Part 1 — Introduction
Welcome to the Metanet blog series. Over the course of the coming months, I’ll be delving into some of the finer details of the Metanet, the Metanet protocol, and Bitcoin itself.
The posts in the series will initially lay out the foundations for a deep understanding of the Metanet, and the Metanet protocol, by elaborating on materials that are already available and diving deeper into the rationale behind them.
Hopefully I will be able to provide some insights that aid the general understanding of the Metanet protocol in the community and help to crystallise all of its fundamental concepts.
We will then transition into a discussion of the Metanet ecosystem, seeking to answer the questions:
- Where are we now?
- How did we get here?
- Where do we go next?
In the process, we will broadly cover the events following the original announcement of the Metanet as a concept, by Dr Craig Wright, at the CoinGeek Week conference around nine months ago.
We will explore how the development spawned by the Metanet has impacted the ecosystem, and how it has evolved over time to reflect the new paradigms the Metanet brings for the Internet and data.
In particular, we will look at how the recent public disclosure of technical details of the Metanet protocol has impacted development and the role it has to play in the coming years.
In the latter stages of the series, we will look to the future and begin to broach more explorative concepts. The ideas presented here will seek to extend on the basic building blocks that the Metanet protocol provides, taking them further to accommodate more involved and integrated use cases and applications.
It is in these posts where I will aim to answer many of the questions about the Metanet that have landed at my door already, and where I hope to inspire further thought and creativity in the burgeoning developer community already building on Bitcoin SV.
But for the first post, I would like to give a brief non-technical introduction to both the series and the Metanet itself. It seems sensible, then, to start by asking a rather fundamental question.
What is the Metanet?
This question has two answers, depending on exactly what we want to talk about: the Metanet or the Metanet protocol. The vast majority of the series will concern the Metanet protocol, which is a protocol for structuring the on-chain Internet and realising the over-arching mission of the Metanet.
Let us take the time here, then, to consider what exactly the Metanet is as a concept. There is surely no better place to start in answering this question than to read the words of its chief inventor, Dr Craig Wright.
The Internet becomes a sidechain to the Bitcoin blockchain. The Metanet is a value network — the entire global system of online activity and data connected commercially.
— Dr Craig Wright, CoinGeek Week (2018)
I would like to draw your attention to the phrase ‘value network’ in particular here. It may well be the most succinct description of what the Metanet is as an idea, a concept, and a mission.
The Metanet represents a complete and utter redefinition of the paradigms that pervade the existing Internet infrastructure — particularly with respect to human interactions and the value we ascribe to them.
The Cost of Information
It barely needs to be said that the issues that plague the modern ecosystem of the world wide web are myriad. I’m sure the reader does not need to be told of such problems, yet it would be remiss of me not to at least mention a few of them explicitly:
- Lack of data ownership for users
- Abuse of ‘free’ platforms
- Distractions and ‘clickbait’
- Monetisation difficulties for content creators
- Trolling and click farming
- Data redundancies
We could spend many hours discussing the precise reasons why the same issues, amongst many others, have proliferated to cultivate a hostile and problematic online environment. But rather than do so, I would posit instead, as many others have before, that there is a primary driver behind most if not all of the issues.
The central cause is the cost of information. The same point has been made, more eloquently than I could ever hope to, by others in the space, such as Jerry Chan and Ryan Charles.
Good information is not free. How do we solve the fact that good information should be worth something?
— Jerry Chan, CoinGeek Toronto (2019)
If you haven’t seen it already, I would highly recommend watching the speech from which this quote was taken.
The arguments made in Jerry’s talk express precisely how and why the cost of information is so important to acknowledge — or more specifically, how the Internet generally fails to reflect this cost, and how it could be considered one of the most important driving forces behind the issues identified with the web.
The Internet has been revolutionary in granting access to data on a truly unprecedented scale, allowing billions of people to find resources and interact with one another. The problem lies in the fact that such data is treated with little respect for the value it might have.
When the cost barrier to generating, disseminating, and accessing data is so low, it becomes easy to lose sight of the intrinsic value it should have.
For example, it is trivial to give a social media platform like Twitter or Facebook thousands of interactions’ worth of data every day because it is ‘free’ to do so. What we do not account for is that such data should be valuable.
Of course, we must use the term ‘free’ here loosely — that is to say, there is no direct financial cost — since we will eventually pay for our unfettered access to, and ability to generate, many forms of data.
We pay in our time, in our exposure to targeted advertising, in our subjection to spam, and in our inability to effectively tailor our experiences according to genuine wants and desires.
It has been said many times before that information is the product of ascribing value to data. In other words, it means applying cost, dictated by the global market of online users and creators, to our data.
Social media lowers the cost of raising & joining mobs…We can raise the cost up with software to expose and block the perpetually outraged.
— Naval Ravikant, Twitter
The broad solution, therefore, is an internet-like platform that puts the value of data at the centre of everything. When it is expensive to deploy thousands of bots to spread falsehoods, when the mere act of reading an article requires a cost barrier, we are forced to think: how much do I value this data as information?
It is here where the issues we face with the current Internet begin to fall away. By incorporating financial costs — however small — into our online behaviour, we are asked to express how much we truly value information with our wallets.
Here lies one of the central goals that the Metanet, running natively on top of Bitcoin SV, can achieve.
A New Paradigm
The blockchain is not merely a system for mediating and recording payments, but it is in fact an incredibly powerful and versatile commodity ledger.
The breakthrough of proof of work lies in both a solution to the double-spending problem and addressing the challenge of creating an immutable database. The fact that Bitcoin solves such a challenge is often forgotten when discussing blockchain technology.
Indeed, the provision of an immutable database has profound consequences for Internet-like data. The fact that we may use the blockchain as a single source of truth — a universal server — is one of the foundations upon which the concept of the Metanet is built.
The Metanet, then, is the manifestation of the inherent properties of Bitcoin that allow for the Internet, computation, and information to be exchanged, stored, distributed, and commoditised.
Metanet is the world’s first 4 dimensional computer, natively powered by Bitcoin, and lives on Bitcoin.
— _unwriter, Medium
Such is the new paradigm that Bitcoin facilitates. One wherein the blockchain can be used as a single universal server and users need only query the blockchain to access data.
Such a subtle shift in thinking unlocks huge potential in economic efficiency for service providers, content creators, and innovators to build applications and projects that utilise the blockchain as a distributed, immutable backend.
From the end-user perspective, the new paradigm allows for people to truly own their data. Whether it be to monetise their thoughts on blockchain-based social media platforms such as Twetch.app or to store their cherished memories as encrypted on-chain files using the B:// protocol.
The Metanet Protocol
We have touched on both some of the motivations for the Metanet and the properties that an on-chain Internet can provide. The Metanet protocol is one of the core components that can enable its vision to be realised.
Metanet is data structure over Bitcoin.
— _unwriter, Medium
In short, it is a protocol that allows for on-chain data to be structured in such a way that encodes the permissioning and write-access controls for such data — using only the underlying technology of the Bitcoin SV blockchain itself.
The Metanet protocol is therefore a solution that allows users to provably own their on-chain content.
We won’t go into any more detail about the protocol in today’s post, as the remainder of the series will be dedicated to describing the Metanet protocol in depth.
So, just what can you expect from the rest of the series?
The core aims of the series are to explain the Metanet protocol at length. In other words, the objective is to elaborate on its key concepts, clarify its lower-level details, and offer some insights into its more open-ended aspects.
The series title “Edge Cases” was chosen for two reasons:
First, it really was the ‘punny’ title that wrote itself for a blog about on-chain graph structures. We will of course be talking about graphs in the mathematical sense, rather than anything that may resemble price or hash-rate distributions.
Secondly, and rather more importantly, the phrase highlights the nature of Metanet-based questions that are currently circulating in many BSV developer discussions. Such questions I aim to help answer and explore further throughout the rest of the series.
As I’ve mentioned, the Metanet was originally announced by Dr Craig Wright at the CoinGeek Week London, in November 2018. Although largely a conceptual talk in nature, for those looking closely there was a lot of information to be gleaned from the announcement.
Only as recently as May was I lucky enough to be given the stage myself on the Developer Day at the 2019 CoinGeek Toronto conference. The talk I gave was effectively the first public disclosure of the ‘Metanet protocol’, in its technical detail, which you can watch here:
An awful lot has happened since the 2019 CoinGeek Toronto conference. We have already seen numerous projects and businesses starting to build using the principles laid out in the talk. Some notable examples include:
Occupied already as a full-time researcher at nChain, it has been a real challenge just to keep on top of the sheer volume of discussions going on. Which has only been amplified as there seems to be a new project, business, or event announced each day to keep track of in addition to the named channels.
The level of productivity in the slack discussions has been huge, and it is a genuine privilege to be talking with such a talented and driven group of people on a daily basis.
But, the avenues of discussion can become ‘lost’ in the swathes of important information that pass through such groups, which leads to duplications of effort for all involved.
This is where the blog series comes in.
Supplement to the content I had originally planned to cover in my posts, there is now a wealth of information — gleaned from many hours of discussion— that I hope to distil and share formally here.
Stay tuned for the next instalment in the series, where we’ll begin to dive into the technical details of the Metanet protocol.
There is a number of additional resources that will be useful as supporting material for the series.
Although I will aim to direct the reader to them as and when relevant, the following list should serve as a fairly complete guide to understanding the Metanet that can be used in conjunction with my posts:
- Metanet Protocol (Technical Summary).
- _unwriter’s explanation of the Metanet.
- Metanet slides from CoinGeek Toronto (2019).
- The Genesis Metanet tree: graph, thread.
- The MetaWriter tool: github, thread.
- Metanet planaria.
Please note that this list is certainly not exhaustive, and is likely to develop over time.
© 2019 nChain Limited. All rights reserved. This article is provided without any warranties whatsoever and shall not result in the grant of any license, whether implied or otherwise. nChain Limited shall not be liable in any way for the use of the information provided herein.