NFT

The Crowd and Social Tokens

Longtime listeners likely know about my newsletter which is called The Crowd, or Just Another Crowd if you want to be super proper about it. I started it in 2013 when my friend John Bracken said something like “Hey Sean, is there some place you keep track of all the different and interesting things you talk about on Twitter?” There wasn’t, and until then I hadn’t considered that anyone would want such a thing because I talk about a lot of weirdly different things all the time. Until then I’d assumed that the technology people who followed me only cared about the technology stuff I was talking about and was annoyed by everything else, and that the art people who followed me only cared about the art stuff that I was talking about and was annoyed by everything else, and the music people who followed me only cared about the music stuff I was talking about and was annoyed by everything else, etc. You get the idea. It hadn’t occurred to me that technology people might be interested in art stuff, and music people might want to hear about tech stuff. Or that anyone simply thought “I never know what Sean is talking about, or is going to talk about, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be interesting.” Turns out a lot of people thought that. Anyway, this newsletter became a place where I could stream of consciousness ramble about things that happened to catch my attention. No set schedule or topic or length. Over the years I’ve wrestled with that myself wondering if I should make it more focused to better market it to a wider audience and I’ve always come back to “fuck that” and realizing the value of it is that it’s a group of people who are open to lots of topics, not always ones they agree with or care about but they trust me to point them in interesting directions, or provide a point of view they hadn’t considered. I myself like things like that, and I’m glad the newsletter has found people with similar thinking.

Anyway, over the last 8 years I’ve sent more than 250 emails to that list and I think subscribers would agree no topic has been off limits. Which makes it that much more amusing when someone rage quits because I said something they disagree with, or ventured into a topic they are uncomfortable with. I like that it’s kind of become its own filter in some ways.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about social tokens, and I say that knowing half the people reading this will be nodding and the other half will be WTFing. Social Tokens are kind of currency, but social rather than financial. More about reputation, membership or standing within a community, less about money as we normally think of it. While there’s lot of ways this can be used, what I’m most interested in is a token that, by holding it, grants you access to a community or represents your support of that community. Which you could buy (boring) or earn (interesting!) by engaging in actions connected to or endorsed by or in support of said community. Friends With Benefits is a good example of some of this and a perfect example is that in order to get access to the FWB Discord server you have to own a certain amount of $FWB tokens – which you can buy, earn, or be given. Inside the discord, everyone knows if you are there you are either financially supporting the community or you’ve done something that another community member found valuable. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s interesting and we’re all still learning as we go. I’m talking to other people about what they might do with their own social token and as I have a bad (or good) habit of using myself a guinea pig I started wondering about how I might use them as well. Which of course makes me wonder what my community is? And that of course leads me to my newsletter.

So with that in mind, I’ve gone ahead an issued $CROWD tokens. Or $CROWD coins if you prefer. $CROWD is a standard ERC20 token. You can read all about it and how to set your wallet up for it on this page.

I used a service called Coinvise to set this up. It was limited, but fast and easy and free. If you have an account there you can follow me. This is not the only way to do it of course. You could also write your own contract using this wizard provided by Open Zeppelin. That option is feature packed and super customizable and after many many many hours of fucking with it I couldn’t get it to validate. I’m sure someone much smarter than me would have no problem. That’s also free. There are other paid services that will do it for you that have different options at different price points, but obviously I considered all of these options and decided Coinvise was the way to go. For me. For my purposed. YMMV.

Look, I’ll be honest – I rarely have any idea why I’m doing things, but often figure that out along the way. I think this moment, right now, on the web is more exciting and has more potential than anything I’ve seen since the late 90’s. I feel like we have a chance to correct a lot of the mistakes that were made during Web 2.0 and I think social tokens will play a roll in that. What roll exactly remains to be seen. If you own some $CROWD right now that’s basically bragging rights and not much else, it means you know me and I gave you some. In the near future it might give you access to special channels on my Discord server. The NFT Marketplace OpenSea now supports Matic, so in theory I could sell some NFT’s there and only accept $CROWD as payment. There could be special websites that you can only get into if you are holding $CROWD. Before too long it could mean someone else gave you some for some other reason. The potential uses are limitless and I’m just starting to explore and experiment with it. If you’ve made it this far, that’s probably why you are here too. I think this is going to be fun, and thanks for being part of The Crowd.

For NFTs, Twitter Is The Marketplace

Last month NiftyTable published stats showing that more than half of the traffic going to the major NFT sites was coming from Twitter. At face value, that means more than half of the traffic across several sites for essentially an entire industry coming from one site… that’s insanity! But we need to consider a few things to put that into context. Traffic stats mean people are very regularly clicking links on one site and being taken to another. Not just once, but all the time. This would primarily be driven by discovery, new people finding new artists they are interested in learning more about. Now there are unquestionably lots of Discord servers filled with NFT discussions, but those are largely contained groups who follow each other on the NFT platforms as well, so there’s not a lot of discovery going on beyond the first introductions. (Some of you will note that discoverability is the number one thing I’ve been saying NFT platforms need to work on.) Facebook as well has some chatter, but again it’s not really a place people are discovering new work so much as seeing work from people they are already following or connected to.

Conversely, sites (or apps) like Clubhouse, Instagram and Twitter are more outwardly focused – that is, unless you have a private account, one of the features of these platforms is that they potentially act as a megaphone and can show you off to a much larger audience than you might have on your own. One might think that Instagram, being a primarily visual platform might be the most useful here when it comes to new artist discovery. Similarly the sheer number of Clubhouse rooms dedicated to giving new artists space to talk about or “shill” (I hate that term) their own work would suggest that a lot of discovery is happening there. That said, Instagram and Clubhouse are similar in that they don’t allow linking to other sites. You simply can’t post a clickable link. This means even if you do post (or talk about) a link someone needs to either retype it or copy and paste it into another browser tab, in which case traffic statistics would not know the origin of the that click. So I suspect it’s highly likely that traffic being driven by both Instagram and Clubhouse is being significantly underreported. To what extent it’s impossible to say, but the assumption that no real traffic is coming from those sites is probably incorrect.

But it’s not just technical luck either. No matter how that gets refactored there’s no getting around the fact that a lot of traffic is coming from Twitter, and there’s a reason for that. Clubhouse is fleeting – if you aren’t in the room you miss it. Instagram is more portfolio-ish, comment threads are silo’d and sharing work that you find and like is difficult. Instagram is also afraid of female nipples, among others things, which results in a lot of self censorship and a lot of posts being taken down for violating “community guidelines.” While not all art has nipples, some art does and if a platform is restricting what some artists can do other artists are going to be cautious about using it, even unintentionally. Twitter is non of those things. Sure it’s ephemeral to a degree, but you can easily search and find older posts and connecting different people and disparate conversations is a snap. And showing off artwork, your own or others, is really easy. And it’s also now, in that when there’s a hot topic of the moment, whatever that moment is, everyone knows they can go to Twitter and talk to people about it.

And it’s not insignificant that none of the NFT platforms really have a way to connect with people. Sure you can follow artists you like, sure they will shuffle you along to their Discord servers, and sure some are promising that they have a social component in the works, but right now onsite, there’s nothing social happening. So people go to Twitter, because that’s where all the social is happening.

I was one of the first 140 people to join Twitter in 2006 and a quick look at my archives shows that as much as I’ve loved it, I’ve been critical of the platform for a very long time now. I’ve come close to leaving several times. But I’m still there and I still use it because as annoying as it is for somethings, it’s incredibly valuable for others. Being able to engage with a community is one of those valuable things. As you can imagine after being on a site for 15 years, people ask me all the time if they should be on Twitter. These days, and for quite some time now, I most often tell them no. In general with social media I think it’s better to not do something than to do it poorly, and to do Twitter correctly you need to invest time in it. This is something most people are not willing to do. They want to create an account, post something once or twice a month and then suddenly have thousands of millions of followers. That’s simply not how it works. You have to be engaged, invested, and understand the social norms of the place. So I’ve told people that if they’ve already been on Twitter and have a community there then they should use that, but if they don’t not to bother trying to start at this point.

However.

I think my position on that has evolved in the recent weeks. It’s becoming more and more clear that the vast majority of the discovery, commentary, meta-commentary, community engagement and (barf)networking is happening on Twitter. Not just randomly, this is where people are asking for recommendations, where introductions are being made, where friendships are forming and where connections are being made. Which, oddly, is what Twitter used to be really good at before it got distracted by trying to be “where breaking news happens” or whatever crap marketing line they were using was. Now, my earlier position still holds true – if you aren’t willing or able to commit several hours a week at the very least to interacting with people on Twitter, that is not just posting, but actually engaging, then I still don’t think you should use the site. But if you have an account already which you just aren’t using, or you are willing to put in the work to build up a new one, there’s really no better place right now for interacting with other artists, collectors, and various people of similar interests. It’s not make or break, but it’s noteworthy enough and a shift in what I’ve been vocal about so I thought it should be mentioned. Hope that’s helpful.

And of course if you are on Twitter feel free to follow me, and if you are interested in NFTs of my photography you can check them out here.

NFT Catch All

As I continue to ramble on about NFTs in my usual stream of consciousness style I thought it would be helpful to collect things together in a little bit of a more easily parseable list.

My original NFT WTF article and the Part 2 follow up cover a lot of ground and I think are a really good 101 on what NFTs are and why they are interesting and important for artists.

I followed those up with a bit of a battle cry as to why artists hold all the power in this new medium.

After that I talked about what upgrades I’d like to see to the NFT Standard.

How artists should be pricing work is a very common topic and I talked about that arguing that we should be thinking crypto first.

I’ve talked about platforms a lot in this, and wrote quite a lot about the value of platforms and what questions artists should be asking before they choose one. And this is important because there are a lot of platforms, which is why I made this NFT Platform Comparison Chart – This is not meant to be comprehensive, rather regularly updated as more information becomes available about the most talked about platforms in the community. I’ve also talked a bit about why Twitter is important.

All the posts (and future ones) can be found under the NFT tag here on this site.

And finally, my own work can be found on the following platforms.

opensea.io/accounts/seanbonner
foundation.app/seanbonner
makersplace.com/seanbonner
zora.co/seanbonner
kalamint.io/user/seanbonner
ephimera.com/seanbonner
knownorigin.io/seanbonner (coming soon)

Some Thoughts on NFT Platforms & Marketplaces

Some may have gotten the idea from a previous post that I’m anti-platform. That couldn’t be further from the truth, I think platforms play an important role in this ecosystem in the same way that galleries play an important role in the traditional art world. But actively playing that role is important, and platforms that do nothing except take a portion of an artists sales are as worthless as galleries that do the same. So I wanted to spend a little time detailing a bit more what I want to see from platforms, and where they can add value as opposed to just taking it.

First and foremost let me direct you to a detailed comparison chart a few friends and I made between the top 30 or so platforms that are live right now, that can be found at NFTART.LOL. At the bottom of that page are links to several more comparisons that other people have put together some of which include platforms I didn’t. I also didn’t include at least 20 platforms that haven’t launched yet, or another 30 or so that I was promised are “in the works.” My point is that there are a lot, A LOT, of platforms and people making platform plays. In most cases each one is a little different, in one or two cases people couldn’t tell me why their idea was any different. And in most of these cases the platform plans to take a % of the sale (often between 2% and 30%), so understanding what the platforms are and aren’t doing is important before you decide to cut them in to your sales.

Now, if there was only one or two platforms and they were doing something no one else could do that would be enough, but that’s clearly not the case. And as you see from dumplingpets.com and fake.sale there’s no need to even have a platform – those aren’t white labeled solutions, they are writing the contracts themselves which I’ll talk more about later – but lets talk about where the value add with platforms is.

Discoverability. If you are an artist putting things out into the world, chances are you want people to see them and if you don’t have an audience already then posting things on a platform can help. This is the default benefit across all the platforms right now, though obviously it’s better with some than others. OpenSea for example has a massive user base, but also a fairly dysfunctional search and classification system so the chances of someone who wasn’t already looking for your art stumbling across it on OpenSea is fairly slim. Other sites like MakersPlace and Foundation don’t have a search per se, but instead have many different ways they sort and classify both artists and artworks so a collector looking for something similar to what you are doing has a better chance of finding you. Again, this varies from site to site, so be sure to spend time on the site you plan to list on. It’s helpful to go to a site without a plan, and just click around and see what you find and where it leads you – if you end up seeing work you like, that’s a good sign. If you end up scrolling through lots of work that isn’t really you thing, that’s probably the experience others are having too.

Promotion. While discoverability is largely passive, this more likely requires the conscious involvement of someone at the platform. This would be anything the platform is actively doing to promote the art or artist. Obviously it would be unrealistic for any platform to do everything for everyone, so this is largely a tiered situation where more is going to be done for one person and less for someone else. Those “more” situations are probably happening thanks to a prior agreement or arrangement. On the low end this could be retweeting announcement posts to the platform’s main twitter account. It could be something like pushing the art up to a “featured” position on the website for some period of time, or including it in a weekly emails or announcements. On the higher end, some platforms are taking an even bigger step and cultivating relationships with collectors who they are then introducing to artists via group video calls or even 1 on 1 chats. This gets into the kind of thing that artists would often hope galleries would do for them, and it demonstrates a desire to actually help out the artist (because even if the artist sells something elsewhere, if the collector they have a relationship with is interested they will likely follow), where as platforms who intentionally try to stay in between artists and collectors are probably more looking out for themselves. It should go without saying that in the long run looking out for artists is a much better plan, it should – but there are no shortage of short sighted plays being attempted in this ballpark.

Advice. This gets overlooked a lot, even by platforms themselves who often try to shuffle artists off to discord servers or clubhouse rooms hoping for “the community” to manage it which isn’t bad but also isn’t great. As people who are dealing with this market every single day, the platforms have an incredible amount of information that can be useful for artists planning next steps. And while best practices and things to avoid can be universal, thinking of artists in a one size fits all manor is also a mistake. The platforms that have people who can spend time with individual artists talking about their work, their goals, and their future plans are incredibly valuable and I personally think this is an area were most should spent a little more money on bringing in a few more people to really help develop those relationships. And relating to the previous point, developing a trusted relationship with an artist is a much better approach to retention than playing gatekeeper with collectors.

Community. I hope I didn’t give the impression in that last point that community isn’t worthwhile – far from it! Especially for early career artists, finding a supportive community can be life changing. This is one of the things I’ve been most excited about in lurking around the NFT space over the last few months, the community support, generosity and encouragement is unparalleled. And the platforms that are working to help foster that get big ups. Compare OpenSea to Foundation for example – Foundation has recurring “happy hour” clubhouse rooms where anyone can come and just hang out, the staff is super responsive to emails and messages on social media, while OpenSea just directs everyone to their Discord server which is nearing 45k members, many of who are begging for help or asking questions and there’s rarely a useful reply from anyone at OpenSea, and the team is unresponsive to emails and social media inquiries. (Granted this is just my observation and experience – I have accounts on both sites and I think there are pros and cons to what each is doing, but on this community issue it’s very clearly something Foundation has prioritized and seems to be something OpenSea has ignored.) Big picture – if you care about people who are using your site and work to find ways to help them work together with each other, that’s a good direction to aim for.

Support. Since I mentioned it, this is big. If you as an artist have a problem with something on the site, is there a way for you to get it addressed? A problem could be a technical issue, it could a conflict with another user or a case of infringement. It could be a mixup with a payment or a question about how something is being promoted or future plans. If there is a contact available to you that is responsive that is very good, if there’s just some help docs or a “community forum” that’s not so good. If I have a problem on a site and I can’t get anyone to help me, I have to seriously ask myself what value they are offering me to justify the money I’m giving them from my sales.

And that’s the crux of it really – when we are talking about justifying a % of sales these things are important. These are a very clear value add and if done correctly can provide a lot of benefit to artists using those platforms. Conversely, for the platforms that are not prioritizing these things I would suggest they should reconsider their model and perhaps move to a flat monthly subscription fee or something. I’d rather pay $5 or $10 a month and get no services than give a % of every sale I make in exchange for no services. But that’s just me.

To circle back to the issue I brought up earlier, there is no need for platforms. They are not required. But depending on what you are trying to do, they can be very useful and working together with the right platform can be mutually beneficial. But knowing what the “right” platform for you is requires thinking about what you are trying to do, and identifying which issues are important to you and then finding the platform that aligns with those needs. I write posts like this with the genuine hope that it inspires platforms to be better, to reflect on what they are doing (or not doing) and take steps to improve the weak spots. And if not, at least it gives artists better questions to ask. Platforms being better is good for everyone, so I hope this helps push things in that direction.

I’ve said this publicly a few times recently but there is an absolute flood of platforms right now and I don’t expect all the ones we are seeing today to still be standing in a year. Maybe not even in 6 months. Take a look at this post my friend Jonathan Mann wrote just 3 years ago where he compares the 4 major NFT platforms at the time, only one of those still exists. I think we’re going to see some platforms absorb/buy others, some pivot away to a more niche area they can focus on with less competition, and some simply collapse. Which ones remains be seen, but anyone who has seen these cycles play out time and time again can see the direction this is going. It’s going to be a fun ride, grab the popcorn and buckle up.

CryptoArt and Crypto Pricing

When I started visiting Japan I made it a habit of keeping track of the yen to dollar and was always doing the math in my head every time I bought anything so that I knew how many dollars I was spending. That made sense because while I was “visiting” in yen, I “lived” in dollars. After I moved to Japan I quickly realized that stressing out that the ramen I paid $5 for last week costing $5.25 this week was pointless and I should instead just enjoy my 500 yen ramen and stop worrying how much it was costing me in dollars. I was getting paid in yen, and paying for things in yen. I needed to get comfortable with yen and stop pining for dollars.

6 months ago 1 Ethereum (Ξ) converted to about $400, today it’s over $2100. In that time I’ve seen artists price their works in Eth matched against the dollar conversion they think is reasonable, only to lower the Eth price weeks later when Eth went up in value. I kind of cringed when I saw it happen several times but I couldn’t put my finger on why exactly. I mean, I get it – if you think your work is worth $500 one week it stands to reason you would think it’s worth $500 the next week and the value of some cryptocurrency shouldn’t impact that. Right? Earlier today I was looking at the value of Eth and thought about some work that I minted last week and thought I should probably lower the asking price since Eth has going up significantly since I listed them. So I did. And then I felt sick. And I knew exactly why.

Back when I used to have an art gallery how artists should price their work was a constant topic of discussion. The rule of thumb is simple, you can always increase a price but you can never decrease it. The logic being, if collectors see you lower a price they will never think your work is worth the listed price, and will always think they can get a discount or if they just wait a little longer the price will come down further. Conversely, if you only raise prices an interested party will quickly realize that if they are leaning towards something they should jump now because if they wait it will cost them more.

I keep saying that NFTs are a new medium and artists and creators should think of them that way, and embrace it. And the native currency of this medium is Eth. Sure some marketplaces take credit cards or other cryptocurrency but the dominant payment is Eth. And adjusting the Eth price to keep it matched to the dollar price still looks and feels like lowering the price. Because it is. We might have been “visiting” Eth before while “living” in dollars, but it doesn’t take more than a few weeks to start feeling like a local, and if you now “live” in Eth, then you should stop pining for dollars. An artwork valued at Ξ1 should remain valued at Ξ1 no matter what value Eth has to dollars. That’s a bold position and I get that, but in a way this is walking the walk. NFTs are crypto native, and if we’ve moved from tourist to resident, then we should embrace all that comes with that. That’s going to be a hard sell for many people, and realistically I know we’re not there yet. But we should see it on the horizon, and know what direction we’re heading.

On a personal level I’ve always been terrible at taking my own advice and can be firm with others but often second guess myself. In part because I can be sure of other people’s talents but I struggle recognizing my own. Call it imposter syndrome or insecurity or whatever but I know I’m not alone in that and many artists wrestle with what value to put on their own work. That said, I feel like I fucked up adjusting my pricing to compensate for Eth appreciating. I feel like I devalued my work. It’s not something I’m going to do again.

NFT Standards Wishlist

This is an incomplete list of things which keep coming up in discussions about what NFTs do, don’t do, and pain points. I’m posting them here largely just as a reference so I can send people here rather than repeating myself repeatedly, as well as in hopes that some time in the future when they are all addressed and resolved we can look back and remember the good old days. Warning, the following is nerdy as shit.

  1. Persistent Royalties – I’ve discussed artist royalties in secondary sales in previous essays because this is single thing is incredibly important and game changing, but right now this happens at the platform layer not within the token itself. There’s already an Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) that begins to address this, EIP-2981. That said, it’s almost like a bate and switch right now that artists are being told they get a cut of secondary sales and then only later finding out if whoever buys their are moves it to a different platform then they lose that recurring royalty which sucks. This needs to be built in so that no mater where the token is moved to or sold, the creator royalty is respected.
  2. Unlimited Wallet Splits – Depending on the platform there’s 1, 2, or maybe 3 people who can potentially receive a % of the sale and on many platforms that split is predetermined. If it’s just one artist selling something they worked on themselves and they want to keep all the proceeds to themselves that’s fine, but if there’s any kind of collaboration going on, or a charity that the artist wants to give a donation from the sales to, or if it’s a band with several people, then this becomes really problematic. The beauty of these trustless systems is that you set it and then forget it and everyone involved knows it works, but if the trustless system relies on everyone involved trusting one person to divide up the money later on, then the system fails. Essentially every platform I’ve been talking to is already thinking about this so I suspect that solutions will start popping up soon but those will likely be at the platform layer which has the same problems I just mentioned relating to persistent royalties so it would be much better for this to be addressed within the contract. What I’d like to see is basically the exact way that Distrokid handles royalties for streaming: For each individual token (that is, not applied to an entire “collection” or “batch” but each NFT managed on its own.) the ability to add as many wallets and specify the % of the initial sale that each should receive. Ideally this would allow you to mint an NFT and designate 5 different wallets to each receive 20% of the sale, and then mint another NFT where one wallet gets 50% and two other wallets get 25% each.
  3. Sunset Clause for Royalties – Related to the issue above, it would be ideal to be able to specify terms or expiration dates for the royalties – for example, say this wallet should get 10% of secondary sales for the first year, but after that the royalty should revert to the creator. Or the ability to include some kind of dead man switch so that if the person or organization receiving the royalty dies or goes out of business or something, then the original creator could specify a new recipient or just have that royalty revert back to them. This is one of those things that seems pointless and excessive today, but 10, 20, 50 years from now everyone is going to be kicking themselves that it wasn’t built in from day one.
  4. Merging Wallets – I understand this is more of a Web3 issue than an NFT issue but it’s related and it’s another problem that needs to be solved fast before it gets insane. In theory tying your identity to a wallet is great for many reasons, but with different sites supporting different wallets and people not understanding how to import wallets from one thing to another, a lot of people are ending up with several, sometimes dozens of wallets. And if I’ve jumped through the hoops to get invited and verified as “seanbonner” on platform A and B, but I unknowingly used 2 different wallets for those accounts, then I end up with two unrelated accounts and half my listing & collection on one wallet and half on another, which is fine if I want to keep them separate but is a nightmare if I want them all together. This gets much worse if I’ve done something like, attached “seanbonner.eth” to one of them and “seanbonner.crypto” to another. We’re going to need some kind of smart protocol where I, as someone who has dozens of wallets, can say “all these wallets are mine, display the assets for all of them.” Again, there may be wallets and identities that I want to keep separate and that’s fine, but people need to be able to, at least in some visual way, display NFT collections that live in more than one wallet as part of their collections rather than be forced to send NFTs from one wallet to another which incurs gas fees and potentially breaks the contracts by moving the tokens off platforms.
    Update: It looks like TryShowtime is the first site to allow you to create an account and then connect several different wallets to it rather than use the wallet as the identifier, which is a great step here. With this one account you can see everything that I’ve created & collected across several wallets. (worth noting you can choose not to display certain items if you want)

NFTs: All Power To The Artists

(This is part of an ongoing series of posts about art & NFTs.)

Right now, in the world of NFTs, artists have all the power. All of it. This is a battlecry. And when I say “artist” I’m generally referring to any kind of creator. I’ve already seen painters, writers, dancers, musicians, photographers, etc. all do fantastic and delightful things with NFTs. This is wonderful because in most industries where these artists usually live they are forced to compromise, be subordinate or end up beholden to any number of entrenched middle men. That’s a hard truth, but one we all know to be real.

By and large the current NFT marketplaces desperately want to assume that role. They are embracing the archetype of the established curator king in hopes that artist will assume the role of subject. And many artists are happy to do that as it’s all they’ve ever known. But at this moment we have the opportunity to flip that table and build a new castle with better kitchen appliances installed from day one. Artists rightly get excited about the prospect of attention from the Gagosians and Saatchis of the world not because they arrived on the scene yesterday and put up a cool sign outside, but because they have decades and decades of history, and story, that an artist might hope to become part of. The blockchain is a decade old, NFTs have been around for a few years, the really old NFT marketplaces are only 2 years old, most have not been live for even a full year. Almost every artist minting NFTs has an art career which predates these sites launching.

To be clear, I’m not trying to universally knock the platforms or the people working with them. However here are certainly people who see all of this as just a short term play with a hugh upside which they are hoping to cash in on, like they did with the last thing, before they move onto the next thing. And there’s nothing wrong with that, more power to them, but as artists we all should be aware of what is happening and take care not to fall victim. Right now, in almost all cases, artists minting work on Platform X does more to benefit Platform X than it does the artists, which is important to consider when Platform X is asking for 20% of the sale price as their fee. (Currently the platforms I’ve assessed are taking between 0% and 30% so it’s quite a range) Artists can and should be asking what Platform X is doing to earn that cut. If the answer is “we let you in” that really is not good enough. By minting on Platform X we are giving our attention, marketing potential and money to that platform, so it’s worthwhile to ask questions ahead of time.

Conversely there are certainly people at platforms that are thinking about the artists first, and thinking of long term mutually beneficial partnerships. I’ve talked to several of them myself, but I’d be lying if I said those people weren’t in the minority. This is why I say that artists have all the power. We can vote with our dollars, vote with our time, vote with our attention. We can demand that things be different. There is absolutely a value in curation, but there is also a very well known problem with arbitrary middlemen. The promise of all this decentralized technology is that it puts power and agency back into the hands of the people rather than keeping it locked away in the vaults of the companies. It would be a shame to embrace this new world only to hand that power back over to a handful of randos who showed up yesterday. All Power To The Artists.

(As an aside, if you read this and take offense you should ask yourself why? You chose to see your reflection in the picture I’ve painted. If you don’t want to be accused of doing shitty things, don’t do shitty things. Don’t be one of the randos, think about what value you have to offer and realize you are lucky to have artists paying attention to you. Keep trying to do the right thing, and in a few weeks/months/years when all the dust settles maybe you’ll still be standing. Artists were here before this and will be here long after, we have support systems that we’ve built for ourselves. You are welcome to join us. I am an unapologetic artist advocate and equally happy to work with people who want to see artists prosper, or crush those who see artists as just another stepping stone.)

WTF NFT

(for easy reference this post can be found at the domain: wtfnft.art )

Last week I wrote a quick intro to NFT’s entitled NFT WTF which, if you haven’t read yet you should go read now. Since then I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of people and have seen recurring questions and patterns emerge which have sharpened my thinking on a few things and I thought it would be useful to keep passing that info on.

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Earlier today when I was speaking with Nick Philip he astutely noted that this has been one Lenin’s weeks. There was a shift in the force and it’s been really fun to step back and watch the shock wave ripple across the landscape, though if I’m honest there hasn’t been a lot of time for that kind of quiet reflection because my phone has been blowing up all day long.

One thing I didn’t mention in my previous article is why you should trust me. The simple answer is that you shouldn’t. Not because I tell you to anyway. What you should do is look at my experience and decide for yourself if what I’ve done for the last 30 years gives you enough reason to hear me out. I don’t know how many other ex-art gallery owners have spent the last decade building an environmental nonprofit and studying the blockchain but I suspect it’s a very small number. Related, I’d love to meet them. While I believe my art+tech background usually gives me a somewhat unique vantage point, cryptoart is a rare combination of all the above.

My last article was more of an explainer/how-to kind of thing but with this I want to hit a few more specifics.

Gas Fees
This is probably one of the most confusing aspects of buying & selling NFT art, largely because the platforms aren’t exceptionally transparent about it. First of all, what is gas? Think if email and how much spam you get? Spammers keep spamming because if they send 10 million emails and 100 people fall for it, they make a profit. Now imagine if you had to pay $1 to send every email – you’d probably send fewer emails, but so would the spammers. That “send as much as you can” business model would disappear – and that’s what happening here to some extent. To prevent people spamming up the blockchain there’s a cost involved with every transaction. Technically, this cost is associated with the miners who are confirming the transaction. But this isn’t a fixed fee, when the network is very busy gas fees are higher – the exact same transaction might incur the equivalent of $30 in gas fees one day or $80 another. This is because you are effectively paying to push your transaction to the front of the line. Some platforms allow you to pay less gas and stay at the end of the line, but that means your transaction could be pending for weeks so it’s not really advisable to try and cut corners there. Here’s a dashboard where you can see what current gas prices are on different networks and platforms, and here’s one that looks at trends and helps predict when gas prices might be lower or higher so you can plan ahead and mint things on the down cycle.

Additionally, the fees are handled slightly differently by each platform so it’s worth it to spend some time looking into whatever platform you are using to see how fees are handled. Some examples of differing policies: Makersplace will pay gas fees for you unless gas is very high, then they will give you the option of paying it or waiting and trying to list your item some other time. Most platforms charge gas to the creator on minting and listing, but OpenSea defers that to the buyer of a successful fixed price listing, however for auctions that end with a price less than 1ETH then the seller has to cover the gas. Policies differ, so do your homework here.

Secondary Sales
I talked about how absolutely important this is in my last article but I need to clarify an important detail. This royalty paid from secondary sales is platform specific, it’s not baked into the token itself. What this means is that if you mint something on Makersplace and sell it and whoever buys it from you sells it on Makerspace then you get the royalty as expected, however if they transfer it to OpenSea (or somewhere else) and then sell it there that royalty is no longer in effect, and I believe (though I could be wrong here) that on that new sale a new royalty is set up so long as future sales take place on OpenSea. I do think this is a problem, but I don’t think lock in is the solution. Hopefully this is something that continues to evolve in the favor of the artists. That said, very few people are moving NFTs from one platform to another right now and many don’t allow you to bring them in, even if they do allow you to transfer them out. So we’ll see how this goes.

Another super important question to be asking here is what happens to these NFTs in the future if the platform doesn’t survive? One one hand these platforms are all counting on surviving forever, on the other hand this is the internet and we all know that companies (and platforms) come and go like the tides. What happens if Google buys one of these platforms? What happens if one of these platforms absorbs one of the others? What happens if in 5 years after Google buys one they decide to shut it down because it’s conflicting with their other NFT site or just isn’t profitable? There’s no clear answers to these questions, and with real money changing hands it’s something we’ll need to get answers to soon.

Hidden /Unlockable Content
This is another platform specific function (meaning it’s implemented differently from one platform to another) but generally the point here is that people can see something before buying the NFT, but gain access to further materials only after buying it. This is commonly being used by bands, where you can see the album cover and the songs are the unlockable content, but I’ve also seen people do lottery things with 10 NFTs, one of which has a ton of extra stuff included, or where the unlockable content is a download code to get something else. I saw one artist list 10 plain white squares, and you only got to see which art piece you’d bought after buying it. There are a lot of fun things that can be done here.

Physical / Digital
This is something that a lot of people seem to be asking about. Does an NFT need to have a physical counterpart? No. Can you make an NFT of a physical piece of art? Yes. Does that mean the NFT and the physical piece are connected or joined somehow? No. If someone buys the NFT do they automatically own the physical piece too? Not unless that was part of the offering. It’s easiest to think of the NFT as it’s own thing entirely. So an NFT can be the only representation of a piece of art, or it can be just the digital representation.

Environmental Concerns
I received a hilarious amount of criticism about my last post for “glossing over how bad NFTs are for the environment” with the recommendation that “do some research” with links to various hot takes on Medium. Get it? Hot takes? “HOT” takes? Honestly I crack myself up sometimes. Anyway, as noted earlier in this piece (and in my bio) I’ve spent the last decade running an environmental non-profit in which we’ve done a lot of work with Blockchain, so yeah, I’ve done research and I didn’t “gloss over it” I simply didn’t mention it because it doesn’t exist. Creating NFTs doesn’t use any more energy than not creating NFTs, just like sitting on your front yard reading a book doesn’t use any more sunlight than not reading a book. The sunlight is there if you read the book or not, and the Ethereum blockchain uses the same amount of power if NFTs are being made or not. Now, you could argue that “cryptocurrency uses a lot of energy” and you’d be right, but NFTs don’t add anything to that and you could make an even more accurate statement by simply saying “currency uses a lot of energy” because our existing banking/currency systems use a shit ton more energy than cryptocurrency does. That’s not whataboutism, it’s realistically looking at the situation – and it’s part of the reason that there are already steps being taken to improve the energy usage of cryptocurrency. Anyway, point is there is a lot of well intentioned but misplaced criticism being thrown around by people who simply misunderstand how the blockchain works and are pulling various scary numbers out of context to justify prior bias. Also, angry rants catch on and spread much faster than boring truths. We’ve seen this time and time again at Safecast over the last 10 years. Jacqueline Choe has written the most comprehensive debunking of the environmental criticisms I’ve seen yet. If you still think artists minting NFTs are destroying the world it’s an absolute must read.

The Man
I continue to be skeptical but cautiously optimistic about the various NFT marketplace platforms. I’ll have more research to publish soon, and more opinions to throw around. I’m disappointed how most of them are handing the surge in traffic they are seeing and that they claim they weren’t prepared for, when that’s literally the thing most of them raised money promising. I also think it would be a shame to move from one middleman ruled centrally controlled system (galleries, art fairs, traditional art world stuff) to a decentralized utopia (ok maybe it’s not quite that) which promises no need for centralized middlemen, only to attach our collective hitches to some centralized middlemen. I think open standards, transparency, and artist driven initiatives will be the best course of action however those aren’t always the most profitable for venture backed companies. So as a community, we’re going to have to push for the tools that work for us.

I’m going to wrap it up on that note, but I assume this semi-series will continue. I’ve been hosting a few “office hours” things on zoom explaining NFT’s to artists and artist advocates and recently started doing some on Clubhouse as well. If you want to keep up with this discussion follow me on twitter and clubhouse.

Again, if you’ve found this useful and want to say thanks and see how this works, NFT’s I’ve minted are available for sale here. This is part of an ongoing series of posts about art & NFTs.