What did I just buy? I Tried Using New York’s First NFT Vending Machine | blockchain

IIt’s easy to miss the storefront that houses the “world’s first NFT ATM” in Manhattan’s Financial District. Squeezed between a sandwich shop and a tailor’s shop, the windows are bathed in pink neon, with illuminated letters that announce “NFT ATM”. As you walk through the entrance, you enter a tiny booth with the vending machine, filled with rows of small paper cartons, almost looking like cigarette packs. There are only two products: a “color” at $5.99 and a “party pigeon” at $420.69.

I was here to spend some Guardian money on an NFT, or non-fungible token. NFTs are based on a blockchain feature called a “smart contract,” which is a bit like a virtual vending machine. Send some of your crypto to a smart contract, and it will print a unique token — essentially a digital receipt — that indicates you now own that cat photo. Anyone else can still right-click to save and share Mr. Whiskers, but you will know, and anyone else watching the blockchain will know, that the image is yours. Or so the logic goes.

The main problem users face is that the blockchain is too complicated, according to Jordan Birnholtz, the Chicago-based co-founder of Neon, the startup behind the vending machines. When he called me, the 30-something introduced himself saying he was using a pan to heat up green tea, as he has no pot or kettle. (“I think my ex took them when we broke up,” he explained.) And much like how you can boil water in a frying pan, Birnholtz is determined to prove that you can buy NFTs without crypto.

Birnholtz, who previously worked in progressive politics (a “totally different” side of his life), said Neon’s target client didn’t want to get into “19th and early 20th century economics lessons,” they just wanted to support the artists they like, and in return get a little token of “conspicuous consumption” that they can show off, like a digital version of a band t-shirt. Neon’s stated goal is to make buying an NFT “as easy as buying a toothbrush”, which means using an old-fashioned credit card, and instead playing around with contracts. smart: a literal, physical vending machine.

I didn’t think my editor would be thrilled with the pigeon, so I bought a color. Turns out that meant a piece of paper inside the box with a randomly generated code, which would allow me to “hit” an NFT claiming ownership of one of 10,000 different colors. Birnholtz attempted to clarify: “It is impossible to own a color. What you own is a ledger on the Solana blockchain that represents that particular color. And we allow people to collect these colors to trade and sell.

An NFT of a “color” purchased from a vending machine. The photo has been cropped to remove the redemption code. Photograph: Wilfred Chan/The Guardian

I still don’t know exactly what that means, but I wasn’t going to let these silly anxieties get in the way. Like buying a bag of Cheetos, I tapped in my selection and tapped my credit card. The machine beeped, the metal coil began to spin – then nothing. My NFT was blocked. I banged on the glass, but it refused to fall. I noticed two security cameras watching me and felt embarrassed. Was I the first person in the world to lose money physically buying an NFT?

With no other options, I bought another to fend off the first. Now I had the first, but the second was not falling off. I didn’t want to keep buying them so I left the second one there. I knew in my heart that I owned her, but I had no real way to prove it.

I told the Neon co-founder what happened. “It sucks, I’m really sorry,” he said. “Vending machines are still, uh, not perfect.” He offered to send me a refund if I emailed him with the approximate time of purchase and the last four digits of my credit card number. I started wondering if crypto would have been easier.

There was another problem when I got my prize back. I scanned my QR code, which directed me to a website and told me to create a Neon Marketplace account. Then I had to type in a 12 digit sequence on my little piece of paper to hit my NFT. But instead of getting a color, based on a random six-digit “hex code” used by web designers, I got a five-digit string which resulted in an empty square.

“It’s embarrassing, it looks like you might have a misprint,” Birnholtz said. But maybe, I suggested, the flaw could make my NFT more desirable? “Yeah, maybe future generations will look at your mistake the same way they looked at numismatic errors with joy,” he offered.

Other than putting it up for sale – and I wasn’t convinced anyone would buy it – there didn’t seem to be much else I could do with the NFT. “That’s right. You buy it to show it off,” the co-founder told me, adding, “We don’t make any promises of future value. I would never sell anything to someone like, Oh, it’s a great investment. This is bullshit. I think you should buy something if you like it and connect with it.

About the investment: Birnholtz’s company received $3 million in seed funding. The co-founder said he plans to open more ATMs in half a dozen cities over the summer, likely including Las Vegas, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami. The idea is that the machines will attract enough attention to turn Neon into a bustling platformer. “Like, people having fun, collecting things, showing their taste, flexing and connecting with other people online. It’s great. It makes me happy. I wake up every morning excited to talk to artists who want to sell on Neon.

However, I wasn’t sure who to contact. As I lingered outside the ATM for about half an hour after my purchase, on a busy street during lunchtime in FiDi, hundreds of people passed by, but only one other person walked by. stopped to look at the stand. “Oh my god,” he said, snapping a photo on his cellphone. I approached him and asked him if he had any NFTs. “A few,” he replied, but he was already walking down the street.

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