Criticism is easy. But it’s even easier online, where relative anonymity can tempt people into giving themselves carte blanche to condemn a topic, artistic creation, or personality that has, for whatever reason, become the target of someone’s ire. Examples abound. YouTube comment sections often require an intellectual and moral hazmat suit to navigate, Twitter discourse regularly escalates to mob mentality, and Facebook may as well be the official mascot for the most cringe-worthy political tirades.
While breaking with the Web2 contentions above, Web3 isn’t wholly exempt from knee-jerk negativity. Criticism within NFT communities can be even more unsavory than in any Web2 space, since, at the core of nearly every project, there’s money in it.
The NFT space is collaborative, yet encouraging. But it’s also filled with community members who view all artistic endeavors in Web3 as a business venture. And a subset of these can and do act like impatient and entitled investors. You can be showered with a flurry of GMs and WAGMI’s in one moment, and be called a shill or labeled a ruthless rug-puller the very next. It’s enough to give anyone a severe case of vibe vertigo.
Web3 is still in its infancy, and this early growth period is a perfect time to set the its future tone before the bones harden and become rigid, so to speak. Crucially, projects that take chances and fail in no way deserve our indignation.
On the contrary, they deserve our respect and encouragement.
Cool Cats and the curious case of cryptic criticism
One of the more interesting case studies here is Cool Cats. In October 2021, the project was one of the hottest in the NFT space, with the average price of a Cool Cats NFT sitting at roughly 26 ETH (or $92,000, at the time). The 9,999 programmatically, randomly-generated cat-themed PFPs were minted in July the same year, following closely behind the release of projects like Bored Ape Yacht Club. The project quickly picked up steam and popularity when celebrities like Mike Tyson, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Aoki bought Cool Cats NFTs and tweeted about them.
The project became known in the space as a generally positive one. Its reputation as an NFT project to be reckoned with continued to solidify as significant figures in the space like Farokh, a well-known NFT enthusiast and the founder of the Web3 media platform Rug Radio, became highly vocal advocates for the project.
But in early 2022, critiques of how high-profile Cool Cats holders behaved began to surface. Some accused Farokh of pumping and dumping — essentially, hyping up a project to help raise its value and then quickly selling their NFTs for a profit. Discerning if a person is actually doing this is not a particularly easy thing to assess, but the criticisms came anyway.
Cool Cats itself hit a few stumbling blocks around this time. In late January 2022, the project hired Chris Hassett as its CEO, a decision that some in the community saw as a misstep, since Hassett didn’t have a reputation as a Web3 native. This feeling was exacerbated by Hassett’s departure from the company just three months into his tenure.
Shortly before Hassett’s departure, Cool Cats released a long-planned NFT game called Cooltopia for its community, in which holders could go on quests and feed their Cool Pets eggs, which are NFTs from the project’s secondary collection that dropped in early February. Cooltopia simply wasn’t as successful as the Cool Cats team hoped it would be, however, and the value of its native utility token, MILK, immediately began a steady decline from which it has yet to recover.
Combining Cool Cats’ 2022 hardships with an ever-deepening crypto winter has resulted in a remarkable decline in the popularity and value of its original collection, which now has a floor price of only 2.68 ETH, down from 10 ETH in the fall of 2021.
Pouring salt on Cool Cats’ wounds
Some in the Web3 community have not reacted kindly to Cool Cats’ fall from grace, seeing it as an opportunity to “sell-shame” collectors who are now parting ways with the struggling project. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Farokh again found himself at the receiving end of such criticism when he began to do just that last month. Since the beginning of August, he has sold ten of his Cool Cats NFTs at an average price of 2.31 ETH — a remarkable loss, to put it mildly. Yet still, people accused him of abandoning the project for money.
This kind of criticism is insidious. As Farokh himself recently pointed out, judgments like this betray bad faith on behalf of those making them. If we condemn people for selling their NFTs when a project is at its peak and later condemn them for liquidating their NFTs when a project is in the doldrums, we’ve built a Catch-22, leveling accusations against which there is no chance of being found innocent. In other words, we’re criticizing for its own sake, and that is unbecoming behavior of anyone.
NFT projects deserve better
The Cool Cats team — Tom Williamson (xtremetom), Rob Mehew (Lynqoid), Creative Director Evan Luza (ELU), and Colin Egan (clon) — has done a remarkable job of trying to create new utility, experiences, and value for its collectors, and they deserve every bit of credit for doing so. Even under Hassett’s brief tenure with the project, Cool Cats released a long-awaited game project and signed with the well-known Creative Artists Agency for licensing and merchandising opportunities. The brand created an IRL version of its Cooltopia game at NFT.NYC this year which some say was a highlight of the event. The team is putting in the work, and you have to respect that.
Disappointments with a project’s rougher patches is understandable, as is the collective frustration with the overall state of the crypto and NFT market in the last six months. What’s harder to understand is the implied holier-than-thou attitude that often accompanies the criticisms lobbed at projects like Cool Cats and their most vocal supporters for trying to build something of substance and stumbling along the way.
And you don’t have to look far for an example of how Cool Cats could bounce back in the future. Another NFT community that has taken a lot of flak for trying new things, failing, and regrouping is DeGods, a project that has arguably done more to put Solana on the map than any other community built on that chain. Don’t forget, DeGods had existed for barely a month when people declared it dead in the water. Even its developers were about to abandon ship. But that didn’t stop them from experimenting with things to make their collection valuable and unique — the Paperhand Bitch Tax, DeadGods, and DePalace, among others.
Not all of these were successes, and that’s the point. Not everything an NFT community tries to build will be a success, and that’s a good thing. It means people are swinging for the fences. You cannot expect project developers to innovate and try new things while simultaneously holding them to an impossible standard of infallibility, chiding them when things don’t go as planned. Web3 is an expansive and welcoming place, but there is no room in it for that kind of restrictive thinking.
Much of this boils down to two things: a tendency to define ourselves in opposition to things rather than in support of them, and an understanding that we cannot entirely blame others for their failures any more than we can wholly take credit for our successes. The Australian comedian Tim Minchin said it best: “Empathy is intuitive but is also something you can work on intellectually. […] Define yourself by what you love. Be demonstrative and generous in praise of those you admire. Send thank you cards and give standing ovations. Be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.”