NFTs have an image problem and it needs to be fixed
Never go to your first top-level conference gig for two years and leave your phone behind is the advice I received this week.
Maybe it was nerves about being on stage for the first time since the pandemic or the 530-mile return trip by car to see the marvellous Brentford FC beat Everton 3-2 the day before, but I left my phone on the kitchen table.
Whether it was tickets, vaccination proof, passenger location form, hotel details, event details, networking details, it was all on my phone and I couldn’t access my email either because I’d decided not to take my laptop.
Somehow, it all worked out. I lived for many years as an adult without a mobile and the two days I was at the inaugural and utterly excellent Tech.Eu event in Brussels were an utter joy.
Loads of old faces, supreme networking in the town hall and great to be back on stage again; the first time since ‘doing’ Kim Kardashian in Armenia at the end of 2019.
What was less uplifting than all the human contact and smiling faces was the panel on NFTs that I was moderating. Two of the panellists had raised $1.4 billion (yes, billion) in funding between them and the other was a VC who had morphed into an NFT artist.
Awesome individuals, but when I started the panel and asked for hands up about whether NFTs were a joke or not, at least 90% of the audience raised their hands for the joke option.
That was one tough audience and it was also a very smart one, people who knew tech inside-out and were also getting to grips with the metaverse and Web3.
All of us on stage valiantly tried to engage that audience and I’m not sure if we were that successful; the audience didn’t seem convinced by the end. Lukewarm clapping and on with the show.
Then it came to me that it might have been snobbery from the audience, looking down their noses at NFTs. It reminded me of the early days of mobile content and games, a world I was very much a part of.
Too many years ago, I was in the audience at a games event in Edinburgh when a keynote speaker asked us to use buzzers to answer how many games companies were listed on the stock market.
When somebody pointed out there were actually five companies, not the four the speaker had posited, he replied that they were ‘only a mobile games company’ and the whole audience burst out laughing.
I walked out and randomly got drunk that unexptected afternoon with Terry Pratchett’s daughter in a nearby basement bar, which was a story in itself, but perhaps there was a connection.
It’s not easy to sneer at the mobile games industry now, its success has been extraordinary and I wouldn’t be able to name how many companies that are now listed.
And so it may prove with the NFT industry. But for now, there’s an image problem. Mention the metaverse or Web3 and even veteran members of the tech industry will jump in the air, whisper NFT and they all turn their lips and noses up. It’s weird.
But go back to my panel. Two of them had raised $1.4 billion in less than three years, so somebody knows what they’re doing. It’s unlikely there were any of them in the Brussels audience last Tuesday, but they’re definitely out there.
Maybe it’s the acronym itself. N-F-T… non-fungible token. It hardly trips off the tongue, and maybe that’s the solution? Rename and rebrand NFTs as something sexier and even the Brussels tech audience might reengage.
But they’re a tough audience. Even that might not be enough. Oh, well, we tried. On with the show.
Monty Munford is a tech journalist and an advisor for the DeFi privacy organisation Sienna Network.
He is a keynote speaker/emcee/moderator/interviewer at prestigious events around the world and has spoken at more than 200 global events interviewing figures such as the late John McAfee, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Steve Wozniak (twice in Beirut and Vienna), Kim Kardashian (once in Armenia), Amitabh Bachchan, Ghostface Killah, ZZ Top, Guns N’ Roses and many others.
He was previously a weekly tech columnist for Forbes in New York, the Telegraph in the UK and continues to write regularly for the BBC, The Economist, The FT and… City AM.