Humans are the quintessential example of a scarce resource. There will only be one of you, ever. And despite this truth, bringing your unique identity online and unifying it across applications has been historically challenging. If you are anything like me, you have user accounts with social platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn), media platforms (Netflix, YouTube), marketplaces (Amazon) and many other apps. Each platform requires an account based on a disclosure: name, phone number, address, etc. At the end of the day, you end up with a digital identity at Facebook, Linkedin, Netflix, Youtube, and Amazon. There is overlap, sure, but your identities across these applications are far from unified. I might be Andy on Facebook, and Andrew on Linkedin.
Blockchains have been touted as a solution to the unification problem in so far as they are proficient at preserving scarcity in the digital world. While no project has nailed unified identity yet, a few silly emojis on the Ethereum blockchain are quietly proving that it’s possible.
At first glance, an Ethmoji looks like any other emoji — simple and often exaggerated features on an egg-shaped head. Pop the hood though, and you will discover quite the opposite.
Developed by Devin Finzer and Alex Atallah at OpenSea (the leading marketplace for digital collectibles), Ethmoji allows users to create a custom emoji built from a catalog of characteristics — face, hair, eyes, nose, eyebrows, glasses, mouth, and mustache. There are dozens of varieties, and each one is represented by an ERC721 token. Each “characteristic token” has an owner that receives a small royalty every time the characteristic is used in a new Ethmoji. I paid 0.017325 ETH (~$9 at time of writing), and that amount was distributed pro rate to the token owners.
Your finished ethmoji is a “composable” — a collection of any number of ERC20 (fungible) and/or ERC721 (non-fungible) assets. This is akin to component parts assembled into a finished product. Ethmojis also serve as your username and avatar for the OpenSea marketplace.
Here’s where it gets interesting
Composables live in a smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain (controlled by your private key just like any other ERC asset), not at the application level. This is powerful for two reasons:
(1) Portability. Identity maintained at the protocol level as a token is portable, and operable with any dapp that integrates with a browser-based Ethereum wallet (e.g. Metamask). Dapps can anchor to the Ethmoji smart contract and leverage the existing identity record for purposes of establishing a username and avatar. This is radically different from something like Facebook Connect, which via API pulls your identity from the Facebook application. Decentralized maintenance of identity, even for something as benign as a username or an avatar, has serious implications.
(2) Longitudinal Reputation. Identity isn’t the only thing that is application-specific. Reputation is too. My network, activity and feedback on Facebook is entirely separate from the equivalent on LinkedIn. My seller reviews on Amazon do not impact my credibility on eBay. By taking identity out of the application layer and establishing it at the protocol layer, you have necessarily constructed a primitive decentralized reputation system.
Example: Composables are “sticky”, meaning they can themselves own additional ERC assets. Any additional attributes or skills acquired by your Ethomji as a result of playing a game, for example, travel with your Ethmoji. Another dapp or game can recognize the additional attributes and skills. In essence, you are establishing reputation by leveraging existing reputation. the Ultiplex team experimented with this use case at the ETHBuenosAires Hackathon last month.
What’s around the corner
I fully anticipate Ethmoji becoming a popular identity mechanism for dapps and games in the Ethereum ecoystem, and I know the team at OpenSea likely has larger ambitions for the project. But even in its current form, Ethmoji has already proven that decentralized, unified identify is possible.