While blockchain itself provides the technology constructs to facilitate exchange, ownership and trust in the network, it is in the digitization of value elements where asset tokenization is essential. Tokenization is the process of converting the assets and rights to a property into a digital representation, or token, on a blockchain network.
Distinguishing between cryptocurrency and tokenized assets is important in understanding exchange vehicles, valuation models and fungibility across the various value networks that are emerging and posing interoperability challenges. These are not just technical challenges, but also business challenges around equitable swaps.
Asset tokenization can lead to the creation of a business model that fuels fractional ownership, the ability to own an instance of a large asset. While discussing asset tokenization in a previous article, I also mentioned the value of an instance economy in democratizing finance, commerce and global access, as well as in creating a broader global marketplace at a scale never before seen.
With digital assets and their fungibility in a blockchain ecosystem, there are various drivers of valuation. These include: 1) tokens based on crypto economic models that are driven by supply and demand, and the utility of the network; 2) nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, which have an intrinsic value such as identification, diplomas and healthcare records — essentially, tokens that are simple proof validations of the existence, authenticity and ownership of digital assets; and 3) fungible tokens that are valued on various bases, such as the sum total of economic activity in the network (cryptocurrency), its utility (smart contracts and transaction network processing), assigned values (stable coins and security tokens), and so on.
In this article, I address the complex issue of the hyperbolic and rapid rise of NFTs, after a similarly meteoric rise of decentralized finance, or DeFi, creating amazing innovations — with immense promise of democratization, new business models and global marketplaces with global access — all fueled by the basic premise of decentralization and fundamental constructs of tokenization and wallets. While NFTs may be characterized as one-of-a-kind cryptographic tokens with some intrinsic value to a holder or to a market (art, collectibles), the NFT movement is indicative of a larger token revolution that will not only fuel massive innovation and growth in Web 3.0 protocols but also test the resolve of the DeFi movement, along with its ability to intersect and provide platforms and an exchange vehicle for all token types.
Growth in Web 3.0 protocols
The first two generations of web protocols were largely about disseminating information and connecting people. They fueled a massive growth in information and collaboration, and did wonders for connecting the world. However, those web protocols were never designed to move things of value. Also, as the Web 2.0 era reached its fullest potential, vulnerabilities such as “fake news” and the “batched relay” of the movement of assets via a series of intermediaries emerged. Threats to the commerce and financial infrastructure of the system risk destabilizing it.
Web 3.0 promises to safeguard all things we value: information, truth and digital assets — both fungible and nonfungible. Whereas Web 2.0 was driven by the advent of social, mobile and the cloud, Web 3.0 is largely built on three new layers of technological innovation: edge computing, decentralized data networks and artificial intelligence.
The growth of NFTs has not only empowered the ability for artists, skilled professionals and entrepreneurs to encapsulate innovation in a tokenized form but has also fueled the democratization of the platform as one of the promises of blockchain technology. The underlying infrastructure includes decentralized storage technologies, efficient consensus protocols, off-chain computing, and oracle networks to provide connectivity and validation to existing systems.
Collectively, the Web 3.0 set of technologies envisions a connected, trustless, accountable network for efficiently delivering value, thus crafting an infrastructure for things of worth. NFTs represent both transferable entities and nontransferable tokens that we value. The latter include things such as our identification, healthcare records and passports, things that represent us and allow us to participate in the digital economy with our own unique, digital identities.
As we dare to envision a shift toward a world with decentralized control, governance based on distributed technology that challenges every business model, and governance structure built upon centralized business frameworks, we do have to ponder some things. Not only the shift itself, but the motivation, incentive and monetization elements that fuel and power the economic infrastructure to move things that have value — thereby keeping up with our changing perception and subsequent realization of that value.
Intersecting with finance — DeFi
DeFi is the movement in the blockchain applications space that leverages decentralized network technology to disrupt and force a transformation of old financial products into trustless, transparent protocols, facilitating digital value creation and dissemination with few to no intermediaries. It is widely understood and accepted that — due to new synergies and co-creation via new digital interactions and value-exchange mechanisms — blockchain technology lays the foundation for a trusted digital transactional network that, as a disintermediated platform, fuels the growth of marketplaces and secondary markets.
While DeFi aims to deliver the promise of finance democratization, NFTs test the resolve of DeFi by delivering a competitive yet inclusive asset class, plus avenues to provide a medium of exchange, fungibility by other fungible asset classes, and liquidity to a traditionally illiquid market.
Asset classes resulting from DeFi protocols and NFTs avail themselves of the advantages of fractional ownership of the assets, blurring the lines between asset classes and using constructs like digital wallets as a receptacle for them. This is all supported by underlying layers of Web 3.0 that provide security and availability via decentralization, as well as trust and immutability via consensus, extending these principles to basic computer infrastructure like storage and interconnect.
Commercialization of Web 3.0 protocols, which manifest as fungible utility tokens, further blurs the lines with diverse financial innovation products introduced by DeFi (such as base assets and derivatives), products that are also tokenized. So, while decentralization is the underlying theme — and the wallet and the token are fundamental constructs — these blurring lines are quite profound.
This article does not contain investment advice or recommendations. Every investment and trading move involves risk, and readers should conduct their own research when making a decision.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Nitin Gaur is the founder and director of IBM Digital Asset Labs, where he devises industry standards and use cases and works toward making blockchain for the enterprise a reality. He previously served as chief technology officer of IBM World Wire and of IBM Mobile Payments and Enterprise Mobile Solutions, and he founded IBM Blockchain Labs where he led the effort in establishing the blockchain practice for the enterprise. Nitin is also an IBM Distinguished Engineer and an IBM Master Inventor with a rich patent portfolio. Additionally, he serves as research and portfolio manager for Portal Asset Management, a multi-manager fund specializing in digital assets and DeFi investment strategies.