DWeb Meetup May 2021 — NFT Reading List

mai ishikawa sutton
May 5 · 8 min read

This is a list of articles and research papers related to non-fungible tokens (or NFTs), prepared ahead of the Decentralized Web Meetup in May 2021.

Introductory Readings

The History of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) by Andrew Steinwold
History of NFTs, with a good general description of NFTs.

The Non-Fungible Token Bible by Devin Finzer
This post serves to provide an in-depth overview of non-fungible tokens: the technical anatomy of an ERC721, the history of the NFT, common misconceptions about NFTs, and the current state of the NFT market. We hope it will be relevant both to folks who are new to the space, as well as those who already know about NFTs but want to better understand the nuances of their inner workings.

Twitter thread by Jonty Wareing @Jonty
“Short version: The NFT token you bought either points to a URL on the internet, or an IPFS hash. In most circumstances it references an IPFS gateway on the internet run by the startup you bought the NFT from. Oh, and that URL is not the media. That URL is a JSON metadata file”

EIP-721: ERC-721 Non-Fungible Token Standard by William Entriken, Dieter Shirley, Jacob Evans, Nastassia Sachs

The specification for eip 721, the NFT token standard. Some of this is quite technical but highlighting it as the most literal answer available to “what an NFT is” — also includes some interesting notes about how NFTs developed and early use-cases.

IPFS Blog: Storing NFTs on IPFS by Yusef Napora, Mitch Wagner
“Permanence and immutability are part of the core value proposition of a non-fungible token (NFT). Unfortunately, many NFTs being targeted at consumers today offer neither of these properties due to fundamental design flaws. It is common to hear claims that NFTs “live on a blockchain forever”, but frequently, due to the cost and space limitations of storing data on a blockchain, only the ownership record is actually stored, with metadata linking to the actual content of the NFT…

All too often, these links are fragile, and direct the user to a specific location using the HTTP protocol, rather than a specific asset. This means that the content pointed to by the link could change or go offline at any point in the future, leaving the original asset lost forever (and the record of ownership worthless).”


The Art Newspaper: NFTs and the ‘Art’ world: panic and possibility by Ruth Catlow
“There are many more ways of using these technologies critically and creatively than we are seeing in the mainstream where Art news is always, and only, money news. The blockchain and crypto art we admire at Furtherfield, explores the weird and shadowy relationships between Art, art history, money, ownership, energy and value in our societies”


The Atlantic: NFTs Weren’t Supposed to End Like This by Anil Dash
“The idea behind NFTs was, and is, profound. Technology should be enabling artists to exercise control over their work, to more easily sell it, to more strongly protect against others appropriating it without permission. By devising the technology specifically for artistic use, McCoy and I hoped we might prevent it from becoming yet another method of exploiting creative professionals. But nothing went the way it was supposed to. Our dream of empowering artists hasn’t yet come true, but it has yielded a lot of commercially exploitable hype.”

NFTs and Crypto Art: The Sky is not Falling by Sterling Crispin
You may be surprised to hear that Bitcoin accounts for 0.07% and Ethereum is roughly 0.02% of our total CO2 footprint based on estimates, depending on the year, crypto mining rates, and how much coal vs renewables you think they use. I’ll return to that last point later. Also keep in mind that NFT’s and crypto art are an even smaller fraction of that 0.02%…you can use services like etherscan.io/gastracker to see that NFT’s use about 3% of the Ethereum network’s energy. For context, YouTube and the entire Ethereum network have a similar carbon footprint (26).

WIRED: NFTs Are Hot. So Is Their Effect on the Earth’s Climate by Gregory Barber
“How exactly that energy use translates to carbon emissions is a hotly contested subject. Some estimates suggest as much as 70 percent of mining operations may be powered by clean sources. But that number fluctuates seasonally, and in a global energy grid that mostly runs on fossil fuels, critics say energy use is energy use. Some mining hotspots popular because of cheap hydropower, such as Missoula, Montana, have banned new operations over concerns that even “clean” mining would push neighboring energy users to dirtier energy sources. Ethereum’s developers have planned a shift to a less carbon-intensive form of security, called proof-of-stake, via a blueprint called Ethereum 2.0. But this has been in the works for years, and there is no clear deadline for the switch.”

Not Another J-Peg by M Plummer-Fernández
Many critics of NFTs often overlook the importance of finding new sources of income for minorities and people in the pandemic-hit global South, as it’s easy to dismiss NFTs as an extraneous pastime for the already crypto-rich, or for well-paid developers and designers opportunistically jumping on the trend. Digital art has always welcomed non-artists into its community, and I have no qualms about what motivated them to get here.

Academia.edu: Wanderer Above a Sea of FUD: Cultural workforce, crypto anarchism, intellectual rights, and blockchain-based funding models for culture and arts by María Paula Fernández, Stina Gustafsson, Beth McCarthy
DESCRIPTION: A strong analysis of developments in 2020 that points out the importance of having communities involved in the shaping of technologies that will impact their lives. And also highlights artist-led work around collective and collaborative practices — including the Sphere.

America Magazine: NFTs are leading to a new financial dystopia. Here’s why you should care by Nathan Schneider
“Rather than a few people getting rich from their art, the solidarity economy means more and more people having time to develop their cultural skills. Rather than trying to predict what will be valuable in the future, it turns attention to what we need right now…But too many of the visions for this emerging technology take us straight down the road of dystopia, where everything is for sale and nothing is shared.”

Ocean Protocol: On ‘Difficult to Explain’ Fungibility Sightings in NFTs by Trent McConaghy
“‘Blockchain’ and ‘AI’ both emerged with technical definition(s), and a field definition. We can do the same thing for ‘NFT’! We can have the technical definition, and the field. The latter is a subfield of blockchain. Upon examination, we actually find two subfields: one covering the creative part, and one covering non-fungible items.”

Slate: The One Redeeming Quality of NFTs Might Not Even Exist By Kal Raustiala and Christopher Jon Sprigman
“So, NFTs don’t help resolve the question of authenticity, and in fact, they might make things more complicated. How? Because anyone can make an NFT of any digital artwork. Making an NFT doesn’t involve copying, distributing, or displaying the artwork itself, and so copyright law is not implicated. And in fact, many people have made NFTs of others’ artwork, and each one is owned by a different person. Which means that not only are NFTs useless at distinguishing the authentic copy, they also can add a lot of spurious and potentially confusing information about ownership — at least if you take NFTs seriously as stating some sort of ownership claim to a particular piece of art.”

The Verge: Your Million Dollar NFT Can Break Tomorrow if you are not Careful by Jacob Kastrenakes
“Buyers could end up in one of two situations: in one case, they own an NFT with a broken link, but they and the rest of the world understand what artwork it used to represent — say, an extremely expensive collage. So long as that image exists somewhere in the world, it’s possible the NFT would retain value as long as the artist, owner, and prospective buyers all agree on what the token is meant to represent. It is, after all, a system built on trust.”

Research paper: Cryptoart Form And Function Of Tokenized Blockchain Content by Duncan Krostue

Coindesk: It’s an NFT Boom. Do you know where your art lives? By Brady Dale
“As this particular blockchain use-case clicks in the minds of buyers, it’s important that they get more sophisticated about considering how safe and secure their asset is — its persistence.

Persistence is more an issue for those buying art or collectibles than it is for people buying, for example, in-game items (such as weapons or land). Furthermore, NFTs can do a lot of things besides track content ownership. NFTs can make shipping invoices into loan collateral or manage smart-contract risk.”

WIRED: NFTs and AI Are Unsettling the Very Concept of History by Rick Prelinger
“Non-fungible tokens and artificial intelligence make tracing the origins of a digital object more fragile. What are the world’s archivists to do?”

Flash Art: Episode V. Toward a New Ecology of Crypto Art: A Hybrid Manifesto by several artists
“Flash Art has sought to establish how both the market for NFT art and the blockchain more broadly might serve to cultivate a less destructive ecosystem. To achieve this, Alex Estorick and Beth Jochim canvassed a group of specialist artists, activists, and theorists for their visions for a space that is at once fertile terrain and a new battlefield.”

Expanded Reading List (courtesy of Sarah Friend)

Digicomist: Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index
Probably the most widely cited estimation of Bitcoin’s energy footprint.

Serious faults in Digiconomist’s Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index By Marc Bevand
Gives a sense of the depth of the debate around how energy should be quantified, and how many of the parameters are estimations (this is not to say the energy use of Proof of Work isn’t significant, but to highlight the difficulty of getting exact figures).

Another set of metrics for bitcoin energy use: https://cbeci.org/

Proof of Work vs. Proof of Stake: the Ecological Footprint by TQ Tezos
Article comparing the energy-footprint of a proof of work chain to a proof of stake chain — but do keep in mind that this was written by Tezos about its competitors.

The original site that kicked off the energy-debate around cryptoart in particular, created by artist Memo Akten: http://cryptoart.wtf/
It allowed users to estimate the carbon footprint of any NFT-creating artist. The site was since taken down by it’s creator, as it was being used to generate inflated estimates, and as a means to harass artists.

A constructive guide to the various NFT marketplaces and their environmental issues: https://github.com/memo/eco-nft

DADA.art: The Inconvenient Truth About Secondary Markets, Part II.
Data analysis of the distribution of cryptoart sales, and the effects of artist resale rights over time:

Hyperallergic: An Illustrated Guide to Artist Resale Royalties (aka ‘Droit de Suite’) by Tiernan Morgan & Lauren Purje
History of artist’s resale rights, in the physical art world.

The original Ethereum whitepaper

A pre-history of ethereum, written by Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin.

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