Akasha, a next-generation social media network powered by Ethereum and the InterPlanetary File System, was unveiled on May 3 ‒ World Press Freedom Day. The signups for the alpha release are open. The project is the brainchild of Mihai Alisie, cofounder of Bitcoin Magazine.
The Akasha, a Sanskrit word, is the unseen medium that pervades the universe and, in Eastern religions and spiritual traditions, serves as a substrate for the “Akashic Records” ‒ a permanent repository embedded in the fabric of space-time for all the information that is ever produced in the universe. Alisie’s project doesn’t go that far yet: it just wants to establish a permanent repository embedded in the fabric of the Internet for all the information that is ever produced online.
“Ever since I joined Vitalik [Buterin] in the Ethereum project as cofounder in late 2013, I’ve dreamed about the ways Ethereum could be used to solve some of the biggest issues we face as a civilization,” says Alisie. “However, it wasn’t until early 2015 when I first realized that we are about to create the missing puzzle piece that will enable us to tackle two of the most important challenges we face today as a modern information-based society: freedom of expression and creative perpetuity.”
The problem that the Akasha project wants to solve is the impermanence of information online. Information ‒ web sites, documents, email archives, video, etc. ‒ can be either purposefully deleted by the governments and/or corporations that control today’s Internet, or, more simply but equally tragic, just disappear for lack of maintenance of the central servers where it’s hosted.
In fact, today’s Internet is becoming centralized, with billions of users dependent on a handful of large services. Today’s Internet is also fragile, because it relies on a centralized distribution model, with servers that come and go. If a server goes down for any technical or commercial reason, or is taken down by the authorities, all the web pages stored on that server disappear.
“The next time you stumble upon a 404 page remember that it is a small tragedy in itself. It is almost as if our collective brain has lost a piece of its memory, sometimes forever,” says Alisie. “We are basically living in an information age plagued by arbitrary censorship and digital amnesia, affecting every Internet user.”
The Internet Archive, with its Wayback Machine that stores snapshots of web pages and entire sites, can permit recovering lost information if a suitable snapshot is available, but sometimes it doesn’t have the time to make a backup copy if the original is deleted soon after creation, which can happen in case of rapid government intervention.
It would be good to have a backup system built into the fabric of the Internet, but for that to happen the Internet must evolve toward a decentralized, distributed infrastructure independent of central servers. A limited but conceptually sound model for a decentralized Internet is provided by the BitTorrent network, where files are not stored centrally but locally on the computers of the network’s users. In Alisie’s words:
“What would happen if there was no server to delete information from and instead the content would live forever on a decentralized network serving data through a fractal of nodes? We’re about to find out.”
After a lot of study and prototyping work, the Akasha team has found a suitable technology stack to implement a decentralized, distributed Internet. The cornerstones of the Akasha stack are Ethereum and the InterPlanetary File System, augmented by Electron, React with Redux, and Node.js.
The InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) is a peer-to-peer distributed file system that connects all participating nodes with the same file system and permits building versioned file systems, blockchains, all the way to a permanent distributed Web. IPFS has no single point of failure, and nodes do not need to trust each other. Recently, OpenBazaar, a blockchain-based decentralized marketplace, started integrating the IPFS into its platform.
In an article titled “Locking the Web Open, a Call for a Distributed Web,” Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, an early Internet entrepreneur also known for founding other pioneering initiatives such as the Internet Credit Union, Alexa and the early supercomputer company Thinking Machines, challenged funders, visionaries, coders and activists to build the decentralized Internet with technologies similar to those used by the Akasha project.
Since Akasha is built on Ethereum, it will have a built-in infrastructure suitable for micropayments. “In the first phase ETH will be the native token used inside the Akasha ecosystem,” notes the Akasha website. “We chose to focus first on building a working decentralized application and learning from the actual use what sorts of problems we should be solving with a custom token.”
Perhaps Akasha could advance toward implementing the native Internet payment system and other advanced features foreseen in Ted Nelson’s Project Xanadu, a conceptual precursor of today’s World Wide Web, which were never implemented due to lack of enabling technologies. “Humanity needs a better home of Mind,” concludes Alisie referring to John Perry Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.”
Editor's note: Mihai Alisie was one of the original founders of Bitcoin Magazine, along with Vitalik Buterin.