What are NFTs? Mapping the NFT Ecosystem
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What are NFTs? Mapping the NFT Ecosystem

The following content is sponsored by Next Decentrum

What are NFTs? The NFT Ecosystem, Explained

Mapping the NFT Ecosystem

NFTs have been the hottest topic and frothiest market of 2021, with sales volumes increasing by 100x while also becoming a topic of discussion on evening talk shows.

It took crypto nearly a decade to really penetrate the mainstream, but NFTs only needed a couple of years to capture people’s attention. As brands like Budweiser, Visa, and Adidas have purchased NFTs and entered the space, it’s clear that NFTs are more than just another hot new trend.

This infographic sponsored by Next Decentrum defines NFTs and explores the flourishing ecosystem that has quickly grown around them. Discover what non-fungible means, where NFTs are being minted and traded, and what the future holds for this asset class.

What are NFTs, and What is Fungibility?

NFTs are non-fungible tokens that have their history of ownership and current ownership cryptographically secured on a blockchain. These tokens can represent anything, whether it’s a piece of digital art in the form of a jpeg or a song as an mp3 file.

By storing transactions of these tokens on a blockchain, we can have digital proof of ownership and markets for these digital goods without the fear of double spending or the tampering of past transactions and ownership.

Figuring out Fungibility

This all sounds pretty similar to cryptocurrencies, so what makes NFTs so special? Their non-fungibility. Unlike cryptocurrencies like bitcoin or ethereum, non-fungible tokens represent goods or assets with unique properties and attributes, allowing them to have unique values even if they are part of the same collection.

Fungible: A good with interchangeable units that are indistinguishable in value. Examples: U.S. dollars, bitcoin, arcade tokens

Non-Fungible: A good with unique properties, giving it a unique value when compared to similar goods. Examples: real estate, paintings, NFTs

The most popular NFT collection, Cryptopunks, is a collection of 10,000 pixel art “punks”, with varying attributes like different hats, glasses, hairstyles, and more. The random combinations of attributes with differing scarcity results in each punk having a unique value.

Scarcity and subjective aesthetic preferences drive valuations for cryptopunks and other NFTs, with other factors like their historical significance, and even the blockchain they’re hosted on affecting their value.

The NFT-Capable Blockchains Compared

There are many different blockchains that are able to mint and host NFTs, with Ethereum currently the largest and most used by market cap and transaction volume.

Ethereum uses the energy-intensive proof of work consensus method but the network is planning to transition to proof of stake next year which should reduce energy usage by about 99%.

BlockchainMarket CapConsensus Method
Ethereum$526BProof of work
Solana$63.93BProof of stake
Avalanche$26.22BProof of stake
Polygon$12.41BProof of stake
Tezos$4.57BProof of stake
Flow$4.07BProof of stake

Source: Messari.io
As of Nov 29th, 2021

Along with concerns around its energy intensity, minting and transacting on the Ethereum blockchain incurs significantly higher fees compared to other blockchains.

The average Ethereum transaction fee varies between $30-80 (depending on the specific transaction) and the current NFT minting fee is ~$130, every other blockchain in the table above has transaction and minting fees that remain below $1.

While these high Ethereum fees have driven many users to explore other blockchains to mint NFTs, many secondary marketplaces help cover a portion, or even all gas fees, when minting on Ethereum.

The Secondary NFT Marketplaces

Alongside the primary blockchain networks where NFTs are minted and hosted, there are a variety of secondary marketplaces for NFTs where the majority of NFT exchanges take place.

These marketplaces enable users to more easily mint, buy, and sell NFTs, with OpenSea having emerged as the leading secondary NFT marketplace. It’s estimated that OpenSea had $1.9 billion of traded volume in November 2021, making up over 95% of NFT trading volumes.

MarketplaceTrading Volume (November)Supported Blockchains
OpenSea$1.9BEthereum, Polygon
Nifty Gateway$31.79BEthereum
SuperRare$18.77MEthereum
Foundation$15.33MEthereum
Hic et Nunc$4.48MTezos
MakersPlace$1.09MEthereum
Async Art$131,000Ethereum

Source: The Block

Although some of the marketplaces (like OpenSea) allow anyone to easily mint and offer an NFT for sale, other platforms like SuperRare limit the art and artists on offer, resulting in a more curated marketplace. Similarly, some marketplaces like OpenSea host NFTs from multiple blockchains like Ethereum and Polygon, while other marketplaces like Hic et Nunc are faithful to one blockchain (Tezos).

While OpenSea currently dominates the secondary market, cryptocurrency exchanges are likely to offer some fresh competition soon. Coinbase is currently building out its own NFT marketplace, and FTX’s marketplace with Ethereum and Solana NFTs is up and running.

Digital Art, Gaming, The Metaverse, and The Future of NFTs

NFTs made a huge splash in 2021, giving creators digital and decentralized networks where they could host and exchange their work.

Currently, digital-first use-cases are at the forefront of NFT development, with ownership of in-game assets or goods in the metaverse two of the primary use-cases being explored. However, NFTs can be used to tokenize physical assets like real estate, physical artwork, and much more, opening up near endless possibilities for their application.

From removing the friction of paperwork and bureaucracy in today’s real estate exchanges to allowing for easy fractionalization of asset ownership, the tangible real-world use-cases of NFTs are just starting to be explored.

To learn more about NFTs, visit Next Decentrum.

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