BlockChatter #4: “If Our Hands Are Tied, It’s Difficult To Reach Your Pocket”

Dominik Olech
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Blockchain technology allows many diverse solutions that may improve our lives. Jeremy Kauffman believes it is a chance for creating a decentralized content library.

In a previous BlockChatter, we met a person who approaches blockchain in a very fashionable way. This time, we are talking with Jeremy Kauffman, the CEO of LBRY – a decentralized content sharing and publishing platform.

Dominik Olech: Before we move to LBRY itself, I want to ask you a more personal question. There is quite a long distance from sport to the tech industry, especially such a  bizarre part of it as blockchain. What made you leave TopScore and dive into this world? 

Jeremy Kauffman: My previous company was technically a B2B service, where the businesses took our products and used them with end-users. We certainly had to be very cautious about what users were experiencing with our software. I think this kind of experience was very helpful very helpful in building a blockchain company. I had experience in computer science before I started working on TopScore. Certainly, the blockchain company is more technically challenging than such a company. But I think that those skills were helpful in terms of understanding how to build a real product which people will use in the real world.

D.O.: What came first: an idea of an online library or the will to use blockchain technology in some creative way?

J. K.: I definitely started with thinking about how blockchain can be used – what things can be done with it. This technology is first and foremost a database. For a computer scientist, what distinguishes this type of database from others is an ability to reach consensus on what’s in it. It seemed like a very powerful system for registering digital content. 

I think the idea that anyone can put something in the world and everyone else can find it, and we don’t need to trust one company, individual, or set of servers to perform that service is very powerful. 

I can’t point to a specific conversation that got me thinking this way. But there is a conversation between Eric Schmidt and Julian Assange about bitcoin-based DNS. That’s not exactly what LBRY is, but it made me think in the right direction.

What’s LBRY exactly? On your website, you call it “A People’s Marketplace.” Is it a final description or maybe you want to go further with the project?

It’s certainly still early days in terms of how big this project could be. I think the potential is tremendous; up to 50% of the Internet traffic is the type of content that LBRY is very well suited to handle. I do think it is always going to be about digital content.  That includes movies, books, written texts, pictures. LBRY it’s not going to replace Facebook and other social media; it won’t do things that aren’t exactly the same for different people. But for other kinds of content it is incredibly impactful technology.

LBRY allows YouTubers to link their accounts with it. Is it a disposable action or you aim for more integrations like this?

If you are a YouTuber, you can publish your content to LBRY very quickly. It’s a part of our solution to create a two-sided marketplace. There is something like 20.000 YouTubers who are currently participating in this program. Among them, we have dozens of YouTubers with millions of subscribers, like Casually Explained, Minute Physics. YouTubers are managed to bring thousands of people to LBRY to watch content on a daily basis. 

So is YouTube a competitor or partner? 

Right now, it’s both. It’s an ally in the sense of continually doing things to drive people to a new platform. And LBRY is open-source, so if YouTube or any other company wants to start using it, they can do it without our permission. But I don’t think they will do that because surrendering control is very threatening to these companies – and that’s the core of what we do. 

You can trust us because our hands are tight behind our backs. If our hands are tied, it’s difficult to reach your pocket. I think that other companies, which once got a secure position in the marketplace, start acting to the detriment of their customers.  And they can get away with this because you are essentially trapped. But if YouTube wants to start using LBRY as a technology, nothing stops them.

Let’s talk about the technological part of the project. One thing makes me wonder. LBRY team put much effort into designing its naming system. Why is this particular element so important?

For the most part, I don’t think it’s been a huge role. I do think it is something that you need to think about. Just one aspect that we wanted to improve. In other peer to peer systems, for example BitTorrent, technically, each piece of BitTorrent does have a URL scheme. It looks really ugly: a long mass of characters. We do think it’s nicer if URLs tell you something about what’s on the other side. In the LBRY system, you get human-readable URLs that match the pieces of content. That is an improvement. It’s similar to the traditional domain system. 

One tricky problem that we see in the traditional system is how you allocate names. My company had to pay more than $10.000 for the lbry.com domain. The person who had it used it for non-productive purposes. That doesn’t seem like an efficient system to me that I have to pay off someone who’s acting like that. The current system encourages tons of squatting. Our allows multiple people to be at the same name. If 10 different people want to acquire the name “blockchain” then someone gets “blockchainA”, the other gets “blockchain5”, and someone gets another one. We do have a competitive system for who wins the name, with no adornment. But I think this is a small piece in the overall puzzle.

What about the quality of content on LBRY? Since it is decentralized and everyone can publish whatever they want, how LBRY will prevent the illegal type of content? Do you have any influence on content?

We do make an effort to play with the law in these matters. We don’t want LBRY to be a place for infringing content. We want LBRY to be a place where you can find legitimate content. First, no protocol deals with these things at protocol level. HTTP does not have a global register. It also doesn’t exist on the email protocol level. I can email you anything I want, there is no protocol which can prevent it.

At the protocol level, LBRY is no different than any other. The protocol itself cannot stop all malicious activity. I don’t think the picture is that different in any protocol. In terms of how we handle copywriting, we are registered, we make process requests. If we learn that content is illegal, we put it on the blacklist. And users who want to use the network legally will follow that list.

How do you see LBRY Credits in comparison to other cryptocurrencies? You treat it as “classical” currency like Bitcoin, or it is more like an inseparable part of LBRY as the whole project?

You can’t have a public blockchain without a tradable token. Having it is a inevitable part of having public blockchain worked. In terms of what’s the best consensus algorithm or what’s the best way to design blockchain: our view is that we’re not looking to be leaders in that area. We’re happy to follow the best solutions. 

When we started, the proof of work was the only clear choice. I do believe now it is possible for proof of stake or hybrid system to be better. I think this is still being questioned and this is something that we are looking at very closely. We don’t have a dogma here. We want a blockchain that anyone can contribute to, that’s not owned by anyone, has censorship resistance. But when it comes to what is the best approach to ensure this, we continue research and we are not afraid to change things if we think there is a better way.

Do you think people are ready to accept blockchain solutions like LBRY? Aren’t they used to centralized services too much?

Some people are. I will say that at this point, LBRY is very close to passing the mom test if it hasn’t done that already. There is a web version that is in beta, and lbry.tv is gonna be in public beta very soon. Is LBRY ready for everyone around the world – I would say no. Is it ready for a larger group of people – I would say yes. Is this something that is necessary – I would say resolutely yes. We see only more and more crackdowns on social media, on youtube and other places. 

The climate has shifted to an even more conservative, compared to what can or cannot be said. People who want to make choices for themselves are going to leave those places. A lot of the best comedy and criticism comes from areas where people are free to speak their mind. In historic creating places, there were either echo chambers or were people concern what can and can’t say. Many of the most fascinating, creative, diverse thinkers end up leaving those places.

In one of your articles on LBRY website, you mentioned Tim Berners-Lee, the father of HTTP protocol. Do you think the blockchain might be a revolution like this?

I don’t think the web is ever gonna go back to that time. Certainly not in that exact sense, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

I believe that the web has gone under control of a smaller and smaller number of companies and governments. The blockchain can absolutely be a check on this trend and possibly reverse it.

Any more thoughts?

A lot of people have contributed to LBRY so far. It’s absolutely a community effort. There is plenty to do, and there are plenty of tokens to have. People can join us, they can turn on chat on lbry.com. We have a whole tech portal, lbry.tech, which helps learn how to contribute technically. Anyone interested in this idea of free place to share with each other should come and get involved. 

Jeremy Kaufmann: CEO and co-founder of LBRY, a global content registry that is owned and controlled by no one. He attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he received degrees in physics and computer science. Prior to LBRY, Jeremy founded Flickswitch, and TopScore, a startup that processes millions of dollars monthly in event and activity registrations. It gave him an experience in delivering usable products getting those products in front of the right people. He is a longtime supporter of decentralized technology and freedom of information – and LBRY is an effect of this interest.


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