Monday, December 10, 2018

Blockchain: What's Not To Like?

I gave a talk at the Fall CNI meeting entitled Blockchain: What's Not To Like? The abstract was:
We're in a period when blockchain or "Distributed Ledger Technology" is the Solution to Everything™, so it is inevitable that it will be proposed as the solution to the problems of academic communication and digital preservation. These proposals typically assume, despite the evidence, that real-world blockchain implementations actually deliver the theoretical attributes of decentralization, immutability, anonymity, security, scalability, sustainability, lack of trust, etc. The proposers appear to believe that Satoshi Nakamoto revealed the infallible Bitcoin protocol to the world on golden tablets; they typically don't appreciate or cite the nearly three decades of research and implementation that led up to it. This talk will discuss the mis-match between theory and practice in blockchain technology, and how it applies to various proposed applications of interest to the CNI audience.
Below the fold, an edited text of the talk with links to the sources, and much additional material. The colored boxes contain quotations that were on the slides but weren't spoken.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Irina Bolychevsky on Solid

Although I'm an enthusiast for the idea of a decentralized Web, I've been consistently skeptical that the products proposed to implement it have viable businesses. Two months ago, in How solid is Tim’s plan to redecentralize the web?, Irina Bolychevsky (@redecentralize founder and self-described "product person") made related points. Below the fold, some commentary.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Selective Amnesia

Last year's series of posts and PNC keynote entitled The Amnesiac Civilization were about the threats to our cultural heritage from inadequate funding of Web archives, and the resulting important content that is never preserved. But content that Web archives do collect and preserve is also under a threat that can be described as selective amnesia. David Bixenspan's When the Internet Archive Forgets makes the important, but often overlooked, point that the Internet Archive isn't an elephant:
On the internet, there are certain institutions we have come to rely on daily to keep truth from becoming nebulous or elastic. Not necessarily in the way that something stupid like Verrit aspired to, but at least in confirming that you aren’t losing your mind, that an old post or article you remember reading did, in fact, actually exist. It can be as fleeting as using Google Cache to grab a quickly deleted tweet, but it can also be as involved as doing a deep dive of a now-dead site’s archive via the Wayback Machine. But what happens when an archive becomes less reliable, and arguably has legitimate reasons to bow to pressure and remove controversial archived material?
...
Over the last few years, there has been a change in how the Wayback Machine is viewed, one inspired by the general political mood. What had long been a useful tool when you came across broken links online is now, more than ever before, seen as an arbiter of the truth and a bulwark against erasing history.
Below the fold, some commentary on the vulnerability of Web history to censorship.