When the end-of-year roundups of new buzzwords appear in December 2021, "non-fungible tokens" (or NFTs, as they're more commonly know) will undoubtedly be among them. Until recently the preserve of Winklevoss-funded startups and their blockchain-loving ilk, NFTs — cryptographic tokens used to prove the uniqueness of things, usually digital — are now inescapable. Whether you love them and think they're the future of digital art, or hate them and believe the energy used to create them and maintain the networks they rely on is excessive.
Christie's auctioned an NFT by artist Beeple for $6.6 million. Grimes made almost as much from 10 NFT artworks of her own. The new Kings of Leon album exists in NFT form, as does a single from Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda. You can even spend thousands of dollars collecting animated NFT sneakers if you so wish. Or buy the "original" Nyan Cat GIF for $600,000. But what if you want to "mint" (as the parlance goes) NFTs of your own. There is, of course, now an app for that.
Dubbed "S!ng," the service is available via the web, or on iOS (for now) app, and lets anyone create an NFT by taking a photo, recording audio, or uploading an existing image, audio file, document, or another snippet of data on their devices. At launch, the service supports WAV, MP3, MIDI, PTX, PTF, and M4A music files, and images in JPEG, BMP, or TIFF formats.
For better or worse, it really is as easy as uploading an image to Instagram. But what if you want to sell them? Well, S!ng's planning to issue certificates and let users monetize their NFTs... for a fee, but it hasn't yet confirmed pricing or a timeline for that option.
Sure, but why? — Why use something like S!ng? Why not just share pictures, audio clips, videos, or other content you've made via Dropbox or OneDrive? Well, because although file-sharing services might create metadata to track creation, duplications, or versions, that data can be tampered with and faked. What you need is a blockchain, a distributed ledger no one holder can alter. Binding content to a blockchain — in the case of NFT's, it's the Ethereum blockchain, rather than the more famous Bitcoin-enabling one — makes it possible to timestamp its provenance and trace its movements thereafter.
To make those movements easier, S!ng lets users share content with one another using its app. It's also, of course, a way to ensure those who commit to its platform get others using it, too. The idea being creators can share their images or audio (for now, other formats may follow) with collaborators, clients, distributors, or anyone else while still tracking their IP, and — crucially — while also being able to prove ownership of a particular stage of a project if the need arises down the line.
What S!ng's selling users is the blockchain's benefits without the user needing to know anything about it, cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, or any of the other messy details.
To help artists get paid — Co-founders Jim Harmon and Geoff Osler (ex-Apple and ex-Adobe), says beyond protecting creatives' IP, S!ng exists to help creatives get paid. While the app is in beta the focus is on getting users signed up, but thereafter, the stated goal is to help them monetize their work.
"Right now we are focused on growth," Osler says, but adds the plan is to introduce "premium add-ons" soon that will users "monetize their NFTs at very low cost," buy more storage and bolt-on other essential features. What consitutes a "very low cost," and whether it'll be a flat rate per network transaction, a monthly fee, or a percentage, remains to be seen. But, assuming S!ng's pound of flesh isn't too dear, ease-of-use could certainly woo those wanting to explore NFTs, but disinclined to wade into the complexities of minting NFTs themselves.
When a user sets up a S!ng account the service automatically creates an Ethereum wallet for them. Any content they upload becomes an ERC-721 token in that wallet. That costs nothing for now, and the founders say the service has been tested with files up to and in excess of 150GB each, but selling content will eventually incur a fee, and there's the suggestion fees will be at least partially related to users' storage requirements.
Copyright but better — "Copyright happens when you create something and you write 'copyright' on it. You don’t have to do anything else to have a copyright," Osler says. "The problem is how do you prove you got there first before someone who also wrote 'copyright' on a piece of paper? Running to the government and registering your copyright is not a very good way to do that." Instead, S!ng is "instantaneously creating very good evidence," according to Osler.
Osler describes the timestamps and other activity or history that's written to a token created with S!ng as a "bulletproof chain of custody." For now, to verify that chain, users can enter the TxID of their files uploaded to S!ng in third-party sites like Rinkleby EtherScan. Eventually, users will be able to download timestamped proof from S!ng itself.
Now we just want to know what it costs. Because that's really going to be the key determiner of uptake. With the NFT sector booming, S!ng will be inundated with rivals soon enough. Already companies and marketplaces like Mintbase, Rarible, and Zora, are trying to make it easy for artists to create NFTs with zero knowledge of coding. And as with most landgrabs, in the longrun, the winner will likely be the service with the best pricing.