I‘ve tried to make this post fairly nuanced and with a lot of steelmanning, in contrast to much of the material on this subject. My opinions on crypto as a whole are more complex and deserve a separate, more in depth post. None of this is financial advice, I am not a financial advisor, etc.

When it comes to paintings, people care a lot about having the “original” painting. There can only be one original, “real” Mona Lisa, despite all the hi-res scans you can get. Even if you could make a copy so good that nobody could visually tell it apart from the original painting without painstaking chemical analysis, the original is still going to be worth many orders of magnitude more than the copy. While some people argue that the impossibility of making an exact copy of a physical object is the reason why the original is distinct from the copies (and therefore the crux of why this doesn’t generalize into the digital world), and that therefore the small difference in chemical composition or whatever makes up for those orders of magnitude, I think that this view is pretty silly. A visually indistinguishable painting has the same aesthetic value, and conveys the same historical value to the viewer, and even if you argue that there is some premium to having the original, it seems pretty absurd to suggest that the minor visual differences and chemical composition are worth, within a rounding error, $870 million of the $870 million the Mona Lisa is valued at, and that the actual content of art itself modulo some small errors is worth basically nothing in comparison. 

I think it’s pretty clear that people don’t actually care about the chemical composition of their paintings or whatever. Rather, I hypothesize that the reason people care about the original is because this enforces artificial scarcity. You can always make more replicas, but there is only one “original”. By ensuring that more supply cannot ever be added, you ensure an effective monopoly on the painting until you decide to sell it. 

This then brings up the question: Why care about the original and not the 15th copy? One might argue that since physical objects cannot (for all practical purposes) be copied exactly, every painting is unique, so if we only cared about uniqueness, we shouldn’t expect to favor the original. I think there are two main reasons behind this: first, the original is a far more natural Schelling point than any other copy. If you made a list of every copy of the Mona Lisa in the world and asked people to pick which one they think everyone else would pick, basically everyone would pick the original. Of course, having the one that everyone else wants bodes well for your selling prospects. And, more qualitatively, would it be more impressive to brag about owning the Mona Lisa or some mass produced copy?

Second, fungibility is relative. To explain this, let’s take a brief detour into the world of coin collecting. As legal tender, a penny is a penny is a penny. If you’re just using it to pay for things, any penny is fungible against any other penny, even if one is rusted more than the other, or they have different years, or one has a special limited run inscription, or so on. However, collectors care a great deal about extremely specific coins and their quality, and so some particular coins no longer funge against other coins because people care a lot about this specific coin. Less popular but still valuable coins are more fungible, with coins within a rough band of assessed quality being mostly interchangeable. The upshot is that whether things are fungible depends a lot on where people draw their reference classes. 

Tying this all together, people care about and want to pay big money for the original because there is only one original and because everyone else cares about and wants to pay big money for the original, and non-originals are worth less because the supply is generally unbounded due to fungibility in the context of the people who are willing to pay big money for paintings. Said more pithily, expensive paintings are expensive because everyone thinks they are. There’s no “intrinsic” value in there, or vanishingly little of it compared to the sticker price, it’s simply worth a lot because everyone is willing to pay a lot for it. This definitely isn’t specific to paintings or anything; we see this pop up basically anywhere you can collect things with limited supply, and oh boy do humans love collecting things.

(Some exercises left for the reader, along similar lines of reasoning: Why are some paintings worth a lot more than other paintings, often with little relation to how good the art is? Why are some famous forgeries worth quite a bit, too? Why does art suddenly get more valuable after the artist dies? Why did Banksy’s painting increase in value from being partially shredded? Why is it that forks of bitcoin don’t dilute the market share of bitcoin very much?)

So.. how does this all have to do with NFTs? I think NFTs are essentially the pure distilled essence of what makes expensive paintings expensive. At their core, NFTs aren’t really about crypto; the crypto part is just an aesthetic that makes it appealing to the kind of person that already likes crypto. (There is a bit of a platform risk argument, but putting things on chain introduces a different set of platform risks, which forms a different risk profile that makes it appealing to the kind of person that already likes crypto.) NFTs drop all pretense of pretending to care about the physical continuity or chemical composition or whatever and just flat out creates the scarcity and the Schelling point by declaring, by fiat, that whoever owns this particular digital asset owns the thing, and there can never be another of the thing. Said differently, NFTs are the pure distilled essence of the concept of owning whatever the thing is that differentiates the original Mona Lisa from a copy of the Mona Lisa, independently of any physical constraints. This is why I think all the people who talk about right-click downloading NFTs are missing the point—it’s like the equivalent of making a visually-indistinguishable facsimile of the Mona Lisa. The point of owning the Mona Lisa isn’t to have something that looks identical to the Mona Lisa, the point is to own the Mona Lisa. The fact that digital data can be copied losslessly doesn't actually differentiate this from the physical art case because for all intents and purposes, nobody really cares about the minor differences between the original and the copy beyond the fact that they serve to delineate the original and constrain its supply.

Also, there’s a whole other rabbit hole about what it means to “own” something when it comes to digital assets. I don’t want to get too deep into this rabbit hole but the fact that you’re owning the intangible essence of scarcity rather than any specific thing or copyright or other rights makes things a lot simpler: the fact that it’s stored on a particular ledger as a ledger entry doesn’t really matter; the ownership of the vast majority of assets is defined by rows in databases. I think all the star registry comparisons are sort of misleading because there is in theory a Schelling point, for each particular NFT, of which registry to trust. In other words, I think the problem of multiple competing NFTs claiming to be the “real” NFT is a solvable problem and not a huge fundamental issue (in fact, less of a problem than with real paintings, since the author can just sign the hash of the one they endorse and cryptographic signatures are more reliable than real signatures or chemical composition).

(also, both NFTs and expensive paintings can be used for laundering money, so they’re functionally interchangeable regardless)

So.. are NFTs good? Well.. I think the whole thing with wanting to own the™ thing is kind of silly when taken too far, for the same reason that I think expensive art is kind of silly or collecting extremely valuable stamps or coins or baseball cards or anything else like that is kind of silly. I simply don't derive very much pleasure from owning something rare. As such, I am personally not interested in buying or collecting NFTs, though if someone wants to give me a whole bunch of money to NFTize something I wouldn’t say no. 

I think the fact that NFTs are crypto-coded is probably a big reason why they’ve become so prominent: partially because it appeals to a base of people who have a much higher risk tolerance than average, and partially because crypto is a huge scissor statement that gets everyone talking about it. 

Lots of actual implementations of NFTs are way worse than the theoretical platonic ideals of NFTs that I talk about here, though I’ll admit I haven’t spent a lot of time looking into the details. Also, the vast majority of NFT related things (as are most crypto things) are downright fraud/scams, so I think that’s a reasonable first approximation when dealing with crypto stuff without an inside view, but that perspective is low hanging fruit that everyone has already talked about a million times before. I also wouldn’t be surprised if NFTs in their current incarnation totally stopped being a thing not long from now—Schelling points are only as strong as everyone thinks everyone else thinks they are. At the same time, however you feel about NFTs, I think there’s a pretty fundamental aspect of how humans think and coordinate in there that might be worth thinking about.

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One way to view (some) NFTs is as mechanism design to better align the incentives of artists and collectors. In the traditional art world, artists don't have a big incentive to care about the secondary market; they'll only get money if they sell their pieces directly. With NFTs, they can get royalties for secondary sales. Having a stake in the secondary sales, the NFT artists now become more interested in their early collectors' success. Likewise, with how easy it becomes to make secondary sales, the collectors themselves have a direct stake in the artists' success. The relationship between artist and creators becomes more symbiotic than the traditional seller-buyer relationship. (That said, the difference is gradual because I'm sure professional art collectors also try to promote the artist they invested in.)

A lot of NFTs also focus on utility rather than artistic value. Many NFTs now function as membership tokens to some kind of real-world benefit. Again, what makes them different from things like "tickets" or ordinary club memberships is the potential resale value. Buyers are not only buyers, but always also sellers. They gain a financial interest in the success of the thing.

On the one hand, intertwined financial interests means that NFT products have an inherent marketing/ambassador advantage. At the same time, they can devolve into a pretty degenerate and fake culture where people are incentivized to overestate how much they like a product because their goal is to make a sale. 

I mean it can work like that in theory, but... isn't there a much easier way to achieve the same result without all of the possible disadvantages? Do we really need blockchain to make artists more interested in the early success of their early collector? Can't... I don't know... collector and artist just sign a contract with royalties explicitly written in it? I really have a feeling that we are trying to find a problem for our solution, rather than solve the problem.

Owning an original painting comes with legal right to make its copies. E.g. you can legally sell t-shirts with it. Owning a copy in most cases does not give one a right to reproduce it.

Another way to profit from an original is to open a museum and sell tickets (or get prestige). 

I don't believe the former is true -- my understanding is that the right to make copies is independent of the original physical object (https://www.liveabout.com/who-owns-copyright-of-a-painting-2578104)

I think the museum example is an interesting case. I haven't done the math on what portion of the value of artwork is based on the expected discounted profit from exhibiting it. I think this proportion probably varies wildly from artwork to artwork, since lots of ugly art that most people wouldn't care to see gets sold for a lot too.

I heard about the case when an artist has sold the copyright of all his works to another person (including the works owned by other people, like previous buyers.) Basically it means that the right owner could forbid all other owners to ever exhibit an even look at their own works. But in reality in the case I am speaking about it was about right to make t-shirts with prints. 

I also saw purchase agreements which deliberately state that the artwork is coming with all rights.

If that would make up a significant part of the value of many paintings they would lose value as they move towards the copyright expiring. As far as I understand most paintings of that age class rather gain in value then lose value as the years go by.

The works copyright has expired, but not the photography copyright. In other words, if you have a physical original you can control who and how can make copies.

https://www.quora.com/Are-famous-art-pieces-like-the-Mona-Lisa-copyrighted

How much would you pay to visit the Louvre and see the original Mona Lisa? (Maybe not much, but if you happened to be in Paris I'm betting you'd be willing to pay at least a Euro to visit the Louvre, right?)

And now how much would you pay me to visit my house and see a poster of the Mona Lisa I printed out myself at a Fedex Kinko's?

I'm not sure what that has to do with what I said about copyright.

One of the claims being made is that "visually indistinguishable painting conveys the same historical value to the viewer". Atleast in the fictional example that springs to my mind from Man In the High Castle that the historical value of the item can be very extrinsic to the item itself. Selling bogus artifacts there was about telling a riveting story and forging documents of sale to establish (a fake) chain of custody. Historical artifacts have the addtional property that they naturally come with non-historical counterparts. For every sword used to execute a famous person there are a ton of similar swords that were not used for that.

I would imagine that percieved value of being in the chain of custody of a piece of art is that in some peoples minds they link it to participating in the art process itself. Under that theory it is not the good but the participation that is bought. The scarcity then comes in that the story of the piece of art is a singular one. Copies / forgeries then mainly provide a connection to the copying event ie only up to the creation of the copy.

One can copy only aspects one can percieve. With digital content there is a special stance in that we can be confident that the whole piece is captured. Contrast this with chain of custody for evidence where we can sample and safekeep evidence and only later develop methods to get useful information out of them. We can benefit from DNA samples from before DNA sequencing was invented. In this way originality or the way of relatedness to previous things might be important for aspects which are unknown at this point. For example a visual forgery will have the wrong carbon dating but there is no limit to the wildness of tests to impose on the original. Even if a forgerer is very thorough on which aspects are copied it is next to impossible to prepare for aspects not yet considered by anyone. In this aspects a lot of the "intuitive" reasons to care about chains of custody are mooted with NFTs. There is no possibility of there being "hidden pixels"

I would argue that the story serves the main purpose of creating a Schelling point distinguishing one particular object as the one endowed with the the property of not being fungible with the non-historical counterparts. In other words, the cooler the story is to the kind of person that pays lots of money for historical swords, the more it's worth and the less fungible it is with other cool swords. Nobody actually cares, in and of itself, whether their sword has the right isotopes of carbon, or whether the scratches are exactly right. The purpose of these tests is to identify one "special" instance of the class of objects. Since I postulate that the point of this entire thing is mostly to form a Schelling point about which instance doesn't funge, we can interpret NFTs as sidestepping this whole appraiser thing entirely. The key is that beyond the purposes of identifying which one is the original/historical one, these complicated tests actually serve no purpose otherwise. Rather than relying on weird tests to tell which one is the one that you buy if you want to buy the cool thing, even though you can't tell with your eyes, NFTs just flat out declare by fiat that this sword is the cool one and if you want to buy the cool sword you buy this one. Except that since with digital things it doesn't really matter which copy you own since they're identical, you really end up owning the pure essence of whatever it is that makes the cool sword different from all the non-historical ones, divorced from any physical instantiation of the objects themselves.

The historic artifact conman is also trying to declare by fiat that the thing in his posession is the cool one. What if different NFTs declare different swords cool? Or in the case that multiple NFT systems designate the same sword as cool, whose proof of it is the most "legitimate". In the case of real swords I would expect the word of national museum or something like that to have the heftiest word on what is and is not cool. But that is broken because they have academic interest and otherwise are likely overdetermine it (ie even when nobody is contesting anything they have multiple professionals doing such assignments). Random certification mechanisms just for certifications sake might not have natural grounding.

As an analog one might think of guinness book of records vs olympic comittee. Where olympic comittee says anything it is unlikely anybody would take guinnesses word instead. On the other hand if you had a upstart competitor "general recordkeeper" then that would probably get overshadowed by guinness. But if the differences in establishmentness is small then it is not clear if the authorities list different champions whether that would be worth influencing. Just because a system is a A recordkeeping is not a very good guarantee or clue that it will be THE recordkeeping in the future.

While some people argue that the impossibility of making an exact copy of a physical object is the reason why the original is distinct from the copies (and therefore the crux of why this doesn’t generalize into the digital world), and that therefore the small difference in chemical composition or whatever makes up for those orders of magnitude, I think that this view is pretty silly. A visually indistinguishable painting has the same aesthetic value, and conveys the same historical value to the viewer, and even if you argue that there is some premium to having the original, it seems pretty absurd to suggest that the minor visual differences and chemical composition are worth, within a rounding error, $870 million of the $870 million the Mona Lisa is valued at, and that the actual content of art itself modulo some small errors is worth basically nothing in comparison.

Of course the aesthetic component of the imperfection is irrelevant. But the fact that there is an imperfection still matters because it allows you to pretend that the the aesthetic component matters. I would predict that noticeably (though this could just be 10% or something ) fewer people would go to museums if we could make perfect copies.

Also, the vast majority of NFT related things (as are most crypto things) are downright fraud/scams

stupid question: how? Since there is no pretense of utility to NFTs, it means the value comes entirely from owning something scarce. How can this be a scam even in principle?

Suppose someone has a copy of the Mona Lisa at home. I heavily doubt that their decision on whether to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre depends at all on how good the copy is. You don't go to see the real Mona Lisa because you think your copy is imperfect, you go to see it because you want to be able to say you saw the Mona Lisa. I don't even think most people could quantify what the differences between their cheap copy and the original are.

The Mona Lisa in particular is especially infamous for being very crowded and thus not a great experience to go look at (thus, the experience of viewing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre is objectively worse than viewing it at home), and still, tons of people go anyways, because one does not simply visit the Louvre without seeing the Mona Lisa.

About the scam thing, lots of people attribute properties to NFTs that they don't have, or mislead people as to what they're buying, or simply make claims that this is a way to get rich quick, or exploit information asymmetry to sell NFTs that (explicitly or implicitly) purport to be endorsed by someone they aren't, and also anyone involved in crypto is instantly 200% more likely to be phished or ransomwared, etc.

I'm not sure you've engaged with my point. I would be shocked if people could quantify the difference or tell them apart, so I agree with most of what you said. But this is compatible with having a belief that you do it for the difference, even if this sounds absurd to you or me, and I don't see why this belief can't make a difference.

Do you have examples of people misleading buyers? (Note that you claimed that most are scams, so this should happen in >50% of cases.)

If the incorrect expectations are just implicit, I honestly wouldn't count that as a scam, but of course now it's just a matter of definitions. However, shouldn't you call a lottery a scam by these standards?

If it's about the belief and not about whether it can be quantified at all, people will always have somewhere to retreat their belief to. At the most extreme, even with extremely good copies people will bottom out to the No Cloning theorem to argue that the original is different.

I don't have very much rigorous data about what proportion of NFTs are scams, only anecdata. However, my prior due to my extensive experience with the broader crypto space is that for people without the right memetic antibodies, it's extremely easy to get screwed over in one way or another by shady practices and the very aggressive crypto memesphere (Ponzis, P&Ds, exit scams, vaporware, extremely aggressive marketing, FUD/FOMO, cults, etc), and what I've heard about NFTs seems largely in line. I think the term I'm looking for is a bit broader than "scam", though I'm not sure what the best term is, and I'd be open to changing my post to use that term instead. Overall, I'm not very interested in litigating out exactly what % of crypto/NFTs are this way, because it's not what I'm most interested in.

If it's about the belief and not about whether it can be quantified at all, people will always have somewhere to retreat their belief to. At the most extreme, even with extremely good copies people will bottom out to the No Cloning theorem to argue that the original is different.

Well, since we don't have any data on this, there's not really a way to find out who's right. Though I intend to just ask some people how they feel about it.

I don't have very much rigorous data about what proportion of NFTs are scams

Sorry, but isn't the "scam" part a property of how the NFT is sold rather than the NFT itself? Otherwise I don't understand what part of the NFT makes it a scam.

Based on browsing the market and arguing with people, it seems to me that sellers lying to buyers about it being a good investment is rare. (This is the standard I would use for "scam", but, well, words.) The other relevant statistic is the percentage of buyers that are purchasing NFTs thinking that they are a great investment (even if this has not been explicitly promised). Agree that this isn't core to your post, though.

stupid question: how? Since there is no pretense of utility to NFTs, it means the value comes entirely from owning something scarce. How can this be a scam even in principle?

 

Classical pump and dump scheme. Someone makes new NFTs promising that they will go up in value. People buy NFTs, hoping to earn money. Then the scammers cash out and run away.

Are people making such promises explicitly, or do buyers just go in with the expectation? I've taken a cursory look at https://opensea.io and haven't seen explicit promises.

As far as I understand, it's more like an implicit assumption heavily supported and perpetruated by community of corresponding NFT project. Here is a link from an ad that I keep getting at youtube https://dag.expopulus.com/. This project gives me vibes of standard NFT thingy which can end up being a scam. You may try to explore discord servers of different NFT communities and see how people behave there.

I really enjoyed the parallels between authentic art and NFTs here! I think it's possible to actually take the conclusion the other way: if NFTs seem dumb, then maybe art forgeries aren't so bad?

Spencer Greenberg proposes a hypothetical structure for art museums which prioritize a good patron experience by actively soliciting forgeries: https://www.spencergreenberg.com/2018/07/the-museum-of-questioned-quality/

Thanks! I'm not much of an art person so I personally I don't feel strongly about forgeries one way or the other. Also, I haven't thought too much about it but I think that proposal is prima facie interesting rather than distasteful, if only because I'd be interested in seeing how it would turn out in reality.

Rarity, by its very nature, cannot be too abundant. The more plentiful it becomes, the more it loses its defining property. There is only one original Mona Lisa, but every NFT project spits out a combinatorial number of images all built from a small number of assets and pretends they are all rare.

Each NFT is indeed unique, but since there are tens of thousands similarly unique NFTs - most or them are not really rare. One could claim that rare paintings are the same - that if NFTs are not rare because there are other NFTs, then by the same logic Mona Lisa should also not be rare because there are other paintings. But the Mona Lisa's rarity is real, because no other paining is valued like it. The second most valuable painting is The Last Supper is also very rare and valuable - but it's not the Mona Lisa.

If you try to make the same claim about NFTs - e.g. "Bored Ape #4444 is rare, but it is not Bored Ape #5555" - I'd reply that this claim can be reversed - "Bored Ape #5555 is rare, but it is not Bored Ape #4444". This doesn't work for the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper - "The Mona Lisa is rare, but it's not The Last Supper" doesn't make sense, because the Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world. The Last Supper is more famous that any painting other than these two, which makes it still very rare and valuable, and while the ordering is not always precise and can vary from evaluator to evaluator, there can usually be a rough estimation of "about <ballpark> other paintings are at least as famous as this one". The lower that estimation - the more rare and valuable the painting is.

Are there NFTs that are more rare than any other NFT? Probably. But there can't be that many of them - certainly not as many as the NFT advocators pretend there are.

And this is enough to explain why they are looked down upon, but not enough to explain why they are ridiculed and even hated.

My hypothesis is that the hatred they receive recently is related to Facebook's big announcement about the metaverse!

Rarity is a finite resource, but that does not mean its total amount is some physical constant. The thing that determines how much rarity there is to split between the rare things is the number of people interested in it, and the amount of resources and attention they are willing to put into that market (that's, of course, a simplification - because there are many intersecting markets. But it's good enough for this discussion). In order to get more people into NFTs and increase the value of existing NFTs (assuming the demand increases faster than supply), the NFT investors need to get non-investors into that market.

Facebook coined the term "metaverse", and changed their name to indicate how serious they are about it, but there is still very little consensus about what exactly the metaverse is going to be. The NFT people sees this as and opportunity - they want to push for metaverse assets to be managed by NFTs. They are already working on profile pictures (how are profile pictures related to the metaverse? Well, we can't agree what the metaverse is, so could you really say they are not?) to be NFT verified. They want the VR aspects of the metaverse to also be NFTs - so if you get a sword in a game, you get the NFT of it so that it's registered in the blockchain as yours. Same for virtual land, same for everything else.

And these are all things that people just assumed would be free. Or at least nearly free. And there is no reason for them not to be free. But the NFT guys want you to pay for your virtual things on more computing power for verifying your ownership than the computer power spent on their graphics and physics, just so some other avatar won't have the same instance of a virtual shirt as your avatar.

This is an obvious scam that people are seeing from miles away - and they are pushing back by attacking NFT and crypto on social networks.

My hypothesis is that the hatred they receive recently is related to Facebook's big announcement about the metaverse!

The metaverse idea has been around before Facebook changed their name. Neal Stephenson used this name in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. And in the crypto space, this idea existed at least around 01/21 - https://www.notboring.co/p/the-value-chain-of-the-open-metaverse, but given that Not Boring is relatively lagging, I wouldn't be surprised if the ideas that fall under the metaverse label existed months, even years before that post. So Facebook changing its name and the crypto folks using the label "metaverse" are rather coincidental than a planned effort to part users with their money.

And, to your point about "NFT people" trying to extract profit from NFTs, I understand that idea is just the opposite. Right now, content published to platforms like Facebook or Twitter is difficult to extract and transport over. But NFTs exist on some blockchains, which is globally readable--a Twitter or Facebook cannot "lock in" your NFT. They can only build some integrations to enable you to showcase it and show other users that you are the owner, but that's as far as they can go.

The metaverse idea has been around before Facebook changed their name.

True, but Idan Arye's point could still be accurate. Facebook isn't very popular these days and them announcing that they're heavily investing into an ominous-sounding thing related to NFTs could indeed increase anti-NFT sentiments.

That said, I think NFTs were already hated in some circles before the Facebook announcement. Discord initially announced some NFT extension, but the CEO back-pedalled on it after massive backlash. 

Physical art works get their market value from the museums and art galleries that want to buy these things to put on display. If there was not that market, there would be no speculative market of people buying only to be able to resell, and so store their wealth. Bitcoin previously got its value in large part from the Silk Road marketplace in illegal goods. Since that was busted it's not clear what its value is based on. An NFT that actually confers some meaningful right on its owner, one that people will pay to have, not to resell, could be worth something, but without that tie to people buying the thing to have the thing, I am not seeing what can give an NFT a stable value.

Another angle on the artificial scarcity point is that scarcity is very hard to do in the digital world. Until NFTs showed up, there really was no way of signaling being the first to own/post a blog post, jpeg, meme, whatever - information like this used to be coded in "lore", stories about people who made the best online game maps or particularly good blog posts, often backed up by links to the internet archive.

In other words, NFTs are for users what DRM was for media producers, perhaps.

I think Patreon is kind of also the same idea (though there are probably better ways to do public good funding than either of these models). You couldn't own a blog post, but you could have your name etched into it at the top of the patrons list. Patreon is much more explicitly about supporting the creator, though, so the comparison isn't perfect.

I think NFTs, in the platonic ideal form that I think about, are actually the opposite of DRM in some sense. DRM aims to make the actual content scarce; NFTs aim to make the intangible essence of owning the Schelling point scarce. In that sense, NFTs are immune to what made DRM fail. It's fundamentally impossible to make the content scarce, because of the analog hole. With NFTs, even if everyone has the underlying content, the value of the Schelling point isn't diminished. If anything, the more famous and well known the underlying content is, the more valuable the essence of the Schelling point becomes.

Good point, you are correct. I conflated the status conferred by ownership with a part of a content distribution mechanism.

Though I think NFTs are about something bigger than patronage. Our brains are wired for building and navigating hierarchies. Status management is a huge aspect of that. On the NFT-less web, managing status was hard and more often than not boiled down to things like post or follower count. But NFTs change the game by allowing more of our built-in status-seeking drives to exist online. One way the game is different is that, unlike followers, NFTs can be gifted--although a version existed for this in the form of "guest posts" and similar mechanisms to share status.

Also, unrelated to this train of thought, I wouldn't want to own the Mona Lisa. I don't find that image helpful or inspiring or anything like that. But my monkey brain would love to own an NFT of Meditations on Moloch because of how meaningful that text is for me--and for the community I care about.

This whole discussion reminds me of the film F for Fake by Orson Welles, which had a lot of interesting things to say about authenticity and forgery, while also intentionally misleading and lying to the audience in various ways throughout the film, making it in itself an act of forgery in a way.

I think it's helpful to look at our value of originality as an example of lost purposes. Historically humans used to be in an environment where it is very difficult to get a copy of an object with all the properties that we actually care for. So caring about object being specifically themselves rather than some other example from the same class was a valid heuristic for lots of our values. It's much less so today, but we've already developped this adaptation, biologicaly and/or culturaly. Actual economical value of art pieces was originally derived from the fact that it's hard to (re)produce them, now however, we just keep valueing originals, mostly because other people do and everybody agree that they cost a lot of money. It's a multipolar trap.

With that in mind, NFTs are a lost purpose of a lost purpose. They are an artificial attempt to create scarcity in the environment where no scarcity naturally arises, therefore there is no reason to care about originalness in the first place. Moreover, people are not even caught into this multipolar trap. We do not generally agree that some specific NFT gives some kind of meaningful ownership over an object. We do not recognise it, neither legally nor socially.

The problem with this analysis, as I see it, is that a huge amount of the people who care about NFTs do get really upset about the right-clicking thing. To go with the analogy, a lot of these painting owners are getting really upset about people trying to make copies of their paintings. So as the actual users of NFTs seem to be saying, it’s not the artificial scarcity that they care about, it’s that they want want to own anything that looks identical to the Mona Lisa.

I interpret (at least some of) this behaviour as being more about protecting the perception of NFTs as a valid means of ownership than protecting the NFT directly. As analogy, if you bought the Mona Lisa to gain status from owning it and having people visit it, but everyone you spoke to made fun of you and said that they had a copy too, you might be annoyed.

Although before I read your comment I had actually assumed this upset behaviour was mostly coming from trolls - who had right-click copied the NFTs - making fake accounts to LARP as NFT owners. I don't directly interact with NFT owning communities at all so most of my information about how people are actually behaving is filtered through the lens of what gets shared around on various social media.

The problem with this analysis, as I see it, is that a huge amount of the people who care about NFTs do get really upset about the right-clicking thing.

This isn't my impression at all. I've seen zero complaints about rick clicking itself by NFT holders, but lots of takes about how the right-clicking thing is misunderstanding NFTs.

Right, I agree that that's what a lot of NFT users are saying. A large point of this post was to steelman the idea of NFTs and find the true crux of why I think the idea, even in theory, is something that I'm not super excited about. There's already plenty of people pointing out dumb stuff going on with NFTs and the people who peddle them today, and I don't feel like I have much value to add in that discussion.