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Lead Author of the NFT Standard Predicts NFTs Will Melt Into The Fabric of Our Everyday Lives

In this fascinating bit of tribal storytelling, BlockhainJournal.com editor-in-chief David Berlind interviews Will Entriken, the lead author of the NFT standard (technically referred to as the ERC-721 specification) at the NFT.NYC conference in New York City.

Entriken is a pivotal figure in the history and development of blockchain-based NFTs (non-fungible tokens). Without his Herculean efforts, the ERC-721 spec as it's known today might not even exist. The same might be said for the current process of ratifying any ERC spec. ERC stands for "Ethereum Request for Comments," a phrase and community-driven consensus process that harkens back to the time-tested RFC (Requests for Comments) process used by the Internet Engineering Task Force to set standards for Internet protocols like the Transmission Control Protocol (the "TCP" part of "TCP/IP"). During the interview, Entriken describes how an entire open source political, deliberation, and development process had to be scaffolded before a standard like ERC-721 could be brought across the finish line. That scaffolding went on to benefit other ERCs, the standards that sit behind the Ethereum public blockchain and that are often used as the basis for the standard specs found on other blockchains. Entriken explains how his history of working at Google on Linux-related open source projects prepared him for the role he played in establishing a standard process for ERC ratification while applying that process to the ERC-721 spec for NFTs.

Entriken didn't just play a pivotal role in the development of the ERC process and 721 spec – he is the first to very humbly give credit to others who were involved in the work. He was also the first to mint an ERC-721 compliant NFT under the name "Su Squares."

As the conversation progressed, Entriken and David explored the diverse applications of NFTs beyond the realm of art and collectibles. They discussed how NFTs could revolutionize supply chain transparency, corporate accountability, and consumer trust. Entriken emphasized that while NFTs serve as the underlying technology, the true value lies in the principles they embody, such as transparency, authenticity, and verifiability.

Looking towards the future, Entriken outlined a vision where NFTs seamlessly integrate into commonplace transactions, becoming as ubiquitous as the databases that currently underpin many daily interactions. Much the same way we don't talk about how databases are integral to our everyday lives, he envisions a shift away from a conversation about NFTs as they transition into a somewhat hidden infrastructural role. Of course, for this to be true about NFTs, it must also be true of blockchain as well.

(The full-text transcript appears below.)



By David Berlind

Published:April 12, 2024

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22 min read

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Audio-Only Podcast



Full-text transcript of David Berlind's Interview with Will Entriken, Lead Author, ERC-721 NFT Specification

David Berlind: Today is April 3rd, 2024. I'm David Berlind, and this is the Blockchain Journal podcast. And I'm standing here with Will Entriken at the NFT.NYC conference on the west side of Manhattan.

And Will, for those people who don't know him, is a central to the very genesis of NFTs. He is one of the authors – or the author – of the ERC-721 specification, and the majority of NFTs or non-fungible tokens out there are in fact compliant with the ERC-721 spec. So, Will, first, thanks very much for joining me on the Blockchain Journal podcast.

Will Entriken: Thanks. My pleasure.

Berlind: It's great to have you. So, like, I'm talking to the guy who invented the ERC-721s.

Entriken: Did not invent. Lead author only. There's other authors.

Berlind: Okay. Very humble, of course. But so, I think, you know, where I want to start is, I understand that the journey began around 2018. So, maybe tell me a little bit about how that journey started. I think a lot of people will be interested. This is just tribal storytelling to hear more about the history.

Entriken: Yeah, of course. So, in 2017-2018, there was a lot of blockchain stuff going on, a lot of Bitcoin. Bitcoin was really the big thing at the time. And they, kind of, just found this other thing, Ethereum. And how can we make it more like Bitcoin? That was kind of the feeling in the room. A lot of excitement [and] a lot of people trying to make money. And I didn't like it. I didn't like any of it. I didn't like the use cases of Bitcoin. It was mostly for importing Fentanyl into the US from China and things on dark markets. They were using it just for money and I didn't want to have anything to do with any of this.

And then I saw CryptoKitties. It was pictures of cats that you can breed. It was a game, it was fun. It was whimsical, it was colorful and it was not clearly illegal. It wasn't doing very bad things. It wasn't killing people that I knew about. And I was like, great, this is something I can get behind for this technology. So that was like that, that was like the "in."

Berlind: What was your story before that? Like, how did you end up looking at this at all? Were you a computer science guy?

Entriken: Yeah. So to bring it back to me. So, I'm in computer engineering, computer science, programming, all that. I worked at Google a long time ago in open source. So, working on the open source angle here. So, I worked at Google on this open source project, working on Linux, working on developer relations, bringing people into Linux projects. And that's something I was in in '05. Great experience in open source.

Back then, you know, open source was more of a hobby. Now this entire room is people that support open source, right? And that's my experience is open source projects, the politics of open source, the funding, the bringing people in, the attraction, that's where I... that's my passion, my background.

It's a means to an end, right? So that's my superpower. I come into blockchain and I said, "Oh, this is a worthwhile cause, I'm interested. I like this industry. I like the people. I like the cats. I like the vision. But my superpower is what's needed here."

So, I saw the standard and I said, "Oh, well, this is something that needs to get pushed through. We need to agree on this. There's some work to be done, and this is my superpower, and we can finish this."

Berlind: So basically, true to open source form, organizing people and getting a spec or some kind of code across the finish line so they get shared out [to] the world and it's basically open source.

Entriken: That's right. So there's a little bit of... So we're going back to 2018. We're building the train, we're building the train tracks under the train, and we're laying the bridges under the train all at the same time. So we know where we want to get the train to, but there's a lot of levels of building. At that time, I was working on a spec. I was working on the language, Solidity underneath it. I was working on EVM contributing and whatever needed to get done because I promised that this is going to get to the destination. So you're responsible for the full stack. That includes the politics of getting this. This includes the accouterments to tokens. So we have tokens, but we have wallets. We have marketplaces. Everything needs to work and be compatible. And...

Berlind: A lot of moving parts.

Entriken:For sure. And any one of those can derail this. So my contribution... So when I came on board, I said, "Okay, well, we're all going to work together. We're going to standardize this. We're going to be compatible. We're not going to have a second standard. We're not going to have anything that competes with this. We're going to get it done ASAP. And I'm going to listen to everybody's opinions. Nobody's opinions are going to be turned down here for lack of not listening to."

That was the winning ticket right there because there's a lot of...

Berlind: Typical open source, and that was very typical of Google in those days. That's the way they kind of got a lot of consensus around open source, right?

Entriken: Yes, but also at that time, this was not the leading ticket at the time. The ticket was every idea can be done, [it] doesn't have to be compatible. You make an idea, get an ERC number, [it] doesn't matter. The numbers go to infinity. You get whatever number you want.

Berlind: You're talking about just the general Ethereum politics?

Entriken: Yeah, so we're getting into the spec. So, the spec was: we need to make... The point of the spec was to make... we're going to make tokens. Tokens are going to get very big over the next couple of years, from 2018. And we need to incentivize and welcome people that are going to build stuff other than tokens. We need wallets, we need marketplaces, we need a bunch of marketplaces and wallets, we need investment, we need new chains to support this.

So, we're calling for a lot of investment, kind of like OpenAI right now. They say... If you've read what OpenAI says, they say, "We're going to change the world; we need trillions of dollars in investment; here's where we are today." Same idea, you need a lot of investment, you need it to go in the same direction, and whereas [at] OpenAI, they think all the investment needs to go into this company, I think all the investment needs to go into things that are compatible with each other.

Berlind: The good news with OpenAI was that they had Elon Musk as an investor who was supporting you guys financially because this work doesn't get done without somebody getting paid.

Entriken: That's right. For them, they have an entity. For me, it's a spec. The spec is our commonality here.

Berlind: Okay. So, 2018. You're working on the ERC-721 spec. It gets, at some point, you know, I don't know what the right word is in the Ethereum world, but I'm gonna say ratified because we talk about... There's all sorts of specs, W3C has specs, there are always different organizations and consortia have specs, but it finally gets approved, and then what?

Entriken: So that was part of it too. So the ratified process didn't exist. So this was the, first one that went through the ratification process, which we had to... That was one of the railroad tracks. So we had to convince them to make a process.

Berlind: Who was "them," by the way?

Entriken: Well, it used to be all core devs. So the people that were paid by [the] Ethereum Foundation to make the clients, all those people used to have to vote on the applications that would be on Ethereum. [It's] super weird, but that was a legacy process. I came in and stole the idea from Apple. It's called the... It's the two-week review. So you have a two-week community review. You pass that, and you are greenlit.

So we brought that process. We ratified ourselves into the new process. That's smart, right? And then...

Berlind: You had to invent the process 'cause it didn't exist. So you said, "Hey guys, I'm going to come up with the process here, and that's going to be the process."

Entriken: But you need legitimacy. So I didn't want to come in there and be like, where the the thing, you know, this is... we're good because we're good because that's not the precedent we want. We want other people to come on these same train tracks. So, we need a community approval process that adds legitimacy to the projects and the specs. I only want high-quality specs. I don't want people coming in with loose, weak sauce. I want them to work hard and be making things that I'm proud of. I want to be proud of everybody else that comes on this track, and so you have to make a hurdle for yourself that's not too low, jump over it, and then let other people come over.

Berlind: Sounds a little bit reminiscent to me, and you may know of this from your work at Google, of the Java Community Process (JCP) program that you started.

Entriken: Yeah, Tech Community 38 or TC38. Yeah, that's the idea. You need a big threshold, a lot of eyeballs. You hit it.

Berlind: Okay, great. So, what were the applications that you were thinking about? Because I understand from... I know your father's roaming around here and I had a chance to speak with him. I understand that you kind of minted the first NFTs, but were you thinking that at that time that NFTs had a very important but different role aside from fungible tokens?

Entriken: Yes. So I worked on the first standards-compliant... It was a demo project, and it was the first ERC-721 official. So CryptoKitties is basically ERC-721, so they can also claim that they're first, and I claim that I'm first. Whatever, who cares. But that was just a demo and I did not make an artwork project because, at the time, we had CryptoKitties which were pictures – pictures of animals with eyeballs. A lot of pictures with animals with eyeballs came out since then. And you know, great, there's nothing wrong with that. But at the time I launched my project, Su Squares, was showing that there's more things that are going to go on with this. I didn't want to color inside the lines here, right? So we're still seeing other things outside the lines. My thesis for the ten-year plan... we are in, like, year six or seven now.

So I think that, not just... You asked me what are the applications. I think it's more about what are the spheres of influence because you can do a lot with artwork. You can do artwork for a hundred years and still get a lot of different miles out of that. For example, really, the sphere that we started with was artists that were not established, quitting their jobs, and retiring off of pictures that were bought by people with financial motives. Can I say it like that? I'm trying to be polite. We're on film. You're broadcasting across the world.

Berlind: No, I get it is, you know, the old world was based on middlemen who decided who got to be the rock stars and the kings and this provided a platform for anybody to engage with anybody without having to go through a middleman.

Entriken: That's really exciting and because it's a tech project, because it's a need to be forward-thinking, the type of people that lit up first were those that, you know, were already on these types of projects.

You know, so that it's just... Like new thinkers, people that are nerds, people that are builders, they're gonna hit market first. That was wave one, that happened. Wave two is the same exact thing for established artists.

We're sort of in that, and it's going concurrent with phase three, but the same idea. It just takes longer if you're an established artist. You have to work with your agent, work with a broker, work with the companies this and that to do the same thing, because they're not on the edge. If you're touring, you don't have time to be doing this stuff.

Berlind: And of course, the middlemen who handle some of these artists, especially musicians and things like that, they are starting to look at platforms that use NFTs for fan engagement, customer engagement, that kind of thing. But beyond that, did you see this other application of the ERC721 spec where companies, big brands like Adidas or Starbucks or whoever [it] may be embrace this as a form of driving things like customer loyalty and engagement?

Entriken: Absolutely. So this is the third phase. And we're going to get... The third phase is going to come out so connecting to established brands, not just established people but established organizations, brands, whatever you want to call it, Starbucks is an established brand. Nike has the posters. There's different models, so we'll go into a couple. But that was actually my first client that I was working on.

The first trade show that I went to in this industry was [the] Licensing Expo. And I'm in the room. And in this room, there were people that were selling the rights to, you know, Disney was there. They had Toy Story 4 before it was... You know, you had to give them the phone. You can go see the pre-screening. And they're trying to license out Buzz Lightyear. And here's what Buzz is going to look like in the next video. "Do you want to license that? Do you want to put it on your lunch box?" Those are the people that were in the room.

I'm like, "Oh, yeah, this is... this is the end game." Like, this is... we're going to get to this. And not just Buzz Lightyear on your lunch box, but all of the other things. You can get Oreos on socks. You can get movie posters. You can license anything.

Berlind: It was funny you mentioned this. I just want to stop you there because you mentioned CryptoKitties and DapperLabs is like the ultimate licensee[s]... They're the ones who did CryptoKitties at the beginning, right? And they're the ones who are like the ultimate licensee because you see some big deal get launched, and everybody thinks, okay, that's the MBA, or that's Disney or somebody launching NFTs, but it's not.

Entriken: Yeah.

Berlind: They're just, it's a licensing deal.

Entriken: Yeah. Licensing is the connection of IP with something that hits the road. So it's a relationship. You don't see licensing, you just see Nike. You just see NBA, right? And you buy it and [because] you're a fan of [the] NBA. So the licensing is underneath the scene. The NFTs are underneath. It's the same idea. So we're actually not going to be using the word NFT. Nobody's using it. Starbucks doesn't gonna call it NFTs. Reddit, where they had the avatars, they're not calling it NFTs. It's just... that's just the plumbing.

How many acronyms do you know about that are related to this jacket you're wearing? You know, there's industries of people that stitch this, dye it, cut it, there's fashion... They've got all kinds of acronyms that you don't know, right? So when you invest, buy, whatever you call it, into some pictures of NBA stuff, you don't know these acronyms. The only acronym you know is NBA.

Berlind: Yeah, well, and just to be clear, Starbucks killed the Odyssey program, their NFT program, just a couple of weeks ago. Like, it's over, done with. But, they were calling their NFTs stamps or giving them a different name. And we do see that around... At Blockchain Journal, we do see that around the industry is that some of these other big brands are getting involved are trying to kind of back away and say, "Hey look, blockchain, the specifications like ERC-721 or ERC-1155, these are just really just plumbing issues. We're going to put a friendly name on this, put [it in] a friendly user interface.

Entriken: That's great. So we're absolutely going to paper over this with different names. If you remember the iPhone version 2, the first one that came out, they had this user interface design called Skeuomorphic, where if it was a camera, it looked like a camera. The old icon for YouTube was a picture of a TV because that's what people recognize. Nowadays, people recognize the YouTube logo. Back then, they recognized an old TV, and they're like, "Okay, well, this is how we communicate this." Stamps, people... My dad knows what a stamp is. Most people here don't know what a stamp is, right?

So, that method of using these icons of stamps, the word stamp is only going to apply for so long. Eventually, more people are going to know what NFTs are than stamps. It's going to take a while, right?

Berlind: I have to laugh 'cause you said the word TV, and most people don't even know what that means anymore.

Entriken: The monitor was curved, it was glass. if you have an old iPhone, that is what it looked like.

Berlind: Nobody knows what TV means anymore. Like, is it on TV? What does that mean anymore?

Entriken: And, like, YouTube had an antenna. Look, okay, that's... most people have no idea of what we're talking about. So, but that's how you communicate these ideas to people. So, like you said, NFTs [are] plumbing, great. Now, NFT, the technology is also plumbing. The real thing that's underneath the tech that's underneath this are the specific ideas. These are the ideas that the real value, the real communication here is transparency, authenticity, ownership, verifiability, non-reputability. You said something, you can't take it back. An amount of transparency that people are not used to. SKU-level sales data being public. These are winning ideas that are enforced.

Berlind: Yeah, I think about carbon emissions data, that kind of, like...

Entriken: Making a statement about carbon emissions, and then when you're audited or sued about it five years later, you can't revise that. Like, you can't be like, "Oh, I didn't say that." Nope, you said it.

Berlind: Well, the SEC just recently passed some new regulations about how public companies have to publish their emissions data. They didn't prescribe an infrastructure, but my immediate reaction to that was, "Holy cow, blockchain is perfect for this, NFTs are perfect for this because once you publish that data, it's transparent to the multiple parties that need access to that data right away, whether it's an investor, an employee who wants to work for a green company."

Entriken: A customer... Right. Yeah. So there's so much value here in these ideas. Now, NFT is the plumbing.

It's got all these things together, and it just works. So that's why we're using this for now. But you can skip the NFT. You can go right to these goals. You can go right to these mantras and implement them.

So, it's kind of like there's some person in the company and they're like: "Okay, we're going to do this transparency stuff."

They're like: "Okay, great. How are you going to do it?"


"Okay, whatever."

[and it's] signed off. [The] next person walks in.

"Hey, we're going to do transparency."

"How are you going to do it?"

"Oh, we're going to publish all of our sales data. We're going to make commitments to our customers that we can't take back, which also opens up to legal liabilities."

And they're like, "Fire this guy!"

Right? So this is the Trojan horse. We're bringing them in, and then eventually... No, bad analogy. But eventually, these ideas are the winning ideas to get in the door.

Transparency sells more products. Here's an example. Where are you from?

Berlind: I'm from New York myself. I grew up in Queens, right around the corner here.

Entriken: Queens. Have you ever been to a fancy restaurant?

Berlind: Many times.

Entriken: All right, so have you ever seen the menu where they tell you, like, responsibly sourced or...

Berlind: For sure, yeah. Farm-to-table kind of stuff.

Entriken: Yeah. Have you ever seen them say where they buy the stuff?

Berlind: Sometimes. Sometimes they'll say that it came from this particular farm, like your beef comes from some farm or something like that. Yeah.

Entriken: Did you pay more or less at that restaurant?

Berlind: Probably more.

Entriken: Right? Why?

Berlind: You're paying a premium because you're getting information about the food that you're eating and you've established trust in that. Like, you want to eat something and you're investing that was raised on an open pasture, not fed any hormones or something like that. So you're essentially paying more for the information that leads you to believe that you can place more trust in this food than maybe other food.

Entriken: You're my best salesperson. That's it, right?

Berlind: Am I hired?

Entriken: You're hired. You already got the commission. So, that is the angle. You're paying more as a customer because it's more valuable. Then, you kind of told me you didn't tell me that you verified any of this stuff, but just you know, it's in the right direction. Like, you know, it's directionally, and...

Berlind: Okay, I know [that] knowing that I can have access to the information is important to me.

You know, I had a conversation earlier with Jonathan G. Blanco, who is the founder of Niftmint, and we talked about... he talked about the idea of authenticity in products. And I said, "But we have to train the whole world to look up that authenticity." Just because the information exists doesn't mean that everybody's going to check it before they buy a Louis Vuitton purse.

Entriken: Some of the added value proposition for you that maybe you're thinking deep in your head but didn't say. When it's published, there's a risk that some nerd who cares more than you will verify that information, and if it's wrong, it'll blow up.

Berlind: They'll out you.

Entriken: They'll out you. And so, you're resting on those people. You know, these these food reviewers in New York are brutal. Some nerd out there is going to verify [it]. They're going to call the farm. They're like, "Did they really buy this?" And the farm says, "No." do you think that's going to be [on the] front page?

Berlind: Yeah, we've seen that happening from time to time where companies misrepresent the truth, and somebody catches them in outset. But you know, I think where I see this happening and where... This is about trust and if you look at, for example, any one of the press releases about an enforcement activity that the Securities and Exchange Commission has taken, it's almost always about some sort of fraudulent activity around corporate information.

So, what you're talking about, you know, take the restaurant and the farm-to-table idea and put that in a corporate context and say, "Wait a minute, we can track business processes, record all that information on the chain using NFTs." And suddenly, it's very transparent to everybody. And guess what, there's no cheating after that point because as you pointed out, it's up there for everybody to see, it's immutable, you can't take it back, which is really important. And by the way, the information was put up there in a way that can't be taken back and turns out to be false, they'll be outed, and then it'll be the last time that happened.

Entriken: Right. So we're relying on that process, which is implicit in what you're saying. We've got SEC enforcement, which has teeth. We've also got consumer protection enforcement, which has teeth because when you drive down I-95, right, all the lawyers are right there. All the product liability specialists are right there. These are enforcement people. You get sick, they're going to look it up, they're going to trace it. Well, imagine if you lied about where you sourced one of your ingredients, and then you got sick and then there's a lawsuit. Well, not only are you liable for the lawsuit, but now you've got, you know, it multiplies the damages when you're doing it intentionally, [and] you're hiding stuff, right? So there's a lot of teeth behind protecting consumers. That's one of the things I think is going to... You need teeth [and] you need the threat in order to make these things viable.

Berlind: Did you see this in 2018?

Entriken: What I...

Berlind: Did you see this in 2018?

Entriken: Yeah. So, I put all of this under the word consumerism. Consumerism to me doesn't mean just buying, but it means protecting consumers and allowing better relationships between people to buy stuff and people to sell stuff.

Berlind: I mean, at the end of the day, an NFT, a fungible token could not support this kind of application. But the advantages of blockchain, the multi-party transparency, the immutable the ability to not take it back, as we say, all of those things had these characteristics that could get underneath or be at the foundation of corporate information or consumer information of any sort, restaurant information and bring trust back, which right now, as far as I can tell, is eroding everywhere we look.

Entriken: It's eroding because of [the] gray market [and] fake products, there's a million reasons why it's eroding, but the solution is very simple. NFTs are simple to make. You can mint... A QR code with a serial number is an NFT. It's not a blockchain NFT, but it is an NFT.

My wife bought some shoes on some third-party shoe marketplace, and the left and the right shoe on the tongue had QR codes, and they're different, and I'm not going to say the brand, I don't remember. But that's full traceability through the entire supply chain from the original product, through the manufacturing, through the resale, to her. And you can trace all these things. And the fact that we've got shoe brands doing this the correct way, not selling pictures of posters, which was a different brand, that's not the right way. You know, this is really... We're taking shoes, which people want shoes, we are having traceability. What people want, traceability, they will pay more for this. We're injecting trust, as you say into this process. We're creating value. So yes, I saw this coming from the beginning because NFTs already have all these things. And some of the people are going to do it the hard way with NFTs. Some of the people are going to do it the easy way or reverse by just jumping to these concepts by themselves. But either way, this is the future.

Berlind: Okay, you mentioned three sort of waves. What comes after that? What's the fourth?

Entriken: The third wave is we... The fourth wave. The third wave, we already don't use the word NFT anymore. It's just the values take over. That is the future. The values take over. We have better products, we have better transactions, and it's kind of like databases. There's databases under everything that you buy and sell and where. Nobody talks about that. Nobody cares. The end result is we just have computers that work. There's databases that support them. NFTs will just be this...

Berlind: In the fabric.

Entriken: It's in the fabric.

Berlind: Yeah. Will Entriken, co-author of the ERC-721 spec. Thanks for joining us on the Blockchain Journal podcast.

Entriken: Thank you.

Berlind: Yeah. So we've been speaking with Will Entriken, as I just said, one of the co-authors of the ERC-721 spec. I hope to encounter him again so I can find out what the next spec is [that] he's working on, but we've gone on way too long. After this interview is over, stay tuned to the video. I'll put up some QR codes for where you can connect with Blockchain Journal, connect with me and connect with Will if you want to.

So thank you very much for joining us and if you want to find more videos like this one, go to youtube.com/@blockchainjournal or go to blockchainjournal.com where you'll find not only the video interview but the entire full-text transcript.

Thanks for joining us and we'll see you at the next video.

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