|ChickenCoin (Comoros 25 francs 1982)|
CC BY-NC-ND by edelweisscoins
If you're building a fried chicken recipe archive, (let's call it FriChiReciChive) there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that fried chicken is a terrible fuel for a blockchain ledger. No one mines for fried chicken. The good news is that very few nation-states care about your fried chicken recipes. Defending your recipe archive against cheating, hacking, attack and subversion will not require heroic bank-vault tactics.
That's not to say you can't learn from Bitcoin and its blockchain. Bitcoin is cleverly assembled from mature technologies that each seemed impossible not long ago. Your legacy recipe system was probably built in the days of archive horses and database buggies; if you're building a new one it probably would be a good idea to have a set of modern tools.
What are these tools? Here are a few of them:
- Big storage. It's easy to forget how much storage is available today. The current size of the bitcoin blockchain, the ledger of every bitcoin transaction every made, is only 56 GB. That's about one iPhone of storage. The cheapest macbook Pro comes with 128 GB, which is more than you can imagine. Amazon Web Services offers 500GB of storage for $15 per month. Your job in making FriChiReciChive a reality is to imagine how make use of all that storage. Suppose the average fried chicken recipe is a thousand words. That's about 10 thousand bytes. With 500GB and a little math, you can store 50 million fried chicken recipes.
Momofoku Fried Chicken
CC BY-NC by gandhu
Occasionally, you'll hear that you can store information directly in Bitcoin's blockchain. That's possible, but you probably don't want to do that because of cost. The current cost of adding a MB (about 1 block) to the bitcoin blockchain is 25 BTC. At current exchange rates, that's about $10 per kB. That cost is borne by the global Bitcoin system, and it pays for the power consumed by Bitcoin miners. For comparison, AWS will charge you 0.36 microcents per year to store a kilobyte. The blockchain does more than S3, but not 30 million times more.
Moroccan Chicken Hash
CC BY-NC-ND by mmm-yoso
Once you have the hash of a digital object, you've made it tamper-proof. If someone makes a change in your recipe, or your cat video, or your software object, the hash of the thing will be completely different, and you'll be able to tell that it's been tampered with. So you never need to let anyone mess with Granny's fried chicken recipe.
- Hash chains. Once you've computed hashes for everything in FriChiReciChive, you probably think, "what good is it to hash a recipe? "If someone can change the recipe, someone can change the hash, too." Bitcoin solves this problem by hashing the hashes! each new data block contains the hash of the previous block. Which contains a hash of the block before that! etc. etc. all the way back to Satoshi's first block. Of course, this trick of chaining the block hashes was not invented by Bitcoin. And a chain isn't the only way to play this trick. A structure known a Merkle tree (after its inventor) lays out the hashes chains in a tree topology. So by using Merkle trees of fried chicken recipes, you can make the hash of a new recipe depend on every previous recipe. If someone wanted to mess with Granny, they'd have Nana to mess with too, not to mention the Colonel!
Jingu-Galen Ginkgo Festival Fried Chicken
CC BY-NC-ND by mawari
Here's where FriChiReciChive is much easier to secure than Bitcoin. You don't need a lot of people participating to make the recipe ledger secure enough for the largest fried chicken attack you can imagine.
- Peer-to-peer. Perhaps the cleverest part of Bitcoin is the way that it arbitrates contention for the privilege of adding blocks. It uses puzzle solving to dole out this privilege to the "miners" (puzzle-solvers) who are best at solving the puzzle. Arbitration is needed because otherwise everyone could add blocks earning them Bitcoin. The puzzle solving turns out to be expensive because of the energy used to power the puzzle-solving computers. Peer-to-peer networks which share databases don't need this type of arbitration. While the contention for blocks in Bitcoin has been constantly rising, the contention for slots in distributed fried chicken data storage should drop into the foreseeable future.
Charleston: Husk - Crispy Southern Fried
Chicken Skins CC BY-NC-ND by wallyg
- One more thing. Bitcoin appears to have solved a really hard problem by deploying mature digital tools in clever ways that give participants incentive to make the system work. When you're figuring out how to build FriChiReciChive, or solving whatever problem you might have, chances are you'll have a different set of really hard problems with a different set of participants and incentives. By adding the set of tools I've discussed here, you may be able to devise a new solution to your hard problem.
Added note (2/18/2016): Jason Griffey points out that I have conflated Bitcoin and the "Blockchain". That's true, but I think partly justified. First of all, there are a number of "altcoins" that make use of modified versions of the bitcoin software to achieve various goals. The differences are interesting but mostly not relevant to a discussion of what you should learn from Bitcoin. There are rather narrow applications for blockchain-based distributed databases; these are well discussed by Coin Sciences founder Gideon Greenspan.