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Dynamic NFTs in Web3 (ERC-1155): Oracles as Critical Infrastructure

December 27, 2021 - 10 min read

Not only are dynamic NFTs fascinating, but they unlock new use cases which will have profound implications on our digital experiences.

Web3 Oracles- The Crux of Dynamic NFTs
Dynamic NFTs contain smart contracts which may have off-chain conditions determining their execution, placing oracles at the crux of it all.

One of the most exciting — but misunderstood — concepts in the emerging Web3 space has to be non-fungible tokens (NFTs). NFTs are unique to Web3, as such novelties are composed upon the first layer (or two) of blockchains. That is, assets like NFTs may only exist after a certain threshold maturation of blockchain technology takes place in the first place.

A conceptually familiar analogy illustrates the point well enough: first came the mobile phone, then the App store, next came GPS apps like Google Maps, and then businesses like Uber were composed upon the aforementioned layers of web and mobile tech. The same phenomenon is happening at an accelerated rate in the Web3 space, meaning our ability to speculate on the future will in retrospect likely be found lacking in imagination.

From digital to physical NFTs, and now to dynamic NFTs, things are evolving quickly. Not only are companies using NFTs to keep track of limited edition items, but also exploring the tokenization of real estate through dynamic and fractionally-owned NFTs. As such, their potential properties and future composability are still actively being discovered.

Not only are dynamic NFTs fascinating, but their technology unlocks potential use cases which will produce new economic incentives, allowing for investment in spaces which may have heretofore been economically impractical. This could include lending services, financial access for impoverished nations, or even monetizing the creativity of digital entrepreneurs.

Dynamic NFTs & Verifiable Randomness

NFTs, also known as ERC721 tokens, are assets whose main characteristics are uniqueness coupled with the property of being non-fungible, hence the name. A decent analogy would be to compare NFTs to one-of-a-kind pieces of fine art. Some creators are famous; their works are sought after at sometimes exorbitant prices, and they are not divisible into smaller uniform quantities.

However, for our analogy to maintain its integrity with NFTs, we must imagine that there was also an immutable and shared ledger of fine art ownership. Furthermore, through our hypothetical fine art ledger, the art itself, its ownership, and its history could be traced with precision along with its current price and spot price at each transfer of ownership. This is the case with NFTs on the blockchain.

Though NFT marketplaces have seemingly sprung up everywhere, the real attention-grabbing headlines for many has been the hefty price tag some have paid for what amounts to a fancy JPEG file. That will begin to change quickly, as NFT offerings become more nuanced than before, offering conditional smart contracts embedded within their metadata.

Previously, NFTs referred to the static variety, which had special properties which did not change. Now, dynamic NFTs have deterministic smart contracts which use off-chain data, relying on oracles to fetch and validate the relevant data and keep it constantly refreshed. The NFT’s dynamic properties may be upgraded, decay, or change over time.

Aside from being digital art tracked on blockchain ledgers, these dynamic NFTs can also be used to connect content creators, famous athletes, and media personalities with the communities which consume their content. The community-based NFT framework unveils a more practical application for the technology, as it incentivizes participation and membership in digital communities and events.

For instance, Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs regularly sell for $250,000 and often much higher, with ownership of one of the 10,000 unique apes granting memberships to physical events and parties like Ape Fest or its VIP charity dinner. NFTs could also grant the owner special access to areas of the Metaverse, like backstage passes to a virtual concert. Our creativity is the only limit to what dynamic NFTs can do. 

For instance, creators could transform their artwork into NFTs which may function similar to a membership card to access paywall content, or perhaps a discount promo code when making a purchase. By collecting a set of NFTs, users could unlock bonuses, exclusive material, VIP access, or even a physical meeting with their favorite content creators. Rather than simply being bought and sold on secondary markets, these special characteristics embedded within NFTs elevate the value of the technology beyond what was once considered possible. 

In order for all of this to work, dynamic NFTs make use of verifiable random functions (VRFs) to assign ‘winners.’ In cryptography, VRFs provide proof that outputs were indeed generated randomly from sets of inputs. It is essentially a lottery drawing, but with cryptographic proof that winners were chosen fairly. The VRF typically works by taking user-supplied seed inputs from participants, sometimes requiring a small fee paid in crypto, and then generating a verifiable pseudorandom public-key output. The result is written on-chain, using the user-supplied seed inputs to mint the NFT to the user’s wallet address.

Oracles Remain at the Crux of Web3 Development

web3 dynamic nfts oracles
Dynamic NFTs are embedded with benefit-granting attributes directed at their token holders, and can even gain new attributes over time.

Oracles are collections of nodes which fetch and validate external data for Web3 smart contracts, like the ones used by dynamic NFTs. They are essentially the communication channels between blockchains and off-chain data sources. Since blockchains are closed systems which operate and execute smart contracts based on data from their native ledgers, they are unable to do business with off-chain assets without oracles.  Thus, oracles are absolutely crucial for NFTs to become ubiquitous.

Oracles track spot prices, report world events, and even allow for off-chain assets to be exchanged in tokenized forms, increasing the variety of crypto assets available to trade, and compounding the economic potential of Web3 as well. This makes oracles incredibly important to the proper functionality of any protocol, as they require accurate data at all times.

If a blockchain’s oracles are compromised, so is the protocol and its smart contracts; this makes oracles into potential single points of failure. Since smart contracts are deterministic and mostly irreversible, they rely heavily on the integrity of the data oracles provide. After all, one of the main advantages of smart contracts is their aversion to centralization and counterparty risks.

Though oracles help enable trustless smart contracts to be executed, failure to decentralize their operation will lead to node corruption, price manipulation, or network attacks on a long enough timeline. This threat is known as the Oracle Problem, and it has made the preservation of privacy, security, and decentralization a key part of any Web3 discussion. If, for example, an oracle provider gave faulty or stale data to a DeFi protocol, the resulting spot price deviations could wreak financial havoc on its users. 

Considering that oracles power DEXs, synthetic assets, stablecoins, NFTs, and more, it is no surprise that developers are rushing to secure a high throughput, decentralized and tamper-proof oracle solution. Oracle providers such as Chainlink and Band still face criticisms over validator centralization or network scalability issues. Thus, oracle providers and the Web3 protocols they interact with still face challenges if they are to become ubiquitous financial tools.

Dynamic NFT Real & Potential Use Cases

Given the quick advancements in Web3 tech and the aforementioned ability to embed smart contracts into NFTs, the number of real-world use cases now possible is truly inspiring. By leveraging the scarcity, provenance, and accountability that NFTs embody, entirely new economic models will emerge from the aforementioned novelties.

For example, potential use cases for dynamic NFTs could include access to someone’s time or private events, membership discounts, the tokenization of unique non-crypto assets (including real estate), access control to sensitive records like passports or medical records, startup fundraising, revenue-sharing, or even royalties payouts. 

Currently, manufacturers are already in collaboration with Web3 firms to mint NFTs for the purpose of provable authenticity. Names like Apple, Sony, Ray-Ban, Nike, and more will naturally be drawn towards dynamic NFTs as their brands are often counterfeited and sold to unwitting shoppers across the world. With provable authenticity embedded both within the NFT and the blockchain’s ledger, piracy and goods counterfeiting may see sharp declines in the coming years. At the very least, the deception will be much harder to pull off for counterfeit manufacturers. 

A recent example of dynamic NFTs in the real world was the November 2021 Miami Crypto Experience, which issued blockchain-built NFT tickets to the event. Attendees simply scanned their QR codes at the gate, giving them access to Web3 workshops, keynote speakers, industry vendors, and networking opportunities. Another example of a dynamic NFT might grant the owner access to a live AMA event, with the queue in line for questions being an active competition based upon user referrals.

For instance, NFT holders hoping to ask a question at the event would be incentivized to promote it online in the hopes that having more referrals could push them to the front of the line. Oracles, of course, would be used to keep track of the score and then assign the queue numbers at the end of the contest. Aside from the obvious use cases and clever incentive structures made possible by dynamic NFTs, future price speculation and social capital are compelling reasons for many to drive up the price of these assets. 

As mentioned, another interesting use case for dynamic NFTs includes revenue-sharing or even royalties payouts. This would provide direct financial benefits to the tokenholders based on the outcomes of the dynamic NFT issuer. For instance, a hypothetical rock band might issue a limited number of dynamic NFTs as a fundraising endeavor amongst their most loyal fans, with the promise that holders of these NFTs will receive a fractional payout of concert ticket sales in their upcoming national tour. Holders of these dynamic NFTs would become stakeholders in the band and be financially incentivized to market for their favorite band whereas in years past these superfans efforts went mostly unrewarded.

Wrapped tokens blockchain digital assets
Dynamic NFTs create a fun and exciting new landscape for content creators and their fans to interact both socially and financially. 

Real estate is an obvious area for dynamic NFTs to be useful, as owners might collect fees from any revenue the property collects over time. For instance, buying a real estate dynamic NFT might convey time-share rights to individuals for certain dates of each year. Other stipulations may be embedded into the NFT to include financial payouts during specific time periods, like when other individuals use the property. The dynamic aspects of the NFTs may also have expiration dates, meaning that the special properties granted to token holders would eventually cease, meaning its final form would more resemble a digital collector’s item.  

Finally, skill trees, commonly found in gaming, can also be applied to education and credentialing programs. In gaming, players are incentivized to complete challenges in order to unlock content, level up their avatars, or gain in fiscal or practical value in some way. In the case of education and credentialing, dynamic NFTs might be assigned to individual students, with transcripts being recorded on digital ledgers and achievements being unlocked by deterministic smart contracts. Off-chain data, like student attendance and test scores, will be tracked and verified by oracles before it becomes immutable on the blockchain. This sort of credentialing will reduce fraud and as well as provide a frictionless and efficient way to demonstrate one’s given skillset on a university or job application.

Web3 Composability & Global Flourishing

Web3 is developing faster than most can get a handle on, and the same goes for the use cases for dynamic NFTs. Thanks to oracles, dynamic NFTs can make use of off-chain data, greatly expanding their utility beyond their formerly static forms. Now, the dynamism embedded within NFTs can change the purchase of digital art into a Defi-powered, gamified, fair, and immutable asset class which transcends that which has come before it. As we continue to uncover innovative ways to make frictionless and trustless financial agreements, we are likely to remain in the price discovery phase regarding the NFT space more broadly.  

Dynamic NFTs take advantage of the composability of Web3 tech, exponentiating the economic value of the space more broadly. The synergy of three technologies (blockchain, oracles, & NFTs) will produce innovative and heretofore unknown economic arrangements, thus increasing human flourishing and global cooperation. This will have huge payoffs in terms of global innovation, as previously illiquid capital begins to flow into emergent, highly productive endeavors. 

References

  1. Collins, P. (2020, 24 Dec.). Build, deploy, and sell your own dynamic NFT. Bitcoin Insider.
  2. Kahan, D. (2021, 8 Nov.). NFTs 101: What is a truly “dynamic” NFT? DoinGud: Ghost. 
  3. Manca, A. (2021, 1 Aug.). The future of NFTs: Dynamic NFTs and physical NFTs. Visionary Art NFT Agency.
  4. SoftTek. (2021, 26 April). NFT: The solution for authenticating digital assets?SoftTek Cybersecurity Insights.

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