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Mark Zuckerberg in the metaverse
Mark Zuckerberg in the metaverseCourtesy of Meta

Mark Zuckerberg says NFTs are over

Meta is cutting collectible art from Facebook and Instagram – plus another 10,000 jobs – as part of Zuck’s ‘Year of Efficiency’

In May 2022, Meta first dipped its toe in the festering swamp that is the NFT market, signalling the company’s intent to branch out into the crypto space (read: desperately maintain its waning relevance as we move toward Web 3.0). Many NFT enthusiasts rejoiced at the news, not only because they got to display their silly little collectibles on their Instagram and Facebook feeds, but also because it meant that NFTs were entering the mainstream. Or were they?

Now, just ten months later, Meta has announced that it’s “winding down” its support for digital collectibles and focusing its energies elsewhere. “Some product news: across the company, we’re looking closely at what we prioritise to increase our focus,” wrote Meta commerce and fintech lead Stephane Kasriel in a tweet on Monday (March 13). “We’re winding down digital collectibles (NFTs) for now to focus on other ways to support creators, people, and businesses.”

Cue: an outpouring of complaints from people who think right-clicking a JPEG is actual theft, and I-told-you-so’s from those who were sceptical of Meta’s ambitions from the outset.

Admittedly, it isn’t easy to tell what could have come from Meta’s brief flirtation with NFTs, if integration had continued beyond just a few months and allowed users to do more than simply display their collectibles. This is a source of frustration among many enthusiasts in the comments of Kasriel’s post, who have criticised the “short-sighted move” and bemoaned the company’s lack of faith in NFT creators and their communities.

Others suggest that Meta’s intentions were more insidious. “We get it, you realised that using public crypto networks means you can’t exploit creators, people and businesses in the same way you have been,” reads a comment from one self-professed degen. Noah Addis, a photographer who sells his work as NFTs, adds: “Soooo… weren’t able to monetize NFTs for your own gain and weren’t happy with putting the power and profits back in the hands of creators and collectors so you’re focusing your efforts elsewhere.”

So why is Meta cutting back on its NFT integration? Is it really because the company thinks they’re a threat to its business model? Is it because Zuck looked too deep into the rotten heart of a Bored Ape? According to Kasriel, it simply represents a shift in focus as Meta continues to chase a monopoly on the metaverse.

We learned a tonne that we’ll be able to apply to products we’re continuing to build to support creators, people, and businesses on our apps, both today and in the metaverse,” says Kasriel, on the demise of Meta’s NFT experiment. “Let me be clear: creating opportunities for creators and businesses to connect with their fans and monetise remains a priority.” Instead of collectibles, this will apparently involve working on products such as Meta Pay, and new ways to earn revenue from Reels.

It’s unsurprising that Meta is having to make some sacrifices to chase its lofty goals. Reality Labs, its AR and VR division, lost a reported $13.7 billion last year, and Meta itself laid off about 13 per cent of its workforce (meaning 11,000 people) last November. Today, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company is letting go of another 10,000 employees, and cancelling around 5,000 open job positions. Later this year, Meta’s so-called “Year of Efficiency” will see restructuring across the entire company.

It’s also not too surprising that collectible art was one of the first things to go. While hype for NFTs swept the internet in 2021, leaving a wave of random millionaires and over-eager auctioneers in its wake, it quickly dropped off, with a significant market crash in 2022. That isn’t to say that NFTs are completely dead and buried – modern art museums like the Pompidou and LACMA have even started collecting notable examples – but they’re definitely not at the top of Meta’s technocratic to-do list, either.