"I Hope to Symbolically Set a Precedent for Women and Ownership Online"
May 15, 2021 2:34 PM   Subscribe

 
On the one hand, the reclamation of some kind of ownership of their image is great. On the other hand, NFTs based on proof-of-work blockchain are inherently awful.
posted by Dysk at 2:47 PM on May 15 [29 favorites]


For anyone else like me who has no idea what an NFT is and is baffled by this article using it like we all know what it means, apparently it is a non-fungible token. I still don't really know what it is but at least I know what the acronym stands for.
posted by biogeo at 3:04 PM on May 15 [5 favorites]


I guess there's an argument that if you can sell something then it *was* yours.
posted by wildblueyonder at 3:23 PM on May 15 [5 favorites]


If you “own” a NFT, you don't own any sorts of legal rights over what it represents (such as copyright), but merely a receipt, that is unique within one particular filing system (i.e., a blockchain), that says you own a particular thing (which could be a link to a JPEG, or anything else). There may be an infinite number of other potential blockchains with their own claims over who owns a thing on them, though. All of which would be an amusing trifle at most, were it not for the horrendous environmental costs of the proof-of-work blockchain system (which one person summed up as “ashes as currency”), which turns it into an obscene jest.
posted by acb at 3:27 PM on May 15 [40 favorites]


And then there are the libertarian politics of the whole cryptocurrency field, which are probably closer to Gamergate and Nazism than any sort of feminist liberation project. (Indeed, one of the first blockchain collectibles was something called “Rare Pepes”, made by *chan lulznazis for *chan lulznazis.) When NFTs launched for digital art, they turned out, unsurprisingly, to be a way for scammers to parasitise digital art, recruiting artists to run their pump-and-dump Ponzi scams, and then leaving them holding the bag. This sounds like some *chan type, vape pen permanently affixed above goatee, came up with a way of trolling the SJWs for lulz; a digital equivalent of the crowdfunded East London “women's museum” that turned out to be a shrine to what a top lad/utter legend Jack The Ripper was.
posted by acb at 3:36 PM on May 15 [14 favorites]


Yeah, it's basically the digital equivalent of a crayon-on-napkin Certificate of Authenticity for a digital object. Legal ownership it is not.
posted by Dysk at 3:37 PM on May 15 [13 favorites]


that says you own a particular thing (which could be a link to a JPEG, or anything else).

To be clear, it doesn’t mean you own the thing. It means you own the receipt for the money you paid for the thing. NFTs are a grift.
posted by mhoye at 3:37 PM on May 15 [22 favorites]


Actually, it means you own the URL that points at the thing, because the blockchain can't hold file sizes large enough for a work of art. Meaning, if the website hosting your "unique piece of art" goes down for whatever reason, all you really own is a dead link.

Anil Dash, who co-created NFTs, wrote an article detailing how no modern NFTs have fixed this "shortcut" she used since she programmed the original NFT in a couple hours. Very much akin to the Dogecoin response of "I wasn't thinking of that because it was a joke" this was thrown together in a code-jam as a proof-of-concept and the fact that Silicon Valley money-bag holders are throwing so much money at it is honestly hilarious to me.

Because it proves they either don't understand how ANY of it works, or they are even bigger conmen than they let on. I'm betting on the former, despite being plenty of evidence for the latter.
posted by deadaluspark at 3:41 PM on May 15 [13 favorites]


Doesn't generating one NFT generate the equivalent of like, half a burned Amazon in noxious waste? Like their environmental impact is super, super bad.

Not sure this is the revolution the article wants it to be.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 3:41 PM on May 15 [7 favorites]


Also, if you think it's annoying to hear these nerds go on about NFTs like we all know what the fuck that means, wait until you hear them go on about DeFi without saying WTF DeFi means (Decentralized Finance).
posted by deadaluspark at 3:50 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


I really dislike the very generic term NFT as well. As an artist, I've been selling non-fungible tokens for fundamentally digital media for years: hand-numbered CDRs of music. No blockchain needed.
posted by Dysk at 4:03 PM on May 15 [11 favorites]


NFTs are the equivalent of the old scam selling you the Brooklyn bridge. I’m glad that these people were able to make some money off of the rubes rather than all of it going to scammers but it doesn’t seem much like empowerment, especially when you remember that most of the people paying big bucks for NFTs have a financial stake in promoting their blockchain interests, as we saw with Beeple.

This part of Ratajowski’s tweet is showing how true the “if it’s really useful, you could already do it without a blockchain” maxim is:
Using the newly introduced medium of NFTs, I hope to symbolically set a precedent for women and ownership online, one that allows for women to have ongoing authority over their image and to receive rightful compensation for its usage and distribution.
I’m sympathetic to the abusive situation she was in but this simply isn’t true. It only gives control for anyone who’s interested in supporting the artist: anyone who wants can copy the same image which the URL in the NFT points to and resell it or use it in their own works. What actually protects the artist is boring old copyright law: that’s what gives you grounds to get content pulled and collect damages. What actually helps people is making sure they understand their rights — all the NFT adds is the ability to make a signed link require enough energy to drive an EV around the country, and then you still need to use copyright law to do anything useful.
posted by adamsc at 4:13 PM on May 15 [7 favorites]


Felix Colgrave:
Please stop contacting me to explain NFTs. Of course I know what they are. Of course I am aware that you just can’t funge em. If you can’t think why an artist might rather not make needlessly wasteful trading cards for the finance sector, I don’t know what you think art is for.
"Needlessly wasteful trading cards for the finance sector" is pretty much the perfect description.
posted by Pyry at 4:16 PM on May 15 [41 favorites]


Metafilter: needlessly wasted trading cards.
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 4:24 PM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Because it proves they either don't understand how ANY of it works, or they are even bigger conmen than they let on. I'm betting on the former, despite being plenty of evidence for the latter.

No reason it can't be and.
posted by Mitheral at 4:41 PM on May 15 [5 favorites]


Actually, it means you own the URL that points at the thing, because the blockchain can't hold file sizes large enough for a work of art.

You don't even own that, in the traditional meaning of owning a URL, as in, a domain name. You "own" a scrap of data, which itself is as fungible as any other scrap of identical data. No exclusivity is involved.
posted by JHarris at 4:45 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised we haven't seen any fuss over NFTs as a way to channel funds to political parties. 'Yes Me Trump, I would love to buy your speech NFT for $X million'. Is that stuff already blocked by law in most places or is it a scam to come?
posted by biffa at 4:46 PM on May 15 [4 favorites]


wasteFUL trading cards dammit
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 4:46 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Read the article a few times. I kept scanning for a clarification of what an NFT actually is, an actual definition of what is being sold and what is being bought. But you can't actually describe or clarify that because then the grift is laid bare and the idea that it can be used for empowerment falls entirely apart.

Not entirely surprised to see Ratajkowski here. She's been trending towards the Gwyneth Paltrow/Goop style of grift as empowerment.
posted by Neronomius at 6:07 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


What an NFT really gives you is a non-forgeable receipt showing that you gave somebody some money. So an NFT related to a Ratajkowski photo is a mind-bogglingly wasteful and destructive receipt that says, "I gave Emily Ratajkowski $X in honor of that photo."

If someone believes they are inadequately compensated for the use of a photo, offering an NFT is like saying, "Hey, does anyone want to burn down a forest in order to donate some money to me that I should have been paid for this? (It gives you no control or ownership of the photo, of course.)"

An autographed copy with a notarized receipt would be a million times more sensible and responsible.
posted by straight at 6:10 PM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Purely a scam and artists who participate are directly agreeing they don't care about the environment.

Here is the article you can send to people when they say "but the environmental issues with cryptoart will be solved soon, right?"
posted by subdee at 6:27 PM on May 15 [19 favorites]


"Numbers vary, but minting artwork on the blockchain uses somewhere between weeks, months, years, (and in rare instances decades) of an average EU or US citizen’s energy consumption. (You can see the energy usage and emissions of individual NFTs at cryptoart.wtf.)"

Collecting NFTs is like collecting beanie babies, except there's no actual beanie baby. Like all cryptocurrency it is a ponzi scheme and to waste this much electricity is a crime against humanity.
posted by subdee at 6:30 PM on May 15 [11 favorites]


It warms my heart how everyone is responding to this. If an artist or model you love is struggling with people stealing their work, don't buy an NFT from them, just give them money directly. Donate, buy merch or prints, do whatever you like but don't buy NFTs. All an NFT is good for is selling it to someone else.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:43 PM on May 15 [13 favorites]


The buyer was 3F Music, the Dubai-based music studio that also purchased memes by Morris and Harvard.
So, three out of four of the women mentioned in the article, their NFTs were all purchased by the same company? Am I reading that correctly?
posted by RobotHero at 7:06 PM on May 15 [8 favorites]


Definitely not a money laundering scheme trying to buy good press for NFTs when the existing press is in the toilet.
posted by subdee at 7:52 PM on May 15 [12 favorites]


NFT short for aNother Fucking Tulip bubble.
posted by interogative mood at 8:16 PM on May 15 [11 favorites]


$175,000 URL shortener that also causes climate change, congrats.

There sure is a whole lot of dumb money running around these days. We should increase taxes.
posted by ryanrs at 8:51 PM on May 15 [23 favorites]


There may be an infinite number of other potential blockchains with their own claims over who owns a thing on them, though.

Blockchain transactions are inherently timestamped. Only one blockchain will ever provably hold the first appearance of any given NFT, which is the receipt that would, if the original data creator's opsec was good enough, prove that somebody paid them something in order for it to be released.

When thinking about NFTs, the concept of "ownership" is probably not helpful in the first instance. All that the first appearance of an NFT on a blockchain means is that somebody provably paid the creator of that particular NFT some amount of some cryptocurrency in exchange for the ability (not any kind of legal right, just the purely technical ability) to offer it for resale. All that subsequent appearances of the same NFT do is establish that a chain of such exchanges has occurred.

Actually, it means you own the URL that points at the thing, because the blockchain can't hold file sizes large enough for a work of art. Meaning, if the website hosting your "unique piece of art" goes down for whatever reason, all you really own is a dead link.

If the URL in question is an IPFS URI rather than the more common HTTP/HTTPS URL, then all that needs to be done to reanimate a dead link is for somebody to put the original content back up on some IPFS server somewhere; doesn't matter which one(s).

This is because an IPFS URI is a content-addressing mechanism rather than a locator as such; if the content it addresses is available on any IPFS node(s), IPFS can track it down and fetch it on request. Furthermore, IPFS content addressing is unambiguous: any alteration at all to any given chunk of content gives it a different IPFS address.

So if you've made some kind of digital artwork, and you store it on some IPFS node somewhere (possibly even one that's under your sole control, if you care about security), and you incorporate its IPFS URI into an NFT, and you sell that NFT on a blockchain, then that sale is both the event that makes your artwork publicly available and proof that somebody paid you something to make that happen.

And if you want to play with these ideas and not burn the fucking planet to ashes in the process, that's doable.
posted by flabdablet at 9:25 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


The way to come to an understanding of how NFTs relate to ownership, and exactly what it is that you own if you buy one, is to spend a little time dissecting what it actually means to own a thing.

The aspect of ownership that's relevant to NFTs is the idea of ownership conferring a right to sell. If I own a thing, then only I have a right to transfer that ownership to you in exchange for something else.

Ownership has traditionally been tracked and protected by legal means. If Alice owns a thing, but Bob then takes that thing without Alice's permission and then sells it to Carol, then Bob has committed theft and Carol has received stolen goods and there are legal consequences for that. There's also a huge raft of well-established intellectual property law that extends this concept, with varying degrees of clarity and enforceability, to ownership of things that can be duplicated without being removed from their original owners.

But the thing about legality is that it's ultimately rooted in the power of nation states. If Alice's nation state were to disagree with Bob's nation state about the legality of Bob selling some piece of Alice's property to Carol without Alice's permission, it's not clear that Alice's ownership was ever actually meaningful.

What NFTs do is introduce an idea of ownership that's not defined by the legal systems of nation states but is more tightly bound to saleability. The owner of any given NFT is simply and exactly the only entity that can sell it. The enforcement of this fact is technical, not legal, and it relies on the same mechanisms that make cryptocurrency transfers work in the first place. It is simply not possible for Bob to sell Allce's NFT to Carol without buying it from Alice first.

The tradeoff for this kind of technical enforceability is that it can only be applied to carefully encrypted chunks of digital information, not pigs or paintings or anything else that one would traditionally think of as valuable. What's actually being traded here is the ability to sell a small parcel of encrypted information. That information has, in and of itself, no value beyond the ability to link together those sales in such a way as to identify them as resellings of the same thing.

Note that "the same thing" here really is quite abstract. If I were to use my private blockchain key to decrypt every part of the digital representation of some NFT I currently hold, and make a bit-for-bit copy of that, the blockchain would stop treating that copy as the same NFT after publishing the transaction in which I sell it. Prevention of double-spending is built into the very foundations of cryptocurrency exchange and NFTs inherit that prevention.

But because it's possible to associate an NFT unambiguously with some much larger and easily replicable parcel of information by means of embedding that larger parcel's IPFS identifier inside the NFT, and because it's also possible to find the first appearance of such an NFT in the public record, and because the first person to be able to create an IPFS identifier for any given parcel of information is necessarily the creator of that parcel, NFTs offer a mechanism for irrefutable demonstration of a chain of sales unambiguously associated with any arbitrary parcel of digital information that traces all the way back to its original creator.

Whether or not such an association amounts to ownership of the arbitrary parcel according to intellectual property law will always remain a matter for the nation states that enact and enforce those laws. But as recent history has clearly shown, it is enough to confer enough of some sense of ownership to make people willing to pay surprisingly high, and quite probably increasing, prices for the technically enforced ownership of the associated NFTs.
posted by flabdablet at 10:47 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


All that the first appearance of an NFT on a blockchain means is that somebody provably paid the creator of that particular NFT some amount of some cryptocurrency in exchange for the ability (not any kind of legal right, just the purely technical ability) to offer it for resale

Okay, that's well and good, but here's my honest question: who cares? I don't just mean that in a sarcastic way, I mean who benefits by knowing this? Not the artist, they don't need proof of sale they have the money. Not the buyer, their proof is also in their wallet. The potential next buyer when/if the first buyer sells? I suppose that's got to be it because then they can see proof of the chain of ownership.

Now here's the thing, let's go one why higher and ask why would anyone buy an NFT from a reseller? It's not because you like the artist, they may get a cut of the sale but if you're really interested in helping them The best thing you can do is buy from them directly. It's not to make money flipping it, the odds that an NFT will go up in value are highest if you buy it directly from the minter, and you're just in it for the money so one artist and NFT is more or less as good as any other. So what is the resale value of an NFT? Like any collectable they only have value if people want them, and like a lot of collectables before them I'm doubtful about their ability to hold value.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 10:59 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


who cares?

Demonstrably: buyers.

Like any collectable they only have value if people want them

As does everything, when it comes right down to it, given a sufficiently inclusive definition of "people".
posted by flabdablet at 11:03 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


the odds that an NFT will go up in value are highest if you buy it directly from the minter

I'm not at all sure that NFTs have been traded for long enough yet to establish that as factual.
posted by flabdablet at 11:08 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Honestly, admitting that we can't even assume their value will change the same way as everything else in the history of human civilization is a more damning indictment of NFTs than anything I could ever say.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:54 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


Blockchain transactions are inherently timestamped. Only one blockchain will ever provably hold the first appearance of any given NFT, which is the receipt that would, if the original data creator's opsec was good enough, prove that somebody paid them something in order for it to be released.

Sure, but if you bought a bitcoin NFT and bitcoin falls out of favour because it's completely idiotic, then there is nothing stopping the original artist selling a new NFT on whatever the new speculation bubble of the month is. You can protest that you bought it first all you like in that situation, but will anyone care? If the artist gets paid again, they certainly won't.
posted by Dysk at 12:28 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


if you bought a bitcoin NFT and bitcoin falls out of favour because it's completely idiotic

The Bitcoin blockchain ledger will remain publicly searchable at negligible cost for as long as anybody cares to maintain copies of it, whether Bitcoin the protocol is in active use or not. It's only the process of adding new stuff to that ledger that's completely idiotic.

will anyone care?

Interesting question.

Given that there is nothing at all to stop anybody from creating new NFTs associated with any publicly available piece of digital content at any time, I can think of no reason why anybody would ever want to buy an NFT that wasn't provably the first one released.

Then again, the world has a very very very long history of people paying outrageous sums for stuff I wouldn't buy in a pink fit.

admitting that we can't even assume their value will change the same way as everything else in the history of human civilization

I think you'll find that the overwhelming bulk of money that's changed hands for artworks over the centuries has failed to find its way back into the hands of the artists who made them. What I'm saying is that I don't believe the art-NFT market is yet mature enough to know whether it will behave the same way.

One possibility with NFT sales that might make this question even more interesting is that some blockchains allow the NFTs sold on them to embody "smart contracts" as well as simple tradeable tokens. Such a contract could be structured in such a way that every time the NFT was re-sold, some portion of the sale price would be automatically and unavoidably credited to the NFT's original creator.
posted by flabdablet at 1:54 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


I can think of no reason why anybody would ever want to buy an NFT that wasn't provably the first one released.

"Provably" will become very, very difficult if not impossible in the medium term, if it isn't already. Right now, it's unlikely that any given NFT isn't the first, but you're effectively asking to prove a negative. Two blockchains later, how do you prove that something has never existed? It's easy to prove that something has existed, but to prove that it didn't? You'd need to comb every block of every existing blockchain, checking every link to see what is at the end of it (and hoping none are dead)...
posted by Dysk at 1:58 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


Like what's to stop me quietly making three NFTs linking to three different addresses, and uploading the same image to all three, then taking two of them down, and settling the third six years later? After the sale, I reupload the image to the two addresses from the NFTs from minutes (or days, or weeks) earlier than the sold one, and sell again. The original buyer does not have the original NFT, the new buyer does.
posted by Dysk at 2:00 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


In order to create three different IPFS addresses you need three different image files.

Admittedly, those image files might differ by single bits in some metadata or padding field somewhere that doesn't make any change to the appearance of the rendered images.

But again, unless you're the original artist you're not going to be able to do this until after the first NFT containing any link to the image in question has been sold, because until that's happened, only the person who makes the link knows what it is and has access to what it links to.

NFTs do not solve the problem of tracking down the first NFT that's been associated with any given image, if the image is all that you have as a starting point. But if you're claiming that some NFT that you're trying to sell is indeed the first one to link to some item of interest, then unless that's actually true you'd probably be best advised to keep that claim very quiet lest the actual holder of that artwork's first NFT finds out about it and irrefutably demonstrates that you're a liar.
posted by flabdablet at 2:14 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Right, my point is that I can create an NFT that is not in fact the "original" one, and nobody but me can know. I can then create another, sell it (through an intermediary) and then later, sell the "original". The "actual holder" owns the second NFT, not the original. Sure, people might find out after the fact that that is what I've done, but at that point I've been paid twice (or more) so why would I care that the NFTs are now all suspect and worthless?
posted by Dysk at 2:20 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Mainly because the price at which you can successfully sell anything in the future depends on your reputation. When, not if, it eventually comes out that you've been selling limited-edition runs that purport to be single issues, that's your reputation trashed.

If nobody knows who you are before you start selling your NFTs they're just not going to sell for very much.
posted by flabdablet at 2:27 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Eh, I'm not sure that reputational damage would generalise beyond blockchain bros. If I can sell actual original artworks anyway, their genuineness is not called into question by my scamming a few crypto nerds. Nobody sensible would buy another NFT off me, sure, but depending on the sort of art community you operate in, this stunt could potentially be applauded in those circles more than anything else. Crypto nerds are a pretty niche group whose opinions don't have much bearing on many other groups in society.
posted by Dysk at 2:35 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


(See also Banksy selling a self-shredding artwork at auction. Has that devalued all his future work? Your logic would suggest that it should, but the reality is different. A lot of the art world is weird, especially when you get into anything even slightly counter culture adjacent.)
posted by Dysk at 2:37 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


Crypto nerds are a pretty niche group whose opinions don't have much bearing on many other groups in society.

It's early days yet. Given that the energy consumption and performance issues have now both been addressed by modern cryptocurrency protocols, it may well be that crypto nerds are a niche group in much the same way as personal computer nerds were in the 1970s. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, the AU$100 worth of Stellar lumens that Keybase made it extremely straightforward for me to send to ms flabdablet last January are, as of five minutes ago, valued at AU$1500. The art world isn't the only weird part of 2021.
posted by flabdablet at 2:50 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


See also Banksy selling a self-shredding artwork at auction

Arguably every live performance event - music, sports, standup, whatever - is a self-shredding artwork.
posted by flabdablet at 2:59 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Yes and no. They're not sold with the expectation of being permanent physical objects. The Banksy work in question was - it being self-shredding was an unannounced surprise.
posted by Dysk at 3:06 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]


Arguably every live performance event - music, sports, standup, whatever - is a self-shredding artwork.

Counterpoint: Grateful Dead at the Live Music Archive on archive.org
posted by mikelieman at 5:26 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


Given that the energy consumption and performance issues have now both been addressed by modern cryptocurrency protocols,

Do you have any more on the solved energy side? Genuinely interested by what is meant here.
posted by biffa at 6:33 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Neither Stellar nor Ripple relies on proof-of-work, and it's the combination of proof-of-work and extreme token prices that accounts for Bitcoin's insane energy cost. The energy cost of transactions on Stellar in no way depends on the value of the tokens being transacted, and can in fact be expected to fall over time as hardware gets more energy-efficient.

I did a quick rundown earlier, but if you just Web search for "proof of work" and "federated Byzantine agreement" you'll easily find your way to more detail.
posted by flabdablet at 6:43 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


If the URL in question is an IPFS URI rather than the more common HTTP/HTTPS URL, then all that needs to be done to reanimate a dead link is for somebody to put the original content back up on some IPFS server somewhere; doesn't matter which one(s).
I work professionally in digital preservation & occasionally web archiving so I appreciate the benefits of content-addressable storage but I’m not seeing a lot of value to an NFT here.

It fundamentally comes down to cost: people paying for artwork are either doing so to support the artist or to have scarcity. In the first place, something like a tip jar or Patreon costs less, and in the latter you either have a work be public (reducing the scarcity benefit to those who care about this particular blockchain more than, say, a statement from the artist when anyone on the Internet can view the art) or you have to pay people to host content which they can’t view.

IPFS also doesn’t change the fact that storage, bandwidth, and administration cost real money while hosting content from strangers exposes you to significant legal risk. IPFS can be a very interesting way to host your content and replicate trusted peers but it doesn’t scale to an anonymous, untrusted network unless you have a lot of lawyers and are willing to work with various legal takedown notices, all of which adds to the cost.

Once you’re in the position of having to pay for hosting from non-anonymous parties, it’s unclear what you’re getting for the enormous increase in overhead versus simply paying directly to get SLAs, support, and legal rights which are solidly established in most of the world. The trust comes from the existing authority anyway so why not just use digital signatures at almost no cost?
posted by adamsc at 7:02 AM on May 16 [5 favorites]


Counterpoint: Grateful Dead at the Live Music Archive on archive.org

Those are mere recordings of live performances. The actual live performances are long gone. I can't buy substances in the car park at a recording.

I'm sure there are plenty of recordings of that Banksy painting in its pre-shredded state as well.
posted by flabdablet at 8:25 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


You are Mat Dryhurst and I claim my ₤5.
posted by acb at 9:18 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Those are mere recordings of live performances. The actual live performances are long gone.

Ceci n’est pas une long strange trip.
posted by zamboni at 11:11 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


Even if one were to accept that non-environmentally-destructive cryptocurrency/NFT/what have you is possible, why would any sane person care? Why are we wasting all this time and effort to create a ridiculous non-solution to a series of non-problems?
posted by sinfony at 11:43 AM on May 16 [7 favorites]


a ridiculous non-solution to a series of non-problems

In other words: art.
posted by flabdablet at 11:49 AM on May 16


Well that is certainly a novel justification for blockchain.
posted by Dysk at 1:09 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Listen, I can accept that there might be utility in NFTs and like early computers we just haven't reached the point where that utility is apparent, but don't try to justify them by calling them art. I can blow up a building full of people and call it "art" and not even be wrong, but that will never justify my actions.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 1:14 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


Anything can be art, but good art is an act of communication. The artist says something, the audience interprets. What does an NFT say? It says someone sold something to someone else. It has no more value as an object of art than what the CVS cashier hands me.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 1:18 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: Why are we wasting all this time and effort?

1st and last time I'll employ this trope
posted by Lyme Drop at 1:38 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


The discussion of being the "first" NFT for something relies on the assumption that that image (or whatever else) was first published simultaneously with (or after) the purchase of the NFT. I don't think that's a safe assumption. There was a small panic on twitter about people minting NFTs for random tweets or art jpegs without permission from the creator.

"First" is also unhelpful when an artist sells more then one NFT for a given piece, as a limited edition. Is the first more valuable? Maybe, in the same way that a print numbered 1/100 may be more valuable than the print numbered 87/100, to the right collector. But it's not a hard line.

So first can't be the meaningful aspect. I think it's helpful to take a term from the normal art world and say that the meaningful part of an NFT is the provenance. Much of the art world is concerned with provenance and authentication of artwork. Blockchain can provide a method to publicly record not only that a particular token was authorized by the artist, but also to track every sale in between the original one and the current one. I can see the appeal in that regard. Art dealers would love a verifiably complete ledger of sales for a particular work, I'd imagine.

Are NFTs right now doing much to provide actual proof that they're coming from the artist? It doesn't really seem like they are, but I haven't read much. Is there a "source" wallet address associated with minting an NFT, and do we have mechanisms for showing that that wallet address is owned by the artist? By a provider known to be acting on behalf of the artist? That's the kind of question I'd ask if I was interested in an NFT. The technology is not a complete solution to authenticating artwork in itself - authentication outside of the blockchain is still required.

Ditching the blockchain, we might suggest that an artist could just cryptographically sign an image in relation to a sale. This would serve to support the artist, and you'd have a provable signature that the artist had "sold" an edition of the artwork to you, but there's no resale value possible. That signature is only ever to you, and there's no traceable ledger or proof of uniqueness. So do people buy NFTs to support the artist? It's probably a factor, sometimes, but it's always been possible to give an artist money, and it's been possible for an artist to provide cryptographic proof of a digital sale since the early days of computing. So this isn't a satisfying explanation.

So... where does that leave NFTs? There's some interesting properties of the technology, but ultimately they're deriving most of their value from blockchain qua blockchain. Which is to say: a bubble and a ponzi scheme, with a side of money laundering and other financial crimes.

Most of the quoted value of cryptocurrencies is imaginary. There's not much you can actually buy with them directly, and there's no evidence that the majority of cryptocurrencies could ever be cashed out at anything like their current valuation. The case of the Tether currency is illustrative.

NFTs primary value is in the fact that they are something that *can* be bought with cryptocurrencies, and so the prices that they sell for are inflated by the inflated value of cryptocurrencies relative to actual money.

We've seen a lot of the high-profile sales that are pretty shady, with suspicious ties between the buyer and seller - their value is being derived from their use as a vehicle for money laundering.

In other cases, they're deriving value from their use in attracting more people into the cryptocurrency scheme. If you're a group with a large amount of cryptocurrency holdings, putting up a splashy amount of that to drive a news cycle of publicity can be a net positive for you. The more people buy into your cryptocurrency, the more your holdings become worth and the more opportunities you'll have later to cash out before the music stops. That can be quite valuable.

Some of their value is also being derived from being a ponzi scheme within a ponzi scheme - some number of people are going to successfully re-sell their NFTs as long as the hype keeps building.

A lot of these are basically the same factors driving the high valuations of physical artworks. This is not an excuse.

NFTs are genuinely the first interesting application of the blockchain we've come up with, after more then a decade of trying. But the entire sector is dishonest, corrupt, and destructive. At the current time, there's a variety of altcoins claiming to be less harmful. That may be true, but there's no reason I can see to trust any of them. Fix the ecological issues and... you've still got a bad idea that's going to cause a lot of suffering. There's a reason we regulate financial instruments.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 7:09 PM on May 16 [6 favorites]


More ecologically sound cryptocurrencies, whose transaction costs will be too cheap to meter and have no ecological footprint, have been just over the horizon since the very beginning; they're the cryptocurrency equivalent of a cancer cure or a self-driving car. Of course, the fact that they're coming Real Soon Now serves the purpose of getting more people to buy in now. (Once they arrive, the reasoning goes, everyone will get into crypto and it will take off for the moon. So, if you don't want to be left behind, you should buy some dirty bitcoins now, and when it happens, you can offset the damage you caused by planting forests with a fraction of your billions or something.)
posted by acb at 1:59 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Are NFTs right now doing much to provide actual proof that they're coming from the artist?

The only such proof that an NFT can offer is that of having been made from a particular work that existed before the NFT did.

However, if Alice creates a work, and then Bob obtains a copy of that work and sells an NFT linked to it to Carol, the NFT itself is of no use to Carol or anybody she onsells it to in resolving the authorship dispute that will undoubtedly follow when Alice finds out that this has happened.

If Alice intends to monetize her work by means of issuing NFTs, her operational security needs to be tight enough that Bob can't obtain copies before her NFTs are sold.

The link between an NFT and some piece of work it refers to can be made perfectly solid and reliable, as can the link between the NFT and the person who sold it. The reliability of an assertion that the person who sold the NFT is the same person who made the work, though, is always going to need to rely on reputation. If more than some very small proportion of the NFTs that Bob sells seem to cause authorship disputes that don't get quickly and definitively resolved in Bob's favour, Bob is probably not somebody you want to be buying NFTs from.

This sounds like pretty weak sauce compared to the strong guarantees provided by crypto, but in practice it works well enough for e.g. eBay to be a thing.

On an unrelated point:

there's no evidence that the majority of cryptocurrencies could ever be cashed out at anything like their current valuation

The current valuation of any cryptocurrency token is exactly the value that such a token was last sold for. That sale was somebody cashing out some parcel of them at that value. And valuation on that basis is truer for cryptocurrencies than for any other kind of commodity precisely because cryptocurrency tokens don't have any inherent value whatsoever. They're valued at whatever somebody just paid for them: end of.

If you look at the trading that's actually happening in cryptocurrencies you'll find that most of them show 24 hour trading volumes that are a quite substantial fraction of their total supply. For example, about 20% of all the Stellar lumens that exist are currently changing hands every day; the majority, therefore, are getting cashed out in less than a week.

Now, it's obviously and trivially true that if a majority of some particular cryptocurrency's holders were to put them up for sale right this minute at some fixed price, they wouldn't sell for that. It's also true that if the majority of some particular cryptocurrency's holders formed a belief that no further gains were likely to be had from holding that currency and that the only rational course was to sell them right now for whatever they would fetch, the price would crash in a spectacular display of self-fulfilling prophecy.

But that's not what's happening, and I can see no reason to expect that it would happen. In fact, the more people who decide to participate in cryptocurrency speculation, the lower becomes the likelihood that all of us will form the same belief at the same time.

Speculating in cryptocurrency is a form of recreational gambling, much like playing the poker machines at the casino. The difference is that the house edge in crypto speculation is brokerage fees at 0.5%, not the 20% that poker machines are built to extract. I see no evidence that the human species is getting tired of recreational gambling in a big way, and unlike tulip bulbs, cryptocurrency tokens don't deteriorate in storage; there are no pressures external to the trading markets that would push anybody to do anything in particular with their holdings.

Number go up. Number go down. Nobody knows when and nobody knows why, and people who think they do are deluding themselves.
posted by flabdablet at 2:01 AM on May 17


and unlike tulip bulbs, cryptocurrency tokens don't deteriorate in storage

They're a Dorian Gray whose portrait is the climate.
posted by acb at 2:05 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]


Proof-of-work types, sure. That's why I don't speculate in those, and also why I argue strongly at every opportunity that people who do trade them would be well advised to lead the thundering herd that must surely move to less completely stupid tokens ASAP for all our sakes.
posted by flabdablet at 3:09 AM on May 17


So... where does that leave NFTs? There's some interesting properties of the technology, but ultimately they're deriving most of their value from blockchain qua blockchain. Which is to say: a bubble and a ponzi scheme, with a side of money laundering and other financial crimes.

...NFTs primary value is in the fact that they are something that *can* be bought with cryptocurrencies, and so the prices that they sell for are inflated by the inflated value of cryptocurrencies relative to actual money. In other cases, they're deriving value from their use in attracting more people into the cryptocurrency scheme.


I can't favorite this comment enough. If I could favorite it a million times I would.

You can't trust people who have a lot of money tied up in cryptocurrency to be honest about the value of cryptocurrency. There's a conflict of interest, they benefit from the hype.
posted by subdee at 5:59 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]


NFTs primary value is in the fact that they are something that *can* be bought with cryptocurrencies, and so the prices that they sell for are inflated by the inflated value of cryptocurrencies relative to actual money.

I can't make any sense whatsoever out of that.

Let's use Bitcoin as an example, that being the most extremely inflated of all the extant cryptocurrencies. Checking on Coinbase, I can see BTC now trading for a whisker under AU$58,000.

Anybody holding Bitcoin can be assumed to have a pretty good idea of what the equivalent dollar price is right now. Deciding how much to pay for any given NFT, then, is a value calculation into which the specific currency that the value is denominated in simply doesn't enter. If I'm willing to spend AU$58,000 on an NFT then that's what I think it's worth, and the fact that I can also express that same value as a much smaller number in BTC simply makes no difference.

If I'm swapping one BTC for an NFT as a speculative gamble, what I'm actually doing is betting that the value of the NFT - that is, the amount that somebody else will at some point be willing to pay me for it - is going to rise faster than the value of BTC as denominated in any currency. Because it's not as if NFTs are the only thing I can buy with cryptocurrencies. I can buy "actual money" with them as well.

You can't trust people who have a lot of money tied up in cryptocurrency to be honest about the value of cryptocurrency. There's a conflict of interest, they benefit from the hype.

Here's my friend Don, recently, on Dogecoin:

"dogecoin up 93% in 24 hours! crypto is insane. Doge has no f*cking use for anything.

...except going up 93% in 24 hours, that's a use case."

If you look over my history of commenting about cryptocurrencies on Metafilter, I think you'd have to agree that I have been completely open about holding a fairly substantial parcel of Stellar lumens, and completely open about my hope and wish to sell them for a great deal more than I paid for them. I think you'd also have to agree that I have consistently made the point that the only value these things have is what people are willing to pay for them.

Yes, I benefit from the hype, obviously. No, there's no conflict of interest in my explaining, to the best of my honest ability and understanding, what these things are and how they work.

I am not now and never have been suggesting that anybody else should take up recreational gambling. In fact I've told several friends and acquaintances who have asked me whether they should buy into Bitcoin to make a bit of fast money that no, the fact that they're asking me that question is clear proof that they don't know enough to involve themselves.

Never, never, never buy on hype. Just don't do it. Doesn't matter what the hype is about. Just don't. Only ever make clear-eyed, well-informed purchasing decisions. I don't know how I can be clearer about it than that.

I, for one, cannot see myself purchasing any NFT unless and until they become generally accepted as a means of representing land titles.
posted by flabdablet at 7:00 AM on May 17


I, for one, cannot see myself purchasing any NFT unless and until they become generally accepted as a means of representing land titles.

Which would make as much sense as making armoured personnel carriers the standard means of personal transport. Unless you have such a catastrophic breakdown of trust (or else libertarian ideology which states that we do not live in a society and rules don't exist), not only will a standard centralised database of some sort will always be more efficient, but cryptocurrencies will devolve to one by miners consolidating if given half a chance to.
posted by acb at 8:35 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


would make as much sense as making armoured personnel carriers the standard means of personal transport

Couple observations:

1. SUVs continue to outsell bicycles.

2. Wouldn't want to leave you with the impression that me buying an NFT was likely.

libertarian ideology which states that we do not live in a society and rules don't exist

3. Almost half the US leans Republican.
posted by flabdablet at 9:07 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


The "NFT == proof of ownership" angle strikes me as technical people trying to find a technical solution to a social question.

I mean, with Ratajkowski's example from the article, Richard Prince used other people's photos in this way because he was working within a social context that enabled it. He could have minted a token and then the technical solution would work very hard making sure nobody can funge that token. But it still relies on social support whether anyone cares that this token originated from Richard Prince or from Emily Ratajkowski.

Sometimes the technical solution enables access to social networks that otherwise are untenable, but Ratajkowski still auctioned off her NFT on Christie's which feels very much a traditional network.
posted by RobotHero at 9:22 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


All of the following comes with the caveat of "if I understand this correctly." Usually in cases where I would say that I just wouldn't bother commenting, but I am wondering why this stuff is true, so I am letting my presumed ignorance speak up for a change. Please be patient with its incessant barking.

There are no pressures external to the trading markets that would push anybody to do anything in particular with their holdings.

I would say there are? In that there's always more than one reason to do anything, such as needing to cash out for some specific reason like paying rent, worry about losing one's wallet, not wanting to contribute to crypto's tremendous environmental cost, or being irrationally influenced by Elon Musk, and in cases like this, such individual pressures generalized and abstracted end up looking like minuscule market forces, which, while slight, are not zero. Pedantic? Sure, but I get tired of people being all expansive and techno-utopian about cryptocurrencies, especially since that kind of hype contributes to the popularity, and thus the afore-mentioned environmental damage, of cryptostuff.

Number go up. Number go down. Nobody knows when and nobody knows why, and people who think they do are deluding themselves.

I mean, is this true either? Maybe you just mean in a predictable way?

The value comes from the last trading price. But that assumes that people are trading for rational market reasons. But no one says you have to trade at that price. What if you sell to someone else and you cut them a deal, because you like them, or, say, a bunch of other people on a subreddit are convincing you to do it? What if you give someone some cryptocurency, effectively selling for zero, does that make everyone's tokens suddenly worthless for a fraction of a second? Do these individual trades get effectively averaged out of the price, either in general or only for that exchange? What if an individualdoes it with a lot of tokens, like, a billionaire dumping all their stuff at once--does that then launder that person's whim, turning it into something that others call a market force?

Also, markets aggregate the actions of a bunch of individuals, but they're still composed of those actions at their core. It would seem that there are forces at work, then, but we don't have the tools to interrogate them. But nothing says that those tools couldn't be developed.

(Source for some the above: a heck of a lot of time playing M.U.L.E.)
posted by JHarris at 9:52 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Sorry is this has already been discussed, but where are investments in NFTs coming from? Art collectors? Institutional investors? Crypto/GME bros? Rich individual investors? Extremely Online folks? Would love to understand the demand side of this market better.
posted by Lyme Drop at 11:02 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


there's always more than one reason to do anything, such as needing to cash out for some specific reason like paying rent, worry about losing one's wallet, not wanting to contribute to crypto's tremendous environmental cost

and none of those reasons are external to the markets. Those reasons run the markets, influencing the timing of trades and the prices at which they're made. None of them arise from the nature of the traded cryptocurrency tokens themselves, which until they're traded do nothing.

I was probably a bit sloppy with the use of the word "external", but the point I was trying to make is that although cryptocurrency tokens are at least as useless as tulip bulbs, unlike tulip bulbs they don't rot, unlike Herbalife the ones you can't sell don't take up space in your garage, and unlike gold bars the cost of securing them properly is nearly nil. The inbuilt cost of hanging onto them until market conditions favour selling them again is negligible. That, to my way of thinking, is the main thing distinguishing them from the stuff that's inflated all previous speculative bubbles. Only time will tell whether it's a distinction that makes a difference.

Crypto's oft-cited heinous environmental cost is, again, not a baked-in feature of cryptocurrencies per se; only of those based on proof-of-work blockchains, which fully deserve all of the calumny regularly heaped on them and more. Bitcoin sucks. If you hold any and you care at all about climate change, you should sell them off to help crash the price. If I were you I'd get onto that before Elon thinks it through.

What if you give someone some cryptocurrency, effectively selling for zero, does that make everyone's tokens suddenly worthless for a fraction of a second? Do these individual trades get effectively averaged out of the price, either in general or only for that exchange?

In general, if traders want to think about "the" price of any fungible commodity they'll use a trade-weighted average, where you add up the total value of all of the trades made in that commodity within some specified time window on some specified collection of exchanges, then divide the result by the total number of commodity units so traded.

Unless you use some procedure like this, the idea of "the" price of a fungible commodity like cryptocurrency tokens doesn't really mean anything. There are only prices, plural, set per traded parcel at the time the trades are made.
posted by flabdablet at 11:09 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


nothing says that those tools couldn't be developed

except for the history of managed investment funds so consistently failing to achieve returns better than those from simple passive index funds.

Access to an oracle that did even a half decent job of predicting the movements of trading markets would be such a huge money spinner that the fact of using it could not be kept invisible and its existence could not be kept hidden. I can only conclude that nobody has one. And it's not as if we're constrained by a lack of ML resources, or of data about people's spending habits; if a market oracle actually were feasible I would certainly expect to have seen one appear already.

This is me out of this thread for a bit; I want to yell less and read more.
posted by flabdablet at 11:22 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


The problem is that the only established alternative to proof-of-work is proof-of-stake, which is basically “them who has, gets”, and an inefficient way of building centralised oligopolies. If you're going to do that, why not get rid of all the zero-trust crypto mechanisms and have a more conventional architecture?
posted by acb at 2:03 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Thanks flabdablet for your work in explaining things in this thread!
posted by JHarris at 4:18 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


The only such proof [of coming from the artist] that an NFT can offer is that of having been made from a particular work that existed before the NFT did.

there may not be any system for it now, but it's not hard to imagine one. As I understanding, NFTs are generally JSON?

the artist could publish an NFT that contains the link to the artwork and also a signature of the artwork combined with some metadata about the NFT itself which varies between tokens and isn't replicable in a future NFT. Timestamp could work, if there's a way to sign it as you mint it. Everyone would be able to validate the signature as being tied to a particular public key, and the key is associated with the artist in the normal fashion for public key cryptography.

That's just an example - other schemes are possible. It may depend on the particular blockchain and what kind of metadata is inherent to the platform.

I'm surprised there's no "source" address for a NFT? Then it's easy - artist says "my address is 1234567" which you can then compare with the first appearance of that NFT on your particular blockchain.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:49 PM on May 17


1. SUVs continue to outsell bicycles.

Global SUV sales, 2018: 31.13M (Autoexpress)

Global bicycle sales is a slightly harder dataset to get good stats for, but Fortune estimates the value of the world bicycle market in 2020 at USD65.43B in 2019. Even with high unit costs that puts sales into the >100M bracket. This estimate suggests 143M bikes sold globally in 2017.

Even this old data suggests individual bike sales above 100M units in 2007.

If we look at that AutoExpress link it suggests the 31M SUVs is 39% of total car sales. Looking into this further, this recent Forbes story says total car sales globally in 2020 reduced from an all time high of 94.3M units in 2017. Comparing that with the bicycle data we see that not only do people buy more bikes than SUVs, they buy more bikes than SUVs plus all the other cars.
posted by biffa at 8:51 AM on May 18 [6 favorites]


A land title NFT makes absolutely no sense, because a land title is a fundamentally a claim against the government to enforce your exclusive use of a piece of land. If you don't trust the government to enforce this claim, then sticking a blockchain in the middle doesn't change anything. The government isn't ever going to take the word of some random blockchain over it's own records!
posted by Pyry at 8:53 AM on May 18 [3 favorites]


Presumably this is in a world where there is a treaty between marauding bands to recognise blockchain land titles in some circumstances and provide mercenary services to enforce these contracts. That way, it saves each regional warlord the responsibility of running their own land title registry.
posted by acb at 9:45 AM on May 18 [3 favorites]




The smart contract for crypto-feudalism would need to have special 'Lord' accounts that are allowed to redistribute their vassals' land on a whim.
posted by Pyry at 2:22 PM on May 18


The smart contract for crypto-feudalism would need to have special 'Lord' accounts that are allowed to redistribute their vassals' land on a whim.
Ah, I see you're familiar with the work of noted "Dark Reactionary"/neocameralist Curtis "Mencius Moldbug" Yarvin with Urbit. (He avoids the term 'monarchist' since that still has room for constitutional monarchy, as opposed to his preference of absolute monarchy. Normally I'm not terribly worried about being mindful of this, but I figure it only further illustrates his buffoonery, so.)
posted by CrystalDave at 2:32 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]



If I'm swapping one BTC for an NFT as a speculative gamble, what I'm actually doing is betting that the value of the NFT - that is, the amount that somebody else will at some point be willing to pay me for it - is going to rise faster than the value of BTC as denominated in any currency. Because it's not as if NFTs are the only thing I can buy with cryptocurrencies. I can buy "actual money" with them as well.


In theory, you can buy actual money. In practice, it's hard to cash out (especially large amounts), and as noted above a big big big use case for NFTS (the biggest use case?) is money laundering.
posted by subdee at 3:56 PM on May 18 [3 favorites]


No one is looking at this anymore probably, but here's an interesting long article by an anonymous author. It details the mechanism of the scam, so it might be more convincing than just "this is a scam":

https://crypto-anonymous-2021.medium.com/the-bit-short-inside-cryptos-doomsday-machine-f8dcf78a64d3

The author is anonymous, but everything in the article is a matter of public record.
posted by subdee at 6:14 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


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