If you’ve recently spent any time on Twitter or Discord you may have noticed some interesting profile pictures — like colourful pixelated figures, or evocative drawings of apes in fascinating outfits and bored expressions. These are known as PFP (Profile Picture) NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), and they play a major role in the NFT market.
As humans, we’ve always been pretty occupied with how we present ourselves. The outfits we choose aren’t just about accentuating our best features. It also tells a story about who we are and what we value. Do we want to come across as bookish or daring? Bohemian or conservative?
How do I choose a shirt that embodies both my passion for Ancient Roman economic policy, while also saying ‘Hey! I am hip, relatable, and super cool!’. That’s a lot of heavy lifting for just one shirt.
Our profile pictures (PFPs) on social media are not that different from the outfits we pick. We choose them based on what we want to share about ourselves and what we want other people to see. Is being approachable a priority? Or should you go all-in on advertising your accomplishments? How do you strike the appropriate balance between professional and fun? And which parts of your personality do you showcase on your Instagram profile, versus your LinkedIn page?
How PFP NFTs Became One of the First Digital Assets
For most people, the sale of Beeple’s 69 million USD artwork was when they first took notice of NFTs.
NFTs (which is short for Non-Fungible Tokens) are unique digital assets. Ownership of an NFT can be proven, which is a hugely important innovation in how we trade and value digital assets. This is thanks to the underlying blockchain technology that keeps a ledger of all its transactions.
To learn more about the NFTs and the difference between fungible and non-fungible you can check out this article we wrote on the topic here.
One of the first notable NFTs sold was at a Sotheby’s auction in 2014. The piece — called “Quantum” by digital artist Kevin McCoy — went for a substantial 1.4 million USD. The sale, however, didn’t capture the public imagination in quite the same way that the Christie’s auction of Beeple’s work did in the crypto-obsessed climate of 2021.
For many Twitter and Discord users, however, their original introduction to NFTs came in 2017 when the first series of PFP NFTs called CryptoPunks was launched and started appearing as users’ profile pictures.
What is a PFP NFT?
PFP NFTs are typically an illustrated image of a person or animal that can range in detail and size. CryptoPunk NFTs are known for their simple, tiny, pixelated style, while Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs feature considerably more detail and artistry.
Each PFP NFT is unique. The title ‘PFP’ comes from the simple fact that people tend to use them as their profile pictures on social media sites — mainly on Twitter and Discord.
Each PFP NFT is part of a distinct collection of avatars, usually consisting of about 10,000 NFTs. Each avatar has a unique combination of attributes that are randomly generated and combined so that all the resultant NFTs are distinct from one another.
Because their attributes are generated by an algorithm, certain features and combinations are particularly rare and therefore much more valuable. One CryptoPunk (#5822) is one of only nine Punks to have the Alien trait. As a result, it sold for a whopping 8,000 ETH, valued at around 23.7 million USD in February of 2022.
While PFP NFTs may seem limited when it comes to utility, many of these profile pictures have plenty of utility behind them. For example, Yawww has released two NFT collections on the Solana blockchain. The team behind Yawww have developed a peer-to-peer NFT trading platform. Holders of Yawww NFTs have exclusive benefits on the platform.
While the price for a rare PFP NFT can be extremely high, there are plenty of new PFP NFTs that remain accessible to the general investor.
The Popularity of PFP NFTs
Ever since they first launched in 2017, CryptoPunk NFTs have remained immensely popular. Similarly, Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs were one of the first PFP NFT projects ever launched and continue to be extremely sought after.
While the hype around NFT artworks has reached considerable highs (and shocking lows) since March 2021, certain PFP NFTs have consistently maintained their popularity. As a result, they have made a noteworthy contribution to creating a more stable NFT market.
What About Blue Chip NFTs?
‘Blue chip' is what people in the traditional stock world refer to as a reliable investment. Because the NFT market is still young and volatile, traders and speculators are eager to identify which projects will be the future 'blue chips' of the NFT industry.
PFPs like CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club have started to gain a reputation as 'blue chip NFTs' since traders expect them to retain their high value for the mid to long term.
However, since the NFT market is still in its infancy, true 'blue chip' status cannot be given to any project — yet.
PFP NFTs as Status Symbols
Like many things about social media, profile pictures tend to be aspirational. It’s no wonder then that celebrities are using PFP NFTs to showcase their status.
From Shonda Rhimes uploading a World of Women NFT as her profile picture on Twitter to Snoop Dogg showing off one of his many CryptoPunks as a profile picture on the same platform, celebrities have been more than enthusiastic about using PFP NFTs to express themselves.
It’s also a way for high profile individuals to demonstrate their passion for a particular cause. When Reese Witherspoon was one of the first celebrities to use a World of Women NFT as her profile picture, it expressed her dedication to women-led companies. It also reflected the need for broader representation in the tech world, which is overwhelmingly white and male-dominated.
Why PFP NFTs Give Us a Glimpse of the Metaverse
If you know anything about Facebook’s recent rebrand as Meta, then you’ve probably heard a thing or two about the concept of the metaverse. Facebook may not be the right company to do it, but the metaverse describes a network of virtual worlds built for social connection, which can be experienced through virtual and augmented reality headsets (like Oculus).
In a future version of the metaverse, you may have the option to exist entirely online. But you’ll no longer be accessing the internet through your phone, instead, you’d be immersed in it.
NFTs and PFP NFTs give us a digital identity. An asset that emulates our look in a virtual world. Some of the things that we rely on in the physical world, will also be integral to our virtual world. PFP NFTs could be an exciting way to express yourself in the metaverse, like dying your hair blue or wearing an eye-catching suit.
We are still a long way from realising this vision, but PFP NFTs are a starting point for our digital identity and a stepping stone on our pathway to engaging with the metaverse.
There's Still a Long Way to Go
While PFP NFTs have been an enduring feature in the NFT landscape (a space that is rife with speculation) it’s important to remember that not all PFP NFTs are worth a lot of money like the CryptoPunks or the Bored Apes. Plenty of projects have tried to emulate the success of these projects, but have failed miserably. PFP NFTs projects are quickly going out of fashion, and there is more desire for utility behind the jpeg.
PFP NFTs’ value lies in their ability to connect people and provide a sense of community and self-expression. So if you’re looking to invest, perhaps you should choose a PFP NFT based on what resonates with you. Similar to how you would choose a piece of art you’d like to hang in your home, but aren’t necessarily expecting to sell at a profit.
Right now the NFT space is largely defined by volatility and hype. Concepts like the metaverse are still far from being fully realised. But the technology of today tells an important story about where we’re heading. If you’d like to learn more about NFTs and blockchain technology, then check out our resource hub.