Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey has NFTed his very first tweet sent out on March 21st 2006 stating ‘just setting up my twttr.’
This tweet is now a token on ethereum through the second layer of Polygon (formerly Matic) and therefore people can buy and sell the token.
The token itself is nothing more than a unique number that corresponds to this specific NFTed tweet.
Jack Dorsey linked to it, so we can be sure this is his NFT, but why on earth does anyone want it?
Well Justins Sun wants it because it gets him this article and keeps his Tron within the atmosphere, but there were a lot of people bidding before him.
Now everyone’s first reaction is that this is silly, just billionaires playing with new toys while we plebs watch. A fad gone in a few lubins. And that’s our first reaction too, so we’ll try very hard to see how all this might not be silly.
If this tweet is on the blockchain, and we do colonize Venus and then Alpha Centuri, then this will be one of the very few tweets to survive presuming twitter by then is forgotten or overtaken by something cooler.
There have been some very rare instances, and we are probably completely mistaken, but in some very rare cases the internet archive has not been reliable or there have been basis however small to think so.
The archive is obviously a website, a database server with an admin who can do whatever he wants, including changing the archive.
So if we think in a long enough time frame and presume the ethereum blockchain will survive, then this NFT could well be some sort of artifact, you know like that Roman chariot that was found.
If that chariot was auctioned it would have immense value because it’s pretty cool to have that in your palace and it is cool because it’s a 2000 year old fact.
There aren’t many of those because like human memory tends to discard a lot, so too collective memory has completely discarded chariots for unknown reasons but eventually we got cars and thus what in Rome was so common, became something no one wants, and then because it is now so uncommon, it is something people would like as it speaks of the times that were.
The Associated Press therefore starting their experiment to NFT facts, can be interesting down the years, but what does it mean to own facts?
Why is this chariot so valuable but an identical replica of it is probably still valuable but no where near the same level? What makes the original special?
Well, none of us have been in ancient Rome, so who is to say it isn’t the case that someone with great imagination invented that whole Rome thing in the 17th century and people thought it was cool or fell for it or eventually forgot its just some guy’s fantasy and now we take it for granted as real?
The chariot of course, and the many artifacts like it, are what say that isn’t the case, that there was a Rome, and they had chariots.
Because the fake does not reveal anywhere near as much as the original, the fake is not worth anywhere near as much as the original.
Thus the original is worth what it is due to what it reveals. The rarer and the more important that revelation, then the more it should be worth.
A silly tweet by Jack Dorsey is no 2000 year old chariot however. So how on earth is this thing worth a house, or indeed anything?
The answer is probably because we may be at the stage where we have discovered something, and we largely have no clue what we have discovered or even if it is useful at all, and therefore everyone is kind of throwing spaghettis at the wall.
Just a Unique ID?
This tweet tokenization would be a lot more exciting if at the technical level it were more sound. As far as we are aware, the graphics themselves are usually not on the blockchain. What’s on the blockchain is just the unique ID, the token.
So realistically, if we’re looking at a span of 2000 years, it is probably unlikely this NFT will survive in the form it presents itself today as the only thing we can reasonably presume will survive is that unique number, not the graphics. Only this:
The graphics, that is the tweet itself with its time, date and content, can be hashed to IPFS but in this case they don’t explain on their website where exactly they’re keeping them.
The hash can prove veracity, but it doesn’t secure availability. So spez can’t change the content, but he can censor through denial of service. Unless it is on IPFS in which case the question becomes would that survive?
Since this space has potential, it is perhaps worthy here to elaborate further at this very early stage of experimentation.
The Potential Fundamental Value of NFTs
To begin, the easiest distinction we can make is between a digital asset and a physical one. Bringing the latter to the former tends to bring all the problems of the latter.
We can make another distinction, between a blockchain asset and a digital one. The tweet is a digital asset. The UTF-8 up there can contain comprehensible words or even ascii art and thus can potentially be a blockchain asset.
A blockchain asset naturally is valuable. You can copy it, but you can’t quite copy the asset, it’s a different game.
It’s valuable because it’s on the blockchain, and currently there aren’t any such assets in a tokenized form as far as we know because it’s extremely difficult, if we conceptually even know how to do it at all.
That’s because the blockchain itself doesn’t have a jpeg version. So even if we ignored completely decentralization constrains, and we can because there easily can be a second layer dedicated to art or even a full on art blockchain, then we’d still lack native onchain visuals because they haven’t been invented.
What we have therefore is the 90s version of scanning a flyer and calling it a website, but now we’re ‘scanning’ jpegs and calling it a blockchain.
Yet it won’t survive for 2000 years and even if it does it wouldn’t be due to the preservation of it by the holder like the Medici preserved all the works they commissioned which are now valuable because they communicate something or they’re beautiful and because they survived for so long.
The burned banksy does communicate something. In a long enough timespan, that act itself could well be what symbolizes the arrival of the digital revolution or the digital age, but its tokenized form does not quite grant access to anything.
The chariot grants access to truth, or Mona Lisa to beauty, while the tokenized tweet grants Justin Sun access to this article, but it’s difficult to see it storing much value.
That said we’re in the midst of this very new experiment and have been very used to digital abundance, so it’s difficult to see real value in its tokenization beyond one lubin or two.
What we all can be sure however is that if Banksy did mint an NFT and we can all be sure it’s him, then this NFT would be valuable and despite digital abundance, the original may still confound in estimation and may even keep its value.
That we can be sure of this means that these things have some value. Just how much and just how many of them have value is a different question, but categorically as a whole, some of them do have some value because the token adds ownership.
Arguably, these works can come with copyrights. Enforcing that is a different matter, but technically the token can grant rights over the piece of work, and that can add a different dimension that makes it all a lot less silly for serious works. In addition cryptography can potentially allow selective revelation of the work, adding some potential exclusivity.
The lack of distinction however between a tokenized work and a non-tokenized one and its easy replication makes the storage of value a bit of a problem because it isn’t clear why society should value all this beyond it pays artists.
Their longevity wouldn’t be a distinction because you can replicate it at any point without even printing cost.
Why Own a Proof?
If it was a blockchain asset, then that would have value because you can be sure the original has not been changed in any way. It would in effect be a direct communication, just like the chariot talks to us today.
That original can be replicated throughout, but with any one replication you can’t be certain it hasn’t been changed. While the original blockchain asset is the artist him/her self directly speaking just like Leonardo speaks today through his original paintings that we do replicate, but protect the actual work of his hand.
So proof of originality has some value, and in addition the uncensorability of art does of course have value because it voices ideas that can be beneficial, or harmful which can make native blockchain art a problem, but that applies to the internet more widley.
The proof of originality could well be the foundation for the work having function based value, from which then you can build. But if that is the foundation then that is also the constrain because a lot derive from it, including requirements for the setup to facilitate such long lasting proof of originality.
That brings us back to where the graphics are hosted, based on which you can then evaluate all these different NFT platforms with the direction presumably being – if we are right of course – that the most immutable and permanent hosting method gains the most value or use.
Other function based foundational values may well be revealed by the market as this experimentation develops, but proof of originality sounds like a good basis to give all this some objective meaning and distinction which society should value because they do value originality and they value it because they value facts.
So there may be something here, but it needs a lot of work towards ensuring the immutability and as good as permanent availability of the art work.
But why would you want to own a proof when that proof is easily accessible to all? Those that want the original of Mona Lisa can perhaps give a better answer, but the ability to selectively show it with advancements in cryptography could be one basis for the prestige of owning digital art.
With that basis we can then give ‘license’ to perhaps even the disruption of the art world that might find a revival through digital tokenization with the aim of bringing us a golden age which is impossible without flourishing art.