We have all heard about the blockchain, or at least we have heard about bitcoin and other digital currencies which experienced another cycle of hype a couple a years ago. As with the cycles before it, the hype died down, and some made profits while others were left with little (or even no) value after investing in poorly managed crypto projects. How can archives on the chain rise up out of this situation?
At KnowledgeArc we believe that both cryptocurrency and the blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrency, can be used for many purposes in the real world, for instance, opening up scientific research and discovery. One area where blockchain can make a difference is within the open archive area. The technology currently use to store, share and open up knowledge is not particularly robust and most archives are easily manipulated, making them neither immutable nor permanent. They are also not really as open as we would like them to be. By using new technology like blockchain to build our archive ecology, we believe we can change the archiving to be more open, distributed and democratized.
Making Archives Open and Secure
First of all we believe we can make the archives truly open. Today we are dependent on Google, Amazon or other proprietary actors to store the large amounts of data that we want to archive. As long as we depend on these actors, our archives are not be truly open because our information lies in the hands of a third, commercial party.
We believe that a the solution to this problem is to store the information using p2p (peer to peer) file sharing software. This is a distributed software similar to BitTorrent where files are spread over the network. This would make centralized third parties redundant, and our information will still be safe and available. By doing it this way we return to the beginnings of the internet where openness was the norm, only with new and powerful technology.
But this is not blockchain technology, so where does the blockchain fit into archives on the chain?
The blockchain is the next step in our archive solution, and the step that we mean would solve the safety issues that we are facing in today’s archive solutions. By referencing information about the storage of assets and metadata in an Ethereum smart contract it will stay safe, be impossible to change and will be permanent. This creates a new level of safety within our systems, providing true immutability and permanence; a major contrast to the unsafe archives we have today.
Examples of information that could be stored on chain include handle, DOI or other item identification information, unique author IDs and other data which is important to keep safe and immutable.
Blockchain, cryptocurrencies and p2p technologies democratize the archiving space. Anyone, will be able to run a low cost archiving node on a desktop computer, laptop or even, possibly, their mobile phone. Archives on the chain will be able to “push” information to other archives, consolidating disparate data in easy-to-digest, federated databases.
In-house servers or cloud infrastructures are no longer needed for simple archiving. Instead, funding can be focussed on building better user experiences, making information easier to find, consume and share.
Decentralized marketplaces will provide competitively priced backup solutions, peer review, journaling and other archive-focussed solutions.
As centralized services become redundant, more democratized solutions will drive prices down. Many of today’s archiving requirements will become automated or will only require a one-off payment to store something permanently.