When I was in primary school, at some point there was this phase where we designed and distributed our own fake money and started trading with it. Obviously, it only had any semblance of value on the playground, and we couldn’t, say, run off to the candy store and buy candy with it. You might have had a similar experience in your childhood.
But now we’re adults, and everything is different… right? Think about Bitcoin for a second. One of the differences between Bitcoin and playground money is that you can’t (feasibly) print your own Bitcoin at will, but otherwise, the concept is similar – they only have value to those willing to trade for them. And trade, they do. Today, Bitcoins trade at up to $17,500 each.
You might also have heard about Ethereum, another so-called cryptocurrency, in this case with the ability to run programs. One type of program you can run on Ethereum is called an ERC20 token. You can think of tokens as “money” that you can print yourself and use for some purpose (like the chits that are sometimes used in lieu of money at parties and festivals). Some tokens are worth a great deal, because the ideas and technology behind them are sound and valuable. Other tokens, well, they’re essentially playground money, and there’s no reason for them to have any significant value.
But strangely, some of these useless tokens make some people very rich. They give some of their tokens away for free (in what’s called an “airdrop”), they sell some tokens in a pre-sale or Initial Coin Offering (ICO) to whoever wants them, and keep the rest, as they might be able to trade them later.
I made some money off of such a project by selling tokens that were airdropped to me, and realized: I might be able to pull this off myself…
Importantly, I’m not in the business of scamming people, and if I’d think of this as my personal get-rich-quick scheme, that is probably what I’d end up doing. So I designed this project for charity, with all the proceeds going to my local petting zoo, and then I printed my virtual money and called it “Piggies”. I made sure to explain that even if Piggies ended up being financially worthless (strong probability of that, by the way…), everybody would still at least have a smile on their face for having helped a good cause.
Then I opened the floodgates by announcing the project and letting people sign up for free (or paid) Piggies on a website I had put up.
Within a day, over 1,000 people had signed up for free Piggies, and some donations had come in as well. Also, I received a lot of messages on the forums, via email, and on the special field on the signup form (which specifically invited people to leave a message for the friends at the petting zoo).
Through signups, donations, and messages, I could distill some surprising lessons and hypotheses about the “strangers on the internet”, and I’ll share these with you here.
Scroll on down to lesson 3 if you're here for some Christmas spirit and don't care too much for technology
Lesson 1 – People will spam and scam even for free tokens
As I started airdropping Piggies (which is a nontrivial process, but I won’t go into detail here), the signups and messages kept coming in. I noticed that a lot of the messages sent via the form were identical and made no sense, e.g. “I support this project security zu” (received 80 times).
I added one of those “I’m not a robot” buttons to stop these automated signups, yet they still kept coming in. Apparently, somewhere in the world, there is a business model for clicking and clicking and clicking to sign up for free tokens that may or may not end up being worth something.
Ironically, airdropping is not free. Every transaction costs about $0.001*, so these people are not just claiming obtuse amounts of “free money” for themselves, they’re costing charity money at the same time. Bad deal…
A couple of nights later, more than a thousand signups came in from the Moscow area. I guess the business model works there, too.
I changed the signup process into something more time-consuming, and so far, that’s held the spammers at bay. Needless to say, they were disqualified (to the best of my ability) from receiving Piggies.
Lesson 2 – There are a lot of generous strangers out there, and a lot of impatient, greedy, and distrustful ones
Immediately after going live, people sent messages of love and appreciation to me or the friends at the petting zoo. Memories of petting zoos from when they were kids, messages of love for animals in general, and surprise at someone using blockchain technology for charity (not a new idea, by the way).
However, there is a sadder side to the internet as well. Immediately after going live, people started complaining about not having instantly received their free tokens. So first they ask for a handout, and then they complain it’s not coming their way fast enough…
Also, some people commented that they had no proof of my good intentions and therefore didn’t want to get involved. They had a point, of course, but I had my reasons for not being completely open about which petting zoo I was printing money for. First and foremost, my kid goes there, and the internet can be a dangerous place. I attempted to assuage people’s worries by posting a picture of myself holding piece of paper with a message near the pigs shown on the web page, to prove that I at least hadn’t stolen some cute pig photos online (it’s kind of like photographing a hostage with a recent newspaper). This might have helped some people believe me, and some other people, well, they’ll spend their money elsewhere.
But donations did come in. The smallest were $0.03, the largest was $60, with an average of $2.50. From random strangers on the internet, for a local petting zoo on the other side of the planet! I call that a win, and it goes a bit of the way towards restoring my faith in humanity.
Lesson 3 – It’s great fun to receive messages from strangers on the internet
To my great delight, the donations and signups were sometimes accompanied by heartwarming messages of encouragement and love of animals.
There were lots of animal lovers:
- “Pigs are cool :)”
- “I think this is an amazingly adorable idea and I hope the project is successful and the petting zoo gets the funding it needs to survive the cuts. Sorry to hear that. I love the name and concept and I will try and contribute on payday. Good luck Piggies!”
- “Petting zoo is the best part of the Zoo for my kids, they usualy dont have piggies but that would be ok too.”
- “Very nice idea to solve blockchain technology with social and animal care projects.”
- “Petting zoos are great for child development! Great project!”
- “Live long little fellas”
- “Good luck with the project. Petting zoos are the only chance most kids get to see farm animals close up these days.”
- “If I had a pet piggie I would snuggle with him everyday :D”
- “I am a vegetarian, I always want the animals to have the right to live well, hope this project will do something.”
- “Piggies are friends, Not food.”
- “I won't never eat you beautiful piggies! The animal with most similarities with humans (but better).”
- “You're doing a noble thing and I wish you the best of luck!”
- “Petting zoo workers are super dope, you all deserve to have a good life. Sorry for no good enlish”
- “Wow this project is adorable. ”
And funny people:
- “Notorious P.I.G.”
- “Don't forget the cows at your zoo.. this way you can go to the moooooo...n! ”
There were the ones that love to eat pigs:
- “i love eat piggies !”
- “A lot of tasty food and fun kids”
- “im humgry, bacon....”
- “piggies are meat”
- “Be tasty!”
Strangely, lots of people felt the need to state their love for cats or other random animals:
- “i have a cat in home”
- “I have cat)”
- “I LOVE CATS”
- “Cats are the best :)“
- “I love PIGGIES (but my favorite pets are cats ) ! :D”
- “I like zebras”
- “i like a bunnies”
- “I love dogs! FTW!”
- “I've got 2 guinea pigs ”
There were lots of replies by people who were probably afraid I wouldn’t airdrop to them if they didn’t butter me up:
- “Love the logo” (what logo?!)
- “Road map seems quite interesting, all the best” (what roadmap?)
- “I can made Russian translate” (English seems to be a problem though)
And then there were the downright strange ones:
- “Piggies are crazy ”
- “No pooping kids!”
- “this little piggy went to the blockchain farm, this little piggy…”
- “Togethed do something stupid”
- “rawr piggies rawr!!”
- “Once upon a time there were three little pigs. One pig built a house of straw while the second pig built his house with sticks. They built their houses very quickly and then sang and danced all day because they were lazy.”
- “Let's tickle the piggies till they wiggle with their titties!”
This experiment has taught me a lot. About technology, but mostly about human nature. I’ve had great fun doing it, and would like to share with you the following conclusions and final thoughts.
I was very surprised (although maybe I shouldn’t have been…) at how crafty people get when there’s an opportunity to get stuff for free. I imagine a room full of impecunious hopefuls in a far-away land, not even having read the description of the project, just clicking away at my signup form (and subsequently asking me where their free money is!), hoping to sell it at a great profit on an online exchange.
I was also very surprised (although maybe I shouldn’t have been!) to find so many kind strangers online. From all over the world, donations ranging from $0.03 to $60 came in, many without a description or message. The thought that somebody would take the trouble to support a petting zoo that they’ve never even heard about, just because this guy asked them online, is heartwarming. So too were the various messages that came in.
So, despite the occasional message of greed and impatience, this has been a wildly entertaining ride for me, and a very rewarding one for the animals and volunteers at the petting zoo. I have a feeling that it won’t suddenly be over when I go to there tomorrow to hand over the donations.** After all, they’re getting the keys to their ETH (which, interestingly, has more than doubled in value since being donated!), but may need some guidance when they want to convert it to cold hard cash. And I’m shamelessly including the donation address here again (0xa155FF3346e28D418f7A6e3A60623C8d0384806b), so perhaps some more donations will come in...***
Thanks for reading this story. Have a great Christmas ahead. Go cuddle your local piggies! :)
* Just after I finished airdropping Piggies, a project called CryptoKitties caused transaction fees to go up by 20000%. Looks like we were just in time...
** Since writing this post, I went over there and gave them the key, as well as a frame containing a description of the project and a selection of the messages people sent. They were a bit overwhelmed and very grateful, and I'll update this post with a link to their website as soon as they post a small announcement there.
*** However, I can't guarantee you'll get Piggies in return anymore.