Image Credits: Discord/Eric Szwanek
Discord has become infamous for its connection to NFT community groups and crypto scammers. Back in November, the company was looking internally at the option to deepen their connection with the legit faction of crypto enthusiasts on its platform.
The founder and CEO, Jason Citron tweeted a screenshot depicting Discord integrated with the popular crypto wallet service MetaMask, as well as WalletConnect, an open protocol that many mobile crypto wallets are built on. Citron employed the NFT Twitterverse phrase “probably nothing,” shorthand for this will be a huge deal.
The wallet support looks purely exploratory and Citron didn’t offer any details on how a hypothetical crypto integration would work or how serious Discord was about exploring crypto integrations and the company also declined to provide specifics.
“We’re always exploring and hacking away at things we think will improve Discord for all the communities we serve,” a Discord spokesperson told TechCrunch, adding that the screenshot was from a recent hackathon.
Discord’s interest in adding crypto features into the social chat app might have been hypothetical, but if the company was to build in support for Ethereum, those plans could go well beyond payments. Discord also recently polled users on their thoughts about NFTs.
Discord became a natural home for thousands of NFT projects in 2021. Many of those projects keep in touch with followers, send updates and track sales and market movement through dedicated Discord servers. It’s also the app of choice for coordinating distribution events, where NFTs are “minted” and sold or given out to supporters before eventually making their way onto trading platforms like OpenSea, often at huge markups (yes, usually for JPEGs).
While Discord could just have transactions in Ethereum and other digital currencies in mind for eventual inclusion, it’s also possible that Citron’s hint about MetaMask support suggested a more ambitious plan centered on NFTs. A coin like Ethereum can be used for basic payments and transactions, but the cryptocurrency also serves as the technical backbone for most NFTs, which are tracked and traded through smart contracts on Ethereum’s blockchain.
Discord is a savvy company that likely has a good idea of how people are already using NFTs to express their digital identities. Discord is a text and voice chat app where the main expression of user identity is through what avatar you pick — something that NFTs are all about in the moment. On Twitter and Discord, NFT-savvy users already pick their rarest — and often priciest — NFT to use as their PFP (profile picture). With MetaMask support, Discord could become a place where people display their NFTs in galleries linked to user profiles or choose “verified” avatar images, with ownership backed up through the blockchain.
The company is particularly well positioned to leverage its foothold in the burgeoning Web3 space — the next phase of the internet that many people predict will be defined by a wave of decentralization, digital goods and ownership-based virtual identity. But Discord’s also got a good thing going as it stands.
On Twitter, Citron’s tweet combined with the survey the company sent out about “Discord & Web3” proved polarizing. A number of accounts rallied Discord users to cancel their premium Nitro subscriptions, which provide feature perks for a monthly fee, citing concerns that Discord might go all-in on NFTs. “Canceled my nitro sub, fuck @discord, and fuck NFTs,” one tweet with nearly 10,000 likes stated.
Others flocked to Citron’s tweet to bemoan Discord’s nascent crypto plans as scams and spam clogged up their community servers. Citron reassured some Twitter users that Discord created a new team to specifically address the rampant sketchy behavior that plagues many servers, including those centered around swapping and selling NFTs. “Spam and security are a top priority for us in this space,” Citron wrote. “We have recently spun up a team working on it specifically. More to come soon.”
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Shortly after, Citron sought to reassure users that the company doesn’t have impending plans to shift its business toward NFTs.
Discord also provided the following statement clarifying its plans to TechCrunch:
We appreciate all the perspectives we’ve been hearing in response to the internal concept you may have seen in a tweet earlier this week and want to clarify we have no plans to ship it at this time. We’re excited about the potential for web3 technology and the positive ways these communities are coming together on Discord, especially those organized around environmentally friendly, creator-focused projects. However, we also recognize there are some problems we need to work through. For now we’re focused on protecting users from spams, scams and fraud.
Citron casually shared the screenshot in a reply, not as an official company announcement, but passionate Discord users immediately jumped on the tweet. The company quickly explained that the screenshot was part of a community hack week project and not something around the corner for the social chat app, but the horse had left the barn.
Discord users wary of the crypto space quickly encouraged each other to ditch their Nitro subscriptions, Discord’s paid premium service that helps the platform stay ad-free. As the backlash spread, outraged Discord fans also pointed to the recent poll from the company asking for their thoughts on Web3 and NFTs.
While the screenshot was only a pre-release mockup of what crypto wallet integration might look like, Discord was indeed actively exploring how blockchain technology could complement its existing mission. Some of that went on pause as Discord re-evaluated how to best keep its values aligned with the communities that have built bustling home bases on the platform.
Some Discord users chalked up their strong reactions to Citron’s tweet to the environmental impact of cryptocurrency mining. Others more broadly objected to “NFT bros.” But even within Discord’s many NFT communities, users expressed concerns that integrated crypto wallets would only exacerbate rampant crypto scams on the platform.
“Cancel your nitro immediately and select other – cite the CEO’s tweet about it as your reasoning why,” one tweet with 20,000 likes stated. “A loud, immediately public drop in revenue is the only thing that will change it at this point.”
Citron’s clarification made it clear that Discord was listening to its community, and while many NFT projects do call the platform’s servers home, a vocal part of Discord’s user base evidently doesn’t want the company to touch the crypto business with a 10-foot pole.
While no company likes backlash, the negative reaction to Discord’s nascent crypto interests does signal just how much the company’s users enjoy its product in its current iteration. All social media users are afraid of change — just check the tweets around any minor Instagram UI tweak — but Discord’s users appear particularly keen to protect the product they have.
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Neither the survey nor the earlier screenshot were received very well, with Discord’s subreddit littered with pleas to dump the plans.
Some current Discord employees took to Twitter to express their frustration in the wake of Citron’s tweets, suggesting that cryptocurrency integration was not supported by everyone at the company, either.
“I hope leaders can humbly listen to the chorus of vehement moral disgust this teaser has already invited,” another employee wrote. “This sincerely does not have to happen.”
Sounds like while Discord wasn’t going through with the wallet integration, there was still a very real chance NFTs and crypto could hit the service at some point in the future. It’s unclear exactly what the tipping point was for Discord’s initial u-turn, though it’s unlikely the Nitro boycott and backlash from its own staff went unnoticed, but the question remains whether Citron will revisit the option again.
Gaming companies like Ubisoft, EA, Zynga, and Square Enix have recently started to talk about their approach to NFTs and blockchain games, as well with mixed results. The reactions to the news have been controversial given the amount of uncertainty in the space. Last month, a game based on Netflix’s Squid Game show ended with its creators scamming early adopters out of $3.4 million.
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You Wouldn’t Right Click An NFT
There is a lot of strong sentiment around NFTs, as well as misunderstanding. Certainly positives and negatives being discussed well beyond the platform of the Discord community.
Author KF from the blog Something Interesting, adds this understanding of the technology and the strong backlash seen in large segments of Discord users. Any use of the word I for the rest of the article sequence are the opinions and writing of KF…
The basic idea of an NFT is deceptively simple – an NFT is just a unique token that represents ownership of something – like a deed or a certificate of authenticity.
NFTs themselves are simple (they are just tradable, digital receipts) but the concept of ownership is not simple at all and in a way the simplicity of NFTs forces us to confront more directly the strangeness of ownership itself. NFTs are confusing and illogical because our feelings about ownership are confusing and illogical. It isn’t really NFTs that are complicated — it’s us.
Ownership is controversial and cryptocurrency is controversial and so NFTs are also controversial.
It wasn’t a terribly surprising direction for Discord to explore given how active the NFT community is on the platform, especially considering Twitter’s announcement that they plan to launch a similar feature. The backlash was pretty striking, though — here was a typical response:
Take note of the profile picture on this tweet for later. The environmental critique of NFTs is understandable but misguided — if you are interested in the implications of proof-of-work mining for the environment I wrote about them before, and I also wrote about why proof-of-stake will not save us. I personally think the environmental costs of cryptocurrency are often overstated, but whatever you think about those costs, blaming NFTs for them is a category error.
The two largest proof-of-work mining networks are Bitcoin (which has no native NFTs) and Ethereum (where transaction fees are only ~15% of miner revenue and NFT fees are dwarfed by fees from DeFi trading). Miner revenue (and hence the amount of mining) does not depend on the value or success of NFTs. It depends on the value of Bitcoin and/or Ethereum. If anything most NFTs trade against ETH and hence compete with it for value. To the extent that NFTs capture value that would otherwise have gone into ETH, miners are less well compensated.
That kind of nuance did not reach the Discord discussion unfortunately.
One of the main groups who were outraged by the potential crypto features was furries. Two things I did not realize prior to researching this story were that furries as a community (a) love Discord and (b) hate NFTs.
When Discord teased the possibility of native NFT integration the NFT community was elated. When they walked it back a day later the NFT community was … less elated. The result was a few days of bickering between frog-avatars and anime-fox avatars that ultimately culminated in this piece by NFT influencer VincentVanDough, titled Right Click Save This:
VVD sold the corresponding NFT for Right Click Save This for ~20 ETH (~$94k at the time) which obviously infuriated the people whose profile pictures were used. To add insult to injury VVD offered $5k to anyone who could prove an image used in Right Click Save This actually belonged to them — so far no one has claimed the offer.
The images in Right Click Save This were stolen but for the most part it appears they were stolen from people who had stolen them already. Even though it is satire, the NFT for Right Click Save This is the best provenance of ownership that body of images actually has.
Some of the artists whose images were used filed DCMA notices against the various major NFT platforms like OpenSea and Foundation, but it it’s not clear that it matters. Partially that’s because Right Click Save This is probably fair artistic use and will likely end up restored when the DCMA disputes settle. Partially that’s because there are already independent hosts that support displaying or trading the work. But mostly it’s because the point has already been made.
NFTs matter even to people who hate NFTs, and the issue of Discord utilizing them is likely to come up again, as it will for many companies while the trend continues its astronomical growth. Whether or not NFTs and crypto in general are blanket bad as a statement of environmental degradation or if they can be redeemed, repurposed and made green, only the future can tell.
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