There’s nothing like an explosion of blockchain news to leave you thinking, “Um… what’s going on here?” That’s the feeling I’ve experienced while reading about celebrities getting millions of dollars for NFTs or about selfies being sold for millions. And by the time we all thought we sort of knew what the deal was, the founder of Twitter put an autographed tweet up for sale as an NFT. After a lot of things like this taking place a lot of people are not able to understand what a NFT is?
NFT stands for Non-fungible token. Right, sorry. “Non-fungible” more or less means that it’s unique and can’t be replaced with something else. For example, a bitcoin is fungible — trade one for another bitcoin, and you’ll have exactly the same thing. A one-of-a-kind trading card, however, is non-fungible. If you traded it for a different card, you’d have something completely different. Similarly we can take the example of bat with which MS Dhoni played during the finals of World Cup 2011, that bat can’t be replaced by another bat so if Dhoni wants to sell that bat, he can make a NFT of it and it will go for millions. So an NFT is a digital asset that represents real-world objects like art, music, in-game items and videos. They are bought and sold online, frequently with cryptocurrency, and they are generally encoded with the same underlying software as many cryptos.
Although they’ve been around since 2014, NFTs are gaining notoriety now because they are becoming an increasingly popular way to buy and sell digital artwork. A staggering $174 million has been spent on NFTs since November 2017.
NFTs are also generally one of a kind, or at least one of a very limited run, and have unique identifying codes. This stands in stark contrast to most digital creations, which are almost always infinite in supply. Hypothetically, cutting off the supply should raise the value of a given asset, assuming it’s in demand.
Let’s know more how a NFT works?
At a very high level, most NFTs are part of the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is a cryptocurrency, like bitcoin or dogecoin, but its blockchain also supports these NFTs, which store extra information that makes them work differently from, say, an ETH coin. It is worth noting that other blockchains can implement their own versions of NFTs.
An NFT is minted from digital objects as a representation of digital or non-digital assets. For example, an NFT could represent:
- Digital Art
- Lots and lots more options to get creative with!
An NFT can only have one owner at a time. Ownership is managed through the unique ID and metadata that no other token can replicate. NFTs are minted through smart contracts that assign ownership and manage the transferability of the NFT’s. When someone creates or mints an NFT, they execute code stored in smart contracts that conform to different standards, such as ERC-721. This information is added to the blockchain where the NFT is being managed. The minting process, from a high level, has the following steps that it goes through:
- Creating a new block
- Validating information
- Recording information into the blockchain
NFT’s have some special properties:
- Each token minted has a unique identifier that is directly linked to one Ethereum address.
- They’re not directly interchangeable with other tokens 1:1. For example 1 ETH is exactly the same as another ETH. This isn’t the case with NFTs.
- Each token has an owner and this information is easily verifiable.
- They live on Ethereum and can be bought and sold on any Ethereum-based NFT market.
In other words, if you own an NFT:
- You can easily prove you own it.
- Proving you own an NFT is very similar to proving you have ETH in your account.
- For example, let’s say you purchase an NFT, and the ownership of the unique token is transferred to your wallet via your public address.
- The token proves that your copy of the digital file is the original.
- Your private key is proof-of-ownership of the original.
- The content creator’s public key serves as a certificate of authenticity for that particular digital artefact.
- The creators public key is essentially a permanent part of the token’s history. The creator’s public key can demonstrate that the token you hold was created by a particular individual, thus contributing to its market value (vs a counterfeit).
- Another way to think about proving you own the NFT is by signing messages to prove you own the private key behind the address.
- As mentioned above, your private key is proof-of-ownership of the original. This tells us that the private keys behind that address control the NFT.
- A signed message can be used as proof that you own your private keys without revealing them to anybody and thus proving you own the NFT as well!
- No one can manipulate it in any way.
- You can sell it, and in some cases this will earn the original creator resale royalties.
- Or, you can hold it forever, resting comfortably knowing your asset is secured by your wallet on Ethereum.
NFTs shift the crypto paradigm by making each token unique and irreplaceable, thereby making it impossible for one non-fungible token to be equal to another. They are digital representations of assets and have been likened to digital passports because each token contains a unique, non-transferable identity to distinguish it from other tokens. They are also extensible, meaning you can combine one NFT with another to “breed” a third, unique NFT.
Though the crypto kitties and Bored Ape Yacht Club use cases may sound trivial, others have more serious business implications. For example, NFTs have been used in private equity transactions as well as real estate deals. One of the implications of enabling multiple types of tokens in a contract is the ability to provide escrow for different types of NFTs — from artwork to real estate — into a single financial transaction.
How is it different from crypto?
NFT stands for non-fungible token. It’s generally built using the same kind of programming as cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin or Ethereum, but that’s where the similarity ends.
Physical money and cryptocurrencies are “fungible,” meaning they can be traded or exchanged for one another. They’re also equal in value — one dollar is always worth another dollar; one Bitcoin is always equal to another Bitcoin. Crypto’s fungibility makes it a trusted means of conducting transactions on the blockchain.
NFTs are different. Each has a digital signature that makes it impossible for NFTs to be exchanged for or equal to one another. One NBA Top Shot clip, for example, is not equal to EVERYDAYS simply because they’re both NFTs. (One NBA Top Shot clip isn’t even necessarily equal to another NBA Top Shot clip, for that matter.)
Are Non-Fungible Tokens Important?
Non-fungible tokens are an evolution of the relatively simple concept of cryptocurrencies. Modern finance systems consist of sophisticated trading and loan systems for different asset types, ranging from real estate to lending contracts to artwork. By enabling digital representations of physical assets, NFTs are a step forward in the reinvention of this infrastructure.
To be sure, the idea of digital representations of physical assets is not novel nor is the use of unique identification. However, when these concepts are combined with the benefits of a tamper-resistant blockchain of smart contracts, they become a potent force for change.
Perhaps, the most obvious benefit of NFTs is market efficiency. The conversion of a physical asset into a digital one streamlines processes and removes intermediaries. NFTs representing digital or physical artwork on a blockchain remove the need for agents and allow artists to connect directly with their audiences. They can also improve business processes. For example, an NFT for a wine bottle will make it easier for different actors in a supply chain to interact with it and help track its provenance, production, and sale through the entire process. Consulting firm Ernst & Young has already developed such a solution for one of its clients.
Non-fungible tokens are also excellent for identity management. Consider the case of physical passports that need to be produced at every entry and exit point. By converting individual passports into NFTs, each with its own unique identifying characteristics, it is possible to streamline the entry and exit processes for jurisdictions. Expanding this use case, NFTs can serve an identity management purpose within the digital realm as well.
NFTs can also democratize investing by fractionalizing physical assets like real estate. It is much easier to divide a digital real estate asset among multiple owners than a physical one. That tokenization ethic need not be constrained to real estate; it can extend to other assets, such as artwork. Thus, a painting need not always have a single owner. Its digital equivalent can have multiple owners, each responsible for a fraction of the painting. Such arrangements could increase its worth and revenues.
The most exciting possibility for NFTs lies in the creation of new markets and forms of investment. Consider a piece of real estate parceled out into multiple divisions, each of which contains different characteristics and property types. One of the divisions might be next to a beach while another is in an entertainment complex, and yet another is a residential district. Depending on its characteristics, each piece of land is unique, priced differently, and represented with an NFT. Real estate trading, a complex and bureaucratic affair, can be simplified by incorporating relevant metadata into each unique NFT.
Decentral and, a virtual reality platform on Ethereum’s blockchain, has already implemented such a concept. As NFTs become more sophisticated and integrate into the financial infrastructure, it may become possible to implement the same concept of tokenized pieces of land (differing in value and location) in the physical world.
How to Buy NFTs
If you’re keen to start your own NFT collection, you’ll need to acquire some key items:
First, you’ll need to get a digital wallet that allows you to store NFTs and cryptocurrencies. You’ll likely need to purchase some cryptocurrency, like Ether, depending on what currencies your NFT provider accepts. You can buy crypto using a credit card on platforms like Coinbase, Kraken, eToro and even PayPal and Robinhood now. You’ll then be able to move it from the exchange to your wallet of choice.
You’ll want to keep fees in mind as you research options. Most exchanges charge at least a percentage of your transaction when you buy crypto.
Should You Buy NFTs?
Just because you can buy NFTs, does that mean you should? It depends from person to person. NFTs are risky because their future is uncertain, and we don’t yet have a lot of history to judge their performance. Since NFTs are so new, it may be worth investing small amounts to try it out for now.
In other words, investing in NFTs is a largely personal decision. If you have money to spare, it may be worth considering, especially if a piece holds meaning for you.
But keep in mind, an NFT’s value is based entirely on what someone else is willing to pay for it. Therefore, demand will drive the price rather than fundamental, technical or economic indicators, which typically influence stock prices and at least generally form the basis for investor demand.
All this means, an NFT may resale for less than you paid for it. Or you may not be able to resell it at all if no one wants it.
NFTs are also subject to capital gains taxes — just like when you sell stocks at a profit. Since they’re considered collectibles, however, they may not receive the preferential long-term capital gains rates stocks do and may even be taxed at a higher collectibles tax rate, though the IRS has not yet ruled what NFTs are considered for tax purposes. Bear in mind, the cryptocurrencies used to purchase the NFT may also be taxed if they’ve increased in value since you bought them, meaning you may want to check in with a tax professional when considering adding NFTs to your portfolio.
That said, approach NFTs just like you would do any investment: Do your research, understand the risks — including that you might lose all of your investing dollars — and if you decide to take the plunge, proceed with a healthy dose of caution.
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