May 4, 2022 - Technology

Web3's Library of Alexandria: News and civic documents to be backed up on decentralized web

illustration of a file folder with a padlock on it.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Library of Alexandria was said to be the seat of ancient wisdom. Legend has it that great works of the former world were lost in a fire. Basic centralization problem right there.

Driving the news: The Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web (FFDW) has provided a grant to MuckRock, a non-profit dedicated to transparent politics and informed democracies, to back up the documents it has collected using the decentralized web and to assist other news and civic organizations in using the system.

Why it matters: The core idea of blockchain has always been "censorship resistance." With Bitcoin, no one can censor one person sending money to someone else.

  • With decentralized storage on apps like Filecoin, Storj, Arweave and Sia, information can be copied to so many places it's unlikely anyone could destroy or block them all.

Be smart: Just publishing something to the internet is not nearly enough to ensure it's saved forever. Link rot is very, very real, as an investigation into hyperlinked citations on news stories published by The New York Times found last year.

  • "Many people say the internet is forever, but the reality is that the internet is very fragile," MuckRock's co-founder Michael Morisy said through a spokesperson.

What's happening: Filecoin has provided a grant to Muckrock in order to bring its DocumentCloud services onto the Interplanetary File System (IPFS).

  • IPFS is a protocol that backs up data and locates it with the content. This way, if one copy disappears, IPFS can find another copy (the normal web links to locations — websites).
  • Content addressing makes lots of copies of important data more useable.
  • Starting today, DocumentCloud users can backup new documents to both the existing cloud system and IPFS at once.

Of note: DocumentCloud already stores important data sets, such as The Panama Papers and the Facebook Papers.

Meanwhile, with funding from the foundation, MuckRock will also build tools that make it easier for organizations to automatically archive government and political sites and provide technical support to get the most out of the new services.

  • What they're saying: “FFDW’s mission is to preserve humanity’s most important information, and this collaboration with MuckRock is a natural fit to further these efforts," FFDW Board Chair Marta Belcher said.

Bottomline: The Library of Alexandria didn't actually burn down, but decayed under neglect. So hopefully the fact that the foundation's system keeps people paid to host copies of documents can prevent the same fate for this decentralized library. 🤞

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