Man tries to sell Jimmy Wales on blockchain for Wikipedia’s security problems–Wales doesn’t buy it – TechRepublic


Commentary: It takes hubris to tell Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, how to store data.

Digital chain. Blockchain technology concept.

Image: iStockphoto/Iaremenko

Wikipedia has been around since January 15, 2001. Since that time it has stored lots (and lots) of data. At the time of this writing, Wikipedia has over six million articles and grows by more than one gigabyte of (compressed) text each year. As one of the world’s top-10 most visited websites, Wikipedia is a major target for hackers.

As such, it’s not surprising that someone would eventually suggest blockchain could solve all of Wikipedia’s security problems. It’s also not surprising that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales would rip the idea to shreds.

SEE: Special report: How blockchain will disrupt business (ZDNet) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

To the man with a blockchain…

There’s no shortage of people who will happily explain how the blockchain will revolutionize record-keeping, farming, and, well, everything. But there are few as likely to do that as Daniel Krawisz, sometimes dubbed the “emperor of Bitcoin.” Bitcoin (and the associated blockchain technology) runs in Karwisz’s blood, as it were.

So perhaps it was just a matter of time before Krawisz offered to resolve a serious Wikipedia data problem: Child pornography. As Krawisz said on Twitter, “It would be so cheap to record enough information about all Wikipedia interactions on the [Bitcoin] blockchain that you could probably eliminate all possible child porn distribution on it for very low fees. Think of the savings!” 

The idea mostly sat there until someone tagged Wales, and then the questions from Wales began

“I don’t understand what is being proposed.”

Krawisz, undeterred, kept beating the blockchain drum: “I was just thinking about how you said you didn’t like Bitcoin and imagining ways that it could be used to improve Wikipedia. More generally, Bitcoin can help any system to become more Byzantine fault tolerant.” The response from Wales?

“But what specifically are you proposing?”

Again, Krawisz persevered, telling Wales that he wanted Wales to “think more deeply about why Bitcoin is a good idea,” further stressing, “My point is just that because Bitcoin transactions always leave records, someone who uploaded illegal content would leave you with more contextual information that you could track on the blockchain than you would have if there weren’t payments associated with their interactions.”

And this is where the conversation came to an abrupt halt.

…Everything looks like a distributed, decentralized, public ledger

Though Krawisz might think it’s a good idea to force Wikipedia editors to pay for the right to edit, that violates a cardinal rule for Wales: “That isn’t how blockchain works. That suggestion–to force people to strongly identify and pay for the privilege of editing Wikipedia–is a bad idea independently. And it would be easy and cheap to implement without blockchain.”

One can quibble as to whether Wales is correct in his ideas on how blockchain works (some definitely don’t), his ideas on how Wikipedia should be managed are not really a question about blockchain, or even a question of technology. Wales insisted that Wikipedia already stores data and hasn’t struggled to do so despite not using blockchain. “We already store data. In a database. It works well.” In case this point was lost on Krawisz, he repeated, “We store data using a revolutionary technology that changed the world: a database.”

Which brings us back to Wikipedia. And the blockchain. And data integrity. That Twitter thread keeps going and devolves into yet another exercise in attempting to browbeat people into believing that the blockchain will revolutionize supply chains, photo sharing, and most everything. Meanwhile Wikipedia keeps storing data. In a database. As it always has. With great results. Would it be better on the blockchain? As Wales suggests, that’s probably the wrong question.

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but nothing herein relates directly or indirectly to my work there.

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