NFTs today rely on metadata and referenced content that is not always guaranteed to live on mediums that will persist forever. Arweave’s blockweave architecture ensures absolute permanent storage, enabling NFTs minted elsewhere or natively to achieve true, trustless immutability.
In Web2, there are two primary issues facing the management of content: ownership and storage. Combined, these two problems have created an internet experience dictated by ad models, insufficient individual monetization, and fragile user experiences.
Ownership. The internet today does a poor job of establishing ownership or provenance of content online. Content is too easily replicated across multiple sites and servers without a scalable or consistent way for its original creator(s) to manage it. Often, content is most easily shared through centralized entities like Facebook. By virtue of keeping this content on their servers, Facebook effectively owns it. Anything created on, uploaded to, sent through, or monetized on a centralized platform is, at the end of the day, out of the hands of the creator. It can voluntarily or involuntarily shut off services, shut out creators, or shut down entirely. This tenuous content architecture has rendered it difficult for online creators to attach value to their work without relying on intermediary platforms to dictate scarcity and legitimacy.
Storage. Broadly speaking, today’s web browsing is lossy. Content today is retrieved by pointing to domain names that live in physical servers or centralized clouds. This type of content retrieval is scalable, but extremely susceptible to disappearing. If the method of storage (i.e. those servers or clouds) is controlled by a single entity like a Facebook or Amazon, it can be removed by that entity — effectively deleting any content that formerly relied on that storage to exist on the internet. Users would be faced with “404 page not found” error messages. If the content (the image, text, webpage, video) has been removed from the location being pointed to by the URL, the content is irretrievable. Overall, this has resulted in a fragile digital ecosystem in which content can suddenly disappear when a server or location goes offline.
The Rise of NFTs: a solution for digital ownership
The innovation of NFTs with Ethereum’s ERC-721 standard solved one of the primary issues with content on the internet: ownership. By minting an NFT on a decentralized ledger, people are able to verify ownership and provenance of individual pieces of content — artwork, essays, videos, music, etc. Verified, secure, and transparent assets also naturally enable value to be associated with NFTs, something previously impossible on the ownership-null architecture of Web2.
As we have seen within the last six months in particular, the benefits of NFTs for artists, musicians, and writers is tremendous. Content creators have historically been both the vanguards and the victims of the internet; those who create the unique experiences we seek out online are also unable to effectively own or monetize their very contributions. As the world of NFTs grows, however, we need to ensure that Web3 does not inherit any of the fragility of Web2. We’ve solved for ownership, but what about the other issue with content management in today’s internet — storage?
The Elephant in the Room: NFT and metadata storage
Of the two issues with content on Web2, current NFT standards such as ERC-721 have solved ownership, but not storage. When an NFT is minted on Ethereum, for example, the NFT itself is represented by an address on the network that is indivisible, immutable, and unique. However, the content and metadata of the NFT does not, by default, live on a permanent storage network. The content and metadata includes everything that, arguably, makes an NFT desirable, like the details of the artwork or the lyrics of the song. The nagging question still remains: my NFT address lives on the blockchain, but where do the details themselves (the art, the words, the size, the style) live?
To retrieve that “referenced content” and render the NFT as the intendented asset, the hash contains a tokenURI that points to all the important information. Essentially, although the NFT itself lives on the blockchain, what actually gives it value (i.e. for art, the colors and shapes) don’t necessarily live on-chain. That information can live on a centralized server, and is subject to disappearing just as content on the internet has disappeared in the past, leaving a 404 error message in its place. In this way, NFTs are subject to the same fundamental issue that content has now on Web2. If we can’t figure out what an NFT on Ethereum looks like because the server containing the content information has gone offline, the asset itself becomes valueless.
This risk is not theoretical. Tron Dogs and NiftyMoji are two examples, where the projects seem to have disappeared. Check My NFT is a site that lets people verify the strength of their NFT in terms of permanent storage. Though the people who bought those NFTs still own the assets, they are rendered worthless without access to the associated metadata.
Permanent NFT Storage on Arweave
This storage fragility of NFTs has not been lost on the crypto ecosystem. Existing Web3 storage providers have sought to address this problem, but still encounter regular examples of NFTs stored on these networks disappearing. The ecosystem needs a solution that provides verifiably permanent storage. Enter Arweave.
Arweave lets anyone store an NFT that was minted on another network or mint one natively on Arweave itself. To ensure absolute permanent storage, the Arweave employs the blockweave as a content storage and permanence mechanism. The blockweave is a set of blocks that each contain data and link back to multiple previous blocks within the network. This interwoven data structure allows the network to uphold a Proof of Access (technically, a Succinct Proof of Random Access [SPoRA]) consensus mechanism that requires miners to prove access to old data in order to add new blocks. This storage architecture ensures permanent storage for anything on the network at a remarkably low cost. The estimated cost to mint an NFT that is guaranteed to exist forever is $0.005/MB.
An NFT on Arweave will never be at risk of disappearing. No amount of time or lapse of content interaction will ever jeopardize a user’s ability to recall the content whenever they wish. And we’re already seeing this happen.
1111 by Kevin Abosch: Arweave permanent storage in action
Kevin Abosch is a conceptual artist and a pioneer in the emerging blockchain art ecosystem. On March 23, 2021, Kevin Abosch released on OpenSea his 1111 series. Each NFT minted on Ethereum as part of Kevin’s 1111 release will be bridged onto the Arweave ecosystem, where the metadata will exist as its distinct yet linked NFT. Those who purchase Kevin’s NFT will be able to confidently retain their artwork without worrying about the fate of OpenSea or if their content will ever go offline. Their Ethereum NFT is immutably linked to a permanently-stored metadata record on Arweave.