It’s 4am. Your House is Burning. What Do You Save?
How to save what matters most with Arweave
Let’s start with the good news. You’re alive. Peanut is alive (although now a slightly darker brown) and thankfully no one is left inside. In the split second you had to flee, you grabbed your furry roommate, your wallet and your phone.
The bad news? The things with you are all that survived the blaze. Looking back, its easy to regret not grabbing the shoe-box containing the handwritten letters and the photo-booth sessions with someone special. It pains you to think about your first painting that you were actually proud of left hanging on the wall.
“Why didn’t I prepare?” you think to yourself, “why didn’t I think about saving these things before something like this happened?” Thankfully, most of us have never faced the split-second “what do I save?” dilemma. What we don’t realize is that right now there is smoke in the air, it’s just that we can’t smell it.
The hard truth is that there are more than just fires that threaten the things we hold dear. The “smoke in the air” could be a hard drive failure or a cloud server with our data on it that’s been hacked and lost forever. In some lands it could be “big brother” who decides your data is somehow extreme, deleting or confiscating it. With these and other dangers ever more present, we do well to think about how we can keep our valued possessions safe.
Think again about the things you wished you had saved from the fire. While our personal lists may differ, one noteworthy thing about the items mentioned above is that they could have been digitized and saved to a physical drive. This would have made it easier to grab as we ran to safety, but it’s important to remember that the data was only as safe as the drive it was saved on.
In anticipation of a potential hard drive failure, some have gone as far as replacing their drives every 3–5 years and even backing up the contents on multiple drives stored in different geographical locations. Until recently this was considered the best practice to guarantee the preservation of important data. But now we have an option that is more accessible, affordable, less labor intensive, and censorship-resistant. The option is to use a protocol called Arweave to permanently store the data you wish to keep safe. (If you are familiar with Arweave feel free to skip the next paragraph)
Arweave stands out because it is currently the only truly decentralized permanent data storage network. With Arweave you can pay a small fee (currently about $4 per GB of data) and whatever you upload is saved permanently with the option to store the data publicly or privately encrypted. Your data is be stored on this decentralized network using hundreds of “nodes” or computers located all over the planet.
The network is funded by an endowment built into the protocol that accumulates and generates interest in the form of Arweave tokens as the users store and retrieve data. The “miners” or those who store and share the data are then rewarded with Arweave tokens. For more information on how Arweave works and how you can save your data on the network please check out my previous articles on the subject here or here. Or better yet you can sink your teeth into the Arweave yellow paper here.
If you are new to Arweave, the thought of trusting a decentralized protocol with your most precious data may seem like a big ask. You may be wondering “ Am I not better off using the “best practice” mentioned earlier? Even if you do dedicate yourself to that level of data preservation what happens when you are no longer around to maintain it? How will you incentivize someone else to preserve your data? Will anyone really keep up with your storage regimen and remember to pay the cloud service providers? Maybe. But most likely your data will one day be erased. Arweave on the other hand incentivizes the network to carry on that process even after your own very personal “hard drive” fails.
In some ways, storing our files on a backup hard drive or onto a centralized cloud service provider like AWS or Google is not unlike keeping our precious letters and photos in an old shoe-box. It offers no lasting protection from a “fire” in the physical or digital sense. Drives fail and cloud services are just businesses that close or are sold like any other. Realistically no storage regimen regardless of how thorough can escape the sands of time. But our digital existence does not need to be erased when we are, we can choose to leave a record of ourselves behind.
Imagine for a minute how cool it would be when 1000 years from now your distant relative is using a service like Ancestry.com and they link to your Arweave time capsule? Currently there is an application being developed on Arweave that will allow you to collaborate with others to build your own kind of “social vault”. The potential use cases for a permanent and shared collaborative data space are just beginning to be explored. If you’re interested, take a peak at whats going on over at Akord.com.
Currently, the protocols and applications incorporating Arweave as a permanent storage layer are growing by the day. We can see this reflected in the explosion of transactions and data being stored on the network in the past 12 months. Still it feels to me like the Arweave network is only just getting started.
Recently, it seems that conditions are ripe for starting “fires” both on and offline. The world and the internet is in a state of flux that has been sped up by the rapid adoption of technology during the pandemic. We are on the brink of a new internet era with web 3.0 and with it comes a host of new technologies that didn’t exist before.
On Arweave all data and applications on the network are permanent. As a user if you don’t like the new version of an application that’s introduced you can simply continue to use the old version. All of the data that the application uses to run (whether it’s an API or the the application UI) all of it is stored permanently on Arweave. This makes it so that any application launched on the network can be accessed and used indefinitely because the data cannot be altered or removed. This creates an ecosystem where developers are rewarded for creating products that users want to use.
Developers building on the network are keenly aware that in the end its the user that will decide to use an application. If the user doesn’t want to use a new version of an app they can simply use something else or continue to use an older version (ed: this is especially relevant in the case of the recent Uniswap UI changes).
Even some of the big players in the web 2.0 space are taking note of these developments. For example, at the Oslo Freedom Forum virtual conference CEO of Square Jack Dorsey mentioned how blockchain and decentralization is changing the landscape for online content. Dorsey commented:
“Blockchain and Bitcoin point to a future, and point to a world, where content exists forever, where it’s permanent, where it doesn’t go away, where it exists forever on every single node that’s connected to it”