For each of these companies, however, I saw as many (if not more) using crypto while trying very hard to avoid mentioning that fact. Two companies claimed to be building the future of social media. Dig deep enough into their websites and they both offered users crypto-based incentives, but neither chose to feature crypto or blockchain technology as a selling point.
One of them, To go up, had flyers all over town. These have made lofty – arguably impossible – promises such as “no disinformation” (who defines what counts as disinformation?). Some of these promises were fundamentally contradictory, such as “no toxicity” and “no hate speech” but also “no centralized censorship”. It’s unclear how the company expects to reconcile many of these competing priorities, but according to its site, the solution somehow involves earning “Ascend Credits,” which are only described as crypto in a chart.
Another company, Archivespear a DAO in 2022 aimed at creating a community of members that would use NFTs and blockchain to form an internet-curated museum, rather than a central organization. The group met at SXSW 2023 and even hosted a panel on the decentralization of art, but they downplayed the DAO and the crypto angle. Same Archive own coverage of his SXSW 2023 presence barely mentions crypto.
In some cases, it’s unclear whether companies have abandoned their crypto plans or would simply prefer not to highlight them. Even the exhibit booths of companies widely known for their work in crypto seemed hesitant to use any of the closely related keywords. A display for The sandbox– sharing a small booth with other developers in the space – proudly touted the game as “metavers” and sometimes mentioned being a “Web3” platform. But the fact that much of the game is built around NFTs on the blockchain has been obscured somewhat.
It’s a dynamic that I’ve started to call internally crypto-obfuscation. It’s not that any of these companies would refuse to acknowledge crypto per se. When asked, many were only too happy to discuss their vision for a blockchain-based future. But they seemed to act as if drawing attention to it without provocation was, at best, a bit rude. At worst? An active deterrent.
Crypto has often been compared to the Internet at the beginning, where the technology is exciting but not yet ready for standards. Yet no matter how grumpy the internet was in its youth, there’s never been a time when companies shied away from saying they were building a product on “the web” or “online.”
I will openly admit that I was deeply skeptical of crypto, even in 2022. There was already enough evidence of scams, rugpulls, misinformation, and fraud to keep anyone wary of blockchain for the next decade at least. But I felt compelled to keep my opinions somewhat quiet. At a crypto-themed party that year, a friend shouted quite loudly: “NFTs SUCKS!!“And while I’m sucking in his energy, I’ve also quietly silenced him lest anyone take offense.
This year, I felt like my skepticism had become the norm, or at least mainstream enough to speak out. Of almost everyone I spoke to, the few with opinions on crypto seemed eager to share their doubts. Most simply hadn’t thought about the technology. And besides, generative AI was much more interesting to discuss.
I doubt any of this means crypto is dead or dying. The technology has been around in one form or another for over a decade, and public interest in it comes in waves. However, its subdued presence at SXSW suggests that its followers had learned a powerful lesson from the previous year: the best way to evangelize crypto outside of the tech bubble is to hope you can convince people not to lend. pay attention to the blockchain behind the curtain.