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Episode 1: Degentraland

Hey creators!

I hope all of you are doing well 😎

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This week I've been heads down working on this post as well as setting up a tiktok account for TBP. You can check it out here πŸ‘€

Today, I'm finally launching the first episode of The Bigger Picture!

Let's get into it, I've been waiting to release this recording for a while now 🎬

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Who's that ape?

By the peak of the 2021 bull run, I was deep into the NFT space. I had quit my job at Salesforce and was writing threads and trading in web3 full time.

Around that time, I noticed this twitter account called Degentraland that kept on popping up in the replies section of all the NFT OGs I followed. Every reply was making me laugh. The account was freaking hilarious and quickly became my favorite follow.

Degentraland also posts threads on his philosophy of NFTs and provides interesting commentary on blue chip pfp projects. Last year, I reached out to him over Twitter DMs to say hi. We ended up hopping on Zoom and had a great conversation. Now, for over a year, we've been jamming on all things NFTs & culture and have met at a few conferences as well.

While brainstorming my initial guest list for the pod, it was a no brainer that Degentraland had to be on it.


Matt Solomon, aka Degentraland, started his career in traditional finance and worked at Goldman Sachs after finishing school at UPenn. Post Wall Street, he spent some time at Sony Media and eventually made the jump to full time web3 and is now working as a metaverse strategist at Horizen Labs Ventures (HLV).

Before we get into what Matt does specifically, here's a quick rundown of what HLV does. tl;dr they advise projects on how to be thinking about web3 and metaverse related strategies. HLV was the team behind the ApeCoin launch in March of 2022. Matt gives a more detailed rundown in the clip below.

The breakout application

I'm personally not a gamer. A lot of my friends are active gamers but the worlds of Fortnite, League, Minecraft, etc. never really resonated with me that much. I did play some runescape and farmville when I was younger but that's about it. The reality is that many metaverse applications today are revolved around gaming. That's why even as someone who is active in web3/NFTs, it's still difficult for me to wrap my head around how big of a paradigm shift the metaverse is going to be in the next decade.

Okay, so I'm guessing most of you have used chatGPT if you're reading this. If you haven't, please go try it out here right now!! Up until last year, I always knew in the back of my head that AI was important. And then, OpenAI released chatGPT in November. Like everyone else, in about 5 minutes, I went from "AI is important" to "holy shit AI is insane". It didn't take long for chatGPT to break into mainstream media. And in just 5 days, the app had hit the 1 million users mark.

The reason I bring this up is because it's a fresh example of a technology that was slowly building up like a spring in the background and then POP! Outta nowhere it becomes the next big thing.

Right now, the metaverse spring is still slowly winding. But eventually, there's going to be a ChatGPT moment for the metaverse when an application comes out that...just makes sense. Not only to the gamers, but to the mainstream audience. For that kind of application, it's a matter of iterating & improving until something clicks. Even folks like Marc Andreessen, who have had a 30-year tech career, have probably experienced fewer than three moments that were as crazy as using ChatGPT for the first time.

The metaverse is like running outside

I asked Matt to explain how he thinks about the metaverse. He mentioned that the two definitions of the metaverse that he most resonates with are by Herman Narula, the CEO of Improbable, and Matthew Ball (author of The Metaverse).

Matt gives a rundown on how he thinks of the metaverse in the clip below. I phrased my question in a way that implied the words gaming & metaverse are interchangeable and he immediately calls that out. Gaming is just one subsection under the metaverse umbrella.

Here's how I'm thinking about the metaverse after doing some reading. Loose example:

Imagine you want to go on a 5 mile run. You have to pick from one of the two options.

A: Make 5 new identities and sign up for 5 different gyms and run 1 mile at each of them

B: Go run outside in a 5 mile continuous trail. You can stop anywhere throughout the trail and don't have to restart

I sure as heck hope you don't pick option A, seems inconvenient and inefficient to manage several identities. Option B just seems like a better experience right? Seems more...natural.

Our current digital experience is option A. But there will be a point down the road when the digital equivalent of option B will be the obvious default.

Think of the different jobs you'll have in your career as different video games you're playing. When you go from one job to the other, your skills and reputation transfer. You don't have to relearn PowerPoint every time you start a new job. You already know it. However, this doesn't apply in the digital world. For example, you can't transfer your skills and assets earned in Fortnite to World of Warcraft.

Today, because of centralized servers, our digital experience will always be subpar and inferior to how we experience content, community, & culture in the physical world. In order for our digital identities to become more relevant, there must be a base layer of identity and reputation.

If there's one core thing to takeaway in regards to the future potential of the metaverse is interoperability. To me, this translates to partitioning the digital assets and the digital experience.

Fun fact: Vitalik's frustration with World of Warcraft nerfing his character was one of the inspirations for him building Ethereum.

More connectivity, stronger network effects

Compare the images below:

Images from Herman Narula TED Talk

The first is a set of nodes sparsely connected within a box. There are clear constraints.

The second is a zoomed out version of hundreds of nodes connected together in an almost overwhelming way.

The endgame of the Metaverse is the second image. Any handcuffs on digital ownership and coordination are bring slowly unlocked. How? That's where NFTs come in.

NFTs are simply digital contracts that allow for protocols and communities to interact in the open metaverse. The US government prints dollars and then people transact in this dollar. Similarly, people mint NFTs and then can transact with them in the digital world.

The early NFT projects the web3 community has seen so far such as The Bored Apes or Azukis are showing us a tiny sneak peek of what's to come. However, the 10k pfp projects are already giving us insight into what's starting to matter:

Rational consumers are migrating to transparent brands that are building and earning with the community.

The brands that are keeping a community-first approach are shining.

There's no reset button

Unlike video games, there's no such thing as a reset button that we can hit and all of us will magically migrate to a fresh metaverse infrastructure and start from scratch.

The reality is that it's going to be a gradual process that slowly gets faster and faster over a period of several decades. No different than the internet and smartphones. Here's Matthew Ball's take:

"It’s also why most everyone in tech is talking about the Metaverse – including Fortnite creator Epic Games, Facebook, Google, Unity, Roblox, Sony, Amazon, Huawei, and more. They all believe the Metaverse will be the quasi-successor to the mobile internet (which, of course, succeeded the desktop internet)."

It's going to take a combination of web3 native dapps as well as web2 incumbents enhancing their platforms with these new technologies to see a glimpse of the "open digital garden".

Reddit and Starbucks are two examples of traditional businesses that integrated NFTs into their platforms seamlessly and effectively. Why did their implementations work so well? Because they incorporated NFTs as an enhancement of their product. Not pivot into NFT companies. Most people outside the NFT community are rightfully skeptical on the true utility of the tech. But the challenge isn't convincing everyone to use NFTs. The "aha" moment will only come when the mainstream audience has a metaverse experience that is seamless.

In fact, Reddit didn't even mention the word "NFT" or "web3" to their user. They just used the term collectible avatars and let people exchange in USD.

Clearly we still have a long ways to go in terms of incorporating more functionality. But I wouldn't be surprised to see a day, not too far into the future, where the utility increases and the network effects of NFTs really start kicking in.

Sieze the memes of production

Punk 6529, one of the most insightful builders in the NFT space, is always saying "don't let the institutions steal the memes of production". He's trying to simply spread the message that it's important the NFT community builds for the open metaverse. We can't have the centralized incumbents warp the meaning of the metaverse to what they think is right. And that's exactly what Matt & the HLV team are trying to do. They're working with as many teams as possible to guide them in the direction that helps build an open digital garden.

Memes are simply the units that make up culture. And culture must be owned by the people to be truly authentic. People need to own the culture they help build and be rightfully rewarded for it. And NFTs are enabling us all to own a part of digital culture in a permissionless way. It's essential that we don't end up having a Genghis Khan of the metaverse.

Recently, 6529 tweeted this out and I think it makes the message more clear.

So Degentraland, what's the bigger picture?

I hope you enjoyed this first post! You can check out the full video on Youtube here.