Posted on Jan 04, 2024Read on

[Thursday Thoughties] Same Same But Right

The emergence of a trendy, new sector in the digital space is often followed by an explosion of same same but different products or services. Thank you concentrated innovation at the speed of light on money steroids.

Think about all the early attempts at internet search. A lot of semi-successful names like Netscape and Yahoo come to mind, but ultimately Google with their focus on an uncluttered UI, speed, and accuracy won that early battle.

There were several attempts at e-commerce early on as well. Book Stacks Unlimited was an online book store founded in 1992 (two whole years before Amazon!) that focused on curating a small selection of new books - around 500,000 to be precise which is much larger than a regular brick and mortar book store to be sure - informed by recommendations from their 35 well read employees. It had some early success, and after a series of acquisitions eventually went on to power Barnes & Nobles’ online storefront.

Amazon, on the other hand, was focused on offering ALL the books (or as close to ‘all’ as they could get) regardless of whether the books were new or used. We all know what happened after that.

You can see this all over the SaaS space (e.g. AirTable vs. Notion) and the crypto space is no different.

Back in 2020 multiple projects created products that let folks mint Tweets into NFTs. Tokenized Tweets (their original Twitter account was suspended) and Eternal.Report were two early examples that launched around the middle of 2020 that allowed anyone to mint any Tweet into an NFT.

A couple of months later in November 2020 Cam, Katie, and I created Valuables, a site that also let folks tokenize Tweets, but with one, simple twist - only the original Tweet author could digitally autograph (i.e. cryptographically sign and mint) their Tweet. Sweet, sweet Tweet provenance baby!

Thanks to that simple but significant twist Valuables rode a couple of viral waves powered by the early participation of foundational crypto artists like XCOPY, Coldie, Artnome, and Robness that minted a solid grip of NFTweets that peaked when Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, minted his genesis tweet and which sold after a bidding war pushed to price to $2.9M. Yeah, 2021 was kind of insane.

In a similar vein around the same time, cryptoart and NFT collecting started to pop off. A number of on-chain marketplaces starting with KnownOrigin and SuperRare launched early on in 2018 that provided whitelisted digital artists access to a minting smart contract to mint their digital work into NFTs for people to collect.

Sales steadily increased, slowly but surely, from 2018 to 2019 and into 2020, but around the end of 2020 a new hybrid marketplace called NiftyGateway (full disclosure: where I still work after leaving Cent/Valuables late 2020) that allowed collectors to pay with ETH or credit card blew up and saw artists earning millions just minutes after releasing new art.

In addition to making it easier for non-crypto natives to collect cryptoart, the drop-model of multi-work collections and and working with artists to create new novel release mechanisms (e.g the Open Edition release format conceived by and developed for Murat Pak) were subtle changes that led to insane returns.

To be clear, SuperRare and KnownOrigin were not failures - not at all - and NiftyGateway was not without it’s own challenges, but that initial viral boom happened at NG and not SR or KO thanks to a seemingly simple deviation in their approach to creating a digital art marketplace.

The generative art juggernaut that is Art Blocks, launched at the end of 2020, uncovered another same same but right vein in the cryptoart space with their focus on long-form, often procedurally generated at-mint, 1/1/n on-chain art releases; instead of the limited edition or single 1/1 releases.

A lot of folks like to throw shade on all the “silly seeming” ideas that get created in new, trendy digital sectors, gain a little bit of traction one day, and seemingly have a million same same but different copy cats the next because of the waste of it all. But that’s how digital innovation works, for better or worse, and as long as there is a there there, at least one of those projects will stumble upon a same same but right model that hits, delivers a ton of value to a lot of users, and explodes onto the zeitgeist.

As a builder or creator it may seem frustrating, often painfully so, especially if your same same but different idea is just a couple of degrees different from the same same but right competitor that’s the belle of the ball instead of you, but that’s also the fun of building something brand new and trying to fit all the pieces together perfectly. It may seem like you have the puzzle figured out, but if you look closely - and are honest with yourself - very often you’ll see a piece that doesn’t quite fit or an empty space around the border. The fun lies in tweaking things until they fit just right. Nothing can beat the feeling that happens after that.

And sometimes all it really takes is tweaking just one single thing to go from same same but different, to same same but right.


Cover image: Good Women Drink Good Beer, a Diptych (ed. of 30) by NeuralBricolage

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