By Michael J. Casey, Co-Founder & Chairman
It might seem we’re adding unnecessary complexity when we could simply collect, maintain and analyze our users’ video data solely on our own servers. Why add another computing layer?
The short answer: because not doing so would contribute to the very problem Streambed seeks to solve. To fix the digital media economy, we need openly auditable data that’s free from centralized control. The persistent, tamper-proof nature of a blockchain-based record-keeping system gives us the foundation to create that.
The Core Problem: A Power Imbalance in the Digital Media Economy
Before we dive into “Why blockchain?,” let’s start with the problem Streambed is addressing.
This about the need for richer audience data. Data is the lifeblood of the digital video economy. It dictates, for example, decisions by advertisers on where to spend marketing dollars and by creators on what to publish to best engage viewers. And right now, internet data is a mess.
As the internet is currently structured, control over the information that videographers, influencers, marketing/ad agencies, publishers, platforms and viewers all need is fragmented and siloed within multiple impenetrable, servers controlled by distinct platforms. It’s known as the “walled garden” problem and this video by Amy James, co-founder of Streambed partner Alexandria Labs, explains it best. (More on Alexandria and the Open Index Protocol below.)
Given the multiple, unconnected forums in which a video can be viewed, this siloing process obscures the overall picture. The data becomes disjointed and uncorrelated, leaving market participants blind to the real drivers of videos’ performance over time: the internet pathways they take; the real impact and network reach of the collaborators and influencers who amplify them; and the cross-platform breadth of their audience members’ relationships to each other.
Worse, an unhealthy dependency has developed, where creators, publishers and advertisers are beholden to the gatekeeping powers of the platforms that deliver audiences to them.
This creates risks of de-platforming and of arbitrary algorithm tweaks that suddenly cut creators and advertisers off from their audiences, a phenomenon known as “Facebook Jail.” More broadly, it creates conflicts of interests since platforms aren’t incentivized to share data. To give up all they know about their users’ audiences and on how their algorithms collect and package that data would relinquish their secret recipe.
The platforms have a gatekeeping power akin to how Wall Street’s banks used to exploit their unique, intermediary access to price information on both sides of the market to overcharge or underquote investors buying and selling bonds. Eventually, internet trading exchanges replaced over-the-counter Wall Street dealings, which made price information more widely available. We need something similar to happen in the marketplace for digital media data.
Why Blockchain? A Trusted Data Trail
Solving the walled garden problem requires the existence of a distinct, public activity log outside the data silos and free from control by any single platform or application – including Streambed. A blockchain offers a foundation for building this.
A blockchain is an unbroken ledger of sequenced transactions or data entries that’s distributed across multiple entities’ computers rather than being controlled by a single company. Each entity updates its version of the ledger in real-time. To coordinate this, they follow a common protocol that incentivizes them to act honestly and to follow the network’s consensus on the validity of each new data entry.
Since no single entity can alter the record to its advantage, this system produces a persistent, unbroken, externalized audit trail that’s useful for proving the origin of and the authorship claims to a piece of digital content. It can also prove the pathways that content later takes as it is shared, republished and edited across multiple formats and platforms. In other words, it allows us to establish media content provenance, the capacity to trace, through multiple instances of activity and engagement on different platforms, back to a proven point of origin.
How Streambed Uses a Blockchain
Blockchains are useful for proving the sequence and linkages between data entries, but not for storing large amounts of data pe se. So, Streambed’s audit trail uses a two-tiered approach, storing and organizing information externally while using a blockchain to log those entries.
We post each video’s original metadata – the who, what, when, how – in the Open Index Protocol. (We also do the same with data generated by subsequent, downstream activity.) OIP then takes a hash of each data entry and records it in the Flo blockchain, a proof-of-work blockchain with special features for processing metadata records.
Created by the founders of Alexandria Labs, OIP is an open-source, public-access cataloging system maintained by a distributed network. It’s a public index – in contrast to the closed, private index on which Google runs its internet search engine. OIP’s structure, with data proven to a blockchain, ensures Streambed users can query information on video posts and be confident that what they learn wasn’t distorted by a third party’s algorithm. It’s a framework for the independent data that the digital media economy badly needs.
What’s in it for Me?
Idealistic solutions won’t get anywhere if there are no products of value driving adoption. We believe we’ve found that balance. Offering rich, tailored analytics to creators, publishers, brands and users that are founded on an independent source of truth and provenance, Streambed marries private interests in proprietary information with the public interest in an open internet.
Also, unlike other blockchain-based applications, we’re not asking creators to give up on the large platforms where their current audiences live or to migrate to a new system that lacks network effects. We’re simply creating a means to reliably and richly link data across those existing audience pools.
We believe this path, with blockchain as the foundation and with proprietary, multi-platform data as the product, is the way forward for all stakeholders in the digital media economy.