To restore your NFT, you need the perfect clone of your media files.
Q&A with Chris King, Co-Founder and CTO of ClubNFT
ClubNFT has gathered heavy hitters to realize its mission of delivering next-generation infrastructure solutions to discover, protect and share non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for digital artwork—and it all started with Jason Bailey recruiting CTO and Co-Founder Chris King, formerly of Google. Here, Chris shares why he joined forces with Jason to start the company, his vision for ClubNFT’s solutions and the NFT community, and more details about the first product, which allows collectors to safeguard their NFT investments by downloading the associated media in a single click.
Q: Why did you decide to join Jason Bailey in this endeavor?
A: I'm a tech guy, and I'm reasonably well connected, so pretty frequently I get people reaching out to me with an idea - they "just need someone to build it". What set this opportunity apart is that Jason came to me after many years as an NFT thought leader and community-builder with a real plan for solving real problems. I've been watching the blockchain, cryptocurrencies and NFTs with interest for years, and this was my chance to do something important with a leader in the community who has a great vision and ethos.
Q: What draws you to the community’s zeitgeist?
A: The blockchain/NFT community values democratization and egalitarianism, which is attractive to me as a socially progressive guy. That attitude dovetails perfectly with what we’re building at ClubNFT: a way to level the playing field for all involved, and for lesser-known artists around the world to get compensated fairly. We’re interested in addressing important problems that can be solved with relatively straightforward products which will make a huge impact in the lives of the people in this community.
Q: What are some of the problems you are solving?
A: Once you start to learn a little bit about the blockchain, you see that collectors face a few glaring problems. The first one is the issue of IPFS. It’s a fantastic technology that solves a lot of things, like moving NFT artwork off the blockchain onto distributed storage. But it doesn't solve the problem that a lot of people assume that it does solve, which is the actual storage of the media files. IPFS is a discovery mechanism and a provability mechanism, but it doesn’t guarantee availability. It’s usually the marketplace that takes care of the digital art storage for the collector in the background—collectors are often unaware of this hidden dependency on a centralized company. If something goes awry, such as a technical outage or data loss, the collector can lose his or her masterpiece in an instant.
Q: How are you solving it?
A: People have been building big, wonderful technological contraptions and trying to shoehorn them in as a solution for this problem, but the problem itself is simple, and the solution can also be simple. If you aren't guaranteed that your file is going to always be available on IPFS, all you need to do is maintain your own copy of it, so you exercise full control over it. If it disappears from IPFS, you have everything you need to restore it to IPFS. This is the same “trustless” ethos that the whole blockchain was founded on. Instead of paying a company to host your artwork or relying on a third party, we are giving you the power to control it yourself. The way we’re approaching this problem is fully in the spirit of democratization and decentralization. That’s how and why the blockchain was created.
Q: Why can’t I just “right click + save” or use Python scripts or some other approach to downloading the digital artwork associated with my NFTs?
A: What we’re doing for collectors may sound simple, but it really is not, which is why we decided to put together a company with resources to solve problems like making it possible to restore digital artwork associated with NFTs. Simply downloading manually or hacking together a Python script is fraught with potential errors and pitfalls.
First off, NFTs come in all shapes and sizes. There are some that came before NFT standards were introduced, and some that are very experimental even today. So just figuring out what files you need to back up can be complicated. Sometimes you may need to remember to download the thumbnail image in the main image. There are non-standard NFTs that are partially on blockchain and on IPFS. There are NFTs that are recursive and point to all different kinds of content on IPFS. If any of the pieces go missing, or you can't figure out how to find one of them, your digital artwork is not complete and you're in danger of losing your investment. And this is only the start of the complexity involved. Collectors might not be aware that their browsers may compress the image or change its format during downloading, so it won’t be a bit-for-bit copy, for example.
When restoring a file to IPFS, you can't just fix a broken IPFS link by uploading a "pretty close" copy of the image. When you upload a file to IPFS, it creates a unique, cryptographic “hash,” or in layman’s terms, a very small, compressed version of the actual image. An IPFS link is made from this hash, it is not a "location" where you can just stick any old file. If even one bit changes in the file, it will generate a completely different link on IPFS. So if the content disappears, the collector can’t just replace it with something else. It’s a good thing, because you don’t want people to change things about that artwork after the fact, but this further emphasizes the need to preserve and store the actual image in the exact same format—bit for bit—so it can be restored.
Q: Why can’t people print out the artwork, or take a screenshot of the transaction and the artwork?
A: Yes, you can hang that printout of the artwork on your wall, or keep a screenshot of the transaction. However, the NFT can never be sold again without proof that there was and still is a pixel-perfect image associated with the NFT. The hash, and the proof that it is pointing to the content in its perfect form, is the only way to preserve the investment. We can’t stress it enough: the link from the NFT to the official digital artwork file is the only thing that makes it worth money. It’s just like if you own the Mona Lisa, lend the painting to a museum, and the museum burns down. Having taken a photo of the Mona Lisa, you cannot restore the Mona Lisa, even if you still have your certificate of ownership. We are giving you a Star Trek style replicator that makes sure that you have a perfect clone of the original Mona Lisa. So, if anything should happen to it, you still have your Mona Lisa.
Q: Where is the media stored? What type of storage do you use?
A: We don’t do storage. We do “restore-age” for free. Collectors can store their digital artwork files on Google Drive, on a hard drive, write them to a CD and stick that in a safety deposit box, whatever. "Storage" is wherever the collector chooses. At its most basic, it’s about decentralization, controlling your own stuff, and not being at the whim of a third party.
Q: Why can’t people just insure their NFTs?
A: There is no NFT insurance, and from what we’ve been told by folks in the insurance industry, there most likely will not be any for a long time, given the newness and complexity of the NFT space. We provide assurance because there is no insurance.
Q: Is this just for a specific marketplace or blockchain?
A: No. We recognize that the whole system is fragmented - there are a lot of different chains and marketplaces. We are building solutions to fix problems for everyone so our goal is to be completely agnostic. We want to build tools that work no matter where you bought your NFT—which blockchain, marketplace, or project. That causes more technical difficulty and competing standards to support and so on, but we’re up to the task and committed to making solutions that everyone can use. To start with, we are supporting some of the most important blockchains for NFT collectors, but we are committed to adding support for additional chains to make sure nobody gets left behind.
Q: What do you see as the future?
A: I’m excited about this space, and about what we're doing. We’re starting simple: by making it easy for collectors to protect their NFTs with bit-for-bit copies of their art. That’s just the first step - next up, we’re looking to solve collectors' problems around discovery, collection/portfolio management, and more. I’m thrilled to be working with some of the best people in the space to tackle these issues!