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Notes on a Hunt: Into the Vennity Multiverse

Reposted from Medium article written on June 15, 2022

One of the key problems early-stage generalized platforms run into is defining a killer use case. Think about tools like Trello/Airtable/Bubble…extremely powerful and flexible platforms. But, present them to the average person and they’ll likely ask “What do I do with this?

Collected NFTs from Operation Bear Trap in a Vennity wallet

Last month, we officially wrapped up Operation Bear Trap: an on-campus NFT scavenger hunt event we organized in collaboration with AnderTech, UCLA’s largest student technology organization. Nav and I recognized early that the best way to highlight the power of our platform is to lead by example. We wanted to do something that highlights and stress tests the core strengths of our platform:

  • frictionless onboarding of non-crypto users (using Magic authentication/wallets)

  • zero fee NFTs (using Polygon and a semi-custodial approach to minting and distribution)

  • pinning NFTs to the real world (using GPS-based geo-fencing)

  • gathering user info (using our built-in forms)

We had over 200 users register to participate in the event and provide us with valuable feedback. There are a few key insights I want to share with the web3 community as we march towards web-scale consumer apps to compete with your Instagrams and Twitters of the world.

1. Focus on the Core Strengths of Blockchain

There is a world hopefully not too far in the future where we can ditch traditional backends and run completely on blockchain data, smart contracts, and community-run indexers. As we scale with L2 rollups, that future marches closer to reality. But, if you want to build an app that delivers a great UX today, you have to mix and match backend technologies.

To us, the core strengths of NFTs are the token standards that developers adhere to: ERC-721 and ERC-1155. We love that we can deploy our ERC-1155 contracts, call the mint function, and immediately see our items on marketplaces like OpenSea and virtual galleries like OnCyber. There’s magic in seeing glimpses of a truly interoperable online world. And this is obviously only the beginning of the value unlocked by universal digital assets.

Personalized OnCyber gallery of collected Bear Trap NFTs

Personalized OnCyber gallery of collected Bear Trap NFTs

However, this magic currently comes with many infrastructure headaches. We are fans of the Polygon PoS chain for its cheap fees and EVM compatibility, but the transaction experience is far from ideal. We’ve been spending a disproportionate amount of time debugging on-chain tx issues. Much like a fintech app operating on legacy bank rails, the current workaround is to tell the user “yup, you’re good to go!” while scrambling to settle things up on-chain behind the scenes.

We handled this quite well during Operation Bear Trap, but that is only because our web2 backend acts as a backstop for all unexpected on-chain issues. So, my advice is, do not be afraid to use what works well today! Use blockchain infrastructure to the extent that your users will benefit. A good Mongo or PostgreSQL db is still indispensable for a consumer app.

2. Persistent AR is Not Ready for Mass Adoption

We want Vennity to be “Pokemon Go as a Service.” While our core focus today is getting as many people as possible into the Ethereum NFT ecosystem, the long term vision is to unlock the physical space around us as an infinite bazaar for digital creators and collectors. We envision a future of AR tech where digital objects will replace many of the physical ones we see in our everyday lives. I sometimes refer to NFTs as “digital trinkets” because of the immense universe of physical collectibles out there today that can be replaced by interactive digital creations.

Our Vennity web app already implements GPS-based location-tracking. We used this for Bear Trap with mixed results. We received numerous complaints of inaccurate location tracking that resulted in an inability to claim quest items. This is a limitation of web apps and mobile GPS. We are in the process of testing a mobile-native app that will also include AR capabilities and greatly improve location accuracy.

A geo-fenced NFT that is out of range of the user.

AR itself is essential to unlocking the full potential of real world metaverses. The tech, unfortunately, is still in its early development stages. While phone cameras are fairly good at detecting surfaces and placing objects that respect the physical space, we need tech that can reliably pin objects to precise user-defined locations and persist them there for all users.

Cloud anchors appear to be the tech that will enable this. But they are heavily dependent on reliable high-speed internet connections, AR-capable phone cameras, and GPS. In our testing, we have found that it is too early to begin relying on this tech in anything but experimental apps. There is good reason why Pokemon Go continues to rely on GPS + surface anchoring (ie. dropping an item in front of wherever the user is pointing the camera).

I am bullish on cloud anchors in a future where 5G internet is accessible almost anywhere in the world, but there will always be edge cases. We recently joined a Twitter Space hosted by the gigabrains at PhononDAO and think there is an argument to be made for “offline” NFTs. In essence, tiny devices would store private keys to on-chain addresses containing NFTs on secure hardware and transfer them p2p to other devices (eg. phones) via something like NFC or Bluetooth LE. This is, unsurprisingly, also the basis for digital cash tech (see also Kong Cash).

One can imagine a world where these devices are securely placed all over the real world as treasure chests of digital goodies. While this approach would not completely eliminate the need for physical objects, it would let us go from a one-to-one location to object relationship, to a one-to-many relationship (one location can have many digital objects). Watch this space.

The Vennity Multiverse

The main quest of Operation Bear Trap was a series of 9 collectible NFTs that were dispersed around the UCLA campus, representing important landmarks of the university. We also collaborated with Oceanic Global, a global non-profit organization, for donation NFTs, along with several other independent creators for side quest items that tied into the event.

One of the features we yearned for is the power to collaborate natively on Vennity. We would have saved dozens of hours coordinating the details of the event had we been able to invite others into our Bear Trap-verse, let them mint to the event collection, and have Vennity automatically generate us a map of the items within the Trap-verse.

Manage Verse Items and Add Collaborators in Vennity Studio

So, over the next few months, we are working to introduce Vennity Verses: natively collaborative NFT collections! You can think of each collection as an event, exhibit, or virtual space that a group of creators can get together and create digital objects in. Subreddits for digital goods, if you will. If these objects are located in the real world, Vennity will generate a Verse-specific map. We are working with a few artists and event organizers to showcase the power of this concept.

Customized Verse Page in the Vennity App.

We believe the concept of the “metaverse” is simple: marry the physical properties of object ownership and persistence with the infinite possibilities of the digital world. Most real world NFT projects seek to securitize pieces of land in the real world and create a singular metaverse. We believe the real world is simply a canvas that everyone should have access to equally. We see each Vennity Verse as a global map for a community to draw on top of as they see fit. So, when you use Vennity, you are pulled into a multiverse of real world communities that you can teleport into and out of. Everyone gets their own metaverse!

Evelyn in “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” jumping thru the multiverse.

Evelyn in “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” jumping thru the multiverse. Stay tuned for more!


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