Web3 is underpinned by public blockchains. Blockchains enable people to own digital assets in the form of tokens, which can represent digital media like images, songs, and writing. Some have said that web3 brings property rights to the internet. A common framing is that the web has evolved from read-only (web 1), to read + write (web 2.0), to read + write + own (web3).
Another way to think of the progression is to compare the verbs used on web2 platforms to those in web3. In web2, we like and share content. On web3, we collect. By introducing property rights to the internet, web3 moves beyond the like and share primitives of social media to include a third and more powerful social gesture: collect.
The social structure involved in web3 collecting resembles contemporary art collecting. The roles include artists (or, “creators”), collectors (private and institutional), and curators. But a key difference is that web3 empowers artists to engage directly with collection markets; NFT artworks are listed in marketplaces as soon as they are created. The disintermediation of the artist-collector relationship is reflected in the absence of the role of the art dealer. By using blockchains, artists have instant access to a global market, removing the need for art dealers.
Because transactions are public data, independent web3 galleries can display NFT collections with full context. This allows serious collectors to be legitimated by their historical record of purchases and sales, and artists to interact with their collectors in new ways. For example, to use token ownership as an authentication mechanism for collectors groups. Collection-based membership enables new, collaborative spheres of intimacy for artists and fans.
Web3 collecting will have profound implications on society – far beyond the like and share. As with traditional forms of ownership and accreditation, token ownership creates symbolic boundaries that will be used to gate access to opportunity. There is already evidence of the reproduction of wealth inequality and class privilege in web3, as well as social dispositions that include racism.
But collecting also promises an artist-centric economic model that reshapes business for creators and belonging for collectors. It enables artists to escape exploitative centralized platforms – replacing them with decentralized collaborative ecosystems for cultural production.
Disintermediation: Dealer Not Required
In October of 2021, as infection rates from the third wave of coronavirus declined and the world began reopening, an Ethiopian family of artists, operating as a photography collective called Yatreda, minted their first NFT collection.
The series was titled Kingdoms of Ethiopia and included twelve motion portraits depicting historical heroes and heroines from Ethiopian history. The first NFT auction settled at 10 ETH ($30,562.80 at the time), and total sales topped 109.11 ETH ($388,741.47).
Yatreda is independent – an African family working from home and using local tools. In an interview with Vogue Italia, the founder of Yatreda gave some context on the shoot:
…we photograph and film everything in our front yard. Neighbors and the construction workers building houses around us wanted to know what we were doing, wanting to know who these people in historical costumes were walking around our house.
She described the editing process, and how she applies “a simple trick” using Adobe software to create video clips that can loop smoothly forever. The group uploaded the videos to Foundation and minted them as NFTs.
As soon as the uploads were complete, the team in Ethiopia would have been able to verify their auction listing on the Ethereum blockchain. Blockchains are public record-keeping technologies that are always available for querying, and the guarantees on data correctness are the result of forty years of computer science research.
Blockchains like Ethereum run open-source programs called protocols that inherit those guarantees – protocols that include Foundation’s auction. These run continuously and do not require intervention or maintenance. They enabled a group of independent artists in Ethiopia to sell a quarter of a million dollars in art overnight to collectors in Canada, England, and the United States. A dealer was not required.