Improving NFTs

Generational artifacts left, original rasterization of SVG right

Reading Jack Rusher’s excellent take on NFTs this weekend (via John Gruber) did more to help me understand the value and logic behind NFTs than any number of tweets.

I highly recommend you read the essay: the analogue of artists signature makes a lot of sense and positions NFT as the latest in a long line of innovations to support artists.

The biggest NFT fail is the huge environmental impact of blockchain signing. As Mr Rusher points out there is already an admirable push towards Tezos signing which is 6-7 orders of magintude less wasteful. That’s a great start.

But let’s not stop there. Beyond the signature, a major reason people purchase original art, rather than a print, is the fidelity. No photograph of the Mona Lisa will ever fully capture Leonardo’s sfumato nor the subtle three dimensional nature of the canvas and the layers of paint adhered to it. That has instrinsic value beyond the signature.

Is there a digital equivalent? Potentially: we can look to two digital artifacts to help, encryption and generation loss.

The former I expect you know. Generation loss is the loss of quality between transcodes of data. Any lossy compression algorithm adds noise and removes detail. An example is above: the left hand side of the image has been through 4 generations of rotation and JPEG compression. The right hand side of the image is the original 1024x1024 rasterization of an SVG source image.

How do they help? Imagine this: an artist creates an original piece of art in SVG. Being vector based, they can add as much detail as they wish, at whatever resolution they wish. Any rasterization of the image is inherently lossy, so creates a copy of the image that will miss some of the detail.

Of course, that doesn’t help if the SVG version of the image is shared. So, further, the artist can introduce any number of groups of detail to an image. If they encrypt some of those groups with the buyer’s public key and embed them as base64 data within a processing instruction only the buyer can view the whole image after decrypting the groups. The encrypted groups will be ignored by other SVG viewers. Finally, the artist digitally signs the SVG to prevent any further modification.

At this point, only the buyer and the artist have access to the full rendition of the image. Everyone else can see either

If the artist then destroys their source copy, only the buyer is in poession of the final piece of art.

Anyone want to buy an SVG?