July 19, 2022

Plotting a metaverse path

Welcome to the Block & Mortar newsletter! Every week, we bring you the top stories and our analysis on where business meets web3: blockchain, cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and metaverse. Brought to you by Scott Robbin and Q McCallum.

Finding that metaverse stride

We talk a lot about defi meltdowns and cryptocurrency scams, but the primary focus of Block & Mortar's research is use cases for web3.  We want to understand: what can this suite of emerging technologies actually do for people? How does it impact existing business models, or even enable new ones?

It's still very early days, but some use cases are already starting to take shape:

  • blockchain: logistics and supply chain
  • cryptocurrency tokens: separating speculators from their fiat currency money transfers
  • NFTs: art collections, tickets, and membership passes
  • DAOs: manage pools of funds and other assets 
  • metaverse: ???

That last one is a puzzler.  It's the latest entrant to the web3 group, sure.  But it's seen no shortage of investment.  One very well-known company went as far as to rename itself to reflect its focus on metaverse technology.

(That rebranding may have also been a not-so-subtle attempt at reputation-washing, after years of data privacy scandals and then some allegations that this company had played a part in undermining democracy.  Maybe.)

Clearly, "metaverse" is a thing.  So why are use cases so sparse? 

You could argue that the industry is still sorting out a concrete, widely-accepted definition of what "metaverse" really means.  Since no one agrees on what counts as a metaverse property, you say, we can't begin to nail down any of the key questions about what it can actually deliver. Maybe.  But that certainly didn't stop "Big Data" and "AI," so we don't see that as a strong excuse.

Even without a concrete definition, metaverse properties are starting to define themselves as places for people to gather.  Roblox and Fortnite have hosted concerts in their virtual worlds.  The Sandbox has become home groups as varied as skateboarding pro Tony Hawk, Playboy, and French retail giant Carrefour.  Hawk has outlined his plans to build a skate park.   Carrefour, after a rather vague January announcement, has unveiled its online store for selling bee-related NFTs.  And Playboy will build a mansion where holders of its "Rabbitars" NFTs can hang out.  Otherside is still setting up, but we imagine it will attract similarly heavyweight operators.

(We're hoping that the Carrefour campaign's influencer bee mascot – "bee_nfluencer" – is named for the German verb beeinflussen…)

It's both easy and natural to hold the new up to the standards of the old. "Online chat system?" See IRC and AOL IM, among other systems.  "Shopping?"  Please refer to late-1990s e-commerce.  So we may be tempted to write off metaverse properties as a 3D version of what we already have. Yawn. 

But didn't people say the same thing about online chat and e-mail? "I can just call people."  The same goes for e-commerce: "I can go to a store."  And don't forget mobile apps: "I can do that on my computer at home."  It took us a while to see that, yes, these were sort-of analogs to existing concepts … but they were also so much more.  Fast-forward to the present day and we don't think twice about using a phone (funny that we still call it that, no?) to tap through an online menu to have food arrive right as we get home.

If we see metaverse properties through that lens, then things start to open up a bit.  We'll definitely live through clumsy 3D shopping experiences.  Just the same as we lived through news websites that tried too hard to relive the print experience online.  And how we saw music videos transition from simple interpretations of a song's lyrics into short films for which the music is barely a backdrop.  (The turning point? One word: "Sabotage.")

So let's ease up a bit.  We have to stumble a bit in order to find our metaverse stride.  We'll eventually sort out what else the idea of "3D online gathering space" can do, something that the web2 world cannot.   And then we'll be on our way.  

(If we're lucky, this will also be when we ditch the ugly web2 idea of eavesdropping bots that ship your info to ad providers.  We can dream…)

Now if you'll pardon us, we need to pull up that Sabotage video again.  And again.  And again. 

Scam o'clock

Didn't we cover a scam just last week?  Indeed we did.  But in the world of crypto, it's always scam o'clock. Or maybe Scam Week?  This time around, Sprise co-founder @Montana_Wong shares details of an exploit that's making the rounds. 

Remember how some groups release free NFTs in order to build a buzz? Since it costs people nothing to get the NFTs, but they may someday be valuable, there is a strong incentive to grab the freebies and then talk them up. 

Scammers have hopped onto this trend, claiming connections to legitimate projects (say, requiring that you already own an NFT from [insert famous collection here]). A few clicks later, your special NFTs are gone. 

We recommend reading @Montana_Wong's full thread for details.  And remember: when it comes to acquiring NFTs – even the free ones – it helps to slow down and be a little skeptical.

Your weekly reminder

Speaking of token security …

… have you purchased a hardware wallet?

You don't even need to thank us.  You'll notice, that's not an affiliate link, so we're not getting paid to say this.  We just want you to protect your crypto assets. 

Special delivery

On the subject of use cases for NFTs, here's one we most certainly did not have on our web3 bingo card: serving legal notice.   

We've now seen cases like this in both the US and the UK.  Maybe it will catch on elsewhere?  If it does, this could open up a new avenue for process servers.  No disguises, no sneaking around, just … locating the relevant wallet address and air-dropping the papers. But maybe don't hold your breath for a web3 reboot of Pineapple Express.

We expect the courts will eventually require more acknowledgement than pure air-dropping.  When that happens, the aforementioned scams will probably take on a whole new dimension.  "No, we didn't steal any of your NFTs.  But you did just confirm your identity, so … here you go.  See you in court."

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Note: We’d like to thank Shane Glynn for reviewing early newsletter drafts. Any mistakes that remain are ours.