In short, cryptocurrency is a form of universal, digital money that can be used to buy goods or services. Cryptocurrencies can also be traded or viewed as investments. The word “crypto” comes from the cryptographic techniques used to ensure that cryptocurrencies can be transacted securely.
These techniques replace the need for a bank or other third party to oversee transactions. This is a core part of crypto’s appeal. A decentralized financial system—one that doesn’t rely on banks or powerful institutions to work could be faster, cheaper, fairer, and more transparent.
A GIF of a flying cat with a Pop-Tart for a torso. An avatar of a golden vest. A 5-word tweet. No, this isn’t your browsing history—these are NFTs, and they’re selling for up to $69 million each. But just what is an NFT?
NFTs are a new and fascinating phenomenon. Around since 2014, they’re unique digital assets that are bought and sold online using cryptocurrency. One-of-a-kind tokens used to indicate ownership of a particular digital item (often a digital artwork), NFTs are disrupting markets around the globe from art to gaming, from events to insurance.
Confused? Don’t worry—it’s a lot to take in. That’s why we’ve broken it down into an easy-to-understand guide to everything you need to know about NFTs. Let’s dive in!
What does NFT stand for?
NFT stands for non-fungible token. Let’s start at the very beginning—what does non-fungible mean? “Fungible” is an economic term which refers to a good or asset that can be exchanged for another good or asset of equal value. For instance, a dollar bill is fungible, because it can easily be swapped for another dollar bill of the exact same value.
If something is “non-fungible,” it means it can’t be swapped for something of completely equal value. A tract of land would be non-fungible, since land is unique, and finding another tract with the exact same value would be difficult to impossible. Art is another example of a non-fungible asset, since its value is highly subjective—and this is where NFT’s come in.
An NFT shows exclusive ownership of a particular digital asset (e.g., a piece of art, an in-game purchase, or a tweet). You might purchase an NFT at a certain price, but because it’s non-fungible, its market value is likely to fluctuate.
How do NFTs work? Are they cryptocurrency?
While NFTs are often bought and sold using cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, they are not cryptocurrencies themselves. Like dollars and other currencies, cryptocurrencies are fungible. If you trade one bitcoin for another bitcoin, they both have the same value. You’ll still be left with one bitcoin. Since NFTs are unique, they have no equivalent value other than what the market is willing to pay for it.
What do you get when you buy an NFT?
Since an NFT can only have one owner at any one time, when you buy an NFT, you purchase the exclusive ownership of a particular digital asset. However, this doesn’t mean that you own the exclusive rights as to who gets to look at or share that particular artwork.
Take for example the most expensive NFT sold to date: Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days, a 5,000-piece digital collage. The owner of this NFT is Vignesh Sundaresan, founder of the Metapurse NFT project and the bitcoin ATM provider, Bitaccess.
While Sundaresan is the official owner of this NFT, this image has been copied, shared, and seen by millions of people around the world—and that’s fair game! So, when you buy an NFT, it’s a little like buying an autographed print. The NFT is signed exclusively to you, but anyone can view the work.
An NFT can be any digital asset. So far they’ve included:
Why would anybody buy a non-fungible token?
The more you try to wrap your head around the weird and magical world of non-fungible tokens, the more you may ask yourself why anybody would buy an NFT. Well, there are a few reasons why those with the spare cash are choosing to invest.
There’s nothing like a perceived sense of rarity to increase interest in a particular item. As NFTs can only have one owner, they create this sense of scarcity by the bucketload. This encourages potential buyers to fixate on a particular piece and worry that someone else may become the exclusive owner of an NFT that they want.
Think of it like when you find a pair of sneakers you want to buy and the site tells you that there’s only ‘one pair left.’ If you’re like most of us, this increases your sense of scarcity and encourages you to commit to making the purchase—even if it doesn’t make financial sense for you.
Like swapping baseball cards on the playground, NFTs are essentially trading cards for the super-rich. While there’s no inherent value in these cards other than what the market ascribes to them, their fluctuating worth makes their collectability and trading potential like a high-risk gambling game. As a result, it’s easy to make comparisons between the NFT and the art market.
However, unlike the art market, NFTs give artists more autonomy as they no longer have to rely on galleries or auction houses to sell their work. By cutting out the middle-man, artists can sell their artworks directly to buyers and keep more of the profits by doing so.
Larva Labs, CryptoPunk #7523 (2017). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Adidas x Bored Ape Yacht Club.
Gucci Digital Sneakers (2021). Courtesy of Gucci.
The Digital Dash Rally's digital entry ticket, valid in real life.
Booba - NFT, music and video only available through NFT. Sold out in an hour.