Saturday, January 20, 2018

Feeling Left Out of the Whole Blockchain Thing...

I know you can't be an expert at everything, but I really would love to be one of those people who knows everything there is to know about putting bits and bytes together and coming out with something that makes sense and does marvelous things, even if it's just turning a text-file full of algabraic-greek looking gibberish into an app that replaces the blue screen with pictures, videos, cartoons, and other eye candy.

And yes, I know, you're saying, well, I wish I could pick up a paintbrush and turn a blank canvas into a painting the way you do, but you can't. (Though you could punch a few keys in the right art program and let the computer fake it for you).

I'm wondering about uses for the blockchain, and wishing I knew how to utilize it, if only to write "Kilroy was here," and commit it to the blockchain for all of eternity. I don't even know if I have truly grasped the purpose of blockchain, and whether committing graffiti to an archive to perpetuate itself throughout history is something the blockchain can do or should do.

One of my thoughts for how it (blockchain) could be used--and I may be wrong--is for compiling documents of genealogy. I did a quick search to find out if anyone is already doing something like that, and got a bit of a shock to realize that Genecoin is enticing people to upload their DNA sequences to the blockchain, and let it perpetuate forever, unchanged. Fair enough, that might be a good use, maybe an even better one than what I thought. But placing my DNA into the chain so that some mad scientist in the not-so-distant future can plug my genetic code into a molecular 3-D gene printer and clone a duplicate version of me, or cross my genes with with a housefly, Jeff Goldblum style, is not what I had in mind.

I was thinking of something more along the lines of, uploading documents, stories, "proofs," and conclusions, to live on as unchanged documents for permanent reference, to always be. I do realize that Wikis and on-line family trees already do that to some extent, but in a way, they don't. It's great that everyone can go in and collaborate on the tree and add and merge and all, but the "merging" factor is what I thought might be overcome. It's not the final, compiled version of the ancestor in the tree I'm wanting to save, but the many bits and pieces that it took to get there.

I guess what I'm asking for is a reliable cloud, where I can place my personal copy of a daguerreotype or albumen photo (before it fades away), and attach my testimony of how I came to own it; or upload a certified copy of a death certificate (maybe even one that can have the actual, viable certification document attached by a court clerk, or whatever); or even upload my article detailing the steps on how I, personally, came to conclude that this particular W. A. Shields in Tennessee is the same guy as that William A. Shields of Tennessee, who ended up in Missouri. So that fact, or that document, or that combo (document, certification, and story), can "be" there for the next guy who wants to take a look at my original work (before a thousand other users morph W. A. Shields into W. F. Shields, into H. F. Shields, into H. F. Shellmound, into Henry J. Shellmound, and on and on); and they can evaluate my docs and my story and my conclusion and decide for themselves, "Eureka! she's right!" or, "Bull! she's cracked!" Whatever they want to decide, but they have the original document(s) at hand. Not even for the purpose, specifically, of evaluating my work, but just for them to have and hold the original (virtual copy) of that will, that deed, that marriage license. To have it shelved, unchanged, in as close to original form as you can get a virtual thing to be; to have it archived there, to provide it to the next guy who wants to evaluate the doc for himself.

I see that someone is doing that now with digital photographs, to allow people to provide them as documents, untouched by any photo-editing tricks, to perpetuate in their original form, as history, unrewritten... The blockchain as archive.

And why aren't I satisfied that the world family tree already does this for me? Because of what happened in the past with Rootsweb, and FamilyTreeMaker, (and now Find A Grave) and a dozen other products and sites and services that got taken over by "The Evil One," the Greedy Pig, Ancestry. I remember how, when it happened with Rootsweb, and also the Genealogy Forum, of how that simultaneously affected USGenWeb, which suddenly kind of quieted down and stopped growing, at least for a long time. Because people were frustrated, and burned out with falling for another PayPal promise, that "It will always be fee free." That, "We won't lock up your information and start charging you for it." No, they won't. They will sell out to Ancestry, and Ancestry will do that. (Or Ebay. In the case of PayPal).

And sometimes, it's not even because they want to be a Greedy Pig that they do it. Sometimes, it just starts to cost too much for them to provide it to you. Like when Georgia's Virtual Vault took the death certificates and marriage books offline, probably because dozens of wikis and libraries had started utilizing it. Server overload! Or when the Social Security Death Index people said, "We can't sell you your ancestor's original application anymore" ($7 fee, wow, wish I'd bought a lot more of them back then) "because we've decided that's a breach of confidentiality and a privacy issue." But then, on down the line, they turn it over to Greedy Pig, and you can buy it from them ($20). So, repeat that please?! Privacy issue? Or profit issue? Which is it? Thanks, I'd just like to know.

The same kind of thing happened when courthouses everywhere turned their vital-record services over to Vital Chek (or whatever), and the price-per-doc fee changed from, like, $3 (good old county courthouses!) to $30. Whew!

And a lot of people like me said, then, "So, why should I spend a thousand hours digging out my old photos and scanning them, and sharing my grandfather's death cert., and sharing my tree, and transcribing that cemetery, and uploading it all to a database if Ancestry's gonna come along tomorrow and buy out the database, and charge you guys for that thousand hours of non-profit data entry I provided free of charge? Irritating, to be sure. I have a friend who got burned in an early "firing-of-most-of-the-guides" thing. In fact, I got burned myself, when an art forum I loved, that had become a virtual "real" community of friends to me, got dumped in that same incident, and I went into withdrawal when all the discussions and tips and portfolios of artists I had come to know just, phttt! went away.

And then there's Animal Farm. But let's not get side-tracked.

Maybe I'm mixing up two issues here... "Profit" vs. "Preservation." I mean, it's always going to cost people to serve up documents, so the blockchain can't prevent fees jumping from $3 to $30. In fact (judging by Bitcoin exchanges), maybe the blockchain just proves to the idealist that a certain amount of "evil" capitalization is necessary, and that anyone who serves up a document must eventually charge for it, if they're used to serving it up to ten people, and they suddenly have to serve it up to ten million. It just costs people to do things. So, throwing out the question of fees, and who "owns" history and historical documents, lets just focus on "preservation." I'm interested in the immutability aspect of blockchain. In storing little packets of history, or at least, the solid, immutable blocks used for building history.

So... blockchain genealogy. This is something I'd like to see....

Rant over.

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