An Ancient Library in Alexandria Could be the Future of the Blockchain

Fibo Quantum

What if someone told you that the future direction of the Internet is about to be influenced not by Palo Alto, Beijing, or the multi-stakeholder groups of the United Nations, but by an ancient library in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, circa 283 BC?

Named after Alexander the Great, the city of Alexandria was once home to the world’s greatest archive of knowledge. Established by an exiled Athenian statesman the “universal library” of Alexandria was a project to house the knowledge of classical civilization; building on it, by rendering it accessible.

The history of the library passed into legend, with echoes of its memory weaving its way into contemporary storytelling. The citadel in Game of Thrones, the Jedi archive in Star Wars Episode II or Hogwarts library are a couple of examples, but there are loads more.

Today the dream of building a living, real-time network of knowledge and economics exists among a small group of blockchain developers.

Today the dream of building a living, real-time network of knowledge and economics exists among a small group of blockchain developers. They believe that the current Internet has become a “hubs and spokes model”: centralized, controlled, censored and fragmented. 
 


A decentralized web, or one of ‘hubs and spokes’?

A New Infrastructure for the Web

It’s 2020, and much of the web is controlled across private networks. Think of the apps you know and love, from Netflix, to iTunes, to Spotify, to Facebook, to Twitter. Most of us would be lost without these valuable services. At the same time, the original web was never meant to be a gated series of mega-communities. It was meant to be open and interoperable. 

Amy James, a blockchain developer at “Alexandria Labs” puts it like this. “Way back when Sir Tim Berners Lee was creating the web back in 1989-1990, everyone who ran it was running it on their own computer. It was supposed to be fully decentralized.”

there is no Great Library absent a way to find what is in it, and right now a handful of companies have a monopoly on our ability to do that.

In a video series, James argues that to achieve a network of networks that was scalable, “private companies built the walled garden infrastructure that we have today so that the web would be convenient for end users.” The problem? These “walled gardens” now control what you can search for, how much you pay for it, and the level of domain access.

If that doesn’t sound very democratic, it’s because it isn’t. “Don’t get me wrong, the web is a wonderful place” says James, “but there is no Great Library absent a way to find what is in it, and right now a handful of companies have a monopoly on our ability to do that.”

Alexandria Labs perceive a quickly approaching scenario in which Pharaoh-like private companies control what information ordinary people have access to and which creators can monetize an audience.

Without an “urgent” upgrade to the information and content distribution layers of the internet, James and others like her believe the “future of open access on the Internet is very frightening.”

To try and fix all of this, the Alexandria Labs team basically built a library card cataloging system for digital content on the blockchain, and called it the “Open Index Protocol” (OIP). Confused? 

Without an “urgent” upgrade to the information and content distribution layers of the internet, James and others like her believe the “future of open access on the Internet is very frightening.”

Think of it like this. Big Tech might still have the best papyrus in the library – the apps we know and love are still accessible – but the building itself, its entrances, exits, and above all the library catalog itself, belong to everyone. In essence a multimedia Library of Alexandria, in cyberspace. Authors set the access, payment and subscription protocols alongside giants like Google, on a level playing field. Here’s how it works.

“”I like to think of it as the card catalog in the library or maybe a phone book, but it’s not an index for phone numbers or books – it’s for all public data” explains James.

a multimedia Library of Alexandria, in cyberspace. Authors set the access, payment and subscription protocols alongside giants like Google, on a level playing field.

Just as a card catalog in a library records inputs and outputs, a blockchain index would record metadata and ID numbers for all content in an open location. The ‘card catalog’ is stored on the blockchain, along with a location and identifier for how to access the content on a separate peer-to-peer network, “like the stacks in a library.” This means unlike the actual library of Alexandria, the blockchain protocol could never run out of space. 

“When the web was developing in the 1990s the tech didn’t exist yet to build an index as an open standard protocol” comments James. Now it does. Sir Tim Berners Lee has called the project “thrilling.” Odds are, the ancient Alexandrian’s might have liked it too.

Full disclosure: Al Bawaba is exploring blockchain solutions on the Open Index Protocol.