it'll be useless soon. This is not unusual for computing hardware, though, given Moore's Law, so we can't really count it in the long-term-infrastructure equation.

What else do they lay down? Cryptocurrency mining has high electricity needs and low bandwidth needs. As far as I know it is unique in how skewed the ratio is between those two. You don't need to bring in a lot of Internet infrastructure to make money with it. A pretty basic connection is enough. So they're not building up Internet infrastructure in the places they're going.

What they need in large amounts is electricity and cooling. Their main accomplishment in electricity infrastructure so far has been to keep coal plants open which would've otherwise been shut down and/or to disrupt electricity production for average people.

So that leaves us with small rooms that have huge amounts of air conditioning being pumped into them. ...unless they're in a climate which allows for outside air cooling, in which case that leaves us with some big fans.
posted by clawsoon at 5:37 PM on January 18 [8 favorites]


These things are only peer-to-peer in theory. In reality they're just not suited for anything but large, infrequent transfers, and if you tried to switch the world's existing electronic transactions over to them they would keel over.

The way that they seem to work in practise right now is something like the gold in the vaults of the Federal Reserve. Above-ground exchanges which store transactions in plain old databases handle 99.9% of actual transactions. Only occasionally does gold get physically shuffled from one shelf to another to indicate a transfer of wealth that wasn't balanced out in regular trading.
posted by clawsoon at 5:40 PM on January 18


Today billions of dollars in value are transferred outside the custody of the banking system every day.

This is wrong in at least two senses. Primarily the sense that what is being traded is not dollars, or any stable proxy for dollars. Secondarily, as the valuation of the various blockchain based data structures has no reliable market information much of the presumed value is coming, ex nihilo, from the people offering the data structures. That the data structures fail to do what they claim to do makes the valuations suspect to say the least. In essence, I can tell you that I have a million dollars worth of *coin but if I can't get what I want with it, then what good is it? Some folks will trade for it on somethings but I can't pay my taxes with it. And I can't guarantee a stable exchange rate to get dollars, or any other stable currentcy, out of the system when I need them.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 5:42 PM on January 18 [5 favorites]


They don’t develop new printing technologies that require ever increasing amounts of ink to do the same amount of printing.

Dot matrix used a lot less ink than laser jet. Photo-printing uses a ton more than laser.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 5:48 PM on January 18


hey don’t develop new printing technologies that require ever increasing amounts of ink to do the same amount of printing.

Dot matrix used a lot less ink than laser jet. Photo-printing uses a ton more than laser.


imagine if every time you printed a page the next page required more ink for the same amount of text.
posted by dis_integration at 5:51 PM on January 18 [13 favorites]


Above-ground exchanges which store transactions in plain old databases handle 99.9% of actual transactions.

Sure, you can do that, but at that point why are you even using a blockchain?

The reality is that blockchain isn't just bad at large scale transactional workflows, it might honestly be the worst possible way to handle them. In every conceivable way, blockchains fail to measure up to the alternatives ... except one: the ability to avoid government oversight.

That's it. That's the killer feature. That's the only feature.

And every time someone figures that out and tries to solve the fact that they're actually awful to use at any scale, they end up basically re-inventing the last 40+ years of transactional systems design that blockchain is supposed to be liberating us from.

It should be pretty clear from the website linked at the top of this, "avoiding government oversight" (because we're going to scam people) is the only thing crypto boosters actually give a shit about, which is why they've been searching for a legitimate problem to solve with the tech to provide cover for 10+ years with no success.
posted by a faithful sock at 5:53 PM on January 18 [18 favorites]


I was watching a video about the Evergrande mess in China, and they talked about how locals knew that some building projects were for living in and some were just for speculation.

Everybody knew that the just-for-speculation buildings were unlivable, but if you bought in early enough you could make a lot of money.

It made me think of blockchain technologies.
posted by clawsoon at 5:56 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Actually my point. The same text on a dot matrix uses less ink than on a laser jet.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 5:59 PM on January 18


Faithful sock, everyone understands that these legacy blockchains are inefficient for small transactions. I am not making the claim that blockchain has already replaced retail banking and payments systems with peer-to-peer technology or that it could do so tomorrow. I am just saying is that people are using blockchain to make peer-to-peer transfers of value on the order of billions of dollars (worth) daily. A drop in the ocean compared to visa and mastercard volumes, but things have obviously moved on from when it was a mere curiosity for computer science nerds. Not that current trends are necessarily predictive of future trends, but it's not an insignificant trend.

Ignorantsavage you raise two points. The first is that the dollar-value of cryptocurrencies fluctuates. That is true, but it doesn't mean that value is not being transferred - gold prices fluctuate, but I can still transfer value with it. Of course it's more convenient to transact in something with a stable dollar-value, which is why stablecoins are increasingly a thing. On the second point, the valuations are taken from the most recent prices at which market exchanges are taking place. This makes them the same as gold, silver or any other type of market commodity with a variable dollar price based on supply, demand and liquidity.
posted by moorooka at 6:00 PM on January 18


which is why stablecoins are increasingly a thing

Have the leading stablecoins become any less of a giant scam since last time I checked?
posted by clawsoon at 6:03 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Gold is a commodity because it has the ability to be used for things other than as a medium of exchange. It's price may fluctuate but I will always find a buyer. I can look at the LME and check on changes in demand as a cause of fluctuation. *coins, like Donald Trump, are always worth what they feel like at the moment. Certainly animal spirits are part of any market, but when they are the defining feature of a market, that is a bug.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 6:12 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Have the leading stablecoins become any less of a giant scam since last time I checked?

Tether, which resembles a scam due to the fact that it resembles a normal deposit-taking bank, has been losing market share to alternatives that are generally recognised as being less dodgy. So I would say that the answer is a tentative "yes"... but it's crypto, full of hacks and scams and nothing has been around for more than a year or two. I would wait a couple more years for these platforms to mature before I would fully trust them. But I wouldn't treat (all of) them as inherently radioactive.
posted by moorooka at 6:12 PM on January 18


> unless they're in a climate which allows for outside air cooling, in which case that leaves us with some big fans.

We seem to have a couple of those in this thread.
posted by 7segment at 6:18 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


Gold is a commodity because it has the ability to be used for things other than as a medium of exchange.

Well, that, and eventually someone is on the hook for taking delivery. Commodities futures contracts have an end date, and the one holding at the end is on the hook for taking delivery (and paying for) the physical gold.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:25 PM on January 18


Gold is a commodity because it has the ability to be used for things other than as a medium of exchange.

I would argue that almost all of gold's industrial applications came far more recently than its use as a store of value. You can talk about jewellery or decoration, but is gold valuable because it can be used for these things, or is it used for these things because it is valuable? It's not the only thing that glitters. What makes it valuable is its scarcity and the chemical stability that means that a piece of gold will still look and feel exactly the same even after thousands of years. Now imagine a similarly scarce, stable element that did not glitter but instead had the property of teleportation via secure communications channel. This was the original concept behind bitcoin.
posted by moorooka at 6:29 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Actually my point. The same text on a dot matrix uses less ink than on a laser jet.

Then it was a facile point, because anyone who's observed dot matrix printing and ink printing will have noticed the dot matrix is substantially lower resolution. That is, qualitatively and quantitatively different.
posted by aramaic at 6:31 PM on January 18 [5 favorites]


Dot matrix used a lot less ink than laser jet. Photo-printing uses a ton more than laser.

Laser printers use toner and they can print things that would be impossible on dot matrix. Laser print faster, higher quality, waterproof, etc. Printing a photo creates a completely different thing than printing a page of text with dot matrix. These technologies aren’t less efficient, they do totally different things. I’m also not sure that laser would be overall less efficient than dot matrix if it were printing the same exact thing.
posted by snofoam at 6:37 PM on January 18 [4 favorites]


The member corporations of MPAA and RIAA (and American Publishers Association and many other "content" industries) are all pursuing many new ventures and investing heavily in NFT tests.

In what has a surely this feel to it. If anything comes of it in the future I will admit that I have completely misjudged the potential of this technology but given the actual implementations thus far I feel safe in my expectation that nothing functional will come of it. We might see a couple of *coin offerings and tranches of NFT's as blatant cash grabs but I do not see it halting their problems with data piracy.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 6:45 PM on January 18


If the question is one of efficiently printing text, i.e. using fewer resources to get text on paper, then the quality of the printing, so long as it is legible, should not be part of the calculus. If you want the, "Professional quality documents at home," promise of laser printers then you willingly accept the additional overhead that goes along with it. In terns of the technologies that become increasingly inefficient over time however that meets the criteria. Do laser printers create better looking documents, yes. Are you trading resources for a preferred qualia, yes. That you can do more with more resources is not the issue. Most things that get printed, e.g. business documents, do not need to be high-res and shiny. That we have come to expect it does not make it better.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 7:12 PM on January 18


That Paul Butler article is not very well-informed, and is actually outright inaccurate in some areas. (I work in an area related to the main topic of his article.) Maybe he should actually bother to interact/engage directly with what he writes about instead of speculating on secondhand/thirdhand sources/quotes. That this article was even linked (and not really challenged in this thread)... feels like Metafilter's getting older and older.
posted by aielen at 7:25 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Bitcoin and Ethereum themselves become less efficient with time. It's not like a laser printer using more toner than a dot matrix printer (they literally use different media on the page, this is an apples to oranges comparison, but anyway...), it's like your dot matrix printer using more ink by design for each document you print out each day that passes.

And the notion that the quality of a print simply doesn't matter is kind of hilarious. Why eat steak when you could have gruel? It'd be so much more efficient.
posted by Dysk at 7:30 PM on January 18 [12 favorites]


(And it's not merely aesthetics - at a given resolution, Chinese & Japanese cannot be rendered as small as simpler scripts like Latin/Cyrillic/Indic/Greek/Hebrew, because the individual characters are more complex, and as you reduce the character size you start running out of pixels for strokes & counters.)
posted by Rat Spatula at 7:35 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Thinking about it, I wonder how these threads would change if people who get really into defending cryptocurrency were to disclose their conflicts of interest. Because I know there's at least a couple posters who've made mention of that before, & that's made their "no really, I need you to prop up my investment/make my bet pay off, no matter how weird that makes my defense have to get" stances make much more sense.

That's a complicating component to all this, there's a built-in financial incentive to getting downlines into their racket & it acts as a corrupting factor in conversation. (though I do love when cryptocurrency fans decide to fixate on *their particular* coin, & the slapfights that ensue. "This proves that Ethereum is failed!" "Bitcoin can never scale!" "Stellar is just another shitcoin!" "DOTA? They couldn't write a holeless whitepaper to save their bacon!")

Every NGMI & HFSP contains within itself the seeds of the entire project's downfall.
posted by CrystalDave at 7:44 PM on January 18 [5 favorites]


Bitcoin and Ethereum themselves become less efficient with time.

Yeah, the premise of maximum inefficiency for these things is not something I question. That they are worse does not make other things more efficient in absolute terms.

Why eat steak when you could have gruel? It'd be so much more efficient.

This is the fundamental issue with global warming and factory farming of animals. We like meat and overlook the inefficiency and environmental damage because we like it.

…at a given resolution, Chinese & Japanese cannot be rendered as small as simpler scripts like Latin/Cyrillic/Indic/Greek/Hebrew, because the individual characters are more complex, and as you reduce the character size you start running out of pixels for strokes & counters.

Given that the dot matrix was invent in Japan this is not as much of an issue as you might think. Also resolution is about dots per inch and a 24-pin printer could make things look pretty good. Then again the Near Letter Quality stuff required multiple passes so it is also more resource intensive.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 8:01 PM on January 18


feels like Metafilter's getting older and older

It's not the sort of community that you'd expect to spawn the milk crate challenge.
posted by clawsoon at 8:04 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I have a four-letter twitter handle, and just today, I've been tagged three times in threads about the "Shredded Ape Gym Club" NFT. God, I hate it so much.
posted by sagc at 8:23 PM on January 18 [4 favorites]


Printers are sometimes used for things other than text. Dot matrix is supremely bad at anything that isn't text, incredibly slow if you need to render text at any reasonable quality, and often completely unable to fluidly scale text size.
posted by Dysk at 8:24 PM on January 18


or is it used for these things because it is valuable

Is some cases yes, but it's mostly used because it doesn't oxidize and is easy to plate
posted by Dr. Twist at 8:25 PM on January 18


Yeah, the premise of maximum inefficiency for these things is not something I question. That they are worse does not make other things more efficient in absolute terms.

No, but it makes them a hell of a lot better when compared to the topic of this thread, crypto/blickchain bullshit. You have moved the goalposts so many times you aren't making sense to me any more.
posted by Dysk at 8:26 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


How many times has gold been forked, I wonder?
posted by clawsoon at 8:26 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


That Paul Butler article is not very well-informed, and is actually outright inaccurate in some areas.

Do you contest the idea that killing bears in a game to get paid pennies per bear pelt is anything less than the most bullshit of bullshit jobs?
posted by ymgve at 8:49 PM on January 18


doesn't oxidize and is easy to plate

And easy to hammer, easy to solder, and an excellent electrical conductor. Plus some interesting properties if you’re slinging neutrons.

Gold was useful for inventing metalworking and it’s still the best choice for many uses in space. If it were cheaper, we’d use a lot more.
posted by clew at 8:55 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


It's also important to note that the underlying cryptographic concepts behind "blockchains" are not new.

Merkle trees, which all blockchain-like systems are basically linear subsets of, were patented in 1979.

Linear "hash chains" were used for reliably timestamping digital files in the early 1990s. The usual citation is this paper. It wasn't just an academic thing, either: Guardtime used to publish hash values in widely-distributed newspapers as trust anchors.

The only part of "blockchain technology" that's new or even arguably innovative is the really, really evil part: the Bitcoin proof-of-work Byzantine consensus algorithm. This is a bad idea and the people involved should feel bad. (Its cousin, proof-of-space, is also dumb and bad, and will probably do to hard drives what Bitcoin has done to GPUs, at least if the Chinese government doesn't just get fed up and shoot everyone involved.)

Crypto/web3 pushers like to do a sort of bait-and-switch, where they admit that Bitcoin is poorly designed, but then claim that "next generation" networks will solve all of its scalability problems, eliminate proof-of-work, etc. etc. (This is getting increasingly awkward as we enter Bitcoin's teenage years and Ethereum heads off to grade school, both with significant unsolved scaling issues, but whatever.)

The problem with these supposedly new-and-improved blockchains is that once you take the consensus algorithms out, what you have isn't novel anymore. In fact, the more you optimize them, the more they resemble very mainstream distributed databases... like the ones that underlie much of the modern Internet. In some sense, I guess the crypto-boosters are right: "blockchain technology", if defined broadly enough so as to include distributed fault-tolerant databases, did change the world—it brought us "big data" and all the stuff that goes with it, more than a decade ago.

As Moxie Marlinspike noted in his blog post a few weeks ago, the crypto-coin ecosystem tends towards centralization around services anyway. Almost all NFT transactions happen on OpenSea, for instance. OpenSea could save themselves a lot of time and trouble if they just installed CondensationDB or any one of several other comparable products, and called it a day. The only reason to include Ethereum at all, is to tap into the crazy speculative frenzy that has engulfed everything "crypto".

As far as NFT "art" goes, I can't really fault anyone for trying to pull a P.T. Barnum when there are so many fools clearly looking to be separated from their money. But it's all going to end badly.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:56 PM on January 18 [30 favorites]


Merkle trees aren't even a vital part of Bitcoin. They provide some benefits to thin clients, but the whole system would work fine without them.
posted by ymgve at 9:27 PM on January 18


You have moved the goalposts so many times you aren't making sense to me any more.

I am saddened that you think this. I was responding to the question, "Has there been any successful technology that made itself increasingly inefficient by design?" Other than initially using the word ink as a colloquial term for printer media when it seems I should have just gone full-on pedant from the beginning. Putting that to the side for the moment my point was that there have been technologies which over time have been intentionally designed to be less efficient over time. That this has struck such a nerve is odd to me. That I feel that what seems to be called for is a break down of paper costs, chosen media costs, externalities of production, the economies of scale wherein much of what is printed at home can be done more effectively and efficiently by a professional print house, and how much of what we now use printers for is because we can and it is neat rather than something we need. But sure the very pretty printout of a grocery list, a book report, or any of a hundred other things that get printed at home

The goalposts were never moved. I just did not feel the need to go way in depth in a Blockchain discussion. If your issue is that printers are not designed to start turning into space heaters and increasing their ink usage by .001 per character printed, then yes absolutely a single printer is not intentionally designed for that. If the question is, over time has the design and the development of home and small office printers been intentionally shaped to lead us into indulging in higher cost per page print outs in exchange for not going to professional print shops where the printing costs would be net lower for a large number of projects that I have seen people do with personal printers because the printer is just right there? I say yes. Do I have a statistically valid in depth study to point to? Not right now, but I guess I should devote some time to proving my thesis about it.

I am not saying that home laser, ink jet, or photo printing is pointless or evil. I am not arguing that they carry the same ecological impact or cause the massive pain in our collective rear that blockchain BS and bro's bring to our experience of the world. But they are not examples of efficienct uses of resources. That dot matrix printers don't print at the quality we have currently come to expect says more about what we are willing to gloss over for convenience then what we actually need from an at home printer. So, in that they are a lot like Blockchain BS, what costs are you willing to ignore? I know I still print things from time to time on a laser printer, aware that the plastic toner placed on the printer paper will, in all likelihood, end up as micro- and nano plastic particles in the environment. I am aware of the damage these things do in aggregate to the environment but sometimes I just need to print something and the printer I have access to is a laser printer.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 10:24 PM on January 18


my point was that there have been technologies which over time have been intentionally designed to be less efficient over time.

Then I think you've misunderstood the comparison. The problem with bitcoin and ethereum is not that subsequent coins will be less efficient by design, as in your printer example (which still doesn't hold water) but that bitcoin and ethereum themselves get less efficient by design.

I'm sure you can find examples of planned obsolescence will give similar outcomes in certain situations, but those are not examples of a thing inherent in the technology, just in individual designs.
posted by Dysk at 10:37 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


feels like Metafilter's getting older and older.

I’m on a graphic design Discord of people younger and cooler than me with an anti-crypto policy. It made me wonder whether this hostility is very widespread among the concerned-about-our-climate youth. And that whether actually it’s many of us olds (and venture capitalists) who are pushing this coin business more than the young. I’d be curious to see a poll.
posted by johngoren at 12:01 AM on January 19 [13 favorites]


That Paul Butler article is not very well-informed, and is actually outright inaccurate in some areas.

Do you contest the idea that killing bears in a game to get paid pennies per bear pelt is anything less than the most bullshit of bullshit jobs?


Is it just me, or is his analysis of Axie Infinity very adjacent to what's been figured out about the Roblox economy of late? Definitely lotsa bullshit there...
posted by progosk at 12:58 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


well that's what I get for investing my retirement savings in Roblox smh
posted by some loser at 1:06 AM on January 19


Whenever I see yet another techno-utopian going on about how in the future everything will be fixed, basically believing that future, currently nonexistent tech is somehow more real than anything actually existing, and that therefore we should ignore current problems, I'm reminded of the line from the Bible that "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hb 11:1).
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:07 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]


but smart-contracts have only really moved from proof-of-concept to functional platforms in the past 24 months or so

Smart contracts are a canard. For one, the thing about contract law is that, when it refers to real-world things, there is always, by the very nature of human society, ambiguity that requires interpretation, hence judges and lawyers. Also, given how bad humans are at writing bug-free code, expecting legally binding contracts to be immutable, bug-free code is inherently a nonstarter. Making such code the final arbiter of fortunes is setting up for a cascade of catastrophic failures that nobody could foresee except for anyone who thought about it for a moment rather than buying into the crypto hype.

As someone once said, the canonical movie about smart contracts is Dr. Strangelove.
posted by acb at 1:42 AM on January 19 [5 favorites]


I’m on a graphic design Discord of people younger and cooler than me with an anti-crypto policy.

I occasionally lurk on a discord for a musical artist who's quite into technology. The demographic leans younger (late teens/twenties, from what I gather). One of the admins there is a huge crypto enthusiast, breathlessly repeating pro-crypto talking points in arguments. The Discord created a #crypto channel at one point, though I was heartened to see that most of the traffic there was shitposting about the wasteful, scammy nature of crypto, much to the chagrin of the admin who was batting for crypto. Some time later, people were talking about NFTs they were HODLing, though, or about the utopian possibilities of crypto if you ignore actual realities.

The admin in question claimed that the artist themselves was a fan of a particular blockchain. Though at some time later, the artist did make a statement rejecting NFTs as a concept, which was somewhat heartening that they haven't gone wholly Herndon.
posted by acb at 1:51 AM on January 19


moorooka: "Tether, which resembles a scam due to the fact that it resembles a normal deposit-taking bank"

Oh, snap!
posted by chavenet at 3:02 AM on January 19


Do you contest the idea that killing bears in a game to get paid pennies per bear pelt is anything less than the most bullshit of bullshit jobs?

That's if you're framing the situation purely as such. I know many people in "developing" countries (in particular Southeast Asia, but also Brazil now) whose lives have been changed for the better (especially during the pandemic) because of Axie Infinity. Many families who have been able to get out of poverty or unstable financial situations because of the game - and not just get out of poverty, but able to afford houses, cars, send their kids to better schools, pay off debts, etc. And in terms of its eSports - many of its best players are non-white/non-upper class/older players, which is something you don't usually see in other games' eSports scenes (because usually the people who can afford to get good at eSports and become pros, in most games, are those who are affluent, young, and white/East Asian from "developed" countries).

One (of the many) crucial points that Paul Butler misses is that many people in the game are not funding themselves. For example, he assumes "Since Filipinos are the largest growth market for Axie Infinity, they must also be a major source of money flowing into the system."

That assumption clearly indicates that he doesn't understand that game, its ecosystem or its community - and hasn't bothered to actually engage with his subject on a basic level. Any person who's tried the game, or interacted with the community personally would know that is not how the money/value flows within its community. (Fundamentally, the game's community runs on a "scholarship" system - basically a sponsorship system.)

On one side of the coin (pun somewhat intended) - yes, you do have clueless crypto bros (basically, whales) speculating and throwing tons of money at something they don't understand. On the other side, there are people from the "global south" - people from impoverished circumstances (made more precarious by the pandemic) that have been able to support their families by playing a game for 1-2 hours per day, or by working as translators, coaches, local managers, localized content creators, etc (all the auxiliary jobs that are created when a game does well in a particular country/region). People that are actually talented and hardworking, tangibly benefiting from this cluelessness.

Wealthy "first world" people paying off poorer "third world" people to farm in-game assets for them isn't a new thing - I think most people here are somewhat familiar with this precedent in other games. But because of the nature of this particular game (including its crypto/blockchain aspect), this farming dynamic/relationship has become something more valuable/stable/beneficial to those in "farming" roles (in terms of pay and upward mobility). Farming these assets also isn't just something that can be botted or played mindlessly - you actually need to think and strategize at every turn to do well at the game (quite a lot of mental math involved), and game prowess is rewarded directly: the higher your elo and wins, the (exponentially) more you earn.
Quite a number of pro players from other competitive games (Hearthstone, TFT, etc) have been shifting to this game in the past half year or so.

That was way more than I intended to type. At any rate - yes, "crypto" has many loud clueless people and so-called advocates that make more noise than they use their brain - but there are also many other pretty smart people working in this space more quietly. Right now there is a lot of hype and speculation on the surface, and it's easy to be derisive and dismissive of the more visible clownlike personalities that are trying to ride on the hype - but it's almost equally silly to dismiss this field as a whole just because of that.

(also, in terms of NFTs and blockchain-related possibilities for copyright, licensing etc - the dialogue and possibilities around this have been discussed for many years, by those working in this space. The current hype is sort of annoying, but at the same time I guess it also generates more interest and more investment in this direction - in a way, a MySpace era and period of transition.)
posted by aielen at 3:08 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


What if, instead of forcing poor people to spend hours on busywork in games to earn a few dollars, the game admins just generated all the items with a millisecond database update, then sold the items for the exact same amount of dollars to the same buyers as now, and just donated the proceeds to the same poor people?
posted by ymgve at 7:38 AM on January 19 [12 favorites]


I’m on a graphic design Discord of people younger and cooler than me with an anti-crypto policy. It made me wonder whether this hostility is very widespread among the concerned-about-our-climate youth. And that whether actually it’s many of us olds (and venture capitalists) who are pushing this coin business more than the young. I’d be curious to see a poll.
I’d definitely like to see some stats. My impression matches yours: the big money is coming from the older rich people who are chasing returns but there are definitely a fair number of younger people who are interested, usually after having soured on the options available to them for getting rich. That’s a great target for the first group since it often takes a couple of losses for people to realize that the rich guys telling them the secret to getting rich might be less than fully honest.
posted by adamsc at 7:42 AM on January 19 [4 favorites]


What if, instead of forcing poor people to spend hours on busywork in games to earn a few dollars, the game admins just generated all the items with a millisecond database update, then sold the items for the exact same amount of dollars to the same buyers as now, and just donated the proceeds to the same poor people?

Firstly, that's assuming those poor people are only earning a few dollars on that busywork, yes? And also assuming that it's actually pure busywork. Both of which aren't true in this case (although I suppose on some level, like many other jobs, it's possible to put your brain on some amount of autopilot while working if you're comfortable earning at a certain baseline and don't want to think/learn more). One person's Axie income - on average, in "developing" countries, is enough to support a family of 4-5 (household, groceries, school, rent, etc). It pays much more than many other jobs there, and during a pandemic, carries less risk/exposure and more stability.

The rest of the scenario you've outlined suggests a one-time donation - whereas the current system is more generative, with returns on the value of that one-time donation. Not going to go into the details of the ROI here, but in terms of value and dollars generated - those people would be better off in the longer run (and not even very long - in a few months, actually) under the current system than what you've suggested.

(another clarification: the game admins do not directly control the generation of axies at this point - community members breed them. Game admins generated axies at game launch; subsequently players/assetholders have been generating axies through breeding. if by "all the items" you also mean the in-game currency that players are farming, then that wouldn't work (and would not be quantifiable) for a number of reasons, some of which I hope are obvious.)
posted by aielen at 8:02 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


aielen, it feels like you totally missed the point of ymgve's comment...?
posted by clawsoon at 8:15 AM on January 19 [4 favorites]


Merkle trees aren't even a vital part of Bitcoin. They provide some benefits to thin clients, but the whole system would work fine without them.

Huh? My point is that hash chains, generally, are basically a degenerate case of Merkle tree, where each data block has only a single child block. So instead of a "tree", you get a... "vine", you might say?

Conceptually, you pretty much have to go through block/hash-chains in order to get to Merkle trees, so it's nearly inconceivable that Merkle didn't think of them, and I think he should probably get the credit absent signs of an earlier discovery. There just wasn't any mainstream application (AFAIK) until the early 90s when they were used for timestamps.


As to the demographics of "crypto" and "web3" as subcultures, one thing that stands out to me is how overwhelmingly male it seems to be. Except for some NFT "creators" who appear to be women, the entire community looks very boys-clubby.

IMO, it tracks with certain corners of the "investing" community centered on very high-risk strategies. (Lots of whom are going to get wiped out in the next downturn, with a potential knock-on effect on crypto.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:23 AM on January 19


clawsoon - could you let me know what you believe I've missed?
posted by aielen at 8:24 AM on January 19


Veteran game designer Jeff Minter made a good point about the undesirability of financialising video games:
THINGS I WANT TO DO IN VIDEO GAMES:
Fly a plane or a spaceship. Race cars. Play crazy golf. Shoot aliens, robots or people who are trying to shoot me. Explore planets, trip out withoiut having to take any actual drugs. Be good at sports I'd be shit at IRL, be good at sports that couldn't exist IRL. Build things I couldn't IRL. Planes. Cars. Cities. Space programs. If I fail at any of these things it's OK, it doesn't matter.
THINGS I DON'T WANT TO DO IN VIDEOGAMES:
Business. Work. To view other players I might meet as "business opportunities". To construct fucking pyramid schemes on the godforsaken blockchain. To feel in-game as I do in life, that every unsolicited contact I have with anyone is because they want to extract money from me.
So no, that shit isn't "the future of gaming", it's simply a bunch of cunts, some of whom are old enough and ugly enough to damn well know better, trying their best to lure players out of safe play spaces into areas where they can profitably be preyed upon.
posted by acb at 8:34 AM on January 19 [12 favorites]


clawsoon - could you let me know what you believe I've missed?

You've described a system where poor people are digging holes and filling them up again in order to move a single grain of sand, and they're doing it that way because it makes rich people happy enough to give the poor people their money. Like many things about our economic system, it sounds insane. Why not just move the grain of sand and move the money from the rich people to the poor people, since - other than making the rich people happy - it accomplishes exactly the same end result?

I'm about to run out to an appointment, so I may not have expressed that very well. If anyone else wants to try, please do.
posted by clawsoon at 8:38 AM on January 19 [11 favorites]


Crypto is really a lot like perpetual motion in that its true believers think they can cleverly cut up a pie and reassemble it into a larger pie.
posted by Pyry at 9:10 AM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Butler's point is that the game admins *do* control the generation of axies, since as the co-creator said "the game logic is off-chain, so that means that we already as a game studio can make many many changes". In-game axie farming seems the very definition of a useless job that is designed to make people spent time on it - the production of any in game assets should be easy to do in software since the end result is just a record in the game server's database.

aielen, you said that the reasons this wouldn't work "should be obvious", but it really isn't to me and seems like some other people here. What work is the grinding doing that can't be done on the server side in an automated fashion? You also mentioned that you work in this area, so perhaps you can provide some more specific examples of where Butler is inaccurate rather than dismissing it as merely ill-informed.
posted by autopilot at 9:13 AM on January 19


Sorry if I'm stating the obvious here, but is it possible that this whole blockchain thing is just... not very good technology?

It also seems like its fate might come down to a race between workable quantum computing (which would break it) and unlimited fusion power (which would obviate its drawbacks). Kidding! By then we'll all be dead from sentient tornadoes, of course. But isn't it fun how the world turns into a bad movie plot if things turn stupid enough?
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 9:19 AM on January 19 [4 favorites]


You've described a system where poor people are digging holes and filling them up again in order to move a single grain of sand, and they're doing it that way because it makes rich people happy enough to give the poor people their money.

You may have misunderstood what I described - and I apologize if I wasn't clear in what I said. I'm not sure how you understand that poor people are doing repetitive, meaningless, lengthy work ("digging holes and filling them up again") and being compensated poorly ("single grain of sand"). I've seen (and personally know) many people who started off as regular sponsored players ("scholars" is the term used in the community), playing 1-2 hours each day for a comfortable living wage to support their families - who now own their own assets and employ others, or who are now managers/coaches/translators/community leads/data analysts/researchers/content creators/etc (and all the other jobs/roles you find in the gaming industry), with transferrable skills.

I appreciate that many of the faces of competitive/pro gamers in this eSports scene are brown and Southeast Asian, instead of white and American/European. I appreciate that they're earning way more, actually, as competitive eSports gamers in this game than they would for other major games' eSports tournaments. I appreciate that one of the mandated languages for broadcasting tournaments is Tagalog, and that many rich white people/gamers are giving more respect to Southeast Asian gamers and Southeast Asian languages.

Why not just move the grain of sand and move the money from the rich people to the poor people, since - other than making the rich people happy - it accomplishes exactly the same end result?

In this case, like I said (see my paragraph about generative value, ROI, etc) - it doesn't accomplish the same end result. (And I'd also ask, by what you've suggested - why not liquidate any US / Western company and move all those funds to any "global south" country? Or why shouldn't any gaming company outright donate all its revenue from paying players to a "developing" country?*)

Like I mentioned, game asset farming in "developing" countries has existed as a job for years - but in a traditional game context, has been a much more asymmetrical and unequal financial relationship with very little job mobility and very little opportunity for transferrable skill development. (Maybe some people here will remember how "Chinese farmers" has been a common derogative term/stereotype in gaming.) This has changed in the context of this particular game.

I am not saying that this game and its ecosystem are absolutely faultless/flawless (the game and its economy does have its flaws and weaknesses - for example the recent fluctuation of one of its currencies has made it very difficult for even SE Asians to cash out, and seasonal game nerfs/buffs/"balance updates" can also cause the value of assets to fluctuate (although this is more a problem for whales/asset owners than the employed/sponsored players, since sponsored players can request an asset/team switch from their manager at no personal cost)), but I think perhaps people here who haven't had direct experience with the game/community are making assumptions based on a more traditional (and in some cases, privileged/Western) understanding of gaming and the gaming industry.

(*There is also the broader argument that large "altruistic" donations tend to entrench poverty, not relieve it - because the "beneficiary" countries are kept reliant on donations, instead of receiving actual investment, skill-building, etc. I don't really want to go into this debate here though, and I'm sure there have been many other Metafilter threads that have discussed this before. fwiw, the game developers have hosted and run a number of donation drives / ingame charity events as well, in particular for those affected by last year's Typhoon Rai.)
posted by aielen at 9:47 AM on January 19


for example the recent fluctuation of one of its currencies has made it very difficult for even SE Asians to cash out

This seems like a bigger issue if we're going to take "What if Pokemon, but with an explicitly feudal system?" seriously.
posted by CrystalDave at 9:51 AM on January 19 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure how you understand that poor people are doing repetitive, meaningless, lengthy work ("digging holes and filling them up again") and being compensated poorly ("single grain of sand").

You have entirely misunderstood what is being said, and everything in your response amounts to "I know some people making money in this, therefore it is good".

The "grain of sand" is not what the person in a poorer country is being paid -- it is the end result of their labor, which is basically a single entry in a database.

The developers who own the game could create 1 axie in a couple of keystrokes. In fact, they could create a billion axies in basically the same number of keystrokes. But they don't do that; instead, they demand that people in poorer parts of the world spend hours of time "creating" them in an artificially scarce system. There is no physical reason why a person has to do this -- but the game company is basically telling people they should go dig virtual holes and fill them in over and over till they've "earned" that database entry.

For the people who are willing to pay for that database entry, buying one that was created automatically by the game code is not in any way different from buying one that was grinded out by a human. But, for the humans grinding it out, there's a big difference. They're being asked to perform literally meaningless, repetitive work for the right to have it, and we're being told that somehow this is a good job opportunity (as opposed to nightmarish exploitation).

The only reason this system exists is to make these artificially scarce virtual items "worth" more, so that the owners of the game make money running their own private currency system.
posted by a faithful sock at 10:20 AM on January 19 [16 favorites]


Ctrl-f "unbanked": 0
Ctrl-f "remittance": 0

So thankfully those two "blockchain helps people, why do you hate the poor" arguments have gone away at least.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:56 AM on January 19 [4 favorites]


Some artists are making money from NFTs, sure.* Some artists are also having their work stolen to generate NFTs and have virtually no recourse whatsoever. They may also take some of this reputational damage for an environmentally damaging action they had no part in. For all the prospective talk about smart contracts and their hypothetical potential to help artists, they can’t fix this problem with the system now.

*some of these transactions like the beeple thing are scammy and this argument doesn’t shield the fossil fuel/travel/agribusiness industries from criticism. Way more people depend on jobs there, still a problem for climate change. People who talk about those jobs too much are deemed “misguided” at best.
posted by Selena777 at 10:59 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]


A much more substantial state-of-crypto explainer from Ephrat Livni in the DealBook section of the NYT than is indicated by the headline: “Tales From Crypto: A Billionaire Meme Feud Threatens Industry Unity”
But [Jack] Dorsey has a different view [than Marc Andreessen]. “It will never escape their incentives,” continued his post about the role of venture capitalists in web3. “It’s ultimately a centralized entity with a different label.”
If you find these messages mystifying and wonder what’s at stake, you are not alone. These billionaires are debating the future of the internet, a tool we all use, in a new language that few of us understand. Let’s decipher the code.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:50 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


Butler's point is that the game admins *do* control the generation of axies, since as the co-creator said "the game logic is off-chain, so that means that we already as a game studio can make many many changes". In-game axie farming seems the very definition of a useless job that is designed to make people spent time on it - the production of any in game assets should be easy to do in software since the end result is just a record in the game server's database.

To clarify - the majority of people in the game don't farm axies (and if people here are talking about "farming axies" as the game's main activity, I'm wondering if they actually read the article).  What is primarily farmed is a cryptocurrency (SLP).  The currency can be earned as a reward for playing PVE and PVP with a team of 3 axies - however PVP offers far more rewards than PVE.

Game admins don't directly generate axies, but they definitely can (and do) influence axie breeding/generation in the sense of changing the game's meta (i.e. the "balance changes" - nerfs, buffs, etc), similar to what game developers do in a traditional game.  Axie breeding is not the game's main activity, and it does not take any time from players/breeders (but uses up some amount of cryptocurrency to instantly produce an "egg", which auto-hatches into an Axie some days later).  There are some people that primarily breed axies, but these people tend to be whales/sponsors.

Sponsored players do not own their axies, but they use sponsors' axies to play the game and earn cryptocurrency rewards (which are then split between the sponsor and the sponsored player; split ratios vary depending on sponsor).  (Basically, 20 PVP games daily plus a few games of PVE.  Each game takes about 5 minutes on average.)  There is a limited number of games that can be played every day per account - past that number and the player will not receive any more rewards.  That's why the amount of time a player can spend on a game is also capped, daily - at about 1-2 hours (if they're just playing for the crypto rewards and not for the fun of it).  

This is an example of an Axie game (it's basically a turn-based card game, which is why it's been attracting many former Hearthstone/TFT pros).  The higher the MMR/elo, the higher the cryptocurrency reward.

CrystalDave brings up a good observation though -

>>for example the recent fluctuation of one of its currencies has made it very difficult for even SE Asians to cash out

>This seems like a bigger issue if we're going to take "What if Pokemon, but with an explicitly feudal system?" seriously.


yes, exactly - I'd say this is currently the game's most serious and pressing issue to address. (and tbh, it can be addressed - except right now the developers are currently delaying adjustments/short-term fixes because they claim they're working on a bigger update to be rolled out in Q2 that will supposedly resolve the currency depreciation/fluctuation issue. Makes sense from a game development standpoint, but causes a lot of pain to those who depend on monthly cashouts in the short-term. The counterargument that the developers would make in response, I think, would be that this power dynamic (i.e. the developers still holding the reins to game/economy balance and development) will diminish in future as the developers gradually relinquish influence/control and as community members develop their own Axie-related games and use-cases - but how and whether that will transpire remains to be seen, imo.) So yes, if anything this should be the main criticism of the game in its current form (rather than some of the strawmen comments here, heh).

Hopefully this all clarifies some of what people have been asking/commenting about. I know I've typed at length in multiple comments in this thread, and don't really want to monopolize the thread - so I may not comment further here.
posted by aielen at 12:11 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


Here's a medium article about a newbie's experience with Axie Infinity: How Much Money I Made Playing Axie Infinity for One Week

I'm not a fan of collectable trading card games anyway, but that's basically the exact opposite of what I'd want in a game. I assume it's a much different game for the paid players, but still sounds like a slog. I'd agree with Jeff Minter that adding real money makes it closer to gambling than gaming.
posted by netowl at 2:42 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


The New Yorker investigates When N.F.T.s Invade an Art Town: "Marfa, Texas, is known for its highbrow arts scene. A new gallery is unsettling that image."

Perfect “Wanna see a dead body?” vibes. And now I want to visit Marfa!
posted by Going To Maine at 7:05 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


Here's a medium article about a newbie's experience with Axie Infinity: How Much Money I Made Playing Axie Infinity for One Week

Oh my god: "To play, you must buy 3 Axies, which range in price (check out the Marketplace). To have a better experience, you probably do not want to buy the cheapest Axies, because it will limit your earning potential if you do not have a solid team."

It is literally a pyramid scheme.
posted by ymgve at 7:54 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]


Well, uh, if it's a "fun" scheme and only abuses poor brown folks it's not really a "scheme" at all, is it? I mean it's basically an employment plan, right? I mean, minus the middle man and decentralized democracy and all that, right?

…right?
posted by aramaic at 9:13 PM on January 19


It’s the same economic imbalance that Magic: the Gathering has, where rarer and more valuable cards make winning easier, but this one wants to replace the economy.

Also, writing essay after essay with the theme of “you don’t get it” isn’t convincing anybody reading that we’re the ones with a not-getting-it issue, ymmv
posted by rorgy at 3:21 AM on January 20 [5 favorites]


This is pretty off topic but since I talked about crypto.com above I wanted to update the story: crypto.com's report on their being hacked. 483 users had unauthorized funds withdrawals; they were either stopped or crypto.com reimbursed their funds. Definitely not a rugpull. I still hate everything about cryptocurrency and crypto.com seems like a gross company but this particular thing seems like they handled it pretty reasonably. (You know, like a bank would. So why not just use a regulated bank?)
posted by Nelson at 8:02 AM on January 20




With regard to games with "play-to-earn" features like Axie Infinity, it's worth thinking about it from an economic point of view: what kind of value is being generated by the "players" (really workers) who do it to earn money? When someone is, say, digging a ditch, it's clear what value they are generating—the ditch needs to be dug and the most efficient way to get it dug is to pay someone to operate a backhoe. But when that someone is grinding away at an online video game, what's the purpose? Whatever digital assets are "produced" by their grind could be generated instantly, for almost no measurable cost, by a computer program. Why make someone grind instead? The only thing I can think of is that it provides entertainment value to the other players (the ones who play it for fun) to know that the digital assets they purchase represent hours of pointless toil.
posted by cyanistes at 11:55 AM on January 20


Twitter launched NFT profile images today.
information on who owns what is not as decentralized as you may think. As researcher Jane Manchun Wong noted earlier Thursday, a database outage that knocked the OpenSea API offline for a few hours caused Twitter’s NFT collection pages to lose their information too.
posted by Nelson at 11:58 AM on January 20


I'm very displeased that they're staking their ground on hexagons. It's a minor thing, in the grand scheme of things, but I *like* hexagons. They're neat. I even have some nice auto-plotter art made from hexagons. Why do they think they get to claim hexagons as visual signifier.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:03 PM on January 20 [6 favorites]


> cyanistes: "With regard to games with "play-to-earn" features like Axie Infinity, it's worth thinking about it from an economic point of view: what kind of value is being generated by the "players" (really workers) who do it to earn money?"

Ever since I've heard of play-to-earn games, one basic question has been nagging at me: where is the money that's being paid out to players coming from? Of course, the first part of the answer is that players are never (?) paid out in actual money, they're paid out in Itchy & Scratchy money some form of cryptocurrency specific to that game. And yet, somehow this cryptocurrency can be exchanged for actual money so at least there's that. The second part is that people can and do pay actual money into the game, usually via also buying some Schrute Bucks cryptocurrency and/or NFTs, so conceivably some of the payouts could be coming out of that pool. As well, anyone who's buying/trading/speculating in the underlying Dunning Krugerrands cryptocurrency independent of playing the game is also probably injecting some kind of real money into this system, though in a kind of indirect way (i.e.: by driving up the price signal of the underlying Flooz cryptocurrency).

So, leaving aside the the crypto angle which seems to obfuscate more than it clarifies, what kind of system is left? The obvious choice here is to jump straight to Ponzi scheme (or maybe a kind of pump-and-dump scheme or some hybrid of the two). On the other hand, there may be a few other possibilities here. One possibility is a kind of "dampened" Ponzi scheme where maybe not everyone cares a huge amount about getting paid out -- e.g.: maybe because the game is fun enough to play on its own -- so that the whole system doesn't necessarily crash out as hard or as fast as a traditional Ponzi scheme. If the game is compelling enough and/or the buy-in amounts are small enough, it may be completely self-sustaining. I mean, traditional games don't pay anything out and they survive (in a fashion). This then raises the question: if the game is already that compelling to play, how come they're paying out any money at all? Why not just take money and provide fun gameplay in exchange in a normal kind of commercial transaction? Maybe the payouts are to compensate for less-than-compelling gameplay or maybe it's just a gimmick to boost the appeal of the game, I dunno.

Another possibility is something closer to online poker where most of the money coming in is being paid out, where the difference is a commission being skimmed off by the company. But in online poker, everyone knows what the deal is and the deal is pretty straightforward. You're buying in so that you can try to win other people's money via a combination of luck and skill with the understanding that everyone else is also trying to win your money; if you leave with less money than you started with, you pretty much know how and why that happened. These play-to-earn games seem very much not to be presented in this way (probably because of the gambling implications and the regulations thereof). As well, if a game allows the possibility of PvE (as opposed to PvP) gameplay that generates money, then it can't purely be operating in this model.

In any case, all of these possibilities seem kinda sketchy to me. Fundamentally, I'm having trouble wrapping my head around how a company would think it's a good idea to pay people to play their game without it being some kind of sketchy scheme. Are there any other possibilities I've missed here?
posted by mhum at 5:49 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


I reminded of how at the adult hockey rec level goalies play free while everyone else chips in for rink fees. Part of that is because it is so much more expensive to be a goalie but mostly it is because every team needs a goalie and most of the people playing at that level want to be shooting pucks rather than being a target.

So in theory a game play mechanic might need to incentivize players to fulfil some role in order to collect money from players in other roles. That doesn't sound like what is happening here though.
posted by Mitheral at 6:46 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]




I'm very displeased that they're staking their ground on hexagons

Simon Stålenhag isn't:
I want to remind you that I specifically said that hexagons were a lazy and outdated shorthand to make something look “futuristic”. I couldn’t have asked for a better example than the whole nft scene (although it has deeper problems than just being artistically bankrupt).
posted by acb at 1:18 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]




foone is also not having any of it (in one of their epic tweet threads):
when you start seeing people with the hex avatars, don't reply, don't quote retweet, just ignore or block them.
Twitter hasn't missed that a lot of users hate this. Twitter is counting on it.
Twitter, like most social media, just wants engagement, and getting into a screaming match is just as good if not better than everyone getting along.
Twitter understands that this is going to be unpopular but more people are going to get into angry fights with the people that use this than are going to quit Twitter altogether, so their metrics will only go up.
They go on to ask a good question that could use some bean-plating:
Hexagoons? Hexagooners? Hexafools?
There's gotta be a mean name we can call these fools.
(In this thread and previously they somewhat hilariously referred to NTFS to intentionally distract the cryptobots, although it confused some of their regular followers who were expecting an actual filesystem discussion)
posted by autopilot at 3:57 AM on January 21


Hexagoons? Hexagooners? Hexafools?
There's gotta be a mean name we can call these fools.


These all acknowledge the thing that they are so desperate to show off. I propose "idiots" or "marks".
posted by Dysk at 4:02 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


IIRC, the term used by old-school email spammers for people whose addresses they harvested was “golfers”.
posted by acb at 4:26 AM on January 21


So, leaving aside the the crypto angle which seems to obfuscate more than it clarifies, what kind of system is left?

I think there's another answer which has been in the back of my mind for this discussion: this whole (appalling IMO) aspect of "play-to-earn" is yet another thing that has existed for a while, and doesn't remotely need cryptocurrency to do. Getting underprivileged people relative to the global economy to do incredibly repetitive "work" for in-game stuff that they can then sell to people with spare cash has a long and storied history under the heading of gold farming in MMORPGs.

For example, Venezuela, the same country that has attempted to replace its currency with a cryptocurrency, has long been a hotbed of pro gold farming in runescape and other games. This goes back for decades, here's a few more metafilter posts on the topic focusing on asian countries (CW old metafilter discussions): 1, 2, and for that matter Reamde came out 11 years ago now (was just googling on this and found a headline "Realizing "REAMDE"; how crypto empowers gold farmers", gag). There are always people who want pay-to-win, and if the developers don't provide that but it is technically possible + there is sufficient demand, a third party market always seems to spring up. So from the outside, Axie Infinity looks a bit like a vanilla MMO with the gold farming => pay-to-win dynamics amped up and encouraged/centered, rather than with the game developers trying to suppress those elements. As the article linked above (which was fascinating, thanks for posting) shows, ordinary players ("newbies") are only going to be putting money in, and quite a bit more than they might put into WoW or whatever ("In total, I spent about $800, to play the game and I earned $10.28 in one week. If we project this current trend, it would take me 77 weeks to make all my money back. [...] Additionally, it personally takes me ~3 hours per day to do the adventure battles and complete the check-in.")

I think most MMORPGs have generally tried to discourage it for the sake of players who really don't want pay2win (whether discouraged for real or just with lip service), in contrast to the idea of turning that into the main game itself, but there you are, there's no reason they would have to discourage it, as reamde explored. The crypto elements are kind of just a marketing dongle -- as far as I can tell the key elements for this dynamic to happen are fairly centralized anyways in Axie Infinity and could easily be handled by a centralized non-crypto transaction system. But crypto brings in the players right now.
posted by advil at 11:31 AM on January 21


> Mitheral: "So in theory a game play mechanic might need to incentivize players to fulfil some role in order to collect money from players in other roles. That doesn't sound like what is happening here though."

Oh that's an interesting situation I hadn't considered (i.e.: heterogenous gameplay). Perhaps something like if no one wanted to play Support/Healer in an Overwatch/LoL/whatever-type game, they could provide a monetary incentive. Possibly this falls under the umbrella of "compensating for insufficiently compelling gameplay" (otherwise people would play that role for free) but with the twist that it's only a subset of the gameplay that needs this incentive. And of course, the other players paying into the system would be the ones providing (and would need to be okay providing) the subsidies.
posted by mhum at 11:33 AM on January 21


ffs. You too, USPS? I just got a bunch of adorable otters-in-snow stamps, I don't need them to also torch some rainforest while I do it.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:43 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


> advil:"There are always people who want pay-to-win"

Oh wow! I think that's the one: combining play-to-earn with pay-to-win. I could definitely see how such a game could become a self-sustaining system. It would possibly evolve into a system where you could basically have two playerbases: the ones who are trying to win the game by any means including pumping a ton of money into it and the ones are somehow getting paid out from the money infusion of the first group. At some point, these playerbases may not even be playing the same game, or at the very least have different meta-games. And, there need not even be sharp divisions between these two strategies (e.g.: there may be some people who are mainly play-to-earn but sometimes pay in a little to get some in-game boosts, or people who are mainly pay-to-win but also do play-to-earn stuff to offset their payments).
posted by mhum at 11:52 AM on January 21


Sounds a little like how EVE Online works, in a lot of ways.
posted by sagc at 11:53 AM on January 21




Another gem downstream of that:

hello everyone. i know i've spoken out against them in the past, however i have just acquired an NFT of the arbys logo and, by extension, the entire arbys franchise. while this will be a time of transition for all, i look forward to the exciting things to come: serving roast beef out of my studio apartment, reminding you all i have the meats (as verified by the blockchain), and suing the entity formerly known as the real arbys for the infringement of my brand.

see you all in the Meataverse™

posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:34 PM on January 21 [6 favorites]


D. Olson aka Folding Ideas provides an excellent 2.5 hour deep dive on the problems(s) with NFTs (via waxy)
posted by progosk at 11:24 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Not just NFTs but basically all of crypto in general. It's a super good explainer.
posted by rifflesby at 12:28 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


An NFT restaurant opening in New York (Emily Hell, Washington Post):
Flyfish Club, set to open in a yet-to-be-announced Manhattan location in the first half of next year, will be a luxury “seafood-inspired” dining club [...] To gain access to the club, members must have a Flyfish NFT, which is a unique digital asset stored on the blockchain and purchased using cryptocurrency. The company released 1,501 tokens this month, bringing in around $15 million [...] The location has yet to be determined, and its website says only that it will be “in one of the most beautiful buildings that exists.”
Friday night's Colbert monologue on the restaurant includes video of the founder and it has so, so many red flags. It's like cryptoland, but with a higher chance of food poisoning.
posted by autopilot at 1:25 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


I'm glad that Dan took the time to make the moral case against crypto/NFTs. Making "right-click save lol" jokes is fun and all---and it fits into 140 characters---but I think we should have learned by now that seemingly laughable things can be dangerous, and that laughing at them can actually give them power.
posted by nosewings at 2:40 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Not just NFTs but basically all of crypto in general. It's a super good explainer.

Also: poignant excoriation of Axie Infinity at 1:38:30…
posted by progosk at 3:45 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I see your seafood restaurant and raise you the Steve Bannon $FJB (Fuck Joe Biden) cryptocurrency, which allows the operators to lock any owner's token balance and prevent them from selling.
posted by clawsoon at 6:06 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Also: poignant excoriation of Axie Infinity at 1:38:30…

This was overall a great video and the Axie Infinity bit was very informative. One tidbit I hadn't appreciated from earlier discussion here or what I've read elsewhere: these "scholars" programs? They're run by third parties that control the wallet, and give the "scholars" who are doing the work a split of the profits (at their discretion really), but the scholars just have an account and not wallet access. It does not actually sound like it's economically viable for individuals to do this style of pay-to-earn activity, as you need a substantial up front investment, which the third parties provide. So this is even more of an exact realization of the classic gold farming sweatshop model than I had realized.
posted by advil at 7:46 AM on January 22 [7 favorites]


Flyfish Club, set to open in a yet-to-be-announced Manhattan location in the first half of next year, will be a luxury “seafood-inspired” dining club [...]

Will it actually, uh, serve seafood?

Or just... be inspired by it?
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 8:41 PM on January 23


And cryptoland failed to fulfil their contract:
The real estate agent selling Nananu-i-cake, Rick Kermode, of New Zealand firm Bayleys, told Guardian Australia that the contract to sell it to Cryptoland's backers fell through this week and the island was back on the market.
posted by autopilot at 2:46 PM on January 24 [3 favorites]


The Axie Infinity economy is crashing - better hope all the people in developing countries that was promised it was the way to prosperity didn't invest too much in the game.
posted by ymgve at 3:16 PM on February 2 [4 favorites]


From Matt Levine’s latest post, regarding news that “Tinder is rolling out a virtual currency to encourage users to spend more time swiping.”
I am looking forward to next year when I will read stories about Tindercoin venture capitalists who stake penniless young daters who work 12-hour days updating their profiles and give 50% of their Tindercoin earnings to the venture capitalists. When I will read stories about how you can use your Tindercoins to buy non-fungible tokens in the metaverse (a cartoon drawing of a hat that you can put on your Tinder profile), and about how nobody will date anyone who does not have the right sort of NFT hat on their profile picture. When I will read stories about how young people are not getting married anymore because it would require them to stop updating their Tinder profiles and give up all their sweet sweet Tindercoins, which are now the main store of value in society. When I will read stories about how young people are getting married but keep updating their Tinder profiles and earning Tindercoins, which they spend on … staking penniless young daters? Cartoon hats? I don’t know. It is so rarely that you find yourself at the dawn of a whole new way of organizing human society, except that now it is every day and it’s exhausting.
posted by mbrubeck at 6:48 PM on February 2 [3 favorites]


How $323M in crypto was stolen from a blockchain bridge called Wormhole (Dan Goodin, Ars Technica):
The haul is the fourth-biggest cryptocurrency theft of all time ... just behind the $480 million stolen from Mt. Gox in 2014, the $547 million taken from Coincheck in 2018, and the $611 million snatched from Polynetwork last year (this record-setting amount was later returned by the thief).

By Thursday morning, Wormhole's parent company, Jump Trading, said it would cover the costs of the $323 million heist.
posted by ectabo at 1:43 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


> “This is the Wormhole Deployer,” Wormhole officials wrote in a message they embedded in this Ethereum transaction sent to the attacker's account. “We noticed you were able to exploit the Solana VAA verification and mint tokens. We'd like to offer you a whitehat agreement, and present you a bug bounty of $10 million for exploit details, and returning the wETH you've minted. You can reach out to us at contact@certus.one.”

Yeah, same issue came up with my real-world fiat bank, and this is how they were able to successfully clear up the problem.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:00 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


So they are offering to launder the money for three cents on the dollar. Isn't a) the currency anonymous and b) whether to pursue legal penalties not up to Wormhole? Seems like a poor deal.
posted by Mitheral at 6:34 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


> It is so rarely that you find yourself at the dawn of a whole new way of organizing human society, except that now it is every day and it’s exhausting.

yes the impression one can get is that of being on the outer edge of a singularity that is beginning to warp the underlying coordinate system that delineates a financial-social-political reality matrix.

it is indeed quite exhausting.
posted by glonous keming at 6:48 AM on February 6


That Axie Infinity article really makes it clear what's going on: it's a pump-and-dump.
[T]he optimum strategy for these games is not "playing to earn" and does not even involve playing the games at all. Rather, investors in rich countries will speculate on in-game currencies and assets while outsourcing the actual playing of the game to workers in the developing world who are paid less than $1 per hour to grind for currency until massive inflation caused by oversupply renders the currency worthless, at which point everybody migrates to another game to repeat the cycle and people who are overinvested in the old game's NFT assets lose a lot of money.
Basically, it's Bitcoin—except instead of burning processor cycles using coal-fired electricity, the "useless computing" is being done by a bunch of humans in a cyber cafe on the other side of the planet.


More generally... it struck me the other day that some of the big crypto "investors"/pushers are fairly young, and as a result may not have lived as adults through the last time a major sector of the economy thought they had "beaten the game" through the use of increasingly-baroque and impenetrable investment vehicles, so drunk on their own cleverness that they ignored the lack of anything approaching real value.

Yeah, that one.

And when I look at some of the techbro types who are hawking crypto today, I see exactly the same kind of overconfident self-assurance that guys I knew in college, who became "quants" working on the Street in the early 00s, had. Those guys, they had models, man. Shit was backed up by physics. Fundamental laws of the fuckin' universe. They had it figured out.

Right up until they didn't.

So, yeah, NFT bros and broettes: we get it. You have crypto. Shit's backed up by hard math. The fuckin' language of God himself.

Keep telling yourselves you've got it figured out.

Me, I'll be selling "Jump, You Fuckers" signs for the crowds outside your office. I've seen this one play out before.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:58 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]


And when I look at some of the techbro types who are hawking crypto today, I see exactly the same kind of overconfident self-assurance that guys I knew in college, who became “quants” working on the Street in the early 00s, had. Those guys, they had models, man. Shit was backed up by physics. Fundamental laws of the fuckin' universe. They had it figured out.

Quants on wall street, I believe, have actually done quite well for themselves? People who got NINA and NINJA loans, maybe not so much. One of the nice points in the folding ideas video is that this is to some extent a scheme to get people to buy NFTs so that there’s enough cash in the system that the current large ETH holders can get their money out. I honestly feel quite bad for people who have fallen for the WAGMI line; they seem like classic suckers trying to improve their lot, getting robbed, and then feeling guilty about it.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:28 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]


Well, yeah. The quants on the Street at least had the foresight to get paid in actual US Dollars, not in Mr. Krabs Wacky Bucks or subprime mortgage-backed securities or whatever. But the game was pretty similar: they created a bunch of tradable commodities where the notional value was largely disconnected from the underlying assets, and then sold these on to people (granted, people who should have fucking known better, like investment banks and pension funds). Cryptocurrencies are the logical next step, in that they have zero connection to any sort of underlying asset.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:35 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


More generally... it struck me the other day that some of the big crypto "investors"/pushers are fairly young

Just the other day I saw a comment about cryptocurrency to the effect that old people just can't wrap their head around the new economy, and it reminded me that almost identical phrases have been used before pretty much every crash.
posted by clawsoon at 1:36 PM on February 10 [5 favorites]


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