SXSW Recap: The Metaverse, NFTs, and DAOs

Our time at SXSW 2022 has come to an end! It’s been an exciting week in Downtown Austin as we’ve learned about emerging technology and ideas, caught up with old friends and made new ones, and discussed the role of Technologists in the Future of Storytelling on our own panel.

If you weren’t able to be a part of SXSW this year, don’t worry. We diligently took notes on our favorite talks to help ease your FOMO.

Virtual and immersive realities in the metaverse

We kicked things off in the metaverse, discussing the shifting paradigms of the creator economy to one about virtual experiences, community, and digital ownership. How can we leverage the power of new technology to be better humans and to create more equity? This was a central question that we’ve seen pop up in a number of panels over the week.

Battle for the Mirror World: Digitizing Society
With Fifer Garbesi, Armando Kirwin, Lady Phoenix, and Joanna Popper

  • Have you noticed that all of our sci-fi futures are doomed? What is it about humanity that makes us think that it’s all f*cked?
  • A lot of our focus in Web2 has been focused on monitoring data. It’s surveillance capitalism. Businesses are better rewarded for their predictions, encouraging them to shift user behavior towards their prediction.
  • Data rights are human rights. We should own our personal data and release it when we decide we want to.
  • Do we want to extend land ownership into the metaverse? It feels antiquated. Land ownership is cultural, and there are some cultures that believe we can never own land. It’s a societal construct that would be translated into an infinite virtual world.
  • We have to develop expertise in the small things, like relationships. We need to learn how to build healthy relationships within the current constructs before we make the metaverse a “-verse”. Our tech will only be a reflection of us and our society’s constructs.
  • We need to consider diversity in creators. In many cases, virtual avatars are automatically white because they are created by white individuals. Imagine how that feels as a Black participant.
  • We’re putting $50 billion into the metaverse when people are starving. This is dominated by capitalism and a fear of missing out. Where is the strategic thinking?
  • Someone has already created a “Meta Slave” NFT collection, which featured images of Black people. This is a reflection of what is still happening in the societal conscious.
  • Start with the end goal in mind and reverse engineer it. What kind of people live here in the metaverse? What is the legacy you hope to leave as the architect? How do we come out wiser? It’s a hero’s journey but the metaverse user is now pursuing this story arc. What are we teaching them? Let’s hope it’s to become softer, stronger, wiser.

Amaze VR’s Megan Thee Stallion Concert: We got up close and personal with Megan Thee Stallion in her “Enter Thee Hottieverse” VR concert. It allowed us to watch Megan as if we were on stage while she performed several of her hits in this virtual universe.

Breonna’s Garden: A virtual garden created to honor the life of Breonna Taylor while cultivating a safe space online to process complex emotions such as grief. In this space we heard messages from Breonna’s mother, sister, and other loved ones.

FLUF Haus: An activation fusing the metaverse and physical world to bring SXSW visitors into the same arena as their Fluf NFT collectibles. Flufs are a genesis collection of 10,000 3D, programmatically-generated rabbit avatars, each with their own unique features and stories to tell. Using dome projections, visitors were immersed in the lives and metaverse ecosystem of the Fluf rabbit characters, projected to be standing right beside us.

ZOZO Next: 3D and AI technology that scanned your body and created a virtual avatar that allowed you to try on new fashions. Although we weren’t able to try it on ourselves, they are prototyping a bodysuit you can wear in front of the camera that produces highly accurate body measurements, so you can confidently buy clothing online.

The promises and challenges of DAOs

As one of the hottest topics of SXSW this year, the DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) conversations did not disappoint. We learned about several DAO applications from disrupting the traditional models of music, real estate, or media, to more unique applications like pooling together resources to purchase an NBA team.

2022 Year of the DAO
With Flex Chapman, Jihad Esmail, Kinjal Shah, and Cooper Turley

  • A decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) is an online community that leverages web3 — NFTs, tokens, defi — and gives that community superpowers. It’s basically a group chat with a shared bank account.
  • We are in the primitive stage of Web3. Consider DAOs as a new form of corporation. It’s quicker and cheaper to set up, has less regulation, and there’s less capital needed which makes it more accessible.
  • A leadership team in the traditional corporation is viewed as the visionary for the business or the captain(s) of the ship. In DAOs, we view ourselves as ship builders. It’s permissionless and autonomous. Anyone can put together a proposal that is voted on by the entire community.
  • Participation in a DAO is a practice of self management. If I want to join a DAO, I come into a group chat to say I want to be affiliated. It’s a bounty system where you pick up a few tasks, build credibility, maybe you begin working on a project, and from there you can become a core contributor or even step into a leadership role. You don’t come in and get a full time job. Start as a freelance contributor and then move to full time over time with the social capital that comes with it.
  • DAOs are an opt-in culture. Nobody is going to tell you what to do, and there’s not necessarily a role description. Contribute in whatever way works for you. Investors make seed investments and deal sourcing. Up until now, we haven’t been able to pay contributors but are looking to do so in a regulatory compliant way.
  • Why would you work for free? When you’re paid early on, it’s in fluid equity — tokens, equity with exponential upside. Eventually you may get paid in NFTs, etc. and then move to full time.

The Future of Work is Not Corporate: It’s DAOs and Crypto Networks
With Ben Schecter

  • A decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) is a digital community. You get instant tokenized equity in a DAO. You don’t get that from big corporations like Amazon, Google, Facebook.
  • DAOs allow for dynamic leaders to emerge; the types of leaders you need at different stages. It’s about figuring out how to scale leadership in new ways.
  • The people who are most successful in DAOs are ones with a volunteering background or entrepreneurial quality. They have a founder and/or a leader mindset.
  • Roles within a DAO need to be codified. Who are the investors versus the builders? The more skin you have in the game, the more you get to level up (like a video game).
  • One idea for a lack of participation in a DAO: Those not participating could get taxed.
  • It’s not about how big you can make your DAO, it’s how capital efficient you can make it.
  • Check out DAOhaus: a no-code platform for making your own DAO.

Sustainability and attribution of NFTs

Whether it was a talk on NFTs, an NFT launch, or a “Create your own NFT” activation, you could find an NFT reference almost everywhere you looked in Downtown Austin. As creators ourselves, we’ve been pondering two questions: How can we support the creation of NFTs in a way that aligns with our regenerative values? And, how can we protect our work and the work of our fellow NFT creators? Luckily, we weren’t short of experts on these topics to listen and learn from. Here’s what they had to say.

Blockchain and NFTs: Environmental and Social Impact
With Chris Carnabuci, The Jiho (Jeff Zirlin), Amanda Terry, and Shen Tong

SEEINJUSTICE by Confront Art: Chris Carnabuci is a sculptor who initially built a public art display of George Floyd, then Breonna Taylor and John Lewis. He worked closely with the family of George Floyd and their charity “We Are Floyd,” the “Breonna Taylor Foundation,” and “The John and Lillian Miles Lewis Foundation’’ as partners in the series. This exhibition received so much attention that they wanted to figure out how to convert it into more funding for the foundations. They auctioned off physical pieces, but realized there’s a limit to that and they could explore more with NFTs. The corresponding NFT collection drops on April 11, 2022.

Metagood: The NFT for social good platform that helps bring together causes and their communities. They’ve formed a DAO so that their community can be a part of the change and vote for exactly where the money will go. Most recently, they launched an NFT collection where 100% of the proceeds went to a humanitarian aid charity for Ukrainian people.

Axie Infinity: Fierce creatures that love to battle, build, and hunt for treasure. The creators of Axie Infinity, Sky Mavis, are currently creating an Ethereum-linked sidechain called Ronin. It is built specifically for massive games with player-owned economies.

  • Gamers believe that Web3 is bad for the environment. Axie was on Ethereum, but it is slow, carbon heavy, and has high transaction fees. Axie would have had to plant 250 million trees to offset their carbon footprint if they continued operating on Ethereum. On Ronin, they would only have to plant one tree and it would still make Axie carbon positive.
  • Why is Ronin more carbon efficient? You have to optimize for three things: scalability, decentralization, and security. They have made strategic decisions to sacrifice on decentralization, the more decentralized something is the more energy it’s going to use. They have millions of users who need to keep growing so they can’t wait for decentralization to become quicker (which it will over time).
  • If Bitcoin was a country, it would be in the top 30 energy users worldwide (including consuming more energy than Argentina).
  • In Web3, community is even more important than in Web2. Extractive middle men are being removed from these networks and the value they used to steal is being returned to the users that are doing a majority of the work. A great way to formulate an investment piece around Web3 would be to consider the products or industries where the communities are doing a majority of the work but not receiving a majority of the value.
  • Just like in an economy you need to have a given level of consumption to justify income levels. When something starts working in crypto, everyone starts piling in. There was an equilibrium on Axie last year but then there was a huge rush into the ecosystem with the whole goal of earning money which threw the ecosystem out of balance. They had to consider: What are the reasons that people spend for fun? How do we double down on features from a product, engineering, and art perspective that induce more spending for fun.

Protecting Creatives Work: NFTs & Digital Provenance
With Will Allen

  • Currently there’s a lot of fraud in this space. If you’re a collector, how do you know that this is the real creator who took this photo or created this NFT?
  • The standard protocol has been to prove why something is false (it’s manipulated, it isn’t taken in that place, etc…) but instead, let’s look to show truth.
  • Adobe launched the Content Authenticity Initiative to help solve the current deception in the market. They added a content attribution tool within Photoshop and Behance.
  • The goal was to make it simple for creative pros to capture and publish provenance info. We need to make it intuitive and expected for content consumers to view provenance info.
  • The metadata is based on a simple structure for storing and accessing cryptographically verifiable metadata.
  • We can see facts about asset creation, authorship, modifications, capture device details, software used, and many other subjects. Facts make up the provenance of a given asset.
  • Adding cryptography to metadata will make it tamper-proof. You can go to a verification site and it can give you the full view with the full audit trail.

After two years of no in-person SXSW, one central theme has been exceptionally clear: the industry is shifting. We started off the week with Variety Intelligence Platform’s assessment of the media landscape, where television is growing at a rapid pace, immersive experiences show no sign of slowing down, but traditional film is taking a notable hit. What’s next for these immersive worlds then? SXSW gave us some answers, as we watched a panel with a meta human responding to questions live over Zoom, we experienced VR in higher fidelity than ever before, and we immersed ourselves in soundscapes and alternative realities.

Keep an eye out for our official SXSW trend report and the recording of our talk on Technologists and the Future of Story. Until next year, SXSW!

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