People like to divide different stages of the internet while talking about it. The second iteration of the internet, then dubbed Web 2.0, and now called Web2, was roughly between 2005 and 2020 where siloed, centralized platforms benefited from all the value accrued from their platforms. A handful of large companies got rich by mining and selling consumer data to advertisers. While still in its infancy, Web3 vaguely refers to what we call decentralized, community-governed platforms and companies.
Can NFT Integration Bring Interoperability Into Web2 Platforms?
Web 2.0 to Web3
On Web2 platforms, users can do the ‘read’ and ‘write’ functions. In Web3, users can also ‘own’ what they create.
Web2 companies like Twitter and Instagram had a competitive relationship for years. Many of these platforms are mainly caring about how much attention they can attract from users. People have a limited amount of time and attention they can give, so all of the social media platforms, as well as platforms such as YouTube, Fortnite, and Netflix, compete for users’ attention.
Our digital identities on social media platforms have been very distinctly separated. Due to their advertising-based revenue models and competitive nature, big tech companies never allowed transfer of posts, or followers from one platform to another. My posts, likes, followings, and followers on Instagram are only within Instagram, and I cannot take my videos and go to TikTok if I’d like. This is platform lock-in, which makes users dependent on the platform as they have to comply with platforms’ changing community guidelines, data collection practices, and any new feature they might roll out.
NFT Integration in Web 2.0
This is the current lay of the land. So, what are Web2 companies doing with NFTs?
In January, Twitter introduced NFT integration by enabling connecting your wallet to your account. Subscribers of Twitter Blue could show off their NFTs with a hex-shaped profile picture. This proved that the user owns that NFT. Of course, within the NFT community, people already use NFTs that they own — the opposite is very much frowned upon. While there were critics of this integration, (“was this necessary?”) it is still one of the biggest social media platforms taking steps in acknowledging the industry and moving towards Web3. Twitter also has a “tips” function, which allows people to send money in Bitcoin.
Recently, Instagram also announced that they are working on bringing NFT integration. The CEO of Instagram Adam Mosseri shared a video and gave a Ted Talk about the topic of creator economy. A lot of what he said in the talk echoed the premises and beliefs of Web3, as if a founder of a decentralized platform was speaking his words.
Mosseri announced that similar to Twitter, NFT integration will come to Instagram and people will be able to showcase their NFTs on their profiles. A lot of conversation between NFT folks happens on Twitter, so there is more value in showcasing NFTs on Twitter. Twitter made a move on an existing phenomenon of people using NFTs as their profile pictures, so the value of Instagram NFT integration in the short term is unclear. Instagram is following in the footsteps of Twitter, as they have done previously with adding videos after Vine, and adding stories after Snapchat.
To use NFT integration on Twitter or Instagram, users need to connect their non-custodial wallets to these platforms. By connecting your wallet, you are tying your wallet identity to your account on that platform. The argument against this is why would we tie our decentralized anonymous wallet addresses and tell Web2 companies, who make money by synthesizing the data you give to them and selling you advertisements based on that data. Web2 companies could very well scan on-chain data of your wallet, and know even more about you.
A non-custodial wallet serves as an identity - and is way more than where you keep your cryptocurrencies. Many people referred to wallets as a better identifier of you than your social media profile as the latter is extremely curated and tells the story you want to tell. On the other hand, what we own tells a lot about who we are.
The Future of Digital Identity
By connecting your wallet to your Twitter and Instagram accounts, you are essentially connecting and verifying your identity on both these platforms. And for the first time ever, this could bridge our identities across social media platforms to create a cohesive digital identity, a “digital you.”
I’m by no means a fan of connecting my wallet to Web2 platforms and allowing them to have access to my Web3 identity. Still, I believe the question is interesting enough to discuss. Some people will jump at the opportunity to connect their wallets, and some will never do. It’s also possible future governments could ask for more identifying information (KYC) to open a non-custodial wallet, in that case, my worries might not even be relevant anymore.
It’s important to note that though it’s in beta, Spotify is allowing artists to showcase their NFTs on their artist profiles. I don’t think they would roll this feature out to regular users as I can’t think of a use case, but who knows! I wonder if both Meta and Spotify went the “NFT integration” route as their entry point to Web3 because of Twitter.
Web3 is already revolutionizing art, finance (DeFi), human organization (DAOs) and the creator economy. We have been creating digital identities through non-custodial wallets — but could Web3 also revolutionize digital identity within Web2?
We imagined Web3 forming its own path completely separate from Web2. But Web2 won’t be left behind — so we could find ourselves in different pit stops between Web2 and Web3 and might have to take the BigTech giants with us. I hope they look at this as an opportunity to change their ad-based model and create new revenue streams for creators as well as themselves.
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