Alexandria is an ambitious project which aims to create a decentralized library of all the worlds art, history and culture. Think Youtube, Flickr, Wikipedia, Soundcloud and more, but in a peer to peer fashion. I spoke with CEO Devon Read about rebuilding the great library.
[N-] What was the impetus for starting the project?
[DR] The inspiration for Alexandria was actually a weakness I found in Twitter. When I first became interested in Bitcoin, I discovered that there was a really active and helpful community of Bitcoiners on twitter. I was amazed at the wealth of knowledge being freely shared about the technology, the day by day history of what was happening on exchanges, in core development, etc. But it was quite a challenge to try to look backward in time for what the general community was saying about a particular subject at some point in the past. I thought maybe it would be a good idea to let users chose to fund a decentralized process to capture feeds of social-media-live-history in a way that would be searchable and protected from deletion. Ryan Taylor, our current front end developer and the crypto-anarchist that who introduced me to Bitcoin in the first place, was the guy that suggested the name Alexandria for it, which I thought was a perfect fit.
A week later I had an idea for a decentralized media market - I called it MovieCoin, but then someone launched a copycat P&D coin under that name long before we even thought to start working on it, and that name was kinda burned. Last October at Inside Bitcoins in Las Vegas we demoed a working version of Alexandria with archives of social media commentary, with a timeline based wordcloud to help browse how what's being said about a subject changes over time. People loved it, but we realized quickly that what it was missing was the ability to capture and retrieve the content attached to those links - the videos and pictures and news stories. We saw a significant overlap in the required processes to do this and the idea I'd had for MovieCoin, so we combined them into a single platform - a decentralized library and market for sharing and preserving art, history and culture.
[N-] That's really interesting, especially if it's able to show how things are changing over time. If the goal is to preserve art, history and culture, how would Alexandria cope with scaling up to the data demands of say a site like Youtube?
[DR] We believe that, if it's handled properly and nurtured carefully, Alexandria can scale to any size because it relies entirely on its users to provide all of the resources that a media marketplace requires - database storage and security, file storage and distribution, payments, audience feedback to artists, etc. since each of these functions is handled using cryptocurrencies, the users providing these services can earn income for providing them - resulting in ever growing security, bandwidth and content. We feel like companies like Apple have an outsize voice in media distribution - they get to set the prices, the terms and they chose who is in the market and who isn't - and they're able to do so because of their size in the market. If Alexandria's entire eco system/micro-economy can eventually reach a significant level of market influence, it can really help artists set their own terms and empower everyone involved to earn a fair cut for their part.
[N-] There seems to be a lot of similar projects in development right now. What is the difference between Alexandria and projects such as Maidsafe, ZeroNet, Project Maelstrom etc?
[DR] As far as the differences between Alexandria and many of the other similar platforms in development, I'd say its a matter of who our target users are - we're trying to bring decentralized tech together into a platform that the average user can understand and enjoy, where many of those you mentioned are focused more on core development with an assumption that the community will build front ends. Though, I must admit I have been a bit too buried in Alexandria to keep up with what everyone else is doing, so I may be incorrect about that in some cases :)
[N-] I've had a play with the beta version and I really like how it works without any special configuration! How long are you planning on keeping the project in beta? Do you have a projected timeline?
[DR] Not much longer, the team is just cleaning up some messy code, merging repos and finishing lost last minor features - I'd guess we'll move to public beta in 2-4 more weeks, but it's hard to say exactly at the moment. We have a pretty decent development plan mapped out at [blocktech.com] but it certainly isn't all inclusive of what we've got planned.
[N-] One of the questions I know a lot of people have is about Florincoin. What is it and what was the decision behind using it?
[DR] Florincoin is a two year old fork of litecoin that was the first cryptocurrency to offer built in support for transaction comments. Each tx gives us 528 bytes of data at the cost of .25 FLO in miner fees. So when a user publishes an artifact, we can store not just the hash that the Alexandria browser uses to find the media itself in the IPFS DHT, but also a fair amount of descriptive info, genre, tags, references to additional media like thumbnail images and tipping/payment info. Some argue that using an alt is a bad idea because of the history of p&d scams in altcoins, but we think those kinds of things can be overcome and that this is the best solution for our “invisible index database” but we certainly have an open mind about it - really we just want to create the best platform we can, and if ultimately that requires changing one particular piece in the puzzle, or even many of them, we'll have no qualms doing so.
[N-] How is your crowdfunding campaign going?
[DR] The donation based one we ran in April and May brought in a couple thousand dollars which was helpful, but we are working on something we'll be announcing soon that will be more suited toward members of the community who wish to actually invest in some tangible piece of the Alexandria platform that we expect will bring in a great deal more funding for the project. Sorry I can't say more about it yet, but it's complicated and we're still working on figuring out exactly how to present it properly.
[N-] Excellent, I look forward to seeing what you can come up with :). Thanks for taking the time Devon. Everyone should check out the Alexandria project at [blocktech.com].