Truth and Power in Web 3.0 – Copyright on the Blockchain

August 6th, 2017

In February 2014, marketing blogger Glen Allsopp noticed a remarkable trend. Many of the most trafficked new content websites in the world had no original content. Viral Nova was one example of a blog receiving 100 million unique visitors a month, using the following strategy:

  • Simple website design focused on social sharing and clicking on more articles
  • Each article has a very enticing headline that makes you want to click through
  • Articles are primarily targeted towards users of Facebook
  • Steals stories and links to the source at the end

Before the social media revolution in 2008, these websites wouldn’t have stood a chance at ranking well in Google’s results. But today content is shared “virally” – which means peer-to-peer and instantly – without an authoritative claim on who created the ideas, or any retribution for stealing content. Articles can be backdated, and discovered by search engines in the incorrect order in which it was published. In short, the 2017 world of content creation lacks any source of truth about the authors of its ideas. Originality decreases as the content we get is a mere spin on what already exists.

The origins of Blockchain technology, going back to 1991, was an idea to collect and time-stamp digital documents, such that these timestamps could never be changed. Satoshi Nakamoto applied these ideas in the creation of Bitcoin by distributing a blockchain of financial transactions on a peer-to-peer network. This is the most famous application of a blockchain, but new uses are being discovered. Tracking the ownership of digital content is one such application.

In tracking content on a blockchain, one method is to encrypt the content and upload the resulting cryptograpic digest to the blockchain – along with metadata about the author. Then, if proof is required about the date and authenticity of the content, the content can be re-encrypted using the same technique as before, and compared to the digest on the blockchain. If the digests match, then we would know for certain that the content is authentic, since the information on the blockchain could never be compromised. This is called a “proof-of-existence” technology.

For example, if a photographer wants to make sure that his photos are appropriately attributed and shared, he could get a license on CreativeCommons.org – a nonprofit founded in 2001 with the aim to coordinate legal sharing of the world’s creative content. But Creative Commons is an organization, and organizations (and their databases) don’t exist forever. They can also get hacked. We expect a blockchain such as Bitcoin’s to be more permanent and far safer, and therefore a better place to settle content licensing.

Truth and Power in Web 3.0 – Blockchain-Based Decentralized Reputation

August 3rd, 2017

Reputation has become a critical part of the Internet. We use forms of reputation to rank websites, suggest services in marketplaces, and promote social media profiles. Many people, such as merchants on Amazon.com and influencers on Instagram, rely entirely on their digital reputation for income. Until now we’ve had two paradigms of online reputation, one for Web 1.0 and another for Web 2.0, and a third paradigm is on the horizon for Web 3.0.

This post discusses the idea of using Blockchain technology to build a decentralized reputation system for Web 3.0, and the implications of that paradigm.

Web 1.0 – Digital Reputation by Links (1996 to 2005)

The history of online reputation starts in 1996, when Larry Page and Sergey Brin (both around 24 years old at the time), developed a new kind of search engine at Stanford University. Sergey wanted to order the results by “link popularity” (how popular that result was on the Internet.) They measured the popularity of a link by the number of other links that linked to it. They called this metric PageRank (a play on Larry Page’s name) and in 1998, based on this idea, they founded Google Inc. As of 2017, PageRank is still a core part of Google’s algorithm to rank search results on the internet.

Web 2.0 – Digital Reputation by Likes (2005 to 2018)

Digg.com

Digg.com, founded in 2004, allowed users to “upvote” links – a new form of online reputation.

In the early-to-mid 1990s, most websites were simple HTML pages. Each action a user took requested a separate page from a server, which was inefficient and difficult to use. Around the year 2000, asynchronous web technologies started becoming popular, especially a technique called Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML.) This allowed developers to create more complex web applications, such as Facebook (2004), Digg.com (2004) and Reddit (2005).

A common element of many of these websites was their social nature and a crowd-sourced metric of popularity. Digg and Reddit both gave users the ability to “upvote” links, and Facebook introduced their like button for user-generated content in 2009. Today, online reputation is mostly based on likes, upvotes, stars, and followers.

The Philosophy of Reputation Ownership

The problem with these reputation paradigms is that your reputation is nontransferable across platforms. A user can download all of his content from Facebook.com (e.g. photos and posts), but not the likes that he has acquired. Likewise with Instagram, Twitter, and any other social media platform.

The truth about who you are on the Internet (your digital identity), and how others perceive you (your online reputation), is fragmented and privately owned. The power of your reputation is constrained by the platform you choose. These problems can be solved with a paradigm that decentralizes reputation.

Web 3.0 – Decentralized (Blockchain) Reputation

The technical concepts behind Blockchain were first discussed in 1991 and 1992 by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta. Their papers proposed a way to collect and time-stamp digital documents, such that the timestamps on the documents could never be changed. In 2008, an unknown individual known as Satoshi Nakamoto distributed a blockchain on a peer-to-peer network, as the basis of a new digital currency called Bitcoin. Distributed blockchains (such a Bitcoin’s) decentralize the information they store by replicating it across each node in the network. Since verification is at the core of Blockchain technology, blockchains are especially good for recording important transactions, such as financial ones. This gives us a highly secure, distributed, and verified ledger for our important transactions.

The rise of Bitcoin has spawned a multitude of new blockchains and tokens (including Ethereum, Litecoin, Dash, Monero, and Ripple.) Each of these has a constituency of investors who hold varying amounts of the token. But tokens don’t have to represent currency – they can represent any kind of information we want, including reputation. A reputation system built with Blockchain technology would allow us to record the actions that affect our reputation across a cryptographically secure, peer-to-peer network. We would then be able to share that information with any platform, so that digital reputation wouldn’t be tied to a single private entity.

Since, in this paradigm, reputation within a social group is based on possession of a token, and there is no limit to the diversity of tokens that can exist, there could a token for every conceivable social group. It would be up to the group itself to distribute its tokens according to its values – each group could do this differently.