Not sure what NFTs are? Join the club: Studies say that most people don’t understand these blockchain-based digital collectibles. But social media companies seem eager to change that, with moves that put the hyped tech in the mainstream spotlight.
“Authenticity around NFT ownership is important to the crypto community,” Esther Crawford, creator products lead at Twitter, explained to WWD, “and with NFT Profile Pictures, we’re providing a way for people to prove ownership of their NFTs and support those making this art by highlighting information about the artists, their collection, provenance and more, by simply clicking on the NFT profile pictures.”
Meta appears to be working on the same thing. According to new reports, insiders claim that Facebook and Instagram are actively developing a variety of related capabilities — from NFT profile pics to the ability to make and sell them in a new type of marketplace.
That’s a lot of activity for a technology that still eludes a majority of U.S. consumers, according to numerous studies.
You asked (a lot), so we made it. Now rolling out in Labs: NFT Profile Pictures on iOS pic.twitter.com/HFyspS4cQW
— Twitter Blue (@TwitterBlue) January 20, 2022
In November, Pew Research revealed that just 16 percent of Americans reported ever having bought, sold, used or invested in cryptocurrency, the primary way to purchase NFTs. The same month, a YouGov crypto literacy survey backed by Coinme and Coindesk noted that 96 percent of Americans don’t grasp the fundamentals of crypto, NFTs and other blockchain applications. Several other reports showed that even crypto investors struggle to understand the tech, with as much as roughly one-third not fully grasping the basics of what they were buying.
But they did buy, and quite a lot. Chainalysis Inc., an analytics firm specializing in blockchain, estimated that NFT transactions nearly broke $41 billion in 2021.
However, most transactions, 85 percent, came from the top 10 percent of NFT traders, according to “Mapping the NFT revolution: market trends, trade networks, and visual features,” a research paper funded by Alan Turing Institute and published in October.
Speculatory investing is one reason why the future of NFTs is hard to predict. Experts seem divided on whether they will boom, bust or stabilize into a permanent part of digital culture and commerce. Growing familiarity among consumers will be crucial, and social media companies could do a lot on that front.
NFTs, as verifiably authentic and unique digital collectibles, offer some peace of mind, but not a lot of functional use yet. Numerous gaming, marketplaces and emerging social platforms are racing to allow support NFTs, but they remain somewhat niche offerings.
Enter the social media giants. Now Twitter and perhaps Facebook and Instagram are making sure users have an easy way to show them off. That’s just for starters. For Twitter, the profile photos are first steps in a broader and evolving NFT strategy.
“We see Twitter as the discovery platform for all things crypto, including NFTs,” Twitter’s Crawford added. “As many people’s first interaction with crypto happens on Twitter, we want to make it easier for them to interact with the community, participate in the thriving NFT conversation and take a leap into the world of digital assets directly on Twitter.” The company views the tech as a monetization tool for its creator community, especially given the momentum it sees.
While traction in the broader public still has plenty of room to grow, NFT conversations on Twitter are swelling. According to company data, it noted 255.6 million NFT-related tweets globally on the platform, and it sees the conversation continuing to grow. The largest share, at 43 million, has come from the U.S. since about this time last year.
The race seems to be on now across mainstream social networks, with Twitter jumping out of the gate — perhaps a bit prematurely. It launched the new feature under its Labs umbrella, which suggests a test feature, and only through the iOS app. Plans for Android support are in the works, but the scenario points to a sense of urgency.
With this move, Twitter did indeed beat Meta to the punch. That’s somewhat surprising, given that NFTs are expected to fuel commerce in the metaverse, with users shopping for digital products to outfit avatars or fit other scenarios. Then again, it would make sense, if the rival is planning a more robust NFT launch.
Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.