Why NFTs Aren’t Just for Art and Collectibles

Master Snooker by DinizBr ArtW. Source: async.art

Are non-fungible tokens (NFTs) one-trick ponies? They’ve certainly taken the art and digital collectible world by storm, raising millions of dollars for a handful of high-profile artists and (mostly) the NBA, but what else can they do?

Well, given that the NFT is essentially a technical standard for creating and identifying unique digital objects, its use potentially extends far beyond the digital art and collectibles world. From tickets to insurance certificates and domain names, whenever an object can be represented digitally, NFTs can play a role.

Of course, whether the application of NFTs ever expands beyond art and collectibles in a big way remains an open question, yet industry insiders generally agree that the non-fungible token is here to stay.

The NFT: more than a fad?

Critics would probably classify the NFT as another (crypto-related) fad, used to generate extra publicity and cash (which they did) for the crypto industry and a tiny minority of elites (e.g. Kings of Leon and Grimes), but with little real use for the vast majority of individuals and businesses.

However, not everyone shares such a view. For Messari research analyst Mason Nystrom, non-fungible tokens are a legitimately useful technical standard with a wide range of potential applications.

“There are various potential applications for NFTs beyond collectibles including domain names (e.g. Ethereum Name Service), financial products like carbon credits (e.g. Nori), event tickets, gaming, certificates of authenticity (e.g. Treum), and more. Any digitally native asset that has a large set of unique information can be issued as an NFT,” he told Cryptonews.com.

Dragan Boscovic, a research professor in computer science at Arizona State University, also agrees that NFTs could be used for various purposes. In particular, he highlights certificates as one promising area.

“Any digital certificate which is subject to origin and ownership verification is a good NFT application. It can be your car title, house/property insurance certificate, your employer card pass, or something more personable like a photo album that is locked into a time capsule and released/published on your 40th birthday,” he told Cryptonews.com.

The general consensus is that NFTs can be used to create digital objects that have a unique identifier, and that such digital objects extend far beyond mere artworks and virtual collectibles.

“For example domain names — which map an IP address to a name — such as cryptonews.com already exist on a digital ledger maintained by Verisign in conjunction with ICAAN’s domain name service (DNS) root server which catalogs all IP addresses,” said Mason Nystrom. “Creating NFTs out of domain names improves their tradeability, transparency, and provides the added ability to send money directly to a blockchain-based domain.”

Emerging examples

There are already signs that NFTs are being used for more than just art. At the end of March, for example, Swiss firm WISeKey International Holding announced it was launching an NFT-based watch.

Basically, the watch will contain an embedded digital certificate, which harnesses a secure element with a cryptographic public‑private key pair unique to it. The public key will be an NFT on the Ethereum (ETH) blockchain, which together with the private key on the watch will prove that the watch is authentic.

This shows how NFTs can be used to validate authenticity, with fashion brand Overpriced.™ (yes, that’s really its name) launching an NFT-linked hoodie towards the end of March that works on similar lines. There’s also a steadily growing market in NFT-based objects that can be sold and used in video games, with Atari recently announcing its move into the space.

Such examples arguably remain on the margins though, with most new NFT announcements relating to platforms for collectibles or sales of artworks. NFL legend Tom Brady recently announced the launch of collectible platform Autograph, for instance, while million-dollar auctions of NFT artworks seem to be receiving the lion’s share of media attention.

At the same time, the average price of sold NFTs has dived by around 70% since mid-February, according to data from nonfungible.com. This would seem to support skeptics who believe that non-fungible tokens are a passing trend, and that they don’t really have wider application.

Nonetheless, even commentators who’ve viewed the current craze with some bemusement tend to agree that NFTs are here to stay.

“NFTs are likely here to stay and they certainly have some value,” said Swiss business consultant and theorist Alex Osterwalder, “Yet, it’s one among many different trends… The focus on this particular buzzword is innovation theatre at its best.”

And figures within the cryptocurrency industry also estimate that NFTs are sticking around.

“In the first quarter of 2021, there was over USD 1.1 billion in NFT volume. More importantly, NFTs have the potential to gain much wider adoption, but the larger market potential exists outside of collectibles in domain names, financial products, online documents, gaming, and new markets that get created from crypto protocols like Uniswap (e.g. in Uniswap’s V3, users who provide capital to the protocol will receive an NFT representing their claim on fees),” said Mason Nystrom.

Dragan Boscovic also expects NFTs to remain for the long haul, with the NFT helping blockchain tech to realize its potential as ‘a new method to do business,’ whereby a blockchain is a source of trust between the parties engaged in various transactions and contracts.

“If you are selling your art, no need for intermediaries like gallery owners. If you are a car owner engaged in selling or buying a car, there is no need to visit your local DTO, etc. It is automated by smart contracts and secured by the blockchain protocol,” he concluded.

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