One of the main barriers to blockchain acceptance in media is its rhetoric of disruption.
While it’s true that blockchain promises major innovations for publishers, such as better solutions for managing attribution, helping readers access and discover relevant content, building trust and reputations systems and more, the rhetoric of disruption doesn’t clearly illustrate the various means toward this technology’s beneficial impact.
Blockchain’s impact doesn’t mean it needs to be better than old technologies today. As Andreessen Horowitz’s Steven Sinofsky says, the new can’t do new things in old ways. But the new doesn’t have to mimic the old. That’s why it’s new. With blockchain, learning and building offers the value to improve, which is equally important to disruption and enablement. It takes trying, testing and failing to succeed.
If (when!) blockchain is successful in media, there will be no “X of blockchain” or “blockchain of media.” There will just be media. Because blockchain technology is introducing a revolutionary way of operating on the internet, the pro- versus anti-blockchain rhetoric is a moot point. The current state of cryptocurrency investing can seem like rampant speculation, fine, but anti-blockchain is basically anti-protocol, innovation, open-source, opportunity and evolution.
Success is not a pool of blockchain companies and non-blockchain companies; it’s a world in which every company is leveraging the technology out of necessity. Rather than totally upending the publishing industry, blockchain is poised to enable new opportunities and drive new types of value. So if we can admit we can do better at curation, attribution and discovery, this is likely the block to build it on.
I recently spoke to someone about the idea of IP ownership and attribution in content. The problem here is clear: Because digital technology makes it so easy to copy content without permission, the attribution rights of content authors and owners are difficult to guarantee. Content creators are indefensible because there are no shared standards that the entire web abides by. If everyone on the web leveraged the same infrastructure, creators would be able to better protect their work and track its use.
The problem, however, involves more than just content. The bigger challenge we’re facing is idea attribution, of which content attribution is just one component.
Fake news, sourcing, IP, academic journals. All of these things are formulas for ideation without a clear system for attribution. And this can’t just be fixed with outside vendor technology because attribution is not just a product problem, it’s a process problem.
This is how blockchain becomes significant. Attribution needs to be emphasized at the protocol level so others can create based on their unique values. Blockchain-registered publications provide uncontestable records about a publication’s attribution and origins. It’s immutable. It’s stored, either privately or publicly. It’s the single source of truth.
For example, Bitcoin Magazine, one of the first periodicals devoted to the blockchain space, timestamps all of its articles and their metadata to the blockchain. Although the content of the articles themselves is not stored on the blockchain (that could happen in the future), the timestamps allow the magazine to create transparent, publicly verifiable records of when an article was first created and its ownership history. Bitcoin Magazine makes this information available through an interactive tool on its website that allows readers to trace the attribution history of its content.
As soon as the editors at Bitcoin Magazine publish a work through their CMS platform, the work’s metadata is placed within a Bitcoin transaction. Once the transaction is confirmed onto the blockchain, it lives there immutably. The timestamp can always be referenced and used as proof that the work existed at some point in time.
For attribution to work, the community must weigh in on the technology validation and verification. It needs to be able to do so in a way that is fair and secure. Traditional voting systems are easy to game and voter apathy undercuts their impact. Voting systems that leverage the blockchain as their backbone gain the advantages of immutable record-keeping and an economic reward for participation. Because everything on a blockchain happens through consensus, blockchain technology can be used to “force” people to vote in passive ways by compelling them to act in one way or another in response to an issue—and that’s a good thing.
We can think of this as a means for future curation models of publishing, marketing and ideas. In a media world where time is the scarcest resource, decentralized feed curation models will push toward new opportunities to engage consumers on a level of trust, respect and importance.
Legitimacy in ownership propels reach and value. When someone can easily locate an item registered on the blockchain and can confirm its origins without a doubt, it becomes much easier to discover and unlock the value from that item. When immutable ownership rights can be transferred at will, it becomes much easier to communicate the value of what you produce and distribute that value to others. It also allows ease of transaction anywhere in the world.
This will open up new models, many of which we’ve seen, already beginning with skinny bundles and subscription transfers. How can we put the value we know and believe in content and prove it to consumers, much of which is building new ways for access and opportunity for choice beyond just standard walled gardens?
So why blockchain? Its ambiguity is its promise in that, at the core level, we as an industry have a new technology and ethics to build upon. We need to heal both the symptoms and the cause. What we can all agree on is that what consumers value, advertisers value and creators value are all completely different from one another. Always has, always will be. This area offers new solutions that promote experimentation and directiveness to push closer toward a collective agreement that satisfies all parties involved.