Blockchain Geeks Save Modern Day’s Library of Alexandria from Burning

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“[W]hen the enemy endeavored to cut off his communication by sea, he was forced to divert that danger by setting fire to his own ships, which, after burning the docks, thence spread on and destroyed the great library.” - Plutarch, Life of Caesar

The burning of the Great Library of Alexandria is probably one of the most symbolic event in world history. It is through the rediscovery of ancient knowledge, especially Aristotle’s logics, that Europe came out of the dark ages. Imagine just what knowledge might have been lost.

Back then, they didn’t have the luxury of easily coping books, so much was concentrated in one place. When it was burned, whether intentionally or by accident as Plutarch claims, a lot of that unique work vanished forever.

With it, a lot of knowledge too. Knowledge which could have allowed us to learn more about their history, philosophy, logics, maths and many other things which could have increased our capabilities.

But that’s just one example of book burning. There are many others, with the event usually symbolizing totalitarianism. Nowadays, since knowledge is becoming more and more digitized, it can easily be copied, but still can be lost.

The University of Berkley was ordered by the government of America to delete 20,000 university lectures from its YouTube channel under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The university had been unable to refactor the videos to make them accessible for those with hearing or visual disabilities, therefore some bureaucrat in the government took the hammer and asked them to completely delete them for being in breach of the act.

However, Berkley’s lectures were digital, making them easily copyable. That’s exactly what LBRY did, a new blockchain based project, which copied all 20,000 videos and has made them available on LBRY with the full catalog being over 4TB.

Streaming on lbry a deleted UC Berkley lecture video on artificial intelligence

Reilly Smith, a Curator and content liaison for LBRY, or libre, told trustnodes that the way it works in regards to storage is basically like bittorrent. That is, you host whatever file you like on your computer and then share it with others through connecting to the network.

That makes it very scalable because there is no central server to re-produce a copy of all the files the entire network has, but it is also a bit different from bitttorrent. Finding torrents usually relies on centralized websites and services which can lead to malware. Lbry handles it all by simply downloading a software. Explaining why they are using a blockchain at all, Smith says:

“The blockchain is the database for all the content on the network. The URI + the associated metadata is stored on it. So when you want to find some or stream something, you find it on the blockchain and extract the relevant information, which in turns allows you to (1) pay the publisher – or not if it’s free, like a lot of things – (2) thereby initiating the stream in an otherwise YouTube-like experience.

What is not on the blockchain is the data itself, which is sharded and distributed in a bittorrent-like fashion across all the host nodes which you can think of as the LBRY equivalent of a “full node” from bitcoin: a node which has content shards it is uploading to other viewers.”

Much of this is of course handled on the backend. What the users see is a normal streaming experience, with navigation the usual just click. You’re not asked to enter any blockchain address or do anything manually. Really, you might even mistake the whole thing for YouTube.

The front page of LBRY

Underneath, all of it is decentralized with the content’s information, such as its name, date, etc, stored on the blockchain. Some clever open source code then retrieves this information, connecting it to the bittorrent like storage, making it all work.

We were invited to test it out and the experience was fairly convenient, but it is decentralized. That means speed is usually a problem. How much of a problem depends on how many are using the platform and how many are sharing the specific content. The video we saw took about one minute to start loading, then seemed to just continue playing, but we didn’t sit for long.

Since this uses a blockchain – a fork of bitcoind we were told – it has monetary aspects too. Lbry is a platform, but it also has its own currency. Currently one lbry is valued at seven cents, with its market cap at around $5 million. We were given 20 of them for free after starting the software and then another 20 for downloading the video.

“The key point being to empower the publishers,” says Smith. Lbry “brings into being an unutilized aspect of the economy, the host. On LBRY, the people who are the “seeders” of content can charge for it, like a mining fee but for a blob [a 2MB content segment]. Like 0.00001LBC/blob.

This ensures content reliability, let’s people make money passively on hosting, and ensures even rare content that might otherwise disappear from bittorrent would stay alive.”

The project is just under one-year-old and has not yet launched publicly, but it looks promising as the alpha seems to work even if it is somewhat slower than YouTube. On the other hand, we did receive around $3 for basically doing nothing. That added dimension, as well as their use of blockchain tech to map data and then convert it into easy GUI navigation, might make the project interesting to follow.

It might also mean that book or knowledge burning may become a thing of the past. This is decentralized, with users across the world. To shut it down one needs to basically shut down the internet. As such, as long as someone is willing to share a piece of content, everyone else can easily access it and, perhaps, get paid in the process.

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