If you spend any time on the corner of the internet known as “Crypto Twitter,” your timeline was probably festooned with strings of colorful emojis during the last couple of weeks. What makes these particular emoji triptychs different? They’re also clickable links. 

The emoji combinations are part of a scheme from a mysterious project called Yat 🖖 that’s trying to put a cutesy spin on one of the fundamental problems of the internet: how to name a thing. Of course, there’s a blockchain spin to this too. The first thing Yat wants to do is become a naming system for crypto wallets. 

Here’s what Yat proposes: Users pick up to three emoji that they want to represent an address. This string can then be linked to a simple webpage where you can put more links to stuff. It’s sort of like an emoji-fied Linktree. In the future, you’ll be able to send and receive cryptocurrencies with your Yat as well, they say. 

It’s not entirely clear whether Yat itself is powered by a blockchain. The only explanation about the project is a YouTube video it published, and a noisy Discord for users. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped people from pouring money into them. When you create a Yat, you have to spend money to own it. The price tag depends on its rarity, which is algorithmically determined, and its age. 

So far, people have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars buying Yats. A Yat comprising a single key sold for over $400,000, according to trade publication The Defiant. Celebrities are piling in, with Ke$ha and Questlove using Yats on their Twitter profiles. 

One of the Yat founders, Naveen Jain, tells us in a voiceover of the Yat video that the project aims to prevent anyone from being “cancelled” by big tech companies or governments. It seems the solution to censorship resistance is cutesy emojis that cost loads of cash. 

Yat isn’t the first crypto project to try to solve the question of names on the internet. In fact, the way names are distributed on the internet may be a contender for the internet’s original sin—perhaps slightly behind the lack of native payments. And these skirmishes over naming rights spill over into the off-chain world too. Names might be the only truly scarce commodity in crypto. 

Alternative naming systems

Efforts to change the naming systems in crypto range from the grand to the prosaic. Representing the former is a blockchain called Handshake, which when it was revealed in 2018, promised wrest power away from the centralized agencies that hand out domain-name addresses (that’s things like businessofbusiness.com) in favor of a decentralized marketplace. Handshake has botched an attempt to win a high-profile new user, the academic paper repository Sci Hub, falling prey to criticism that it’s just as centralized as the old system. 

Meanwhile, projects like the Ethereum Name Service have slightly less lofty ambitions. It just wants to replace the jumble of letters and numbers that make up an Ethereum address with a human-readable label. It started out in 2017 with a novel auction system where people could bid for names and then receive the deposit back if they didn’t want the name anymore—allowing people to experiment with the system. Now it operates with an annual fee model, which is similar to legacy domain registrations. 

A word about how addresses are distributed on the internet currently. Addresses fall under the DNS, or domain name service, system. These names are assigned through a variety of organizations, with oversight ultimately falling on the IANA, a unit of the US Department of Commerce: Cue crypto people complaining about government centralization. 

Branding and the ticker tape

Naming squabbles also arise over branding. In crypto—and on Wall Street—what your token or stock is called matters. Witness the absurd proliferation of coins claiming to be Bitcoin triggered by the Bitcoin “civil war” of  2017. Now we have Bitcoin Cash, Bitcoin Satoshi’s Vision, and at one point, Bitcoin Gold. The same thing happened to Ethereum, leaving us with two chains: Ethereum and Ethereum Classic. Which one is the real ethereum? You’ll get different answers depending on who you ask. 

In the more pedestrian realm of stock tickers, the turf battles over naming don’t stop. While Coinbase is listed on the NASDAQ under the ticker symbol COIN, another firm, Coinsilium has been listed on the much smaller Aquis Exchange market since 2015 also under COIN. The solution? Both will keep using COIN for the foreseeable future, according to CoinDesk

A seat at the table 

Which brings us back to Yat, the emojified addressing system. Is there a point to paying for an emoji name? I asked Jeremy Burge, the founder of Emojipedia. He said he has seen Yat only in passing, but couldn’t see how Yats derived value. 

“Yat isn’t Unicode, nor a company that makes emoji graphics in-house,” he said. “It seems to me that “owning” an emoji from Yat is no different than me selling an NFT for any letter of the alphabet. Each to their own if people see value in it, but as it stands today, I can’t see it.”

Yet as crypto projects have shown over the last decade, the market acts on its own whims. Becoming a full voting member of the Unicode Consortium, which sets the rules for emoji use and design, costs $21,000 a year. The sale of a single mid-level Yat would cover that. On April 14, a few days after I spoke with Burge, it was revealed that Yat had become a Unicode voting member. 

Maybe an internet filled with emoji addresses for aligning crypto coins isn’t so far off, after all. By the way, you can reach me at https://y.at/👀🤓⚙️.

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