My dad was a great ad man. In later years we talked shop, and he lamented industry trends like ads with teeny tan type on a slightly darker tan background. So minimalist and modern. “Who can read that?” he would argue. “You still have to know what someone is selling!”
I can only imagine what he would say now about non-fungible tokens. As in, the first tweet that Twitter founder Jack Dorsey posted was sold this week as a “nonfungible token” for $2.9M. Yes, that’s an M for million, and yes, this really happened, per the Wall Street Journal. “Mr. Dorsey’s tweet itself will continue to live on Twitter,” the article goes on to say. But the buyer has the “real” one.
It’s like buying the original cat meme.
How can you buy the “original” of a tweet or funny clip shared hundreds of millions of times across the web? A way to think of it is to compare it to owning an original Renoir as opposed to a print that you can get anywhere. You can see the Nyan Cat meme all over the place. But there’s only one original. And it sold as an NFT for $580,000 in February.
Sidebar…What does blockchain have to do with this?
At its most basic, a blockchain is a list of transactions that anyone can view and verify. It started as a way to move Bitcoin (a brand of cryptocurrency, like Kleenex for tissues) from point A to point B. Now it’s used by a host of big companies, particularly in the banking industry, to monitor and move any number of assets around the world.*
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) function as deeds or exclusive rights to ownership over digital assets. They are only possible because of blockchain, which allows a verifiable, traceable, indisputable ledger of authenticity and ownership—you can objectively and transparently track a NFT from the moment of original creation.
Are they real?
NFTs still sound a little bit like buying swampland in Florida to me. I bet they’re very real, however, to Mike Winkelmann, the digital artist known as Beeple. Until last October, the most he had ever sold a print for was $100. In mid-March, an NFT of his work sold for $69 million at Christie’s.