Let’s cut to the chase: a lot of people who think they’ve recently bought digitally verified unique artworks will soon discover these artworks are not as permanent or as verified as they’d hoped.

The whole non-fungible token craze is a mess. The technical concept? Very sound. Entirely valid. Blockchains are a genius solution to questions of digital validation. There’s major concerns over energy demands, but that’s its own problem.

No, the issue with NFTs is the proliferation of startups minting tokens that aren’t actually storing anything remotely as permanent as buyers think they are.

So what’s in an NFT? Not the actual artwork, if that’s what you thought it might be. No, what you ‘own’ is a link to a place online where the thing you own is meant to be stored. And all too many of these links are being created with a direct reference to the server of the company that created the NFT.

If that company doesn’t outlive the NFT hype cycle? That thing you bought will become a dead link. And that blockchain reference point can never be changed – that’s the beauty of how blockchains work, and that’s the huge issue with what’s happening right now.

Even the massive US$69.3 million sale of the Beeple artwork is an NFT that references one of the NFT startups that could go belly up one day. And some researchers are already finding links to some of the big NFT sales from the past two months are ALREADY failing to load properly.

If you want to buy digital permanence, you need to know what you’re actually buying.

What’s a ‘good’ NFT reference? If the file lives on Arweave.org, and the blockchain reference goes there, the thing you bought isn’t going anywhere. A deeper look at the ‘permaweb’ is a discussion for another time… but it’s a good example of the right way to do NFT art.

Byteside supporter giveaway for March: EPOS GTW 270 Hybrid

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Non-fungible tokens are revolutionising the art world – and art theft

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