2021 was the year that launched NFTs as genuinely standalone crypto assets. In 2020 they were still considered oddities that mainly existed on two chains: Bitcoin through the counterparty protocol, and Ethereum.
One particular feature of both Bitcoin and Ethereum limited the technology behind NFTs, and subsequently the platforms where artists minted and sold them: the high cost of data storage on-chain.
The delta between token and asset made the token an empty shell – a fact that nobody wants to acknowledge in public. Why? Fortunes were built on foundations of sand. Immutable tokens pointing to fragile storage solutions for their metadata and art.
Not even one of the chains of choice when it comes to NFT minting is compatible with the true technical concept of NFT: an immutable, indivisible token.
The ties between NFTs and their chains
Nostalgia might compel use of the Counterparty protocol, but its limitations are probably more visible than those of ERC721 standard. You don’t have to believe me, just read this comprehensive article, written by a true bitcoiner.
Ethereum, the one and only, is the behemoth when it comes to NFTs: the first chain that created a proper standard, that introduced the notion of royalties and facilitated complex token mechanics. On the other hand, it is solely responsible for proliferating the mental gymnastics first devised by counterparty users: there is no problem that the art is not on-chain in 99.9% of the cases – the token is the art. Yes, we are somehow concerned that those files could be lost; yes, we are directly addressing artists and art collectors, but remember, the token is the art and is forever, rather than those pesky files.
I would argue that the art and the token should be equally important, and treated as such.
Another odd issue carried by Ethereum NFTs that goes unnoticed is the twisted way in which the perceived value of an NFT is higher on Ethereum, only because it implied a higher minting cost. One can say whatever they want, but this is the truth. I saw huge discrepancies in how the same artist is valued on Ethereum vs. Tezos (I’m not even mentioning the difference in price between Ethereum and Polygon-based NFTs). How can one make a panache from an obvious shortcoming of that given chain? This is Stockholm syndrome at its finest.
Somebody joked on Twitter some days ago, stating that “there are more NFT artists than NFTs”. The sad part is that this is probably true: if one artist wants to create a proper custom smart contract for his NFTs, based on OpenZeppelin contracts, he has to pay around 0.5 ETH in gas, and then he has to pay for each mint. How is this inclusive and empowering?
Obviously, in this ecosystem, centralized actors who offer “lazy minting” will thrive. In the process, the artists doomed to use those features will wait in line for somebody to mint their works on a generic smart contract, usually underpriced, because they were financially coerced to ignore the token part.
For simplicity, let’s put all the other chains in the same basket. They all try to contend with Ethereum dominance, and have one weapon in the fight: they are cheaper. Unfortunately, as I already stated, the high cost of minting on Ethereum is seen as almost a virtue, so when your single argument is that “I’m cheaper”, it makes it look like you are selling a knock-off – especially when decentralization is being sacrificed.
Our greed made us mock those who were pointing to these shortcomings. We continued to mint NFTs in the same way and the marketplaces – disregarding the chain – continued to fuel these practices.
In an effort to lower the barrier to entry for new users, they made the situation worse: centralized or unclear storage solutions, generic smart contracts with intricate mechanics to allow lazy minting, arbitrary decisions regarding copyright infringement, no dedicated section in metadata for a copyright license.
The current marketplaces inherited the biases of the blockchains where NFTs firstly appeared and magnified them in their search for profit. Let’s assume you are a traditional artist who heard about NFTs and wants to jump into the market. Will you find a marketplace or minting platform with extensive documentation that explains clearly what’s happening behind the scenes?
I know, the first impulse is to state that nobody wants to learn this but I believe that the vast majority of the naysayers, the copy-pasta guys, are disillusioned individuals that had a catastrophic initial user experience. The tech behind NFTs could present a steep learning curve for a beginner. Pair that with the need to “pay” for every click, with various maximalists that don’t want to acknowledge obvious shortcomings, sometimes almost misleading (“gasless NFTs”, no distinction between ERC721 and ERC1155 standards, vague references about how are your NFTs stored, etc.) – and you have the ingredients to transform a potential web3 adopter into a foe.
We don’t need to wait for all the issues above to become insurmountable. We have to address them now. If we are in a bear market, all the better, we will have time to adjust the mechanism without the pressure of a high demand.
Arweave as a solution
Firstly we have to reconsider the core problem: the chain. I don’t know if there is a better option than Arweave in this matter. Generally, Arweave is known as a permanent decentralized storage solution, and that’s not wrong. But it is more than that. Arweave carries its own smart contract solution, so using it only for NFT storage and continuing to issue the token on another chain is like using a state-of-the-art rifle as a blunt weapon.
Arweave has is native NFT standard called the atomic NFT: the token carries both the metadata and the art file. All uploaded on-chain, forever, under a unique identifier. This should be the default NFT standard for the entire industry.
The only thing that partially kept artists from creating Arweave native NFTs was the lack of a selling feature, but the waiting is nearly over, and this feature will be released sooner rather than later.
For the first time, artists will have a broader motivation to mint on another chain than Ethereum: not only that it is cheaper (they will pay only for the permanent storage, that’s the gas fee), but the buyer could actually buy the JPEG and they could display that particular piece, not a copy of it anywhere on the web.
The platform as we need it
The need to avoid the shortcomings that plague other marketplaces is a no-brainer. The most crucial aspect is the need to offer proper documentation, tutorials, info pop-ups near every button, etc. This doesn’t seem very interesting, but it is vital for user experience and often overlooked.
Combine this with:
- a 24-hour presence on discord (for offering step-by-step support from wallet creation to minting and placing a work for sale)
- a faucet that will provide some $AR for artists to mint their initial works (2 dollars in $AR would mean that an artist could mint NFTs counting around 200 MB)
You will get one of the most robust user-oriented services from the entire space.
I assumed from the beginning that there will be no artificial gatekeeping tactics. No centralized curation, no invite system. A free for all proposition.
However, the focus should be directed to empower 1/1 artists and not PFP collections. This could be achieved relatively simply from the UI design. The reason is straightforward: even if PFPs attract the most volume and hype, the vast majority of them become toxic very quickly.
On the other hand, marketplaces built for small artists tend to create organic communities (the example of good practices in this matter is how Tezos NFTs became a thing and remained relevant ven after the platform that started the movement went down).
Instant royalty payment. Think about how royalties are dealt with in Ethereum right now: even if there is a royalty standard (EIP-2981), each marketplace has to devise its own way of dealing with the actual payment. Usually, this would happen days or even weeks after the selling. When Arweave marketplaces implement royalties, the single way of doing it right will be by giving the artist the royalties on spot.
Earn value through views. This is probably one of the most remarkable features that already exist when it comes to Arweave native NFTs (yeap, Koi rocks). Every minted NFT could gain attention rewards in the token of the minting platform only by being viewed by others.
This represents a game-changer in the way we interact with our NFTs. Imagine having your NFT embedded inside your website, in your pinned tweet, and being present in the gallery of the marketplace simultaneously. You will gain rewards from all those places.
Dedicated intellectual property section inside metadata. I know this issue is very delicate, and the views are polarised. It could represent the topic for an entirely separate article. I believe that, if correctly done, this section will settle for good the following dispute: one artist could choose the path of CC0 (Creative Commons license), that leaves all the rights public, or could choose a more conservative IP license.
It is not our business to coerce somebody to onboard one approach or another. Still, for clarity, it is essential to know what exactly an artist is selling regarding IP. If one artist wants to keep some rights for themselves or reserve them for the buyer, they should state this inside the metadata or, if it’s not the case, state that it’s a CC0. Respecting others’ choices is about decency, not about art statements.
Three tiers technical complexity. I’ve always dreamt of a platform that will grant artists three choices regarding minting and placing the NFTs for sale:
- Basic complexity for the most user-friendly experience. Drag and drop+ some fields for metadata; NFTs are issued on the platform’s generic smart contract; there is a precise array of selling options (fixed price, auction type a,b,c, etc.) (In Arweave’s special case, this option could come with the perks of gaining attention rewards in the form of the platform tokens).
- Intermediate complexity. Users could set their “custom” SmartWeave – basically, they would be naming their own smart contract and then mint their NFTs through that one. This should happen on a friendly user interface that will give fairly limited customization options to the final user, like what wemint.art is doing for EVM-based smart contracts.
- Advanced complexity. This will represent a dev tool that will allow developers to submit code for unique features like SmartWeave for different auctions. All those code proposals should be reviewed before being allowed into production, but once accepted, they could become available in the tiers above for all the other users.
Even though I presented the notion of Arweave’s NFT platform somehow unified, one must keep in mind that this platform will probably be represented by a set of entities: verto.exchange for the actual marketplace, koi.network for minting part, bundlr.network for fast and reliable upload on Arweave, etc.
How will it look when it is fully functional? Will it have those features incorporated? I can not tell. I only know that dedicated people are working relentlessly to deliver an experience never seen in NFT space before.