Art by: Jing Jin
Kim Dotcom is a controversial figure. More controversial, it could be argued, than even Bitcoin itself. Cryptography in general is our best tool against not only snooping, but censorship. The Bitcoin blockchain is designed for consensus, but it has the side benefit of being resistant to censorship: once something is put on there, it is virtually impossible to remove.
That could be the reasoning behind Kim Dotcom's recent tweet, a cryptic message about how the internet and the blockchain (or at least a blockchain) should be combined into something called the MegaNET. Dotcom, the founder of the now defunct Mega.com and the very-much-alive Mega.co.nz, has plenty reason to fear censorship. His empire was built almost entirely from a site that’s main appeal was the amount of copyrighted material on it.
Hollywood in panic: Sarah 'Torrent' & Kim 'Dotcom' meet in Hobbiton. Are they working on #MegaNET together? Is it using the blockchain? OMG— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) January 19, 2015
This could explain his sudden interest into the blockchain. If Mega were hosted on some sort of consensus system, he wouldn't have to worry about authorities seizing his servers, or anyone else attempting to take down the service.
The internet, of course, is already pretty capable at avoiding censorship. It only took a year for Kim Dotcom to come back after authorities shut down Mega.com after all, but it could be better. The internet adjusts to censorship. When something is taken down, another corner of the internet rises up and fills that void. However, parts of it are still susceptible to censorship. On an individual level, the effects of that censorship can result in the loss of business or worse, imprisonment. It is often said the internet is designed to survive a nuclear holocaust, but parts of it can be taken down with a simple police raid.
It is important to note that Kim Dotcom is a social-media and marketing genius. His tweet could be hinting at something coming in the future, it could be a way to tease his detractors, followers and observers, or perhaps it was just an attempt at a quick media-attention grab (oops). This is a more likely possibility than Dotcom developing an unannounced product that will change the world.
Whatever his reasoning and whether or not anything ever comes of it, what would a bastard child between the internet and the blockchain look like? Is such a thing even possible? I have two ideas in mind.
First, let's forget about storing the entire internet on computers like the Bitcoin blockchain is stored today. Even the lower estimates have the internet's total space exceeding 1 yottabyte of data. Sure, we could greatly shrink that by creating hash versions of everything and storing it, but it would still be impossible for the vast majority of users.
The answer may lie in DHT (distributed hash tables) and storage redundancy. My idea is basically this: Since a single person can't store the internet, even in a compressed, hash form, then we could instead give parts of the internet to everyone.
Each person who is participating would have a section of the internet hashed on their PC. Since we wouldn't want to depend on any single person being online at any particular moment, more than one person would store the same section of the internet (or perhaps a different section with significant overlap), so that even if one person went offline, that data would be stored elsewhere in enough places that it could always be accessed at any given time.
As my author profile points out, coding is not my expertise. I feel that I am capable at conceptualizing ideas, but when it comes to analyzing code, many readers are assuredly more capable than I am. So I do depend on experts around the industry to help me fill in my knowledge gaps. In this case, is what I am proposing even possible? A million roadblocks no doubt stand in the way of successful implementation, but could the concept be accomplished?
I proposed this idea to Yurii Rashkovskii, who previously attempted to create something like a blockchain powered version of GitHub that he called Gitchain. He has since moved on from that project to Trustatom.com, but he still has experience attempting to turn large networks into something more manageable. He said:
“I think while this is theoretically possible and a fun idea to play with, I don’t really think it is too practical. [. . .] Back when I was working on Gitchain, I was more inclined to believe that global chunking is possible, yet, within the confines of a niche network (Git, in this case)[.]
I think niche-ing [these] type of tools is important for the actual adoption[,] as these schemes only work with sufficient number of active participants with somewhat aligned goals and expectations.”
So that sounds like a “technically possible but not likely” kind of answer.
A less ambitious idea would be to build essentially a blockchain protected version of Tor: a walled garden that could have its services completely protected from censorship. Instead of the Silk Road being stored on a server, it would be stored on everyone's computer in the blockchain.
It would be a little like OpenBaazar in that case, except instead of providing a specific service (a censorship-resistant free market) this blockchain internet would be a “censorship-resistant everything.” A distributed, recorded and either anonymous or pseudonymous network that would be far more useful than Tor is at getting your message or service out in a way that it can't be taken down.
But again, we run into the IP problem. If people are going to access this blockchain internet, they are going to need to access the regular internet on some level, and that brings with it IP addresses and other potentially identifiable information. This disqualifies it from fitting in with Kim Dotcom's vision.
The answer may lie in mesh networks. Mesh networks are isolated networks generally not connected to the internet that work through connecting several devices together. Usually using a phone or computer's WiFi, but technically possible with Bluetooth or NFC technology (but NFC technology requires devices to be too close in proximity to have many uses outside of off-blockchain transactions).
This would still require some use of the internet and some revealing IP information, but not for every user involved. Individuals could download internet blockchain services using the regular internet and allow users in their immediate proximity to connect to them and make additions. Then the host would upload the changes to the regular internet. Essentially, these individuals would act like nodes in the Tor network, and as with that network, this one would depend heavily on individuals not being bad actors.
Users who connect to those access points (for a lack of a better term) wouldn't need to provide an IP address, but some identifying information would be likely on phones or computers, which might be compromised. It would be up to programmers to either find a way to send and receive requests without sending identifying information, or to develop a way to alert users when one of these access points is discovered to be a bad actor.
This would also slow the growth of the network. It would likely start only in large cities, and the first few users in each locale that ran access points might be subject to law enforcement attention. It is unclear exactly what the legality of “hosting” such a blockchain would be, but if it were developed and used for illegal activity, you could be sure someone would find out.
The users who act as these access points could be rewarded with a significant amount of whatever cryptocurrency is used to run the system. Since obtaining these coins would be difficult, they would reasonably become valuable, and being built within this system would likely give them advantages over using outside cryptocurrencies.
Ideally and eventually, there would be enough access points around the world that taking them down would no longer be feasible. The mesh networks would expand from the cities to the suburbs, from the suburbs to rural areas, rural areas to remote areas and eventually, large mesh networks would bump into each other and connect, lessening their dependence on these access points. If they could connect entire continents, access points could potentially be required only to transmit blockchain changes across the oceans. The rewards given to access point providers could be based on how many users they allow to connect to the blockchain internet. As their importance lessens or increases, so would their reward.
Are Kim Dotcom and Sarah Torrent perhaps working on something like this? Probably not. More likely his tweet was exactly what his tweet looked like—a quick comment or idea that grabbed a lot of attention because of his status and because of its mention of fellow internet advocate Sarah Torrent. If he is working on something, it is likely another idea entirely; perhaps a blockchain alternative to Maidsafe (like Storj), but in that case he would have no reason to be so cryptic. Whatever he is working on, he will surely let us know when he is ready; this article is just a stab in the dark.
Still, it is fun to think and write about. What sort of ideas do you have that could bring Dotcom's tweet to life? Let us know in the comments below.
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