Reddit will sell ‘Collectible Avatars,’ and yes they’re NFTs

Compared to other social networking sites, Reddit has taken a slow and limited approach to features that carry a stain of self-promotion or branding. Even a decision to add simple profile pages that users could fill with their own posts faced criticism. Browsing the site, you’re more likely to see posters using variations of the site’s mascot, Snoo, in their profile picture than the selfies that dominate Twitter or Facebook. Now, we’ll see how the community responds to Reddit’s offer of “blockchain-backed Collectible Avatars.” In case you’re wondering, yes, these are non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that are available for purchase in the Reddit Avatar Builder.

These limited-edition avatars, which purchasers can then customize in the Avatar Builder, are made by independent artists who’ve partnered with Reddit. The Collectible Avatars will have a “glow-like effect” in comments sections, adding a visual flourish similar to the hexagon Twitter uses to identify NFT avatars. The NFTs are uniquely numbered, with multiple avatars of each design for sale.

Collectible avatars are stored and managed in the Vault, a blockchain-powered wallet on Reddit where Redditors currently store their community points. They can be traded on secondary marketplaces like OpenSea or SuperRare, but at least at launch, they can’t be sold directly on Reddit itself.

NFTs are already beyond controversial in many communities, with backlash to the idea of additional DRM, how they play into the greater fool theory described by Bill Gates, and what blockchain energy use means for the environment.

According to Reddit, its focus is on the ability to empower artists, as this series includes contributions from artists who post on subreddits like r/Comics as well as other artists “from our networks who are bringing their work to Reddit for the first time.” Reddit spokesperson Tim Rathschmidt tells The Verge that it took steps to prevent fraud — which has been an issue on NFT marketplaces and was a concern when Twitter rolled out its NFT pictures — by partnering with a small group of artists, applying compliance checks for their participation, and performing an “extensive, cross-functional review of all designs for their authenticity.”

It’s also using the Polygon blockchain, which it says keeps transaction costs energy-efficient. However, as we heard after the World Wildlife Fund’s abandoned attempt to launch NFTs, calculating the true energy use of Polygon’s blockchain transactions in isolation is “at best incomplete,” as it still relies on a more inefficient Ethereum network for security.

On the financials side, Rathschmidt said that Reddit’s cut is 5 percent, which covers minting and blockchain fees as well as supporting the creator program, while the rest goes to artists who have a way for their work to “live beyond the virtual walls of Reddit (and be compensated for future sales of their art).” Reddit is also keeping its hands out of cryptocurrency transactions, with all purchases made using government-issued currency, just as if you were buying Reddit Coins or Premium.

Initially, they’ll be available to a “limited number” of Redditors who join the r/CollectibleAvatars community, which will include posts with information on the program and behind-the-scenes interactions with artists.