Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, have been much-talked-about over the past year. An NFT is a unique digital identifier that cannot be copied, substituted, or subdivided; it is recorded in a blockchain, and that is used to certify authenticity and ownership. In addition to being thought of as an identifier, an NFT is often thought about as a contract, a digital artwork/artifact, or simply as a as a manifestation of the arrival of future technology. NFTs, while all of these things, are also something not as widely discussed: a storytelling tool. Web3 is a new medium and, like all media before it—from the printing press to the radio to moving pictures—humans will use it to tell stories. Storytelling is how we’re wired to evolve and connect with each other, and we will use every tool at our disposal to do it. What remains for us to learn, when it comes to storytelling with NFTs, is how do we do it, why do we do it and what constitutes success.
Examples of Web3 Storytelling
JumpCut Creative identifies itself as a “storytelling company” and has put up a hypothesis, with its narrative project Women of Mystery, that communities can come together and co-create stories, which, in their view, are valuable IP with a path to Hollywood. “We exist because we want to challenge the status quo in Hollywood and change decision-making process around which stories get to be told by way of films and television,” says Tonya Reznikovich, Chief of Staff and Producer at JumpCut, “It’s crazy that Hollywood hasn’t tapped into fans and audiences from a co-creation and IP-development standpoint because they’re really missing out big time, not only because there are so many insanely creative people out there on, like, Reddit and Wattpad and, you know, fanfiction.net, who are willing to put in time and effort to build lore and characters and stories, but also because Hollywood is just missing out on the greatest marketing flywheel of all time; … if you have this super-engaged community of people who are creating story together, that’s gonna end up being so much more effective than a spray-and-pray marketing campaign of billboards and hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody cares.” In short, JumpCut Creative’s mission is to pave the way for community-driven projects that can help open up the insular Hollywood system to new voices and new types of projects.
Crypto Coven, while also focused on storytelling, is an experiment in decentralized world-building. Rather than having the goal of connecting with Hollywood, they’re focused on connecting with each other through story-worlds. “High witches are definitely Tumblr girls, fanfic girls—like, we believe in this kind of really incredible, and often young-women-driven community, built around the stories that really fascinated us when we were younger. And we wanted to replicate something like that and use the tech of Web3 to be able to build something like that.”
And then, to provide an example of a third approach, R3wind, like Crypto Coven, is about collaboration, but focused a bit more on commerce and infrastructure than on content or connection. “What we’re really focusing on is how do we create a collaborative environment where creators can work on creating a single channel of content, which we’re kind of connecting back to a TV channel,” says Shane “Tasafila” Murphy, Founder of Blockbuster DAO and R3WIND.xyz, “and how to a group of creators come together around a brand or a project or idea or an ethos and create a media company together with their individual content and, kind of, their combined ethos.”
For three projects with surprisingly different approaches, they all very much agree on one thing: when it comes to storytelling, Web3 eliminates the need for permission. “It’s always been a distribution problem,” explains Murphy, “like for the last twenty or thirty years since the internet existed. You know, it’s easy to share content, but there’s actually no medium to really have it be seen or reach the right community, and unless it’s like kind of pay-to-play model where, in order to actually have your stuff seen, you have to have money, and then it kind of narrows the funnel of who actually gets discovered… A grassroots organization traditionally hasn’t always had money, but we have hundreds of grassroots organizations with these NFT projects with lots of money to create a distribution channel. And finally, people can get discovered when their ethos aligns with that community.
Crypto Coven provides a great example of this. They recently coded their own online story editor, where people can go directly to their website and put the number of a witch, write their story in the text editor, and then upload it and it will auto-format on their website. Suddenly, something that would’ve taken a professional publisher, copyeditor, layout artist and illustrator is completed and distributed to an audience in no time at all.
Metrics for Success
“Growth metrics are just frankly bullshit,” says Murphy bluntly, “I had the perfect growth project when I launched Blockbuster DAO. It was literally a Twitter thread, no website, no discord, no anything. I just wrote one Twitter thread. I went to sleep on Christmas Day, woke up with 10 to 12,000 followers, right? And that was insane growth. … And ultimately that growth ended up kind of translating into negative results because the amount of people that came were obviously all speculators. They weren’t aligned with the mission. … There’s something to be said about qualitative metrics when you’re looking at your community.”
Reznikovich agrees. She’s found engagement to be an excellent metric. “With Women of Mystery, because we basically ran a digital writers room for around two months, we had 200 people join the project, and about eighty of them were, you know, weekly active users and contributors. And even though there was a drop off, the people who did stick around essentially completed, you know, north of 95% of all of the different creative quests. So, the levels of engagement, if the person is really committed, are extremely high.
“In traditional publishing and with the kind of authors that I used to engage with, the expected relationship between you and your readers is zero. You publish a book, it goes out in the world, people buy it at the bookstore. And you might never hear from those people …,” reflects Keridwen, High Witch of Wit and Wordsmithery (Head Writer) for Crypto Coven, “When it really hit me how special this was, was when we had some of our first in-person events. And I just saw some really gorgeous people come into a room dressed up as a witch, talking to me about their stories and about how they found their regiment, how they found their wig and about how they put their outfit together and … about the stories that I’ve written and that was just absolutely spectacular.”
Once Upon a Time
NFTs have already exceeded the life expectancy that many predicted. Perhaps the medium’s ability to tap into a primal instinct has something to do with that. “Storytelling creates this shared narrative that really builds loyalty and this kind of sense of kinship in every community, so it’s almost like a glue of sorts,” muses Reznikovich. And narrative projects in the NFT space are reaping the benefits. Whether their stated mission is to create content, community or commerce, they’re all changing the paradigm and engaging audiences. Of storytelling, Keridwen summarizes, “It’s ancient. It’s cathartic. It’s a kind of sharing that exists at every level of our experience, even if people don’t often think of it that way. … Technology is just technology until somebody does something cool with it.”