#294: Opepen v0.2: Decentralizing Curation by LJW

🖼️ Following the evolution from art project to decentralized social network for creators

TPan here! I’m back from the honeymoon and I’m in an epic fight against jet lag so I won’t be writing my usual piece today. However, I do have some great content for you from someone else in the space.

Today we have LJW with his thoughts on one of the most notable art and co-creation projects on the blockchain over the past year, Opepen by Jack Butcher. LJW is an active community member and participant in the Opepen community, so he is one of the best people to provide insights about the project and its recent upgrade to v0.2.

LJW is currently working on Research, Growth & Community initiatives at the Harvard Crypto Lab. He is also an advisor to various Web3 and AI projects. If you’d like to learn more about what he’s up to, you can follow him here and check out his newsletter, Life in Color.

Jack Butcher launched v0.2 of Opepen on March 20, 2024, introducing a set of new mechanisms that help Opepen extend its network of collectors, creators, and curators. The mechanics plant the seeds for Opepen becoming a (decentralized) social network for creators centered around Opepen art.

Quick Refresher on Opepen v0.1

Opepen is an NFT collection of 16,000 NFTs, divided into 200 sets where each set has a total 80 NFTs editions. The editions are broken down into tiers of 1, 4, 5, 10, 20, and 40 for a total of 80 (1 is a 1 of 1, 4 is an edition of 4, etc.).


Each Set features a different artist who will create art for that particular set. In order for a set to be released into the 200 sets, Opepen NFT holders have to vote for a set by opting into that set. Only those holding unrevealed Opepen NFTs can opt-in to a set, i.e. once your Opepen NFT is revealed into a set, that NFT can no longer opt-in to another set. In v0.1 a set gets released if opt-ins hit a 2,000% threshold at each edition level (i.e. for the 40 editions, at least 800 unrevealed NFTs have to opt-in to pass the 2,000% threshold). For a detailed write-up of the Opepen mechanics and design, see my essay with the Stanford Blockchain Review.

In v0.1, Jack was the sole curator of which sets were put forth for opt-in.

Opepen v0.2 mechanics


On March 20, 2024, Jack launched Opepen v0.2 changing the fundamental structure of how Opepen works. (Jack’s Thread here). Opepen v0.2 has a few critical changes:

  • A set is released if the opt-in threshold reaches 100% (i.e. if there are 80 unrevealed NFTs that opt-in into a set, it can be released). Previously it was closer to 2,000%.

  • Once the opt-in threshold is reached, a countdown timer starts, if the timer hits 0, the set gets included and accepted into the 200 Opepen sets.

  • Anyone can now submit a set for opt-in and multiple sets will be open for opt-in all at once. Previously Jack decided the pacing and how many sets were open for opt-in at any given time.

Decentralizing Curation

In v0.1, Jack Butcher was the sole curator of Opepen sets. The community looked to his tastes as a screening mechanism for what the community could vote on. In between v0.1 and v0.2, Opepen introduced the ability for anyone to submit a set. But as the number of sets grew it became increasingly challenging for one person (Jack) to sort through all the sets and decide which ones were worthy of opt-in. In v0.2, rather than presenting a set at a time for the community to vote on, Jack flipped the model on its head, and opened the proverbial floodgates. 

v0.2 moves curation away from Jack onto the network. This should be empowering because now the other nodes of the network can step up and support each other without Jack being the sole curator. In v0.1, you likely had to be a notable artist or somehow get the attention of Jack to get your set open for opt-in, in v0.2, you can submit a set and try to garner the attention of (a subset) the network. Now anyone can submit a set and lobby for it to be opt-ed into and reach consensus through each person’s own means. An artist might submit a set and talk about it on X/Twitter, while other artists might submit a set and try to let the art speak for itself. 

A recent example of this is Chikai’s set, “Human Experimentation.” He submitted a set, told his story and the thinking behind his set on X/Twitter and at the Opepen community spaces. In this case, Chikai did not need to depend on Jack to be a curator and instead he was able to get his set to reach consensus through his own efforts and in a permissionless way.

Set 50: Human Experimentation by Chikai, published on May 6th

Know Thy Preferences

The new mechanism significantly increases the volume of sets open for opt-in since anyone can submit a set (at the time of this writing there were about ~13k submissions). In v0.2 this means any holder thinking about trading in their unrevealed Opepen NFTs by opting into a set needs to decide for themselves why they like a set. In v0.1, if a set had overwhelming demand, whether you like the art or not, you might be tempted to opt in because it's popular, which meant it might trade for a higher amount on the secondary market. Humans all have a speculative spirit in them after all. v0.2 nerfs this speculative spirit. In v0.2, there are now many sets that one can opt-in to and many paths the community and individual holders can take to participate in the Opepen experience. The hope is that it incentivizes people to find the path that works for them and engage more deeply. 


The broader commentary around v0.2 is that no one else can or should decide if something is valuable for you, only you can. In v0.1, one might think something is valuable because Jack thought it was valuable, begging the question: Is it valuable because you think it’s valuable, or is it valuable because you think Jack’s taste is valuable. v0.2 forces the holder to decide for themselves what is valuable by increasing the number of options that holder has to opt-in. In a world where your attention is arbitrated by algorithms and platforms, knowing and discovering your tastes is the equivalent of teaching someone how to fish (versus giving them a fish). 

Progressively Passing the Torch

Most projects largely lean on the founder and founding team to guide the community. However, Jack’s approach has always been to empower others to empower themselves in a permissionless way as evidenced by his work at Visualize Value. 

Opepen v0.2 takes a huge step towards enabling the individual nodes in the network to play a bigger part in network development and growth while following Web3 values (bottoms up, build in public, let the network decide what’s notable, etc)

So this begs the question, what is the reward or incentive for a community member to contribute to Opepen? 

Many Web3 networks from NFT communities to infrastructure projects are designed with extrinsic incentives in mind. On the infrastructure side, if you are a validator for a network, you are rewarded with that network’s token in exchange for contributing to the security of the network. The idea is that if the network does well and you are a contributor, you’d also do well. On the NFT side, many projects focus on floor price and extrinsic metrics as a signal of value. 

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with extrinsic rewards, but it’s just one side of the equation.

For an art community like Opepen, why do artists continue to create? Why do new artists join the community? Why do community members create content and host spaces about Opepen? 

Pet3rPan from 1kx pointed out in this thread that Punks, Squiggles and Opepen look more like “headless luxury goods” and the initial value created in the network is due to a set of early network participants having some level of intrinsic motivation to want to maintain, contribute to and grow the network.

Opepen has enough nodes that care enough to maintain the ecosystem. I often call it an Open Source Art Protocol because it looks and feels like other open-source software communities. v0.2 just opens up more avenues for how these community members can contribute. The value of Opepen lies in its values… as Jack has said, values > value.

Where do we go from here?

Since v0.2 launched, the volume of artists and set submissions have ballooned, showing the dramatic expansion of the network over the past couple of months. 

Snapshot of Opepen Metrics as of May 7, 2024

By giving the community more of a role in growing and maintaining the network through the v0.2 mechanics, Opepen begins to look like a decentralized social network for creators where anyone can be a collector, creator, and/or curator of Opepen art. 

It’s exciting to see Opepen grow and evolve from a free mint art project to a decentralized network of sorts that has the staying power that many creators dream of. The best part is ~¾ of the supply has yet to be revealed so more interesting updates, mechanics, and art may come in the future. 

If you’d like to learn more about LJW or what he’s up to, follow him here and check out his newsletter, Life in Color.

I’ll be back later this week, see you soon!

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