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How Metaplex Core Moves Beyond NFT Standards w/ Stephen Hess (Metaplex Studios)

By Validated

Published on 2024-05-28

Discover how Metaplex Core is transforming the NFT landscape on Solana, moving beyond traditional standards to create a more versatile and efficient digital asset protocol.

The notes below are AI generated and may not be 100% accurate. Watch the video to be sure!

The Evolution of Solana's NFT Ecosystem

The Solana blockchain has come a long way since the summer of 2021, when the concept of NFTs on the network was just beginning to take shape. In this enlightening conversation between Austin and Stephen Hess of Metaplex Studios, we get an insider's look at how the Solana NFT ecosystem has evolved from its inception to the present day.

Stephen Hess, who has been at the forefront of Metaplex since 2021, provides valuable insights into the journey that has led to the creation of "Core," a new standard that represents a shift away from traditional NFT standards towards a more comprehensive "digital asset protocol."

What is Metaplex?

Metaplex is a community-governed digital asset protocol that has played a pivotal role in shaping the NFT landscape on Solana. Initially known for introducing the first Solana NFT standard, Metaplex has continued to innovate, bringing features like compressed NFTs and programmability to the forefront of the ecosystem.

Stephen Hess describes Metaplex as "a framework and a platform for creating, managing, and using digital assets." This description encapsulates the broad scope of Metaplex's work, which extends far beyond simple NFT creation and management.

The Scope of Metaplex's Work

Metaplex's influence on the Solana ecosystem is substantial. Stephen Hess provides some impressive statistics to illustrate this point:

"Over 40 million wallets now hold a Metaplex NFT. Last month in March, there were over 700,000 unique signers to the Metaplex protocol and close to 100 million transactions. So, close to 12% of all the transactions on the network related to digital assets and NFTs using Metaplex."

These numbers underscore the significant role that Metaplex plays in the Solana ecosystem, demonstrating its widespread adoption and frequent use.

The Digital Asset Standard

At the core of Metaplex's offerings is the Digital Asset Standard. This standard provides a framework for how data related to assets should be structured and how these assets should behave. The standard is implemented across several programs, including token metadata, bubblegum (for compressed NFTs), and the new Core program.

To ensure interoperability and ease of use for developers, Metaplex has created the Digital Asset Standard API (DAS API). This API provides a unified interface for application developers to access asset data, regardless of the specific program implementing the standard. This approach allows for greater flexibility and innovation in the creation of digital assets while maintaining a consistent interface for developers.

Finding Product-Market Fit

The journey of Metaplex is a testament to the importance of flexibility and responsiveness in the rapidly evolving world of blockchain technology. Initially, Metaplex was conceived as a creator-centered platform, offering artists the ability to launch their own NFT marketplaces without relying on centralized launchpads.

However, as Stephen Hess explains, "It turns out that in order to build that, you need an NFT standard. And so we built an NFT standard." This NFT standard, which was initially just a component of the larger vision, ended up becoming the cornerstone of Metaplex's success.

The open-source nature of Metaplex's technology led to the growth of a vibrant developer community. Hess notes, "We started building what at this point is one of the largest web three developer communities around this technology that was looking at the standard."

The Shift to Developer Focus

As Metaplex evolved, the team realized the immense impact they were having on developers and the importance of focusing on this aspect of their work. Hess explains, "If anything has changed, you know, sort of fundamentally, I would say, you know, the vision is still the same. It's like building a digital asset economy, creating peer-to-peer commerce infrastructure, decentralizing commerce broadly, but a focus and a doubling down on the developer platform, the on-chain programming, the standard, the tools that are going to enable, you know, dozens, hundreds, thousands of different types of applications that are interfacing with that core technology."

This shift in focus has allowed Metaplex to create a more robust and versatile platform that can support a wide range of applications beyond simple NFT creation and trading.

Controversial Decisions: Programmable NFTs

One of the more controversial decisions made by Metaplex was the introduction of programmable NFTs. This feature was developed in response to the need for enforceable royalties, a issue that came to the forefront when a marketplace called Yaw decided not to respect the royalties specified in NFT metadata.

Hess defends this decision, saying, "While royalty enforcement was a controversial topic, in terms of our own internal decision making process, it was actually pretty clear what we had to do in that moment, which is in talking to creators, the incentive alignment between their collector base and their project, which royalty enforcement provided was fundamental."

Despite initial pushback and concerns that this would negatively impact the Solana NFT ecosystem, Hess argues that the opposite has occurred. He points out that in December, Solana NFTs with royalty enforcement surpassed Ethereum in secondary trading volume.

The Introduction of Protocol Fees

Another controversial decision made by Metaplex was the introduction of protocol fees for token metadata. Hess frames this decision as part of a larger vision for sustainable, community-governed digital asset protocols.

"We think that digital asset protocols are a fundamental and important category in web three and that that work should be funded. But the collection of fees, the fee amounts, the development of the protocol should ultimately be community governed," Hess explains.

This approach allows for the creation of a closed loop between the protocol, its users, token holders, and the fees generated. The goal is to create a fully decentralized digital asset economy where organizations like the Metaplex Foundation can progressively hand over authority to the DAO and the community.

The Structure of Metaplex

Metaplex consists of several components:

  1. The Metaplex Foundation: This is where core protocol developers work, focusing on the on-chain protocol, standards, SDKs, and the DAS API.

  2. Metaplex Studios (also known as the labs component): This branch works on application-layer projects, such as the creator studio now called Truffle.

  3. The Metaplex DAO: This is the community governance arm of Metaplex, responsible for making key decisions about the protocol's future.

Hess emphasizes that the DAO is "the most important organization in that ecosystem. The goal is to transition all meaningful decision making, including the fees and the placement of fees and the usage of fees to the DAO, which is governed by token holders."

Introducing Metaplex Core

The latest innovation from Metaplex is Core, which Hess describes as "perhaps the end of the NFT standards era and the beginning of the digital asset protocol era for Metaplex."

Core represents a significant simplification and optimization of the NFT structure on Solana. Unlike previous standards that required multiple Solana accounts for each NFT, Core stores all relevant data for an asset in a single account. This results in an 85% improvement in minting costs and compute efficiency.

Moreover, Core introduces a plugin system that allows developers to create custom applications based on the lifecycle events of a token. This opens up a wide range of possibilities for new use cases and innovations in the digital asset space.

Beyond NFTs: The Future of Digital Assets

With Core, Metaplex is moving beyond the traditional concept of NFTs towards a broader vision of digital assets. Hess explains, "We ultimately look at it as digital assets or perhaps even on-chain assets as a more precise term. Now that real world assets are coming online and are being tokenized."

This shift in perspective allows for a more flexible and expansive view of what can be represented and traded on the blockchain. It opens up possibilities for new types of assets and use cases that go beyond what we typically think of as NFTs.

The Challenge of Data Accessibility

As the complexity and volume of digital assets grow, so does the challenge of data accessibility. Hess points out that while Solana's runtime is optimized for write performance, efficient read operations are crucial for creating responsive user experiences.

This tension between on-chain storage and efficient data retrieval has been a part of Metaplex's journey from the beginning. Hess recalls, "That first Metaplex storefront, if you remember, struggled to load. That was the meme, is you would go to a Metaplex storefront and you'd be waiting for minutes."

To address this issue, Metaplex has been working on solutions like the DAS API, which Hess describes as "the beginning of a more decentralized way of indexing on-chain data that application developers can then use."

The Need for a Decentralized Content Delivery Network

The conversation touches on the need for a decentralized content delivery network (CDN) for blockchain-based digital assets. This is particularly relevant for more data-intensive assets like video NFTs, which are currently underrepresented in the NFT space.

Hess acknowledges this gap: "You have permanent file storage with IPFS and RWeave. And then you have the L1s, which provide you execution and managing global state. But there really is this gap that lives in the middle."

Addressing this gap could unlock new possibilities for digital assets, allowing for more complex and data-rich NFTs while maintaining the decentralized and censorship-resistant nature of blockchain technology.

The Role of Compression in Scaling Digital Assets

Compression has played a crucial role in scaling digital assets on Solana. By storing only the minimal necessary data on-chain and leveraging RPC providers for data indexing and access, compression allows for the creation of hundreds of millions of NFTs per month.

However, this approach also raises questions about data storage and accessibility. Hess points out, "When you have something like compression, which is generating hundreds of millions of NFTs per month, you start to have a pretty significant economic problem, which is like, who's paying for the storage of this data? What's supporting that at scale?"

These challenges highlight the need for innovative solutions in data storage, indexing, and delivery to support the growing digital asset ecosystem.

The Metaplex DAO and Community Governance

Community governance is a crucial aspect of Metaplex's vision for the future. The Metaplex DAO plays a central role in this, allowing token holders to participate in decision-making processes that shape the protocol's future.

Hess emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the DAO represents the users it serves: "So ultimately for a DAO to be credible as a forum and decision making body, it has to represent the users that it's serving. And so I do think that that's an important step in any DAOs development is to make sure that the people that are impacted the most have a seat at the table."

The DAO has a treasury of MPLX tokens that it can use for grants to individual project teams and to implement rewards for the usage of certain types of programs and protocols. This structure allows for a more democratic and community-driven approach to protocol development and governance.

The Evolving Role of the MPLX Token

The MPLX token, which represents Metaplex, has seen its role evolve over time. Initially distributed based on NFT usage and creation, the token is now taking on a more active role in protocol governance.

Hess reveals that the Metaplex Foundation has decided to convert 50% of the fees generated by the protocol, both historically and going forward, into MPLX tokens. These tokens are then sent to the DAO, which has the discretion to distribute them through rewards, grants, and incentive programs.

This move aims to create a stronger alignment between token holders and the protocol's success, while also providing resources for continued development and community initiatives.

Core's Plugin System: Enabling New Use Cases

One of the most exciting features of Core is its plugin system. This system allows developers to create custom applications that can interact with the lifecycle events of a token. Hess explains some of the possibilities this opens up:

"You can have point systems where the data is directly tied into the asset itself. You can have game assets that are destroyed or revoked based on the behavior of the game. You can have custom royalty enforcement where the royalties are only collected in very specific situations instead of on every sale."

This flexibility allows for a wide range of innovative use cases that go beyond traditional NFT functionality, paving the way for more complex and interactive digital assets.

The Future of Digital Asset Storage and Accessibility

As the digital asset ecosystem grows and evolves, questions about long-term storage and accessibility become increasingly important. Hess points out that while solutions exist for permanent file storage (like IPFS and Arweave) and for managing global state (L1 blockchains), there's a gap in the middle that needs to be addressed.

This gap represents an opportunity for innovation in decentralized solutions for indexing and distributing content in real-time. As Hess notes, "Practically speaking, if the goal is censorship resistance, then you have to have decentralized solutions for delivering that data."

Addressing these challenges will be crucial for realizing the full potential of digital assets, enabling more complex and data-rich NFTs while maintaining the decentralized and censorship-resistant nature of blockchain technology.

Metaplex's Vision for the Future

Looking ahead, Metaplex's vision extends far beyond traditional NFTs. With Core, they're laying the groundwork for a more versatile and efficient digital asset protocol that can support a wide range of use cases.

Hess expresses excitement about the future: "We're really excited, you know, appreciate having the opportunity to come here and talk with you today. But also looking forward to an amazing year and like this next leg in the journey for NFTs and digital assets for both Metaplex and Solana on large."

This optimism is well-founded, given the impressive growth and innovation we've seen in the Solana NFT ecosystem since its inception. As Metaplex continues to evolve and adapt to the needs of creators, developers, and users, it's poised to play a crucial role in shaping the future of digital assets on Solana and beyond.

Conclusion: The Ongoing Evolution of Digital Assets

The conversation between Austin and Stephen Hess provides a fascinating glimpse into the rapidly evolving world of digital assets on Solana. From the early days of NFT standards to the current push towards a more comprehensive digital asset protocol, Metaplex has been at the forefront of innovation in this space.

The introduction of Core represents a significant milestone in this journey, offering improved efficiency, greater flexibility, and new possibilities for developers and creators alike. As the digital asset ecosystem continues to grow and evolve, Metaplex's commitment to community governance, developer support, and technological innovation positions it well to play a crucial role in shaping the future of this exciting field.

As we look to the future, it's clear that the potential applications for digital assets extend far beyond what we currently think of as NFTs. With ongoing developments in areas like decentralized storage, content delivery, and programmable assets, we're likely to see new and innovative use cases emerge that we can hardly imagine today.

The journey of Metaplex serves as a reminder of the importance of adaptability, community engagement, and a forward-thinking approach in the fast-paced world of blockchain technology. As Solana and its ecosystem continue to grow and mature, projects like Metaplex will undoubtedly play a crucial role in driving innovation and adoption in the world of digital assets.

Facts + Figures

  • Over 40 million wallets now hold a Metaplex NFT
  • In March, there were over 700,000 unique signers to the Metaplex protocol
  • Close to 100 million transactions were made using Metaplex in March
  • Approximately 12% of all transactions on the Solana network are related to digital assets and NFTs using Metaplex
  • Metaplex Core offers an 85% improvement in minting costs and compute efficiency compared to previous standards
  • The Metaplex Foundation has decided to convert 50% of protocol fees into MPLX tokens for the DAO
  • Metaplex started as a creator-centered platform but evolved to focus more on developer tools and infrastructure
  • The introduction of programmable NFTs and royalty enforcement was initially controversial but has since proven successful
  • In December, Solana NFTs with royalty enforcement surpassed Ethereum in secondary trading volume
  • Metaplex consists of three main components: the Metaplex Foundation, Metaplex Studios, and the Metaplex DAO
  • Core stores all relevant data for an asset in a single Solana account, as opposed to the five accounts required in previous standards
  • Compression allows for the creation of hundreds of millions of NFTs per month on Solana
  • The DAS API provides a unified interface for application developers to access asset data across different Metaplex programs

Questions Answered

What is Metaplex?

Metaplex is a community-governed digital asset protocol built on the Solana blockchain. It provides a framework and platform for creating, managing, and using digital assets, including NFTs. Metaplex is best known for introducing the first Solana NFT standard and has since continued to innovate with features like compressed NFTs, programmability, and most recently, the Core standard for digital assets.

How has Metaplex evolved since its inception?

Metap

lex has evolved significantly since its inception in 2021. Initially, it was conceived as a creator-centered platform for launching NFT marketplaces. However, it quickly pivoted to focus more on developer tools and infrastructure as the team realized the impact they were having on the developer community. This shift led to the development of more advanced features like compressed NFTs, programmable NFTs, and the new Core standard, which aims to create a more versatile and efficient digital asset protocol.

What is Metaplex Core?

Metaplex Core is the latest innovation from Metaplex, described as "the end of the NFT standards era and the beginning of the digital asset protocol era." Core simplifies the structure of digital assets on Solana by storing all relevant data in a single account, resulting in an 85% improvement in minting costs and compute efficiency. It also introduces a plugin system that allows developers to create custom applications based on the lifecycle events of a token, opening up a wide range of possibilities for new use cases and innovations in the digital asset space.

How does Metaplex address the challenge of data accessibility for digital assets?

Metaplex addresses the challenge of data accessibility through several approaches. First, they've developed the Digital Asset Standard API (DAS API), which provides a unified interface for application developers to access asset data across different Metaplex programs. For compressed NFTs, they leverage RPC providers for data indexing and access, storing only minimal necessary data on-chain. Additionally, Metaplex is working on more decentralized solutions for indexing and distributing content in real-time, recognizing the need for efficient read operations alongside Solana's optimized write performance.

What role does the Metaplex DAO play in the ecosystem?

The Metaplex DAO plays a crucial role in the governance of the Metaplex protocol. It is responsible for making key decisions about the protocol's future, including the implementation and usage of fees. The DAO is governed by MPLX token holders and has a treasury that can be used for grants to project teams and to implement rewards for protocol usage. The goal is to transition all meaningful decision-making to the DAO over time, creating a fully decentralized digital asset economy.

How does Metaplex's approach to NFTs differ from traditional NFT standards?

Metaplex's approach to NFTs, especially with the introduction of Core, moves beyond traditional NFT standards towards a more comprehensive digital asset protocol. Instead of focusing solely on non-fungible tokens, Metaplex is creating a flexible framework that can support a wide range of digital assets, including those that blur the line between fungible and non-fungible. This approach allows for more complex use cases, such as programmable assets, hybrid NFTs, and assets that can change their characteristics over time.

What are some potential future developments for digital assets on Solana?

Future developments for digital assets on Solana could include more complex and data-rich NFTs, such as video NFTs, which are currently underrepresented. There's also potential for the development of a decentralized content delivery network specifically for blockchain-based assets. Additionally, we might see new applications leveraging Core's plugin system, such as assets with built-in point systems, game assets that evolve based on gameplay, or assets with custom royalty enforcement mechanisms. The expansion of real-world asset tokenization is another area of potential growth.

How does Metaplex ensure sustainability and funding for protocol development?

Metaplex ensures sustainability and funding for protocol development through the implementation of protocol fees. These fees are collected from the usage of Metaplex programs, with 50% of the fees (both historical and ongoing) being converted into MPLX tokens and sent to the DAO. This creates a closed loop between the protocol, its users, token holders, and the fees generated. The DAO then has the discretion to distribute these funds through rewards, grants, and incentive programs, ensuring ongoing development and community initiatives.

What challenges does Metaplex face in scaling digital assets on Solana?

One of the main challenges Metaplex faces in scaling digital assets on Solana is balancing on-chain storage with efficient data retrieval. While compression allows for the creation of hundreds of millions of NFTs per month, it raises questions about who pays for the storage and indexing of this data at scale. Another challenge is creating decentralized solutions for real-time content delivery that can match the performance of centralized systems. Additionally, as the ecosystem grows, ensuring that the governance model through the DAO remains representative and effective becomes increasingly important.

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