Torrents were proto-blockchains that could pay today
I WAS on a podcast sometime last month and the host, Jorge, asked me a fascinating question, “How are these other peer-to-peer networks different from blockchains?”
I got intrigued. When I spent a minute thinking about it, I realized that all the moving parts in blockchain (peer-to-peer networks and cryptography) existed even years earlier. What made blockchain different was that it attached money to the network.
Before blockchain, the most famous peer-to-peer protocol was BitTorrent. What if we attach money to it too?
Power of incentives
The surest way to make people take desirable actions is to incentivize those activities. It is a no-brainer, isn’t it? But as it turns out, most of us in the technology sphere, including myself, didn’t understand its power before bitcoin happened.
“The rabbit runs faster than the fox, because the rabbit is running for his life while the fox is only running for his dinner.” — R. Dawkins
Incentives were what really drove people to put hundreds of computers to work in order to power a blockchain network.
Blockchain is not new technology; it is old technology with economic incentives attached to it. It is immutable not just because of the technology but also the economics. It’ll be economically costly to not work along with other strangers.
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Bitcoin designer Satoshi Nakamoto was able to figure out incentives in a decentralized network the best. At this point, you might be asking, “But torrents have been around for years, and there are no incentives there. How come?”
There are incentives, just not economic ones. A friend of mine is a serial seeder (if that’s an actual word; I might have just made it up), meaning someone who seeds torrents day and night. He spends money, electricity and time just seeding torrents.
“Why?” I asked. He replied, “We deserve this digital shit for free, bro. I am helping the community.”
That day I realized that such people have another incentive – quenching the thirst of the heart. They do it because they believe they are helping people out. The more they help the community, the bigger the reputation they earn from its members. Incentives are always at work.
What if seeders could make some money?
It got me thinking that an ecosystem could be made around torrents where contributions and incentives are recorded on a blockchain. If a seeder contributes something, he or she earns some tokens from the network. To download a seeded torrent, you’ll need to pay in the same token.
Everyone in the community would be contributing seeds to earn some tokens, and the leechers would be paying to download the seeded content. Torrents themselves are very tiny files, which can be kept on the blockchain itself if need be.
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Quality over quantity
When I shared this idea with a friend, he asked me, “So, basically to earn some tokens, I can seed any random junk file. There will be a lot of unwanted content on the network then.”
I immediately replied, “But if there’s no one to pay and download on the other side, how can the seeder makes any money? In fact, there would be less garbage because no one is incentivized to seed unwanted content.”
To which, he asked a very interesting question: “Basically, now seeders are not simply helping. The leechers would have to pay to get the content, but then they can also pay legitimate sources to get it.”
It left me thinking for a minute at least before I could reply.
“The currency that leechers would have to pay can be earned by simply contributing to the network itself. More you contribute, more you’re rewarded. This difference with the fiat currencies is that it is a self-sustained economic model.”
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There can exist a network where people who contribute to torrents can get rewarded for their contribution besides just a reputation in the system.
The thing that I am most worried about is the legality of such a network. If you happen to build it, distribution of a copyright material might not be something that you’d want it happening in the network.
What are your thoughts?
Republished with permission from Unmade.
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