Introduction to the Special Section: Blockchain and Nonfungible Tokens in Electronic Commerce

Guest Editors: Kevin Craig, Valeria Sadovykh, David Sundaram, and Gabrielle Peko
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 28, Number 1, 2023, pp. 31-32.

We are pleased to present two articles that will help build an understanding of blockchain and nonfungible tokens (NFTs) and offer guidance on how the special nature of these technologies can help organizations and customers realize new forms of value. These articles describe a range of ways in which blockchain and NFTs can add value to an organization’s products and services, improve privacy, and partially address concerns about online content created by the latest generation of artificial intelligence. Taken together, these articles will help information systems (IS) researchers examine blockchain and NFTs within their own domains of study.

In the eye of the public, NFTs have risen and fallen in both prominence and esteem. Initially, they were obscure, unknown to all but those few with a technical background and an interest in the shadowy benefits of anonymous financial transactions. Then, as the prices of the NFTs associated with artwork rose stratospherically, the popular press showered them with attention, and this technology became the basis of a craze. Like most crazes, the NFT craze developed into a bubble, and like most bubbles, that bubble burst. As much as the popular press broadcasted the rise of NFTs, it covered the spectacular financial losses realized by NFT owners with even more enthusiasm. As a result, most people only associate NFTs with financial gains and losses.

However, research can uncover ways that NFTs offer more to society than their ability to make some people rich and to bankrupt others. This special section considers how industry can use NFTs to create value for their customers in ways other than buying and selling tokens associated with art. This new technology is fundamentally different from previous technologies, creating novel opportunities for organizations willing to look beyond NFTs mere monetary value as investments. This special section features two articles that may serve as the basis for exciting new research in information systems on a topic that, while currently rarely understood (and disgraced by a very public price crash), will likely become well known for value well beyond financial gain and loss.

The first article in this section is “NFTByBrands: A Proposed Value Framework for Analysis and Design of NFT Initiatives.” This work extends a well-known framework by explaining how its value typology can be adapted to embrace the special nature of NFTs. In addition to being valuable for its own contributions, this work can serve as an example of how to blend the normally technical NFT literature with the societally oriented literature of IS research. In doing so, it will help IS researchers integrate the dramatically novel and often misunderstood technology of smart contracts into their research agendas.

Our second article, “Redefining the Customer Service Relationship Through Blockchain,” is broader in scope in that its focus is on how blockchain technology, not only NFTs, can be applied to a prominent topic in management and IS. This work casts light on how NFTs create new opportunities for more secure, private, and sophisticated transactions for patients in the medical field, as well as a means for better privacy for Web users. It also explains how the special nature of smart contracts can address validity concerns about online content in the age of “deep fake” videos.

This special section was the product of feedback from the Societal and Economic Dynamics of the Metaverse, Smart Contracts, and Non-Fungible Tokens Minitrack of the Internet, within the Digital Economy track at the 56th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. We thank track chairs Alan Dennis and Joe Valacich, as well as the anonymous reviewers of these works for IJEC publication. Without reviewers, who are rarely rewarded for their work, our field cannot make progress. We give special thanks to Vladimir Zwass, Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Electronic Commerce, for allowing us to serve as guest editors.