The Stack Overflow Podcast

Non-fungible Talking

Episode Summary

We chat about NFTs, Ethereum, DAPs, and blockchain. Paul thinks most crypto companies are still focused on the protocol layer. Sara thinks the great product people are still waiting for block chain to get more mainstream adoption before they develop on it. Ben can't believe he still has Doge coin from 2015.

Episode Notes

Want to try developing with Ethereum? Free Code Camp has you covered.

On the other hand, here are some thoughts on why it's not the greatest language for developers.

Interested in minting your own NFT? There are lots of options. Ethereum can be more expensive to use (those gas fees, ouch) but it also has the most active network of artists and collectors.

Thanks to Phlume, our lifeboat badge winner of the week, for answering the question: How do I remove the double border on this table?

Episode Transcription

Sara Chipps Art is not meant to be understood. I think none of us understand why the—

Paul Ford Just like blockchain technologies. [Paul & Sara & Ben laugh] 


Ben Popper Syncfusion offers free access to over 170 e-books written by industry experts on the latest technologies and industry topics. From software development to data visualization and data science. Only the essential technical information you need and approximately 100 pages. New e-books released monthly. Visit and learn a new technology today. 

BP Hellooo, everybody. Welcome to the Stack Overflow Podcast. Coin-block-NFT edition. I'm Ben Popper, Director of Content here at Stack Overflow and I'm here with my wonderful co-hosts. Say hello.

SC Hellooo!

PF Helloooo! 

SC Hey Ben, Hey Paul.

BP We were gonna have a guest today, a great guest who had to cancel last minute, there was a drop, an NFT drop emergency.

SC What happened?

BP I guess it was supposed to. it got stuck. The drop got stuck somewhere?

SC I was just... it was halfway dropped.

BP It was halfway dropped. [Ben laughs] 

PF It's whole big world of banana cakes crypto out there. It finally got me to download Gemini but I didn't install it. And then someone told me I can't buy crypto in New York. Is that true?

SC No you can't buy some crypto in New York.

BP New York has very yet like surprisingly given that it's like a center of finance, like more restrictive laws about which exchanges are allowed. There's a bunch of cool crypto things that aren't allowed in New York. 

PF Ahhh.

BP I don't quite know why. But it's a bummer. 

SC Yeah, like I remember I think on an issue buying like XRP or something when I was buying.

Yeah, Binance and BlockFi are not available in New York, and I'm not sure why.

SC Oh, and Doge. Buying Doge and selling Doge in New York is very tough. 

BP So hard. It's so hard.

PF Is it really? 

SC Yeah. 

PF Doge is like skyrocketing. Right? 

SC Yeah, I bought $100 of Doge last year. And now it's $2,000. 

BP Yes! Because it has so much utility in the real world. And so many people are using it to—

SC For lots of things.

BP Get some treats for their dogs that of course the value is up!

PF I have great news. History has shown that this can only end well. [Sara & Ben laugh]

BP Well, I didn't live through it. But let's take a little walk back. So there was the internet bubble, boom and bust. And it feels like in some ways it relates and that everybody was super excited about the possibilities, and they knew something big was coming in, it was going to be transformative, but just got a little ahead of themselves. And I guess what's interesting about crypto is to me, it feels like there's this the disconnect between the value of all like cryptocurrencies and companies just keeps getting further and further from the amount of real world utility that's actually happening with this stuff.

PF They're not in the real economy. So when you you know, I mean, it's just Coinbase is now in the real economy. It is a publicly traded corporation. But for the most part, this stuff has been happening over to the side. Like if Google went bankrupt tomorrow, because it turns out that it had been living this huge lie, and it's done Enron style, you know, it would tank everything. Like you can't have a trillion dollars suddenly go out. And I mean, if Bitcoin went away, would that be the same level of damage? Like Bitcoin and Google are probably roughly valued at the same, like the same market cap, within an order of magnitude, right. I think if Bitcoin went away tomorrow, I think it would have actual effect on the global economy for sure. But I think there'd be a pretty quick recovery like just—

SC There'd be the nerdiest riot. [Ben laughs]

PF Yeah, it'd be a bad one. Yeah, so I think that like, which is the sort of the whole point, right, and then you know, now you've got central bank's issuing digital currencies, which is literally the whole point that was never supposed to happen.

BP Well that what it feels like. It feels like a self fulfilling prophecy. Where it's like so many people in technology were just so bought in that crypto inevitably became you know, like something more and more people got interested in then finance had to follow because like people are making money and finances and making money they're like, this has to stop. And then now once finances in like, like Coinbase is valuable because it allows people in institutions to trade cryptocurrency and so like, it's this, it's this, you know, like self fulfilling this tautology where it's like, it's valuable, because, you know it's valuable, I know it's valuable, and I'll help you access the value, but there's none of the initial dream. Satoshi's dream of like, this will be useful as money, as payment, as trust. I just don't think that's really happened.

SC Well, I think a lot of the exchanges are trying to do that. I know a few of them are coming out with debit cards now and savings accounts. And we'll see, right, like we'll see if people start spending their Bitcoin using debit cards, that kind of thing. I think the NFT stuff makes it really interesting because people are really looking for that thing to spend Bitcoin on or spending their crypto on and NFT's are kind of the thing to do if you have any of these digital currencies. So I'm bullish seeing the numbers like seeing the amount of use the exchanges are getting and the amount of traders that they have signed up. I think that's what really kind of, it took me a while. But I finally got to the place where I was like, Oh, this might be here to stay. But who knows, we'll see.

BP Have either of you ever made something like in or with aetherium? Because that I keep hearing is sort of like one of the big arguments is like, okay, maybe there's a lot of speculation going on. Maybe it's overvalued this or that. But like, there's still the bigger truth in the background of smart contracts and blockchain and Ethereum is so cool, because it's like a, you know, a living language. Have either of you ever dabbled in actually making stuff?

PF I mean, you get nobody has good clear documentation. And then it's like—

SC I mean, that's true.

PF It's five little languages in a virtual machine. And it's just like, what's the PHP of blockchain? That we can get everybody? It's hard to get in. I mean, look, for me, it's a funny thing, because let me let me actually state what I believe, which is that like, absolutely, money is a bizarre consensus between human beings. And the fact that people decided that blockchain based financial products have actual economic value makes complete sense to me. I just find it really boring. And if I'm going to participate in an economy, I participate in the real economy, but I absolutely understand why people find it exciting. It's just for me, it's the money part of tech. And I really love the tech part of tech. And I just like I've always found the money part of tech kind of just, like just bleh. And it's at the same time, I completely understand and have lots of friends who think it's the most fascinating thing that has happened in their lifetime. And so for me, I'm just like, Oh, another tech thing that I'm not super into. But it's, it's really tricky, because people are like, nope, this is the new economy, you should be really interested in it. And it's the same for me with like, machine learning. I'm like, yeah, I get it. It's really cool. I just, you know, I still think there's a lot of work to do to just make a better chat interface.

SC Yeah, like I skipped Ruby on Rails. I was just like—

PF Yeah!

SC Yeah, everyone was doing it all of a sudden, I was like, no thanks.

PF And I skipped the new global economy.

SC Yeah exactly!

PF So, same thing, really. [Sara laughs]

SC Same thing. It's the equivalent. 

PF I'll tell you, frankly, where my brain goes, is just, we were talking about this a little bit before we hit record. I think that an enormous amount of energy, not just money, but just human energy is going to go into things related to climate and digital enablement of climate. So like, how do I control the solar panels on the roof? Is my house eligible for the new government energy thingamajig that we're going to be doing? All of these things that we do with products today to get people into systems and get them into the world that we're trying to build. Vaccine finding is a good example. Like what Salesforce is going to be a big part of climate, because it is a place where people go to fill out forms and apply for things and, and track things. Right. So it's like that combination of the physical world connecting to the world of technology and product absolutely keeps me up at night. Like I'm like, what is going to happen? Partially because I have a services firm, and I think there's opportunity there. But the other part is just like, that's the, that's the part of tech where I'm like, oh, wow, maybe we could keep the world kind of from collapsing. And I think probably because I'm maybe I don't know, like a more pessimistic person or something. So then I see that, I feel that blockchain is very sort of in a funny way as, as sort of edgelord as it can be. It's very positive. It's like, let's build a new economy because the old one sucks. And so that's where I'm coming from with all of it. And it's fascinating to watch, though, like, I'm like, whoa, Coinbase! Congratulations, money! [Paul laughs] You did it again!

SC Yeah, you turned it from the digital client to the other kind.

PF That's right. Money! I'm only, I like to say congratulations to money, because I feel that like, just money just always figures it out. It always, money just always finds a way.

SC Yeah, well, I've been there was just like a year or two years, I remember where like it, nothing had traction. And everyone was like, This idea is kind of still ridiculous. But there was so much VC being poured into the industry. 

PF Yes! 

SC And now I think we're seeing the result of that, of like, won't can't get this much money in a place.

BP Well, that's what yeah, I totally agree with that. That's what I mean, it just feels like there was a big idea, was a captivating idea. It's almost like a religious idea and ideological idea to some people. And then a ton of VC poured into it. And then it was just kind of like, it was like, this has to become something because we've invested so much time and money. And so now and then finance was like, well, if it's going to be something we got to get into because like we don't want tech to run away with it. And then finance and all the big institutions came in. And so that is where we're at now. Is that a lot of people have firmly committed to betting on this long term. But we're still without, as far as I can tell, and I would love to be proved wrong. Any like extremely useful, blockchain applications or you know, uses of the blockchain or the cryptocurrency that's like, widespread and generating value outside of speculative value.

PF Look, I mean, VCs love to create the marketplace. They talk a lot about products, but they love marketplaces, because they you just get money either way. And you just sit and you sit, you sit in the middle and people give you money! That is really good. That beats the hell out of making lots of things. And so, you know, I think that all of the bias and focus on what to do with these technologies keeps going back to let's make a better and more efficient marketplace, which if you go shopping for daps, and you like what's happening in Ethereum, right now, what you will see is an enormous number of those applications are literally like trading apps, listing apps, marketplace apps. And then once you get out of that, it's like, it's not even web 1.0. It's like web .2, it's like a snake game that is based on Ethereum. So it gets, once you get out like, there is no Ethereum based word processor that I know about. There might be, but you know, if there is it's going to be something you can put text into the blockchain it. Go and look around for dapps. And you'll see it's like pre pre pre web. I mean, the web blossomed, because it was not financialized, it blossomed because people could create silly things and put them out into the world. And so the argument to me of this stuff is that a financialized version of the app ecosystem that isn't controlled by a major player like Google, or, or Apple will be motivating, and people will want to grow on it and build infrastructure. And you know, this will solve kind of the micro payments problem that has plagued us for 30 years where you can't get money to people who make and do things. And so, you know, and then on the on the classic website, you see, substack, like, we're gonna have a newsletter platform, and people are gonna pay to subscribe to newsletters and that will that will have network effects. So you know, we're gonna, we're in a funny place where we're gonna get the money out of this thing.

SC Yeah, it is funny. I think the one thing that we see in Ethereum is the leak. A lot of people talk about the legal stuff, like the benefits to using aetherium to verify legal documents. And I think that those platforms exist, I think they just haven't been widely accepted yet. I think that's one of the many applications that you see.

BP Yeah, and I, I agree with the smart contract side of thing does seem and like just kind of like the original idea of, you know, a trustless ledger and how it could be made with math was appealing. The idea of the NFT. And like, a musician makes a digital file. And then without, you know, a platform like Spotify, they get paid every time it gets sold or listened. Like that's really appealing. As as a big idea. It doesn't seem like the NFT mania that's been happening recently, kind of like fully realizes that. I've read a lot of stories about people like minting an NFT but then like, it gets sold out from under them or people like taking other people's art and like saying, 'Hey, I made this NFT', you know, like the that ownership aspect is very compelling. But I'm not sure actualized yet.

PF Look, the people are trying to create at the protocol level. Okay, so most web activity today happens at the product level, the platforms exist. I don't build my own authentication anymore. I use o-auth or I use you know, use Auth Zero or use Google or Facebook, right? Like those protocols. And those handshakes and exchanges are established. And so you have the Lego blocks, and you build. So what's happening with the blockchain stuff is it really is like, they're going way, way down the stack, not quite to the metal, like they're not for the most part, except for ASIX. They're not making their own silicon. But like one level up, right, like operating system doesn't matter. This is about how things are being transacted at the processor level operating system, you know, like thinking and kind of an OS level, and then building an economic and transaction layer there. And in the same way that like, you used to track CPU cycles on old Unix machines to know how much to charge people for using the computer, right? Like, like, really, really low level stuff, and then seeing what, seeing kind of what they can get away with. And yes, impresarios and carpetbaggers show up galore. And so NFT's are interesting, because I think certainly very, very smart, thoughtful people who care about paying artists have shown up, and artists are making money and early memers are making money and so on. But again, that whole like blockchain cohort is also showing.

BP I'm glad it is nice that all the random memers are, thank goodness, they finally got rewarded. Like what was it the anxious, anxious girlfriend was just like, somebody took her face and put it on? She became this meme. And then she got 400k for being [Ben laughs] somebody bought that for her. That's so nice. 

PF Leave Britney alone person. They only got like $44,000 that was not fair. That was like a million dollars.

SC That was like a million dollars of value.

BP For all the joy that they brought us.

PF Yeah! They put that on TV, like I think they made fun of that on Late Night.

BP Yeah, I am looking here. There's an Ethereum Stack Exchange and it's quite active. 'Is there any way to save data from a sensor or a smart contract?' 'Can I use this to create a wallet?' 'What is a private key?' So you know, there's there's good activity happening here and the same for the there's like an Ethereum tag over on on Stack Overflow, which is also pretty, it's got a little fire. It's got a fire symbol next to it. A lot of people are watching it. But it doesn't, yeah, like nothing I'm seeing here is there's not as many code blocks again, like you said, it's kind of, it's a little bit higher level, people aren't getting into the nitty gritty, so much.

PF Many blockchain oriented organizations have approached my company over the years saying, we need to build consumer grade products on top of our platforms. And it always kind of falls apart. Not always, we did some great work with FileCoin, and I'm very proud of it and it's open source and people should check it out. Yeah, no, it's about it's a command line interface for putting stuff into that network. But for the most part, these organizations are built on communication, white papers, you know, storytelling around their protocols, and less about getting consumer grade, you know, component driven experiences into people's hands. When they do that with, you know, the marketplaces do really well, they can really thrive. But it's, it's a lot of money. And they don't want to spend money on that when they want to spend it on sort of the the lower level stuff that they're still working out. So, you know, this is not, I'm not judging this entire ecosystem by the fact that they don't want to hire my company. I just like, I've seen five, maybe 10 people approached us. And it's a very similar story each time, for whatever reason, the blockchain protocol level thinking doesn't always translate to the web 2.0, 3.0, 4.0. You know, let's build it in React and React Native thinking that's happening in the rest of the world. And like, instead, it's like, let's go learn, let's go learn about Ethereum smart contracts and how you program down at that level, rather than them kind of coming up to where the consumers are moving things around with their thumbs. And so like, when that bridge happens, probably, that's when my brain will get activated. I'll be like, oh, cool, good. We can do transactions, I just need to drop the stripe, the stripe widget into this thing. And now we're, now we're using blockchain.

BP Did either of you like or use Crypto Kitties. I mean, that was when I remember that kind of had a little break through with people like Oh, if you're going to make me something original, that's fun. And then I can trade them. Oh, it's Pokemon, you know, like people got into that one.

SC Yeah, I did not.

PF I like stuff that is cheap and fun. Like I'm a thrift store temperament. And that's why I love the internet. I love So when everything gets to like, well, it's $5,000 to get the one with the little hat. [Ben laughs] I'm like, like, yeah... okay. I don't buy fine art. I like prints. I like to hang prints on the wall. I'm just I don't know, I just, like I don't, that Walter era of the original thing doesn't really hit me that hard.

BP I had a pretty surreal moment the other day, because my dad gave me a first, a signed first edition of a book. And he was basically like, it was basically like your grandfather collected all these books and assumed they would be really valuable one day, and they're like, medium valuable, like you can get like $250 for this book that once sold for 10 bucks. But in the end, it was just like, we had this huge library and nobody would take it off our hands. And I wonder if like, that's what it's gonna be like, with NFT's one day, you know, it's kind of like, yeah, this has a little bit of value. But like, you know, now that sort of, like, we've moved on to the next era of whatever, you know, it's like, who has room on their bookshelf?

PF After phase one, of course, and then there'll be—I mean, like, is the after learning about how the transaction occurred? Do we think that people work, will maintain its $70 million value into the next 200 years? 

BP Mmmm...

PF That's a stretch.

SC We'll see!

BP Projected on the walls at the major museums.

SC Exactly. What I'm hearing from y'all is that the good product people haven't been attracted to it yet. Like the good people building product that are you know, building usable interfaces.

PF I mean, and let's be purely cynical, right like I mean, I think they are well and they are a Coinbase, they are at Gemini, there are places where they're building—but they're mostly focused on building the marketplace, right? Apple. The apex product company, you know, is not building blockchain enablement products into the iPhone yet, there is absolutely no reason why they wouldn't. Right? They have stock things and Apple Wallet and so on. And so like I'm sure you know, when that day comes the product focus shifts and it's like, you know, Apple now is on you know, Apple Coin. It's gonna just be to buy more Apple products. That's the problem.

BP But if you buy with the Apple, you can avoid the 30% tax. That's how it works. You don't have to pay the in app tax.

SC Yeah! 

BP Ohhh see what I did there?

PF I am sure there is a three page Pages document sitting on a shared, sitting on the apple Z drive.

SC Yeah, exactly. 

BP You know what's a cool open source project that came across my radar? Tell me if you guys have heard of this new—is a Ghost, which was actually a Kickstarter project.

PF Oh, yeah!

BP Very cool. 

PF Ghost is great. Oh, so you're learning about Ghost? 

BP I wasn't really, I wasn't too aware of it until everyone was like, all my friends were like, oh, we're so jealous of the journalists who left traditional media and now you are making the beaucoup bucks. And I was like, Oh, what is this other thing, Ghost? But it's neat that it has 20,000 commits in, you know, making three and a half million dollars a year. And that's just open source software. And they've got like a constitution that says they can never sell the company, and all the profit, all the money goes back into the making of the software, It's pretty sweet.

PF You know what that is, I'm curious to see what Sara thinks about it too. That to me, so Ghost started as like JavaScript WordPress, like, you know, like, and it's a very good example to me of like everybody in our world is very focused on, I have to do the next big thing, and it needs to be worth $200 trillion. And if it's not that I should throw it into the garbage, my ideas are pointless. And Ghost is like, wow, there's an enormous ecosystem that WordPress enables. But I think it's kind of ganky. And I don't love the PHP. So in 2013, we're gonna make a nice thing. And then we're going to structure it in such a way that it could be profitable, and people could find success, but it will remain open and transparent in its operations. And we'll have a you know, and similar to WordPress, actually, WordPress did the same thing. So it's playing the exact same game, we're gonna have a good newsletter product. And we're going to do we're going to differentiate a few different ways. We're going to be easy to install. But it's literally happening in the shadow of WordPress, in the in the shadow of a million other publishing platforms. If you told me 'should I go build a sustainable business by creating a CMS platform?' you know, and in 2013, I said, no, that's, that's ridiculous. There's too many giants. But if you're, if you're committed to it, and you want to be transparent, and you want to create a, you know, Ghost is providing a level of like comfort and commitment to its users that is really motivating. And it's a good quality product. So you can live in the shadow, happily. You can be a little mammal, while dinosaurs stomp around. And if the worst that happens is they don't make that, the money goes away. But they still have a nice open source product that probably people will make their livings on for 10 or 15 years after end of life. And so like, that's, that's not a bad outcome. 

SC Yeah, it's one of those things that had been consistent for the past, you know, I guess, seven years now. It's just consistently been good. You don't hear these, like, huge, it's not VC backed. So you don't hear these huge product releases, but people use it, and they really like it. 

PF That's sort of my joke with congratulations to money, right? Like, unless we don't hear about anything that isn't really aligned with exciting marketplace dynamics, but 99% of the products that are kind of growing and good. I love learning about a company and you go look it up in the market cap has like $2.5 billion, and you're like, Oh, that's an unbelievable amount of growth and success. Haven't heard about it ever before. Even though it's doing something interesting in the world technology, right? Like, I don't know, we all get to play. And were so biased towards the the trillion dollar outcome that it really wrecks the story of technology some days. Anyway, Coinbase had a great idea. [Ben & Sara laugh] Congratulations, money!

BP Money wins again!


BP Well, yeah, shout out to Go, shout out to open source, shout out to Ethereum. If you have any, if you know people who are building with that and want to come on and talk about, I would be interested to hear somebody who's building with and wants to talk a little bit about like, the pros and cons, the good things and the bad things. 

PF Oh give us a tutorial! Please show me how wrong I am about Ethereum, I would love it.

BP Alright, I'm gonna read a lifeboat and we'll go our separate ways. 

SC Great!

PF No!

BP Oh, dang it. Alright, awarded yesterday to PHloom. 'How do I remove the double border on this table?' Tune in to the show notes to find out.

PF That's a classic! 

BP Yeah, exactly. I'm glad to see people are like voting again. There was a little bit of a dip there, but people are back! Alright, everybody. I'm Ben Popper and Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. You can always find me on Twitter @BenPopper. And you can always email us 

SC I'm Sara Chipps, Director of Community here at Stack Overflow. You can find me on GitHub at @SaraJo.

PF I'm Paul Ford, friend of Stack Overflow. Check out my company Postlight at on the worldwide web! No Ethereum!