NFT is the word of the year 2021, according to Collins dictionary. You don't get much bigger than this :)
2021 has been the year for NFTs. There's probably not one single reason for this, but a perfect storm of trends maturing simultaneously. Financial bonanza in crypto, Layers 1 and 2 providing the highways, artists finding an escape from more traditional forms of expression and marketing, an ecosystem of companies streamlining access... But how long would you say it took NFTs to get to this point?
At Carbono, we started playing NFT archaeologists recently and ended up falling down a rabbit hole. We discovered a whole new world of NFT ancestors and went a little obsessed about it.
Meet the culprit.
Pepe, the frog, was a character in an indie comic book from a 2005 series called Boy's Club by Matt Furie. For some reason, 4chan ended up adopting this frog as their favorite resource for meme-making, and it became an internet sensation.
This silly-looking frog might ring a bell to you. At some point in its strange little life, the American alt-right Pepe and its image was used to deliver right-wing propaganda. But Pepe survived the misuse and moved on. So let's forget this happened and instead let THIS define Pepe: Pepe was the leitmotif of the first real NFT collection.
In 2014, some developers built Counterparty: a sort of Layer 2 built on top of the Bitcoin blockchain that allowed for some very basic initial DeFi and NFT functionalities. It allowed its users to mint and trade with unique assets, sometimes decentralized.
Counterparty feels a little bit like steampunk. For those who don't know, steampunk is that genre of science fiction where writers create worlds where technology has advanced dramatically but where science hasn't moved beyond steam-powered technology and learned about electricity.
In steampunk fiction, machines do their job, but it all looks noisy and clunky. If you browse through XChain, the most popular Counterparty block explorer, you'll probably see what I mean.
Thanks to the new features Counterparty added to Bitcoin, users could create the first authentic NFT collections. Spells of Genesis and Force of Will were the two first experiments: card games translated into crypto. But in 2016, Pepe the frog made its appearance, and it became the first NFT sensation.
Born from Telegram groups, Rare Pepes became a collection on Counterparty starting in late 2016. They began by mocking the ICO fever and honoring Satoshi Nakamoto but went on to become a collection of pop and underground culture, political satire, and plain weirdness in general.
The last accepted submission of a Pepe happened in 2018. By that time, 1774 different cards had been issued along 36 series. Some of them are 1/1 supplies (like ONLYONEPEPE) or in the millions (like GIVEKUDOS, with 100 million). There are references to art (Picasso, Kandinsky, Dalí...), politics (there are at least 6 Putin-themed cards), popular culture (PEPEKACHU currently sells for $35k), and then randomness galore.
Pepes have become the equivalent of classic cars in the NFTs space. They are feats of olden day engineering, you wouldn't want to drive them for your daily commute because the UX is painful, and they look weird by modern-day standards. But, boy, are they cool. They are a piece of crypto history. Born from indie memes, sometimes beautiful, often tasteless, many of them inspired by shady references, full of crypto's F-U ethos, and loved by a faithful and cohesive community.
We fell in love with the frog and decided to do something about it. So we built a site: pepe.wtf
Pepe.wtf is the brainchild of @pepe himself and Carbono. Our humble contribution to the exciting universe of Rare Pepes. With this platform, we have tried to gather all the primary sources of information about this fantastic collection under the same roof and digest it to provide clarity in the exploration process. Users can now find all the relevant information on any card in one place before buying one for their collection. We have built some sort of Coingecko for RarePepes.
Our goal was to provide collectors with a new, streamlined browsing experience for their favorite collection. But we also wanted to onboard new people who might want to approach this collection but were deterred by the complex user experience.
What does all this say about the general crypto space?
Rare Pepes are a crucial part of the general NFT space. A primordial manifestation of the digital version of the human impulse toward collecting. You're probably astounded by the looks of the cards and their price but bear in mind that we are talking about culture here and a community celebrating it. If (or when) NFTs become art's new home, Pepes will be its cave paintings.