Institutions Turn Inside Out: Backend Systems Revolution via Blockchain
The new model for backend organization of web-scale transaction networks.
The world’s largest search engine now processes an average of over 40,000 search queries per second. Every one of those key word combinations is saved and carefully categorized. It’s unclear exactly who’s prying eyes has access to this information, but apart from the scant few that exist in your local search history - it isn’t you.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
The Emperor has no clothes
The procedure you and your friends use to interact with internet search remains shrouded in a veil of obfuscation, whereas Bitcoin’s internal operations could be likened to the Centro Hélio Marin of user data.
The functionality of the Bitcoin Blockchain is configured in such a way the entire inner workings of the systems are fully exposed at all times to anyone who cares to have a look at it. Far from a mere handy feature of the system, it is in fact integral to the entire operation of the multi-billion dollar cryptocurrency network.
Information of all granularity levels, from complete Blocks to individual transactions, can be queried at any time by anyone with an internet connection. This stands in stark contrast to the status quo whereby the world’s largest search engines or micro-blogging services impose draconian rate limits on usage of their APIs.
In consideration of the way that these companies are organized, the limits perhaps provides a more egalitarian distribution of computing resources across the spectrum of interested parties. That being said, Bitcoin has demonstrated a radically alternative model for organizing backend infrastructure at global scale.
API rate limits serve as a hinderance to developers looking to add value to services through the contribution of their original ideas. Bitcoin is essentially free from such restrictions and initiatives like Blockstack. The Semantic Blockchain Project is able to take advantage of this data to build useful and interesting services on top of the platform.
The most prominent example of an organization embracing the value of user contributed content is of course Wikipedia. This platform revolutionized the way people consumed and distributed information, harnessing the collective intelligence, the hive mind, of interested amateurs.
The now classic ‘Mastering Bitcoin’ by Andreas Antonopoulos describes the epiphenomenal intelligence of Bitcoin with an analogy to a colony of leafcutter ants as an “interaction between many nodes [that] leads to the emergence of sophisticated behavior... Like an ant colony, the Bitcoin network is a resilient network of simple nodes following simple rules that together can do amazing things without any central coordination.”
Structuring a web-scale transaction network, across which large amounts of value flow daily, such that the internal operations are visible at all times is something novel. It is conceivable that the apparent success of this model might be the impetus to the creation of organizations structured along similar lines. This in turn might even help to bring about a more transparent society.
The unblinking eye of CCTV
The feeling one gets when encountering the unblinking eye of a CCTV camera on every street corner is strong reminder that while transparency is positive the flip-side of the coin, mass-surveillance, is perhaps less of a universal benefit. The re-identification of purportedly anonymous Netflix users is a lesson that the guarantees of "pseudo-anonymity" are weak at best, a reality that the folks at Ellipic, the Bitcoin analytics company, would be happy to remind you of.
However, if all search engine queries were available to the public we could do truly incredible analytics on them. It would be Kaggle on acid and steroids, but how long would it take for someone with the skills and inclination to identify you? What would be the consequences of that? What about the potential for groupthink and mass mediocrity that such a system would engender?
Institutions Turn Inside Out
As proficient as the largest search engines and micro-blogging services are, despite their hordes of rock-star programmers and mountains of caffeinated beverages, what they are trying to do is tap into the global zeitgeist. They want to give us, the consumers, what we want. At this point they need infer it statistically, to guess at it, but they aren’t oracular.
The Bitcoin network has a mainline directly into it the activity of their community and at the same time a fire-hose of data that anyone can tap into at any time, or any reason.
If, large microblogging services or search engines would expose all user content and queries to the degree that the Bitcoin network does the brain strains to imagine the amazing applications that could be conceived.
How long does it have to take before we have a chance to find out?