New technologies and decentralization

I’ve recently discovered Peter Van Garderen‘s thoughtful piece exploring the concept of  “Decentralized Autonomous Collections”.


This comment by Van Garderen piqued my interest immediately:

I believe that the emergence of blockchain technology and the concept of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, alongside the maturation of peer-to-peer networks, open library technology architectures, and open-source software practices offers a new approach to the issues of control, privilege, and sustainability that are inherent to many centralized information collections.

This technology and how it is potentially implemented has the potential to disrupt established practice of “exclusive custodians” curating information objects, instead allowing for decentralised control by multiple parties.

This in turn has the potential to disrupt established practice in our memory institutions such as libraries and archives. However, instead of seeing this technology as potentially causing displacement, and even replacing these institutions, I find it exciting to take these ideas and use them to think about how we can transform the traditional roles of custodians and curators into new roles, possibly even as “thought leaders”, as Van Garderen puts forward. Librarians and archivists have in-depth knowledge about how to manage information objects through their entire (continuing) lifecycle, so it stands to reason that they can take this knowledge and incorporate its basic principles and ethical obligations successfully into new ways of thinking and doing, particularly in our current climate that sees increasing surveillance by government, and the growing power and reach of commercial monopolies moving into cultural heritage and knowledge sustainability spaces.

The concept of decentralised autonomous collections brings up interesting new ideas about how to deal with encryption, rights and identity management, and for ensuring the authenticity of digital objects. It also opens up exciting new ideas for implementing digital preservation systems, workflows, and processes in our cultural and research institutions.

For more interesting reading in this area I’m also looking at Denis Nazarov‘s “Bringing Cultural Metadata to Life“, which explores ways in which to simplify and consolidate open cultural data through an open source, decentralized, peer-to-peer network.

And oh, how I wish I was in Vancouver, Canada, on 17 May for ‘The Blockchain and Digital Preservation“!