Blockchain in WordPress in 2022

If you land in certain corners of the Twittersphere, you’ll find yourself surrounded by people who are wildly enthusiastic believers in the power of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) to change the relationship between creators and consumers.

By extension, they are at least a little enthusiastic about cryptocurrency as a means to an end, though they are quick to point out that they aren’t at all like the real crypto enthusiasts, who just want to get stupid rich by purchasing lots of Bitcoin and other blockchain currencies and then “hodling” it forever (that is, holding it).

There’s also a great deal of interest and activity around the underlying blockchain technology that makes NFTs and hodling possible, though there’s maybe a little less wild fervor. So is it time to bring blockchain to WordPress?

Probably nothing

These folks are probably onto something, even if the sheer enthusiasm and the whiff of naivete is a little off-putting. The slang (like saying “probably nothing” as an ironic way of saying that some NFT development is likely to be huge, but whose importance is overlooked by the public at large) can get old. But in any case, on to something. It’s just an open question whether what they are on to is the same thing as whatever it is that will ultimately wind up mattering. Indeed, there are some interesting things that a business (whether a solo creator or something bigger and more traditional) could potentially do with blockchain technology and something like either minted coins or NFTs.

For some, there’s a real opportunity there, so the pressing question becomes: what’s the shortest distance from whatever I’m doing on the web now and offering some sort of blockchain capability?

There’s a reasonable likelihood that you are running your website on WordPress, meaning that the question will ideally boil down to installing a blockchain plugin or two. As we know, plugins can be magic.

But before having a look at the current assortment of “early phase” plugins that handle various blockchain-related tasks, let’s talk about why you’d want to get your WordPress site tangled up in the cryptocurrency world and what you’d actually be trying to get done.

Blockchain Potential Benefits

If you’re running a “non-crypto” website or business (and this is most of us), you may be wondering why you should even bother with blockchain and cryptocurrency.

Crypto Payments

One answer may be that you have enough cryptocurrency users in your customer base or target demographic that it makes sense to accept payments in Bitcoin and/or Ethereum.

NFT sales

A fancier possibility is creating NFTs of some sort and selling them to the NFT collectors out there (of which there are surprisingly many). I don’t know if any of the NFT fervor, especially around JPEG art, makes any sense, but in a way it doesn’t matter. People want these sorts of things and the prices paid for them are occasionally staggering. Plus, depending on what you are doing and how novel it is, this may be a form of getting your name out there (that is, marketing) while the interest level is insanely high.

To create NFTs, you need to create the data (the picture, the text) that will be the “contents” of the NFT, which is just the normal process of creating such things. But after that, you’ll need to either mint the NFTs yourself or provide a way for buyers to mint them as they buy them.

Creator Coins

Elsewhere in the world of tokens, there are interesting experiments underway with what are being called “creator coins” or “community coins.”

You can mint NFTs, as mentioned above, but you can also mint tokens that are “alt-coins.” They are cryptocurrency that’s built on top of other cryptocurrency, by way over oversimplifying.

When I was talking about creator coins a couple of weeks ago, I singled out Rally as a startup that was leading in building out this kind of alt-coin production:

Dogecoin is the alt-coin people talk about, mostly in a sort of disbelief that there’s such a thing as joke-but-real money. But Rally envisions spinning up lots and lots and lots of alt-coins, one per creator/entrepreneur. Because Rally is an Ethereum sidechain, the coins are actually tied back to a currency system that in turn ties back to what most of us still (archaic fiat-currency boomers that we are) think of as real money.

I think it’s fair to say that we’re still figuring out what it means to launch your own creator coin, but the underlying thinking is that this gives you a way to have a self-contained economy in the community that supports you. People buy your tokens as a way of supporting your work (think, approximately, Patreon, but with crypto). You as the creator at the center of this economy can reward fans for contributing their time or feedback or enthusiasm using the coin of the realm. And holders of the coins will, in most instances, receive whatever it is you’re creating, on a scale commensurate with how many coins they hold.

If this sounds vague, that’s because the whole thing is still vague, but we’re seeing early experiments in using these sorts of tokens as event tickets, as access to community sites, and a way to buy a book that keeps you “invested” in the community going forward.

Rally’s raison d’être is making it easy and seamless to create your own coin. But that’s not at all to say you couldn’t roll your own, using an Ethereum sidechain like Solana (this sidechain has the low “gas” costs you’d need if you were minting a lot of coins). If you do that, though, you’ll need an interface for doing the minting, need to connect that minting process to a wallet that supported Solana, then need a mechanism for making a small, private market for the coin.

There are code libraries out there for doing all these things. There’s even a few sites emerging that are doing these sorts of things on WordPress sites. Web3WP.com, for example, lets you mint a one-off version of the WordPress mascot Wapuu, should you be overtaken by any desire to do that. More broadly, it seems likely that creator coins may be one of the more interesting places to consider blockchain in WordPress environments.

WordPress blockchain plugins

There are already over a hundred blockchain-related plugins in the WordPress.org plugin repository, though only a handful have more than one or two hundred active installations out there in the world. There are also a growing number of plugins available outside the official repo.

As you’d expect, some of these various plugins are fairly arcane. One provides a websocket attachment to the Executium network, for example (40+ installations).

Others do the sorts of things you might be interested in doing to get your feet wet. The NFT Maker by Tatum (see below) plugin let’s you…yeah. And you get your choice of the Ethereum, Polygon, Binance Smart Chain, Celo, and Harmony chains.

So here’s a few plugins of note:

Crypto Price Widgets

Dip a toe into crypto by providing basic price information on your site. Crypto Price Widgets – CryptoWP displays the current prices of various coins in one of over twenty supported currencies. You can throw this widget into a sidebar or use shortcodes to drop prices into pages anywhere at all.

LikeCoin

From the plugin description: “LikeCoin aims to empower content ownership, authenticity, and provenance. Creators can register content metadata to guarantee its integrity by acquiring an International Standard Content Number (ISCN). ISCN is a tool to authenticate and track content, just like a digital footprint.”

This is one PeakZebra will dig into in more detail in the next few weeks, as there’s a lot of interesting stuff lurking in this approach.

Tatum – NFT Maker

If you want to dive into making and selling NFTs, this seems like the most straightforward path. You can mint tokens and sell them on the site, though you can’t let users mint the NFTs themselves, a capability that some sites are using. The reason for this exclusion, I suspect, is the Tatum plugin’s business model. The plugin is free, but you’ve got to buy credits to pay for the gas transaction fees that arise in the process. And heads up: if you’re minting on the Ethereum main chain, the gas fees can be very high.

Crypto.com Pay Checkout for WooCommerce

Exactly what it sounds like. It accepts several currencies, including the obvious Bitcoin and Ether options.

WordProof Timestamp

WordProof does pretty much exactly what it sounds like it does, creating a hash of your latest post and writing it to the Ethereum blockchain, thus providing proof for the long run that you published exactly that version of the post on exactly that day and at that time. This may not be something you think you need (and you may be right), but one scenario is intriguing. If you’re a smaller website and you publish something wonderful, but a big site steals your piece and throws it up online right behind you, that site might actually get indexed by Google faster than you (sites with more traffic get higher priority), making you look like you stole the piece. This would theoretically let you set the record straight.

Anyway, you get ten stamps a month for free, after which you pay a few bucks per month. This uses the blockchain in a sensible way, but you won’t feel like your site has joined the web3 era just because you use it, because it hides the whole blockchain business from you.

WPSmartContracts

Despite the “smart contracts” moniker, this plugin lets you carry out a number of different, basic cryptocurrency tasks. It focuses on the Ethereum  blockchain, and enables you to create ERC-20 tokens, Initial Coin Offerings, and has basic support for NFT marketplaces. The various things you can do with it are broken up into “flavors” of contract, with the simplest stuff being free and other flavors costing a small fraction of an Ether (though, note: a small fraction of an Ether is still some money, given that Ether is trading at over $4600 as this is written).

Blockchain in WordPress? Still Early Days

There’s still a lot of inventing on the fly in the world of smart contracts, NFTs, and alt-coin. But there’s also a lot of momentum behind it and there are likely some opportunities to be rewarded just for getting to the party early. Using plugins, particularly as they become more capable and robust, may very well be a way to get out in front of the pack while they struggle getting their blockchain programming skills up to snuff.