My month deep in NFTs
18 min read

My month deep in NFTs

I made an NFT, this is what happened.
My month deep in NFTs

Well, that was a fraught few weeks to cap off a busy few months of jumping headlong into the world of NFTs. I'm now ready for a break from it all, which fortunately for you means a break from me banging on about Web 3.0 and NFTs so often. There are other things happening in the world, apparently.

That said, please allow me one last (very) long reveal into the NFT I created, the process, the results, and my reflections on what it’s like to be selling JPEGs. And please don't worry if you're not interested in Web 3.0, this is just as much about people as it is about technology.

Banishing the middle

Aiming for the middle can lead to tears. 

Before I  begin, you can get a recap of the journey starting here back in October. NFTs caught my attention for two reasons, the first being art and the second being community building.

You see, I've worked as a videographer, photographer, and writer. And I've worked extensively with better videographers, photographers, and writers. I've also worked a lot with animators and graphic designers. All these jobs deal in pixels, and it always struck me that pixels arranged in the right way were always undervalued.

Photographers hear "oh I can just take a photo myself on my Nokia".

Videographers are forced to produce the same square format Facebook videos because it worked for AJ+ 200 years ago (5 years in non-metaverse time).

Animators still surprise would-be buyers by having the temerity to actually want to charge for their work.

And Graphic designers are expected to produce this and only this style:

When creative direction is taken out of the hands of the artist everything slides into a kind of bland, inoffensive, safe middle. And the middle is where you go if you don't want to inspire anyone.

NFTs could be a way to help change that because, actually, there's a lot of people in the world hungry for anything that doesn't sit in the middle, and they're willing to spend money (well, cryptocurrency) to do so.

The second part that interests me is building online communities that actually do something.

This has been the great struggle in my professional life. There's millions of people in the world being paid to find ways to engage people online, building strategies and spreadsheets and spending huge quantities on getting their message in front of as many random eyes as possible.

99% of the time, this fails. And I'm convinced the 1% of time it works is more luck that judgement.

Why? Because communities aren't built on tactics, but with how social media is being run we've been put through a kind of digital distortion.  

Communities are built around shared interests or desires or hopes or needs. And that's something NFTs clearly tap into at blistering scale and speed (not all in a good way).

So, rant over. Let's get down to what I've been up to.

Last month I went live with my test project, 'The Crafty Miners'. Here’s one of 10,000 examples:

My plan was fairly simple, in theory at least.

I chose a niche community (Minecraft fans), created some bright artwork that could act as scroll stoppers on Twitter and be used as profile photos, and I set up a Twitter account and Discord channel. Then I would see what would build and what would sell.

I started small, seeing if I could get some foothold in the Minecraft community. Then, my plan was to begin inviting people to my Discord and after, maybe, start releasing the NFT to followers, gradually leading to sales. I didn't expect to make much, if any money. But I did expect to learn a great deal.

Did it work? Yes…and no. Let’s dig into it.

The seeds of idea

"Current JPEG floor price is $400,000. Seems reasonable."

Three years ago, in a former role, I was tasked with writing a digital strategy that was to serve as a vision document for the organisation I was with. Its purpose was to set the scene for what might come to be in the online world and to lay out ways we, as a team and organisation, could start adapting to the changing digital landscape around us.

In the strategy, I described how it was the end of open, centralised communities. I didn't really know I was talking about blockchain then, but I think that’s what I was grappling with (shows how slow my brain is...).

In the aftermath of elections, wars, and uprisings – all linked to manipulation through social media – I wrote that people were seeking more intimate tribes online, tribes that focused on very particular interests and relationships. People were getting fed up with so much noise on Facebook and the like and were looking for signals that piqued their interest in smaller groups (this was before I was aware of Discord, but basically Discord).

This, I said, presented opportunities to many individuals, but also challenges to organisations who want to reach a lot of people in a short space of time.

Connecting with people online, I said, would mean one of two options: either communicating to people through people (i.e., finding people in a niche group and having them represent you), or by letting people in niche groups take control of your messaging, which you then use elsewhere.

Essentially, it’s either you go to them or you let them come to you and take the lead. Both options are uncomfortable ones for big organisations as they generally like control and despise risk. The new online world reduces the former and increases the latter.

It's possible that this all sounds rather obvious to you, but I can't stress enough how hard it is for organisations to adapt to this new landscape.

It’s amazing to see how many videos are still produced for 14-year-old Chinese kids by 45-year-old white men behind a desk in America, all while systems are created that prioritise keeping the content pumps open rather than creating an enabling environment for content that truly moves people to act and react.

That's why I thought I'd run a little test.

A Minecraft tribe

Fan art of a well known Minecraft YouTuber, by @Nicoly_Kadvceii

Sometime after that strategy was done, I was involved in a project that focused on young people interested in Minecraft. As the process went on, I started doing a bit of research into the online ecosystem around Minecraft. I was left dazed by what I saw.

I discovered the MCYT community (Minecraft YouTubers) quietly dominating large patches of online territory. There are MCYTers attracting millions of followers per day, selling merchandise, broadcasting live to millions, triggering discussions around sexual identity and self-harm, all whilst playing Minecraft.

This has spawned a subculture of teenagers across the world who create things: stories about the MCYTers (many of which put the MCYTers in relationships with each other), artwork, animation, and music. Just search 'mcyt' on Twitter, you'll see.

See, when you say, 'let's engage with Minecraft fans', our shortcut-loving brains quickly go to 'find people who like computer games'. But in real life, there is no one person who is just a gamer.

If they are in their teens, they are playing games but they're also thinking about sex, about their identity, about expression, about loneliness, about fear and excitement. After sitting in the MCYT world for a while, that becomes clear.

That was where an organisation should probably go, I thought. But that would be a very tough ask. It would have taken months just to understand how people speak in there, let alone start building a network. I started to see it, but it took time for my brain to digest it.

And it would have been so risky. These are real 13-25 year olds talking about sex, making bad, distasteful jokes, and generally just being weird. Because they're teenagers. Any organisation would struggle to associate with that.

So, that was where my idea for an NFT test case came from. What if I could somehow work within this community to start an NFT? I could link this process to what was done before, I could compare and contrast.

I explained here a little about the process of trying to understand a community, and that's what I did with this community of MCYT fans. I set up a Twitter list, read a lot (a lot) of Tweets, and slowly began to understand their language and their interests.

Now, these wouldn't be the buyers of the NFT, but I want to find overlap between this group and the NFT world and see what could be built from there. That was as specific as my tactic got: start and see where it goes.

Meanwhile, I found an artist within the MCYT space on Twitter – a fine arts student in the Philippines – to design some illustrations based on ideas I had.

I tried to hone in on a few elements:

1. I wanted the NFT to represent a strong character,

2. I wanted the colours to be high contrast to catch the eye of people scrolling,

3. Cyberpunk is popular right now, so I wanted those elements in there,

4. I wanted to add some MCYT elements (such as masks and haircuts from popular YouTubers).

You can visit the collection (well, part of it) here on OpenSea.

Once I had a basic understanding of some MCYT language, I could start sharing my NFTs. As proof that I had some basic grasp of the lingo, here is my most successful, viral Tweet of my professional and personal life, by a long shot:

Don't worry if that makes no sense to you, I'd be worried if it did.

Promo time!

I just like this image.

I then got to work promoting on Twitter and I was doing ok at it, and at the same time I set up my Discord channel and began to bring people in. But then it fell flat.

Keeping things ticking over was exhausting, even if it was just a couple of weeks. You become content-brained, constantly thinking about what around you could be turned into a 140-character sound bite.

While I flitted in and out of content pumping, I also learned how to deploy a smart contract (this explains what that is – in short, it’s a way of getting your NFTs on the blockchain). I followed guidance from HashLips and others, and when I felt ready, I decided to just go for it. I wanted this done, one way or another, by Christmas.

With my website ready, Discord set up, the smart contract done, I was ready to promote my NFT.

I started by doing a giveaway to attract people; I would 'airdrop' (give free) NFTs to anyone who joined my Discord and signed up.

This was a kind of ‘f*ck it’ moment for me, it either works or it doesn't. And it actually did. Around 230 people signed up, far more than I expected. There was interest and there was great responses to the art work.

But before all that, I had a big problem: a hacker got me and jeopardized the entire project before it began.

Hacked

I was at lunch with a friend the day I deployed my smart contract. I was proud. As someone who knew technically nothing about blockchain a couple of months ago, I had generated 10,000 pieces of original artwork, created and uploaded the metadata for it, and deployed a smart contract. As I showed him my work over lunch, I saw something odd: 900 pieces of my artwork were sitting in someone else's account.

Bugger.

I had opened my contract to the public for a short while to test it out. What I hadn't noticed is that I had made a very stupid error. The template contract I was using used Ethereum as its currency, and I left each NFT priced at 0.015 ETH ($60). The problem was, I was using a different currency – Matic – because it was much cheaper to use. When I deployed my contract, 0.015 Ether turned into 0.015 Matic, or $0.03.

This hacker (maybe not the right name for them but it sounds nice and dramatic) made off with 900 of my NFTs at a ridiculously low rate. It meant they controlled my market because whenever someone was looking to buy, they'd be selling at the lowest price. As it’s in the anonymous world of blockchain, it’s impossible to get the NFTs back or know who the person is. I just had to swallow it and carry on.

So far, they’ve made over $300 selling my work, and their holding such a huge share (50%) of the publicly available NFTs means the project will suffer badly –because the hacker controls the market – until they sell their 900 NFTs.

But there was little I could do at the time, so I tried to push on and just hope for the best.

Unity in community

This was the nice part. Airdropping (giving away) NFTs is a good way to build trust. Sure, some people took them, even begged for them, and then instantly went to sell them for cheap. That was annoying. But many showed great appreciation for the work. People started talking in Discord and asking me about plans.

I said I didn't have fixed plans, I wanted this to be led by the community. That chimed with many people. Others came, clearly looking to make a quick buck, and left when I told them this wasn't about making money. I was comfortable with that.

Some people stayed in my Discord and shared their stories. They began to call this project 'our project', discussing what 'we' could do. That was really touching. When you create something from your imagination and see people valuing it as something of their own, something many are willing to pay for, it's quite a feeling.

So, the community was building, but Christmas was fast approaching. I had a choice: keep it ticking over, build slowly, or do something now.

The first option would have been the right one. I should have just kept building it and getting people more deeply involved. But as I said earlier, I didn't feel like I had the mental bandwidth for it. It would have meant hours a day talking on Discord and shilling on Twitter without any guarantee of success.

So, I decided to try a mint. A mint is when you ask people to go and buy one of your NFTs for a set price. Remember, until now, all the NFT owners had them for free. Now I was asking them to pay. It was time to see if they would put their own money where their mouths are.

This was a very high-risk tactic. It was too early, and, as I said, the hacker made sure my prices would always be undercut. I had to offer something more than just an NFT.

I set my price at $40 and offered the following: 65% to the community, the rest to running costs and the artist; a new NFT if a certain amount was raised (exclusive artwork); prize money; and support for one member to create their own NFT project.

One hundred and ten people signed up to buy, which I knew wasn't enough. Saying you'll do something and doing it are also very different things, and so it proved: at the time of writing, only around ten people purchased 25 NFTs.

Most people by this stage would ask 'how many people bought an NFT?' as an indicator of the NFT’s success. Well, in that frame, it's a failure.

But let's frame it another way.

A month ago, this was just something in my head and in my hard drive. Today, a collection of work I produced has generated around $1,500 dollars in online sales with 275 different owners.

Twenty days ago, nothing. Today, a small ecosystem.

With each sale on OpenSea, 10% goes to me and will forever into eternity if they continue to sell. That's something, I think. How often can you create something from your computer and see global trades playing out right away?

What’s next

I'm now planning my next steps with the project. I'm cooking up some ideas and decided to have some fun with it while ensuring I learn something (building a game using Unity, perhaps?).

The main lesson I took from this endeavour: you can't go in halfway. And that's how it should be if you're asking people to spend their money on your work. If you go halfway, you get halfway results.

I'd like to think I went more than halfway but I couldn't give it the time it deserved and the financial investment it really needed to help it fly.

In future, for whatever my next project will be, one thing is very clear: doing this alone is tough. Having friends by your side would help lift a big load. But it is possible.

If you ever have an idea, bring it to the world and see where it takes you. Just be prepared to work hard for it.

If you made it this far, wow, thanks. As a thanks I'd be happy to share a free NFT with you – just drop me a message.


Notes and observations from my NFT jaunt

I started making some notes on lessons learned, maybe they'll be useful to someone out there. So, here they are.

Greed rules, for now: it's a gold rush at the moment, making people hungry for a quick profit and others susceptible to scams. It was striking how many people came to me begging for a free NFT, giving me stories of how much they love the work, etc., and when I'd relent, half of them put them on sale right away. Honestly, that hurts a bit, but I also understand that they don't know or feel the work I put into it. I'm just some words on a screen and perhaps they have mouths to feed. What's also eye-opening are the number of hustlers out there: there are Twitter accounts asking anywhere from $150 to $3000 dollars to 'promote' your NFT with a single Tweet. Oftentimes, the accounts themselves are fake: they're set up to have hundreds of thousands of fake followers and each of their Tweets has 1.5k Retweets from bots. I must've received 200 messages in a week asking if I'm interested in promotion, most of them just faking it. The market is rather dominated by this greed at the moment, and when things quiet down many will probably think it means failure for NFTs. I actually think the opposite: it means people can start hearing about the good things NFTs can do.

You set the tone: greed dominating doesn't mean the individuals aren't good, they just follow a narrative. When I began to get interested, I was quite clear that this wasn't focused on profit, on growing big to make lots of sales. Of course, I, like everyone, wanted success because that could potentially mean good money. But that wasn't the driving force; I was looking to experience what it was to build a community, and a supportive one at that. And that attracts people of a similar disposition; I had people volunteer their time to help moderate my Discord channel. I had people who joined because they loved the art, but also because they appreciated that I was honest and open and grew tired of all the noisy shilling. The people who came in looking to talk about going to the moon soon saw this wasn't the group for them. The tone was set, and bonds begin to build quickly based on that.

Vibe: while I was in the full throws of the hysteria, I came across this from Jack Butcher.

That served to be a great explainer to what I was searching for. I'm not sure which side I'm on, but as long as I'm not in the middle, I'm happy. Success comes if you're open to exploring and just feeling your way into things and this means it'll start messily, slowly, and maybe with a number of expensive mistakes thrown in. But it's the right way.

There's serious talent out there: the artist I worked with is a fine arts student in the Philippines and I found them on Twitter. They have huge talent and I'm pleased people responded to their style. The internet is awash with talent in all corners and if you're in a position to help them flourish, do it because you're giving something to them and the world.

Hackers, scammers and bots are ready for you: as I mentioned, I got (kind of) hacked at the start. I was annoyed, of course, because this person made more money selling my NFTs than I did at first. But what was more angering is that they do this once or twice a day to artists and creators. Same with bots. I put out a form to see if people wanted to sign up to receive an NFT. By the morning I had 26,000 responses. My excitement soon turned to disappointment when I realised it was bots, and that all the emails, wallet addresses and Twitter handles were fake. Within a day of releasing my NFT there were also fake copies on OpenSea and people in Discord pretending to be administrators from Crafty Miners trying to get people's personal details. Be careful.

People are willing to help: you just need to keep in mind they have their own lives too, with their own priorities. For two days they can be free and offer you the world, then suddenly they disappear for a week or more. It's not personal, but you have to jump at opportunities when offered. But it’s heart-warming to see how many people are genuinely willing to just help, for no other reason than they want to.

Timing and grinding: the part I hated the most was marketing. Having to write a load of Tweets promoting it, doing competitions, the endless need to say the same thing in 100 different ways to bring in traffic. It ground me down. I could do a day or two of heavy promoting, but no more than that. And I realise that I couldn't sell many through my own channels because I couldn't give it the time it would need to be a success. That was a personal choice: I just don't have the mental bandwidth to carry this with me for months if all I'm doing is just shilling. If you're wanting to create a collection of NFTs to sell, you've either got to be the lucky 0.01% that goes viral, or you've got to be ready to send 100 messages a day bigging up your project. Or, be prepared to build really, really slowly over a year or more.

Unbeatable speed and potential: twenty days previously, I had never transacted any kind of digital product on blockchain, I had no clue. Fast forward, and a collection of work I produced generated nearly $1500 dollars in online sales with 273 different owners. From zero to building a small ecosystem in around 20 days. With each sale on OpenSea, 10% goes to me and will forever into eternity if they continue to sell. That's something, I think.

Money talks: as mentioned above, I knowingly made the mistake of moving too fast to minting; I knew I didn't have the energy to watch Discord for 10 hours a day and send 100 messages to Twitter shilling my NFTs. But I also know that when things are free, people flock to you. As soon as you ask them to stump up the cash...crickets. The fact that over 50 people did put money in actually means a lot to me – that is a strong signal. It tells me that if I had just worked for another month or two, that could have been 100 or maybe 300 people, and then things would really start changing. But I'll openly admit that I can't fit that sort of endeavour into my life right now (and I'm fine with that).

Your personalities amplified: people have multiple personalities. Who I am to my wife, my brother, my aunt, and my closest friends are slightly different people. That's the case with all of us, and that's even more amplified online because you can have 20 different interactions in the space of minutes. It was amusing to me to see how quickly mimetics kicked in: I never imagined I'd be using the words 'bro', 'friend', 'moot', 'lemme' and so on. But I did, and it became to feel natural in certain circles. Mimetic desires are strong in the online world.

Don't pander to the zeitgeist: that zeitgeist in the NFT world is making quick profits, getting free NFTs and getting rich. I recently wrote about this (based on an essay by Thomas J. Bevan). The NFT space is such a vortex of immense gravitational pull that things like shilling your work start to feel natural. It's not. I found myself at times flip-flopping between trying to be my own person (on one occasion someone asked me how much I'll be charging in future, and I simply said I don't know, and I don't care so much. They left the channel) and chasing the numbers (when I opened my whitelist – asking people to sign up to indicate they would buy – I was counting the number of people every 20 minutes). It's really hard to keep focused on what you're trying to do in the first place. In future, I'd have someone do the marketing for me (if I could afford it).

It's global and it's intense: probably not a surprise, but people into NFTs are from everywhere. I had people in my Discord channel from the Philippines, Morocco, Peru, Nigeria and the U.S., and they were all very different people. I was proud to see high schoolers talking with professionals, sharing ideas, experiences and advice. But that means stuff is happening around the clock. There is no respite.

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