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How Web3 Data Portability Through IPFS Saved HicEtNunc NFTs

Content Identifiers, Portability, and Community

Last week, the NFT world was shaken by the sudden announcement from HicEtNunc (HEN)’s founder that the platform would be shut down. HEN is/was an NFT marketplace built on top of the Tezos blockchain, but it was also so much more. It spawned a whole new level of creativity in NFTs. Understandably, artists, collectors, investors, and seemingly all of Web3 were concerned.

Fortunately, HicEtNunc’s content (the NFT metadata and media) was stored on IPFS. An entire community sprung into action to help preserve the art and keep HEN alive. Many projects created mirrors of the original HEN website. However, one project, in particular, saw a problem with only mirroring the original website. Should the content that HEN stored on IPFS be unpinned by the founder (or anyone else in control of the storage nodes), much of the art would disappear. The team at DNS.xyz contacted Pinata late Friday afternoon (November 12, 2021) asking how we could help them migrate nearly 2 million files off IPFS storage nodes that might be turned off at any point. The DNS.xyz team identified all the content identifiers (CIDs) that needed to be migrated and provided our team (Matt Ober, in particular) with a list.

It was a lot of content. But it was available on the IPFS network, and because of the way that IPFS works, we could theoretically get all of the content and migrate it onto storage nodes that the DNS.xyz team would spin up with Pinata to ensure the files remained accessible. It was a lot of work, but it was possible.

And that’s what I want to focus on here. The Pinata team and the DNS.xyz team worked tirelessly over the weekend to make this happen, and the DNS.xyz team has a great deep dive on the topic, but I want to take the time to recognize how flawlessly IPFS performed in doing exactly what it has always promised it can do.

Kyle Tut, Pinata’s CEO and co-founder, talks about IPFS like this:

There is a fear that if files are not forced into permanent storage they can be lost. This is true. Files can be unpinned. Content can be lost. But only if people don’t care enough to keep the content alive.

In the case of the HEN community, there were plenty of people who cared a whole hell of a lot about making sure the art was preserved. We talk a lot at Pinata about the responsibility onus of NFT media. Did the original HEN founder have a responsibility to preserve the NFT files forever? Maybe, but that’s an argument for others to hash out. What we do know is that responsibility immediately transferred to the community when the project was shut down. And because IPFS is open, powered by CIDs, and portable, literally anyone in the HEN community could participate in preserving and taking responsibility for the data.

There are layers to how important this moment was for NFTs, for Web3, and for media and creators in general.

First, content identifiers allow you to find any piece of content that is still pinned on IPFS nodes.

Second, IPFS being an open API allows you to move data from one IPFS node to another easily (Matt might be shaking his fist at the “easy” comment, but the point stands).

Third, and building off the first two points, anyone can take responsibility for NFT data if they care about it. That’s powerful.

Had this content been stored on the traditional cloud, it would have been locked behind API keys that the community would not have had access to. Even if it was not locked behind API keys, it would not have been possible to find the content by CID alone. And even if all the content could have been found, each file would have had to be downloaded manually then re-uploaded. With IPFS, this was not the case.

One of the most amazing parts of this entire migration was the fact that IPFS is built to move data between storage nodes. So, when we were given the list of CIDs, our nodes were able to find that content on the current host nodes, and we were able to import it all one by one without ever having to manually download the files outside of the IPFS network.

The entire experience has proven the power of a community to unite to ensure the preservation of things they find important. Forced permanence is not required when you have the combination of community, portability, and content identifiers.

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Justin Hunter

Justin Hunter

Writer. Head of Product at Pinata. Builder.