Gary Herick

Startup Funding, Venture Capital & Innovative Blockchain Capital

Blockchain: How HBO Inspired Crypto’s Most Confounding Coin

Gary Herick Blockchain

Topic: Blockchain

“Hey … this is Craig Wright.”

It wasn’t, but that was far from the strangest part of the conversation.

Thus began CoinDesk’s attempts to determine the identity and intent of the individuals behind “Pied Piper Coin,” a parody Twitter account inspired by the HBO series “Silicon Valley.” Chronicling a plucky startup that suffers hilarious slings and arrows in its quest to remake the internet, the TV show had its characters conduct an initial coin offering (ICO) in May.

So, no one was exactly surprised when, a couple of days later, a Twitter account for the fictional token, Pied Piper Coin, showed up. Less clear, however, was who was behind the account.

Many took it for the kind of corporate Twitter that’s fast become fashionable in an age where MoonPie is an absurdist comedy juggernaut. If a has-been confectionary can capture the social zeitgeist, why not HBO? But if that was the case, corporate had given Pied Piper Coin a long leash.

The account’s first tweet promised an airdrop – a free distribution of free crypto money – and told followers to tag exchanges so that they’d support the coin (in what would become a pattern, it worked in a dig at Bittrex). In private messages, Pied Piper Coin told us that Craig Wright was behind the account, that XRP was a security, and that yes, the airdrop was real.

But as time went on, Pied Piper Coin’s enthusiasm for stoking crypto animosities made HBO backing seem less and less likely.

Interspersed with Silicon Valley-themed jokes about palapas, Teslas and LaVeyan Satanism, the account was laying into crypto’s favorite punching bags – not just Ripple (which claims it did not issue XRP) and Craig Wright (who claimed to be Satoshi Nakamoto and utterly failed to prove it), but:

  • Rhett Creighton (who forked zcash, merge-forked that fork into bitcoin, then proposed another merge-fork of bitcoin);
  • John McAfee (for his unorthodox social media evangelism);
    CoinMarketCap (which listed Bitconnect, which is accused of being a Ponzi scheme);
  • Tron (which allegedly plagiarized its white paper);
  • Iota (which was too quick to call Microsoft its “partner”);
  • Roger Ver (a bitcoin evangelist who pledged allegiance to bitcoin cash and then insisted on calling it “bitcoin”);

the list goes on. Certainly, the account’s fluency in crypto argot, memes and beefs was impressive. But who was it, and what was their goal? Eventually the person behind “@piedpipercoin” stated in their bio that they have nothing to do with HBO. (CoinDesk reached out to HBO to confirm that, but they did not respond before press time.) But far from being settled, things only got stranger after that.

At first it seemed pretty clear what was happening. A principled prankster was using “Silicon Valley” memes as a megaphone to call out bad actors and inject some healthy skepticism into crypto Twitter.

The person behind the Pied Piper account told CoinDesk:

“We are using humor to help remind the cryptosphere of all the shady things that have occurred and to help the broader community avoid these mistakes. […] People need to learn their history before they can progress into the future. Our way of teaching is through humor.”

Gary Herick BlockchainOthers were inspired to follow their lead, with the crypto-meme ecosystem expanding beyond Pied Piper Coin.

PPCash insisted that its “vision of the new internet has been the true path from the start” (a send-up of bitcoin cash originalism). Meanwhile HooliCoin promised, “Soon the world will understand centralized cryptos are the way of the future” (a parody of corporate blockchains).

Yet amid all the jokes, Pied Piper Coin appeared to be serious about doing an airdrop. And that would complicate matters.

A blockchain scam?
The integration of a real cryptocurrency into the experience left a bad taste in the mouths of fans.

Neeraj Agrawal, the head of communications at the cryptocurrency policy think tank Coin Center and a powerful engine of crypto-memes in his own right, laid into Pied Piper Coin days after its appearance.

He wrote:

“Leave it to crypto to turn a mention of your thing on a popular TV show from cute parody account to scam airdrop within a week.”

The narrative that Pied Piper Coin’s creators might be out for a quick buck took hold as it became clear that the project was, in fact, creating an ethereum-based token. The creator’s continued anonymity and a brief media blitz, in which he appeared on crypto YouTube shows wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and a Peter Pan hat, did little to counter that perception.

As May progressed, the price of PPI (“PPC” was taken) shot from a couple of cents to over $1. It has since fallen back down to nearly nothing.

Many of the ingredients of a classic crypto scam appear to be there: marketing that (briefly) implied backing from a legitimate, mainstream entity; an unaccountable team; a token without a product; aggressive social media promotion; a brief spike in the price followed by a long jaunt towards oblivion.

Plus, on May 28, the piper (let’s call him that) sold 4,500 PPI over the counter “to recoup some costs from the coin.”

And yet there are a couple of problems with this tidy scam narrative: Pied Piper Coin, as its creator pointed out on Twitter and in an interview with CoinDesk, never accepted investor money. It was a free airdrop, not an ICO. And we know about the OTC sale because the piper announced it publicly.

Whether Pied Piper Coin is remembered as a blockchain scam will likely depend on whether it follows through with its masked founder’s increasingly ambitious promises.

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David Floyd Jul 17, 2018