Lamborghini Blockchain Stamps and Trajectories of Innovation

Lamborghini ventures into digital stamps. From CoinTelegraph:

Lamborghini is launching its first collectible digital stamps, the “Automobili Lamborghini Collection.” Powered by blockchain technology, the new collection is a series of collectible digital stamps dedicated to the history of the world’s most iconic luxury brand cars.

What is a digital stamp? Judging by the official announcement it is just that: a digital image that looks like a stamp and portrays a big Lamborghini. You can take a look here.

I’m not a stamp expert by any stretch (although as a kid I collected stamps and I still have my albums). But I have two assumptions:

a) Stamp collecting suffered from digitization. My guess is that fewer people collect stamps than 30 years ago (I want to note that I have no data to back up this claim; a quick research didn’t bring up anything useful).

b) If you collect stamps, the physical aspect of the hobby contributes significantly to its appeal – the tweezers, the albums, the stamp removal process etc. Therefore, a digital image of a stamp is not a stamp in the eye of the collector.

Hence, the idea to create and offer “digital stamps”, particularly if you aren’t a post service, doesn’t really sound enticing and noteworthy. I mean, if I would have pitched this to you in 2015, you would have most likely told me something along the lines of:

“You don’t understand digitization and the internet very well. Trying to sell a digital image of a car sounds like a rather boring and not very engaging concept with a very limited addressable market. Also, everybody can just copy and distribute your image for free.”

But of course now it’s 2020 and we have blockchain and crypto collectibles are a thing in the crypto microcosm and corporate employees with job titles like head of innovation of innovation-minded CMOs like to dabble with new concepts based on fancy technologies because it allows them to put something interesting-sounding on their résumé. That’s good for them and fair game and genuine congratulations to any startup – in this case Bitstamps – that gets to implement a real-world product with a globally renown brand.

However.

Even though your digital image of a stamp is now hashed to a blockchain and therefore a rare or unique digital item, it still doesn’t make for a convincing pitch imho. It simply doesn’t sound like a fun activity to collect digital stamps. And if you are into stamps only for investment purposes, blockchain-based digital stamps simply aren’t a thing among collectors. That is not to say that they never could but… if it’s not fun, it’s less likely. More on this in a second.

Look, I’m not writing this to bash Bitstamps or any other crypto collectibles startup that’s on a similar path. In fact, what we are seeing here is a pretty default trajectory in innovation.

From Mimicry to Better

First, we have to understand what said path actually is in more generalized terms: When a new, paradigm-changing technology emerges, many of the early projects and companies that utilize this technology merely try to replicate what worked in the old paradigm, only with the new tools. Think of Yahoo creating the digital equivalent of the yellow pages, of early newspaper websites looking just like print newspapers, or early mobile apps trying to sell software instead of selling access to software.

Of course, usually these replicas of old models don’t fully leverage the capabilities of the new technology. It takes a few iterations of a concept, e.g. web search, to get it right from a product perspective. Only once Google created its PageRank algorithm did a search tool fully utilize the internet’s property of being a network. Instead of cataloging information by hand, Google used the network itself to collect, categorize and rank websites.

With this in place, we had an objectively better (and I’d say by an order of magnitude better) information discovery tool than ever before.

Let’s bring this back to crypto collectibles.

When it comes to the category/general concept, I’m bullish. Virtual items are already highly popular and truly ownable digital collectibles make a lot of sense for users. But many of today’s forays into the field strike me as misguided replicas of old models. Too often I find that an engaging use case is utterly lacking.

Most successful collectibles didn’t start out as collectibles but as something cool people fell in love with. Only then did people start to collect them. Think of Magic cards, music, movies, sneakers, comic books, and, I guess, even stamps. But – Hot Take Alert – in the digital realm, something that is worthy of being collected is most likely something other than a digital image.

As a result, I believe that every product designer who starts with the goal of “building a digital collectible” is on the wrong track. Don’t start with creating a collectible but start with building some awesome digital things. And – by using the right technology, i.e. one that enables true ownership and p2p transferability – make sure that your cool digital things can, in principle, become collectibles.

So, what am I looking for in “awesome digital things”.

Well, I certainly didn’t figure it all out but I have some ideas:

Gamified Experiences

One project that, I think, gets it more right than many others is SoRare. The football-themed product combines fantasy sports with digital trading cards that live on the Ethereum blockchain. Users collect “player cards” to improve their team and win.

But my guess is that this approach – building a game around collectible cards – is only an interim stage. The most successful digital collectibles will origin from development processes that start with utility and fun in mind. The result, I assume, will be digital objects that can be used in games or game-like experiences.

Leverage Digital Media

Many traditional collectibles have a physical form and, hence, use static images. Yet of course we can use all media types in the digital realm. CryptoKitties creator Dapper Labs is currently developing NBA Top Shot. While many details are still unknown, it’s already clear that

The game enables NBA fans to collect “moment tokens” that include things like high-quality video and multimedia of heroic, real-life action, as well as live on-court play and game stats.

While it’s still unclear what the actual implementation is going to look like, it at least seems as if NBA fans can expect more than a simple trading card.

Platforms and Interoperability

One possible approach is to build an integrated solution. Another one is to develop digital objects (or, platforms for digital objects) that users can use in multiple platforms (and that platform operators have a reason to enable). For instance you could build skins for digital characters that work across video games, say in FIFA25 and Fortnite. Another example could be customized video objects that users can share on their social media platforms.

Of course, these are only a few examples. I’m confident that creative tinkering and evolution will lead to many more kinds of digital objects. Some of them will be loved and collected. But I’d be very surprised if digital stamps would be among those.

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