NFTs (or Non Fungible Tokens) have been on the tips of everyone’s tongues for the last few months. Brands from Givenchy to the NBA are getting in on the game. Their adoption by the mainstream has been so quick and so profound that last year Collins Dictionary even made the term their word of the year for 2021.
However, just because we’ve been talking about NFTs does not mean that everyone is a convert to the cause. The fact that in the last 30 days (at the time of writing), 9 of the top 10 NFT sales were Bored Apes or Cryptopunks — the two kings of NFTs — is proof that the wider NFT market has yet to capture the public’s imagination. If you’ve heard about NFTs in the press, chances are that article was illustrated with a Bored Ape or a Cryptopunk. Last year, a bundle of 101 Bored Ape NFTs went for $24 million, and a Cryptopunk resold for nearly $12 million at Sotheby’s. Despite the myriad of new NFT projects launching every day, legacy tokens with established resale value are still king.
The way much of the press has written up NFTs as speculative assets for the rich, and talismans of digital trend-following for the famous (think Jimmy Fallon, Post Malone & Eminem) explains some of their poor reputation. But another is because, for many observers, there is little point to them. An evaluation that I think is thoroughly wrong but deserves a rebuttal.
It is not hard to see why the non-crypto natives struggle to wrap their heads around the concept of digital assets being “non-fungible.” To many who have ever right-clicked “Save As…” on an image or video — the primary media which is ‘minted’ as an NFT — this new paradigm of digital ownership seems strange.
As such, the coverage in the non-crypto press has more often than not been disparaging. This needn’t be the case. The technology behind NFTs is innovative and has tremendous potential across a wide range of use cases. Whether that’s allowing gamers to own and re-sell assets within the games they play; to prove ownership (or part-ownership) of physical assets like property, or to help share music royalties more fairly, this embryonic concept has so much further to go.
The idea that code can prove the uniqueness, authenticity, and provenance of a house, character skin, or song in a way that is decentralized, open, and secure is a profound one. Innovators cleverer and more intuitive than me will exploit this potential for a long time. But, many businesses are going further again, attaching tokens to redeemable real-world benefits; moving tokens on from digital assets and into a kind of club membership that provides continuing value to the token holder.
Tokens don’t always have to have a high-tech application to provide value. At ThetaDrop, we’re collaborating on NFTs with global brands such as Samsung, Katy Perry, Dionne Warwick, The Price Is Right, and World Poker Tour. In almost all of our partnerships, a key throughline has been real-world rewards, or what has come to be known in the crypto-community as token “utility.”
This doesn’t mean that tokens without this kind of use case are useless like the critics claim. We can’t underestimate the value of art for art’s sake, or the community these tokens create around them. Nor write off NFTs that are PFP projects, which are a combination of both. Much like currencies we use every day, NFTs have value because enough people agree they do. If a community of collectors and enthusiasts wants to get behind an NFT project, whether because of a group’s shared values or the attractive aesthetic of the tokens themselves, then it is a worthwhile endeavor.
There are challenges to the widespread adoption and acceptance of NFTs. One is climate change, although one heartening development is the sheer range and number of projects that not only promise to be carbon neutral but carbon negative too. Proof-of-Stake protocols like Theta use less than 1% of the energy needed for the same transaction on Proof-of-Work protocols, which mostly mitigates any environmental concerns over NFTs. Creators and collectors are getting the message, and that can only be a good thing.
People often scoff at the news; sometimes this is because of a lack of understanding. If that is the case, I think the crypto-community deserves a small part of the blame. Often we are too insular; too reluctant to explain to those outside our community what it is we’re doing. Sometimes that’s for self-interested reasons, at other times it’s because the task can appear too difficult. Many mainstream journalists could probably do better on this front too, by communicating more clearly about the technology’s potential.
NFTs are likely to become so commonplace that the term itself may fall out of use. Instead, we will simply talk about ownership, the technology behind it will be implied.