How NFTs could elevate brand loyalty

type - big idea
Big Idea
category - art
category - design
category - digital
sector - media & technology
Artist Sarah Friend on how digital currencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are challenging our financial assumptions and augmenting how we buy, sell, trade and value goods

Let's begin with your background – you work as an artist but you're also interested in software and digital infrastructure…

I have a dual practice: I'm both an artist and a software developer. I also appreciate that you said 'software and infrastructure' instead of around blockchain, because while a lot of my work has been focused on blockchain, I don't see myself as an exclusively blockchain practitioner.

My artworks are usually more like software projects. In the case of Circles – a proposal to build a Universal Basic Income on the blockchain – it has a functionality that is tangible and real. But it also feels like a science-fiction proposition – maybe too soon for the world we actually live in today. But I do see that there is incredible potential to use something like blockchain to rethink the foundations and financial assumptions that underpin the existing economic world.

What do you think is driving this exploration and shifting approach to finance?

Circles presents a new proposition for how money could work in a way that's not been tried before. More generally, the current financial system relies on models that come from the world of fiat money, but they may not apply to this new, emerging world of technology. We have to start thinking not just about ownership but about ownership of decision-making power.

It's also about shifting power structures and changing who traditionally holds power. In a company, for example, there is a structure and processes by which decisions are made, but in a fully decentralised system [like blockchain] the power and governance assumptions can be very different. It’s a very participatory system that is more or less transparent.

Published by:

17 May 2021

Author: Rumi Josephs

Image: Webring installed on [Anti]materia, the website of Doreen Rios by Sarah Friend


Remembering Network by Sarah Friend

Does this mean large firms like Facebook, Google and Amazon are now operating with models that are no longer useful or functional within this new online environment?

The protocols by which some large tech platforms are working are no longer applicable to their users – they don't work with the new terrain we are seeing emerge online. At present, these platforms are monopolistic and try to create blanket solutions for the universal user who – by the way – does not exist. So, from the start we have a problem. Instead, we should be paying close attention to the new models of technology that are tailored to your locality, ideological community and to the subcultures you are part of – cooperative organisations where online users are also owners in some meaningful way.

There’s currently a lot of interest in non-fungible tokens (NFTs), especially for the sale of digital art. What are some of the implications of NFTs for business, retail and ownership?

With NFTs, they take types of assets that already exist and create an original, digital version of them. But I have to say NFTs don't do what a lot of people think they do. What gives an NFT value might not be scarcity in the traditional sense. But that isn't to say that the value of NFTs is overstated. It's not that you own a digital image that nobody else can look at, for example – it's that you have the ownership title to the image that everybody else has saved on their phone or laptop. This suggests that copying and shareability are drivers of value for NFT owners; the most valuable meme is the one that everyone reposts and that's not traditionally the way that assets work – it's normally about scarcity or rarity.

What are the benefits of this sort of system for brands?

At present, we can view retail transactions as being like a one-night stand, but with NFTs or other digital assets, purchases become a long-term, ongoing project. Let's say you purchase something from a brand that includes some type of digital asset that you, as the buyer, want to capture value from in some way. What this means is that you have an ongoing relationship with that product or asset. This could be very good for brands, because in turn they maintain a relationship with buyers, who are interacting with their asset for longer and in different ways. I see this constantly in my own artwork because every time I make an art project, I have a code base that I have to maintain, possibly for the rest of my life.

‘Copying and shareability are drivers of value for NFT owners; the most valuable meme is the one that everyone reposts’
Sarah Friend, artist

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