#legendasks: How 9Gag conveyed its first metaverse project

The Internet has evolved considerably in just a few decades, along with those addictive Internet memes. With a global audience of over 200 million, the general manager of 9Gag, Kevin Kwong, talks to Anne Lim and Stephenie Gee about the platform’s first metaverse project and bringing Web2 creators into Web3

A cultural force; agents of self-expression; the digital successor of propaganda leaflets – memes have become a ubiquitous presence in all of our lives. Combine this with the everchanging metaverse landscape and it’s inevitable that memes would eventually find their way into Web3.

Spearheading this transition is 9Gag, the de facto purveyor of the finest memes, with its first metaverse project Memeland, which centres around a tale of 9,999 captains sailing across the Broken Sea in search of the legendary treasure island “Memeland” for glory, fortune, love and, of course, memes. But more than just jpegs for sale, it’s about empowering creators by bridging the Web2 and Web3 communities. And, as with all things 9Gag, to make the world a happier place.

Much in line with this mission is the Memeland exhibition launched in partnership with Times Square from now until September 25, which features a three-metre tall, eight-metre wide NFT display wall showcasing limited-edition tear-jerking memes created by dominant local Web2 platforms; an interactive game zone; exclusive merchandise; a photo booth; and a metaverse game AiR, through which visitors can complete challenges and unlock game cards for prizes. Kevin Kwong, the general manager of 9Gag, tells us more.

Tell us about Memeland and this exhibition with Times Square.

For this event, we not only want to exhibit our own NFTs but also the ones we own with different projects and different brands that got into the NFT metaverse. We really want to cross over with traditional brands you see every day like Foodpanda, MTR, and Alipay – these are the guys you see every day, but they’re not really in the metaverse just yet. But they do have a plan to eventually move some of their items into the metaverse and that’s why they are collaborating with us.

This project has been going on for the last six to 12 months, and obviously we’re aware of the whole “NFT is a scam” thing, but we’re trying to get people to see that it’s real companies that offer real products. And I think our project is so well known in the market because people know that our Web2 space is solid. The 9Gag project has been running for 14 years and we have such a strong presence in the Web2 world.

Also see: Nars: Celebrating 20 years in HK with NFT debut

The whole point of this is to bring creators in the Web2 world into the Web3 world. So in the Web2 world, obviously we are all in meta – on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, making videos, posting pics, YouTubers – but the only people benefiting are the owners themselves, which is good, but sometimes they don’t even get that. Let’s say you have 1 million followers on Instagram, it doesn’t make you rich because Instagram only ever pays you a dollar for it. And as a YouTuber, you need a certain number of people to subscribe before you can make money, so obviously, corporations are taking all the cash. But in the Web3 world, we want to make sure that for any creator project, they do get a cut. We want to make sure Web2 creators enjoy Web3 benefits, and that in the long run they can actually benefit – they can have a say, vote, determine the features and get a part of that cut from the royalty trade and the money they get from the project.

But it’ll be a long journey. It could be anywhere from two to three years until we can see a platform like that emerge, where we can get creators to be part of that whole economy, and users as well. Obviously, it’s still very early days, but I think because we work with so many creators in the Web2 world, we can show them that that’s the future plan.

9Gag’s core is memes and you’ve obviously been doing great with them. Do you think the introduction of NFTs will drive away or attract people to 9Gag?

I think it will help attract people because it’s something everyone can understand. Everyone sees it in daily communication a lot, especially social media. I think it’s a great way to get them to know what they want to do. The Web2 world is as simple as taking a picture but imagine a metaverse where you put these goggles on and you can actually see 3D paintings and interactive memes. That’s the future and it’s something that could happen very soon.

9Gag has been very successful among millennials and Gen Z, but with Memeland, who’s your target audience?

I think the same thing – Generation Z and millennials. We are given the chance to come out from a big community to a more niche one with more targeted content, and I think Generation Z and millennials really favour that. They like to have their voice be heard and they want a voice on certain things they support, such as a product and its features, something you won’t get in Web2. So Web3 will be interesting for them to participate in.

Will your target audience be expanding anytime soon?

I think right now we have a global audience – the US is obviously a big base. Europe too, we have a huge footprint there, and Southeast Asia as well. I think for Web3, the Southeast Asian users can be so much bigger. Indonesia and Singapore are a huge market, as well as Vietnam and the Philippines. I think they are adapting to Web3 even faster compared to a lot of different countries, especially in Europe.

How about Northeast Asia?

I think in China they are still keener on tokens and crypto. Korea is huge on crypto. It depends on the project but I think Southeast Asia is definitely very strong, especially comparing the population size. It makes a huge difference in the success of a lot of projects.

What makes the NFTs so worth collecting?

The value comes from the project goal in the long run and how the community sees and contributes to the project. The picture itself doesn’t mean anything. A lot of people don’t get it at all. They think, “Is it because of the drawing?” It has some special value but obviously that’s not all. You see some NFTs are worth much more than others, just because of what the project brings and what the community can get from it. That’s the key to differentiating the value of the NFT and that’s what we want to do as well.

Also see: Collision of style and colours in NFT paintings by Japanese artist

Where would you say the intersection – if there is one – between 9Gag and Memeland lies? What role do memes play in the metaverse?

I think there’s no intersection yet. Rather it’s just two parallel paths building together. Eventually, when things or the hardware get more developed, everyone will jump into Web3, and it’ll become one single project. But that’ll take some time. Right now we are developing in parallel.

Along with Memeland, there’s also a Memelist. Could you tell us more about that? Does the goal of the project link back to the mission of 9Gag: to promote happiness?

If you get on the Memelist, it means that when we are selling our meme collection you have a chance to purchase it. That’s why everyone wants to be on the Memelist – to get a chance to be on the project. You don’t want to open Memelist to just anybody, you want to make sure you get valuable creators on it. The last thing you want is people who just want to buy it and flip it. That won’t help the project. Obviously it’s a free market, people can buy and sell so we can’t avoid all of that, but when we build the Memelist, that’s what we are looking for.

And for sure! The content these people are creating is fun and happy, and we are trying to get that to keep going. What we did before in Web1 and Web2 is traditional content. We can aim to do even better, more original content that’s fun and happy in the Web3 world. It’s just a continuation of what we’ve been doing for the longest time.

You say “valuable creators” – is there a benchmark you use to measure how valuable a creator is?

Their success in the Web2 world is a benchmark we look at – how many followers they have, and what kind of content they do. But also, some may not have a lot of followers, but if they do special projects like visual effects or food art or miniature art, things like that we see as a very good trade and we want to make sure they get a chance to be in our project as well. So we don’t just look at, “Oh, you have 20 million followers and a pretty face!” – that’s not our priority. It’s great that they have 20 million followers and they look pretty, but the guy next door that can do really great video editing, we’ll try to bring him on board too!

So really you’re looking for potential and giving them a chance to shine?

For sure. We look for the ones that have already been successful and also the ones showing potential.

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In this Story: #metaverse