The Blockchain: A Promising New Infrastructure for Online Commons
Bitcoin has taken quite a beating for its libertarian design biases, price volatility due to speculation, and the questionable practices of some currency-exchange firms. But whatever the real or perceived flaws of Bitcoin, relatively little attention has been paid to its “engine,” known as “distributed ledger” or “blockchain” technology. Move beyond the superficial public discussions about Bitcoin, and you’ll discover a software breakthrough that could be of enormous importance to the future of commoning on open network platforms.
Blockchain technology is significant because it can validate the authenticity of an individual bitcoin without the need for a third-party guarantor such as a bank or government body. This solves a vexing collective-action problem in an open network context: How do you know that a given bitcoin is not a counterfeit? Or to extend this idea: How do you know that a given document, certificate or dataset — or a vote or “digital identity” asserted by an individual — is the “real thing” and not a forgery?