As we navigate the first quarter of 2024, it’s impossible to ignore the cultural shifts and moments that have reshaped the landscape of web3 and blockchain technology. This past year, we’ve witnessed groundbreaking developments across the digital asset ecosystem, giving us a tantalizing glimpse into the power and potential of this rapidly evolving realm.
However, 2024 is not simply a continuation of previous years’ trends; it’s a year of convergence and maturation for web3 technologies. This year marks a crucial phase where the promises of web3 begin to crystallize into tangible, real-world applications and experiences, heralding technological advancement and a reimagining of the internet’s role in society. As these trends gain momentum, they’re set to redefine our online lives, offering a glimpse into a future that is more digitally-native, accessible, and aligned with the ethos of the original internet vision.
The year’s first month has already been eventful, from the SEC’s approval of spot Bitcoin ETFs to the rise of Bitcoin Ordinals and the Solana ecosystem. With the Bitcoin halving scheduled for April and the U.S. presidential election looming in November, there’s no question that the rest of 2024 will continue in that vein. We’ve highlighted six transformative trends that will likely define the web3 narrative this year.
Layer 2 Solutions
One of the major trends dominating the discourse is the remarkable progress in scalability and efficiency through Layer 2 solutions, including notable names like Base, Optimism, Arbitrum, Polygon, and Layer Zero, and the intriguing promise of ZKSync.
In 2022 and 2023, high gas fees and congested networks posed significant challenges for Layer 1 users. With the solution of Layer 2s, transacting on Ethereum is becoming more accessible and more productive for the average user. According to investment management firm Van Eck, Ethereum’s upcoming EIP-4844 upgrade could usher in a more efficient altcoin market. Particularly, it’s anticipated that within a year, Ethereum’s L2 networks will “consolidate down to 2-3 dominant players.”
While Polygon has long been at the forefront of the Layer 2 conversation with major partnerships, including Nike, Starbucks, Reddit, and Mastercard, there are a number of newer blockchains that are quickly expanding their ecosystems and challenging for market share.
Coinbase’s L2 network Base is poised to be a major player in the conversation. Illustrated by the early popularity of Friend.Tech and Tamagotchi look-alike Frenpet, Base is integrating social engagement and financial opportunities in a decentralized ecosystem where your connections can be both personal and profitable. Given its parent company’s infrastructure and market position as the only publicly traded U.S. crypto company, the Base ecosystem will be attractive to new contenders.
Bolstered by its strategic partnership with Base, built on the OP Stack, Optimism has blossomed into a significant force in 2024. The L2 has been successfully capturing mindshare through its RetroPGF Round 3 grant to contributors building public goods (earning a shoutout from Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin) and engaging the digital art space through its We Love the Art initiative.
Arbitrum is positioned as another key player in the L2 landscape. It recently announced its Arbitrum Orbit Expansion Program to offer users a permissionless path to making a custom L2 or L3 on any Ethereum chain. With native projects ranging from generative art platform Prohibition to the Xai Layer 3 solution for gaming, the Arbitrum ecosystem appears to be heading for a bright 2024.
According to LayerZero founder Bryan Pellegrino, statistics show that 20 percent of all Ethereum blocks in 2023 contained a LayerZero SRC token. As this number is poised to increase further, Layer Zero will continue to maintain a significant role. LayerZero’s upcoming MANTA Network airdrop scheduled for March has been attracting attention and generating increased activity within the community.
EVM L2s are flourishing and are likely to continue to do so. MANTA Network, which barrelled onto the scene in late 2023, also invited people to bridge and lock up ETH in their system, earning yield multiple ways with the same funds. While their first round of farming resulted in a token/NFT drop that was disappointing to some participants, it could turn things around in subsequent rounds.
The rise of Blast has been one of the crypto space’s most notable stories over the past few months. Built by Blur’s team, Blast encourages people to earn native yield by bridging their ETH L1 resources over to the chain. Backed by Paradigm, Standard Crypto, and others, the platform currently boasts an eye-popping $1.36 billion in total value locked. Blast has rolled out its testnet and is sponsoring a high-value contest for dApp builders as well, drawing well-funded and experienced teams to the table.
In a sense, bringing the functionality that we are familiar with on L1 EVM to L2s, along with brand new ideas, is an exciting trend for 2024.
Another trend that is top of mind in 2024 is flourishing multichain ecosystems, illustrated by the explosive growth of Solana NFTs and coins at the end of 2023, the pioneering developments of Bitcoin Ordinals and BRC-20 tokens at the start of 2023, the blossoming world of AVAX NFTs and coins, and more.
We’re also seeing different chains pop up and gain traction—like SEI, a Cosmos-based new chain that hopes to parallel the EVM. It’s become a popular place for flipping new NFT projects—get a Cosmos-supporting wallet like Leap to dive in. New projects abound, with multiples popping up daily—from art to animation to games. There’s also a DeFi ecosystem growing on SEI, with DEXes, lending, and more.
Layer 1 chains other than Ethereum, whether they’ve been around for a while or are starting fresh, now find a reception among the crypto and NFT communities that is far less skeptical and resistant than it would have been during 2020’s Defi Summer, the NFT bull run of 2021, and through the bear.
Looking at existing chains, Solana was so strongly seen as a sideshow to Ethereum that DeLabs moved DeGods and y00ts off the chain. However, Solana has picked up interest with the advent of strong DeFi tools at Jupiter and Raydium, making it easy and cheap to trade SPL meme coins from $BONK to $MYRO. NFT projects like Mad Lads and Claynosaurz are gaining traction. Interest continues to get stronger as Solana Mobile partners with more and more companies and projects to bring utility and rewards to holders of its Saga handset and a new model at a lower price point.
The trend of courting people from one chain to another continues, with Solana projects like CryptoUndeads expertly targeting ETH bigwigs to lead their followings to their chain.
Bitcoin Ordinals, of course, have revived powerfully after a period of torpor in 2023 after their launch early that year. There are the Nodemonkes, who, like the Undeads, wooed the luminaries of ETH with their delightfully on-the-nose honoraries. Other collections, like Bitcoin Puppets, are gaining viral popularity, and the market for early inscriptions continues to flourish.
This corner of the space will continue to benefit from the build-out of Ordinal infrastructure, including wallets like xVerse and the wildly successful courting of Ordinals volume by Magic Eden. This will kick up a notch as ME’s new rewards plans and cross-chain wallet rollout incentivize Ordinals trading on their platform.
Ordinals are now mainstream enough that established Ethereum properties like Forgotten Runes rolled out the latest part of their collaborative legendarium on Bitcoin—and Taproot Wizards’ Quantum Cats competition was well-timed to onboard many ETH players to Ordinals. If the Taproot Wizards’ campaign to extend more complex functionality to Bitcoin succeeds, that could be a ground-shaking event in our space in the coming year.
While the cacophony of degen activity on these chains can be jarring to those with a more sedate approach to crypto, they bring attention and liquidity, and with those come innovation, as developers and builders of all sorts are drawn to dynamic environments.
Web3 gaming is a popular pick for a hot narrative in 2024 — and for good reason. Web3 gaming has been a critical driver for mainstream NFT adoption over the next few years. To put the scale into perspective, the blockchain gaming market size is expected to grow from $4.6 billion in 2022 to $65.7 billion by 2027.
“Time is money, and the current gaming industry only extracts time and money from players with no interoperability. Each new release requires gamers to spend more money while having nothing to show after committing 100s of hours to gameplay,” Seedphrase, an investor, collector, and thought leader, shares with nft now.
He also adds, “Making money while being entertained is going to force major adoption towards new gamified economic models. I’m especially excited for some of the new tech that will help make this adoption process a lot smoother, such as Portal, Xai, and Reboot. Wallet-less and instant transactions will blend AAA game development with web3 tech, where most gamers won’t even realize the difference.”
Popular projects remain active at the forefront of this sector. Pixel Vault acquired the blockchain game Wolf Game in August 2023 and will kick off its new season in a matter of weeks. Virtual trading card platform Parallel Alpha has captured market share and attention with the rise of its PRIME token, which can be earned from winning matches and used for in-game purchases and governance.
Infrastructure continues to develop at a rapid pace as well. Just this week, Immutable announced the mainnet launch of its zkEVM blockchain, which is built specifically for gaming. The metaverse concept, where brands and creators can make games within a browser framework, is everywhere in web3 and poised to grow. There’s no shortage of examples of established and new projects alike implementing it.
Yuga Labs’ Otherside metaverse is preparing for its next phase with an upcoming return to Ape Island. It will be opening up its hit Dookey Dash to the whole web3 community with improvements in gameplay, additional items and power-ups, and more levels. Pudgy Penguins has been off to a hot start in 2024 following the announcement of its Pudgy World gamified virtual experiences for holders and purchasers of physical toys.
Nifty Island’s building and game competition has begun, and projects and holders are building furiously to win rewards. Magic Machine’s Runiverse game with Bisonic—a major success in its pre-alpha experience in 2023—also offers gameplay and functionality for events and socializing. BoredElonMusk’s Edison metaverse initiative is an intriguing entry into the web3 gaming space, promising a game engine that allows builders to create games on top. After its Christmas building-game teaser, Edison promises more live gaming events with top creators in partnership with Improbable. The list goes on and on.
The promise of interoperability in web3 gaming offered since 2021 is coming to life, and this sort of approach, including partnerships with influencers and thought leaders and time-delimited events or seasons, is a trend that is likely to continue this year.
In an era where the digital landscape is marred by AI misinformation and deepfakes, the use case for blockchain technology to verify authenticity through on-chain provenance has taken on critical importance. This isn’t just a technological advancement; it’s a potential paradigm shift in our quest for truth in the information age.
Blockchain, with its decentralized, secure, and transparent nature, offers a solution for verifying the credibility and authenticity of digital content. Picture a world where every piece of news, every image, and video comes with a verifiable, unalterable history, thanks to blockchain’s immutable records.
This isn’t just about combating fake news; it’s about restoring faith in digital media. By creating a tamper-proof trail for digital content, tokenized media can ensure the provenance of every piece of content is clear and unquestionable. Given the rapid development of generative AI tools can conjure up convincing but entirely fabricated realities, this kind of traceability is not just valuable; it’s essential for maintaining the integrity of our digital discourse.
We are ushering in the age of tokenized media 🔗— nft now (@nftnow) October 10, 2023
The truth must be verified in the age of AI misinformation & fake news.
Tokenized media will be the standard for digital publishers.
Starting today, we will tokenize media daily using our proprietary web3 CMS Sovereignty™ pic.twitter.com/wz4opzY3lC
Now Media has been leading the charge here with the development of its web3 CMS Sovereignty, which is currently being used to authenticate media daily on nft now. You can discern when an article has been authenticated using Sovereignty by the presence of the verified “S” badge under the byline, which is accompanied by links to IPFS, Etherscan, and OpenSea to allow users to confirm and track the content’s provenance.
In the wake of The New York Times’ lawsuit against OpenAI, Fox recently launched its blockchain platform Verify, which is aimed at helping media companies track content and negotiate with AI firms. With AI misinformation already a pressing topic ahead of this fall’s presidential election, expect this trend’s urgency to increase as the year continues.
Tokenizing Real-World Assets
The naysayers of the world have often said that blockchains have no real-world application—a risible accusation in itself, given how much our lives as humans are carried out online. But for the meatspace purists, real-world assets (RWAs) are coming into their own, and this is likely to continue.
Consider the realm of high-value assets – a domain traditionally dominated by the affluent. Tokenization is revolutionizing this space, allowing for fragmented ownership of a single, often unattainable asset into accessible digital shares. A masterpiece painting, a luxury yacht, or a prime piece of real estate no longer has to be the exclusive preserve of a select few. Instead, these coveted assets can be broken down into tradeable tokens, each representing a slice of ownership. While promising, this category is still emerging and fraught with regulatory challenges, particularly in the U.S., where fractionalization can be viewed as a security offering.
Yet, the impact of tokenization extends beyond just broadening access. It’s about bringing a new level of security, transparency, and efficiency to asset ownership. With its immutable ledger and decentralized framework, the blockchain can verify the authenticity and history of luxury goods. In the real estate context, tokenization promises to streamline complex transactions, cutting through the red tape and reducing reliance on middlemen. Imagine a world where selling or leveraging a portion of your property is as simple as a few clicks, devoid of the traditional cumbersome processes.
After Transient Labs’ TRACE technology debuted in 2023, the tokenization of RWAs has become an accessible option for even emerging artists who want to build the provenance of their phygital drops. Business and finance are also diving into the real-world asset space—a 2023 example is Metaco partnering with HSBC to create tokenized ways of tracking commodities such as gold, complete with secure custody services. With this technology, literally anything can be tokenized. Tokenized real-world assets are becoming a large part of the DeFi ecosystem—$5 billion in 2023, according to DeFiLlama.
They’re used to prove reserves, such as with MakerDAO’s DAI-backing bonds, or in combination with zero-knowledge proofs to prove provenance while upholding privacy. The implications of the technology are enormous. Companies like SliceSpace and Lofty offer tokenized real estate, including features familiar to web3 veterans, like fractionalized ownership. Luxury objects are also on offer, with companies like IAN on the SEI network, tokenizing watches, fine art, and more.
This dynamic area of the space is poised to grow in 2024—the allure of the freedom to transact that blockchain technology offers is not limited to digital goods alone. Anything from the rights to a song to a bar of gold can be tokenized. Analysts Roland Berger believes that the real world asset market could top $10 trillion in value by 2030.
SocialFi and Points Rewards
SocialFi, a blend of social media and decentralized finance, is rapidly shaping the future of blockchain and cryptocurrency interactions. We are entering a new era where our digital interactions become intertwined with financial elements, driven by blockchain technology. SocialFi platforms are not mere venues for socializing; they are ecosystems where users can earn cryptocurrency rewards for their contributions, whether it’s creating content, curating, or even social networking.
One of the earliest blockchain-based social media platforms in recent years was Bitclout, a platform that allowed users to create their own creator tokens and trade the tokens of other users. It saw a meteoric rise in its heyday but ultimately struggled to maintain momentum. Echoing Bitclout, Friend.Tech emerged years later on Ethereum’s Base L2 with the same concept.
Friend.Tech led the SocialFi charge by integrating social engagement and financial opportunities in a decentralized ecosystem, where connections can be both personal and profitable. Here, you can buy and sell “shares” of individuals, and when you own a share, you gain exclusive access to a private chat with that person. The share prices are dynamic, influenced by supply and demand, reflecting the value of your connection with others in the crypto community.
Watching a nascent concept grow, adapt, and evolve is one of the most enchanting parts of showing up to web3 every day. This is the case with SocialFi—after Friend.Tech exploded onto the scene in the midst of Base’s Onchain Summer, the concept of marketizing our networks on-chain has progressed significantly.
Along with a number of Friend.Tech clones are similar walled gardens with different objectives—like FrenPet, where you feed and evolve a cute digital pet. What’s most interesting, though, is the mechanic of a project incentivizing your use of your social connections to grow a non-social network platform. Blast is doing it with its referral scheme, as have new L2s like Manta and new chains like SEI. A new engagement protocol for X, Get Reach, incentivized referrals during its beta period, rewarding new users with a referral code with an extra “mission” on its services.
Whereas there might be more iterations of blockchain-based clout markets, it is far more likely that many new projects will incentivize people to promote projects directly on their own social media accounts, as Portalcoin, Memecoin, and the like have done. Meanwhile Friend.Tech itself is diversifying, with a partnership with Rainbow Wallet and other initiatives in the pipeline.
The rise of web3 platforms eschewing conventional, blockchain-based tokens for internal “points” reward systems is another analogous trend to watch. By pursuing this model, projects can reward participation and community collaboration in a non-financial framework, insulating the rewards program from outside market interference and speculation.
For example, in Now Media’s recently launched Now Network private alpha, users can earn Experience Points (XP) by consuming, engaging with, and contributing content within the community-centric media hub, which can then be exchanged for exclusive rewards in partnership with artists, partners, and projects.
Given the concurrent rise in decentralized social media platforms like Farcaster, Mastodon, Lens Protocol, and Bluesky, offering greater freedom of expression, enhanced privacy, and reduced censorship, the fusion of SocialFi presents an intriguing financial dimension to this landscape as well.
As long as the advertising and engagement systems on X, which is still the best place to discover new projects, are opaque and inconsistent, projects and users alike will benefit from these engagement campaigns. Just as Friend.Tech says on its X bio, “your network is your net worth.”
Editor’s note: Matt Medved, Lorepunk and Erika Lee contributed to this article.