The Namecoin blockchain which hosts Namecoin Identities was launched in 2011 — as a direct fork of Bitcoin. It’s a special purpose blockchain designed primarily for decentralized domain names and digital identities. It’s the first Bitcoin fork and the second cryptocurrency.
Launched in May 2012, Namecoin Identities refer to the first attempt at Web3 decentralized identity service, which verify identities securely and without relying on a central party storing or processing information. It’s the primitive precursor to the Ethereum Name Service (ENS).
According to WhiteRabbit1111's updated timeline, it’s the third oldest NFT collection after .bit domains (April 2011) and Punycodes (May 2011), right at the beginning of the Golden Emergence Era. Namecoin Identities are also prime examples for very early Utility NFTs, i.e., meaning that these NFTs have a problem-solving purpose. In other words, these NFTs may become the ultimate Web3 flex for the tech savvy collectors.
How the registration process works
Before diving into some data analysis, it is important to explain how Namecoin Identities can be registered. Specifically, it takes two registration steps: the first one (name_new) is registering the name without broadcasting it (there is only a salted hash). This step is necessary to prevent others from stealing your new name by registering it quickly on their own when they see your transaction. You need to wait at least 12 blocks before you can finally broadcast your name in the second step (with name_firstupdate).
If you use NMC Electrum (light wallet) or a current Namecoin Core’s (full node) graphical user interface, you do not need to take care of the two steps on your own given that the second step is done automatically after 12 blocks. But users that use the console (or an older Namecoin Core version) have to manually take care of the second step. In this article we refer to the date when the Namecoin Identity registration process was started for the first time (i.e., I focus on the intent to create the asset) even though technically the Namecoin asset is actually created in the second registration step.
The first Namecoin Identity
Namecoin lead developer Khalahan Henkh (a pseudonym, better known by his nick khal) started the registration process for the first Namecoin Identity id/khal on May 31, 2012 at block 58311. The figure below is generated via cryptokorin’s EmblemVault Namecoin Identity generator. It shows the Namecoin Identity itself, the Namecoin logo, the date when the first registration was initiated, and the transaction’s block height.
It’s the first Namecoin Identity and noted as one of the top ten eminently primitive and significant NFTs in the blockchain history. This Namecoin Identity was providing an email address and Bitcoin / Namecoin wallet addresses.
Talking about utility in more detail
Namecoin Identities can attach personal information to them. The most common information that has been added to these identities is a mix of email, website, cryptocurrency wallet addresses (Bitcoin, Namecoin, etc.), OpenPGP, Off-the-Record Messaging (OTR), and BitMessage addresses etc. The figure below shows such an example for id/domob that holds information about Daniel Kraft, the Chief Namecoin Scientist.
Logging into websites without creating separate accounts (remembering passwords) — and avoiding to rely on centralized Web2 accounts to do so — is the first and most important use case for Namecoin Identities. With the free software NameID (Note: do not confuse it with the abbreviation in WhiteRabbit1111's timeline above), you can use your Namecoin identity to sign into OpenID-enabled websites. NameID is an identity provider, but you don’t have to create a new NameID account (it’s not even possible). You only need a Namecoin Identity while the password to enter an OpenID-enabled website is replaced by a digital signature associated to your Namecoin Identity. (Check out this YT video how this works in practice.) In the mid-2010 years, there have been many OpenID-enabled websites (see figure below). All in all, NameID has paved the way for current initiatives such as Microsoft’s Bitcoin-based Identity Overlay Network (ION).
Sending messages in a secure manner is the another use case for Namecoin identities. If a user stores his public keys for GnuPG (or similar) in his Namecoin Identity’s value field, he only needs to tell someone his human readable Namecoin Identity (say id/domob). The other person can later access the user’s keys to send him encrypted messages being assured about using the right keys.
OpenBazaar, an anonymous peer-to-peer marketplace where people could buy/sell all kind of items using bitcoin, was also using Namecoin Identities to feature user friendly names. They were adding an openbazaar key to the existing JSON, whose value was the internal node identifier (GUID) of the node in question. The earliest entry was id/dionyziz (name_update as of September 02, 2014: “openbazaar”: “fd2e381c1ad923ea9101268175b1d54fc8725617”). While OpenBazaar was quite popular, with its desktop software being installed over 250,000 times, Namecoin Identities were only used by a handful of users and the market place shut down in 2021.
Having a deeper look at the data
Focusing on the years 2012–17, there is a total supply of 7705 Namecoin Identities. The most scarce year is 2012 with only 46 registered names. Total first registrations peaked in the year 2014 with 4818 which decreased sharply in the following years. A further 11 Namecoin Identities were registered in 2018 before Ethereum’s ERC-721 standard was realized for the first time on March 19, 2018 (by Su Squares NFT project).
The next figure shows the first ten Namecoin Identities. After the first registration in May 2012, there were a few more in June and then scattered over the rest of the year. As you can observe in the table, valid Namecoin Identities can also include numbers. They can be up to 255 characters long (min = 2), should be lowercase (!), can only contain a–z and 0–9, and allow max one space between other characters (not as first or last).
It’s great fun to search for these very early names on bitcointalk.org or the web in general. For instance, id/dotbit seems to refer to dotbit.me where users bought (sold) their .bit domains and could pay in (receive) various cryptos.
Are Namecoin Identities pure utility NFTs? In most cases yes, but there is a tiny minority that also links to pictures. Using the search terms .jpg, .png, avatar, and aws (in the „value“ search field) in NFT Relics ID database there are 37, or 0.48% out of 7705, Namecoin Identities with picture links for the years 2012 to 2017. Most of the links point to personal photos, commonly used stock photos, or various logos. The most interesting Namecoin Identity with artwork are id/vulonkaaz (first registered on 07/26/2015), id/laine and id/laineherron (11/09/2015) both pointing to a cartoon, or id/geogeo (09/24/2014) which links to a cool logo.
While Namecoin Identities can be pretty long (up to 255 characters), most users prefer way shorter ones. The most common ones have six characters, while the long ones are more scarce. The shortest Namecoin Identity with a a total supply of one per character length (=23) is id/moscowbitcoinconference. The longest ones have 252 characters.
The next table provides further insights into various registration patterns. For instance, the year 2013 is dominated by very short first Namecoin Identity registrations, when users were registering all sorts of super short ones with two characters/numbers. In 2014, we observe many registrations of Namecoin Identities combining first name and surname, which yield longer names.
Discord: Namecoin Identities 2012, also featuring an OTC trading channel
Database: Google Docs Sheet
Selling on OpenSea/LooksRare: if you wrap your Namecoin Identity please use cryptokorin’s EmblemVault Namecoin Identity generator to have a uniform appearance on secondary markets. Check out DesktopCommando’s medium article about vaulting and the information in the above mentioned Discord channel (Information / vaulting-namecoin-ids).
Wallet: if you prefer to stay on the native Namecoin chain you need to install a wallet. Electrum-NMC is the Namecoin port of the lightweight Bitcoin wallet Electrum. It is sufficient for most users (otherwise install Namecoin Core as a fully validating node on Linux).
General information about Namecoin: namecoin.org. Highly recommended article by Chainleft entitled “Defining “NFT” in historical context”, which also discusses different views with respect to the renewal of Namecoin assets. You want to read a thorough scientific article about Namecoin written by Princeton scholars? Here you go.
Buying (selling) Namecoin’s native token (NMC): the most liquid exchange is CoinEx. You only need it to register Namecoin Identities and to renew it regularly (registration is for only valid 36k blocks). You do not need any NMC if you buy on the secondary market and if there is sufficient NMC in the vault (> 1.5 NMC).
NameID: Check out the nameid.org website. Check out domob’s first Namecoin forum entry on June 25, 2013 talking about NameID; more detailed Namecoin forum entry on August 01, 2013; Github Namecoin wiki information (January 09, 2014). Watch Daniel’s CloudFest 2019 presentation (fast forward to 21:13 for the id/ part).
OpenID: I recommend this very intuitive explanation to start with. How NameID is working in principle (see this how-to YT video): You sign into an OpenID-enabled website by entering nameid.org into the login-box. You are redirected to NameID.org where you can log in with your Namecoin Identity, and then you are returned to the OpenID website of interest, where you are then authenticated with your Namecoin Identity.
List of OpenID-enabled websites (selection, full list can be found here):
- Centre for Internet and Society (CIS)
- Cyclists’ Road Map
- Vancouver Southsiders
Historical sources on Bitcointalk:
- Namecoin blockchain is announced on April 18, 2011
- Namecoin developer khal introducing Namecoin Identities on June 01, 2012.
Acknowledgements & Disclaimer
This article builds upon previous work by Taha who was providing a lot of information in the Discord & Twitter. I owe special thanks to Swooty who provided the data (NFT relics database). The more technical information about the actual use is mainly gathered from nameid.org
I do own some Namecoin Identities and none of this is financial advice. DYOR!