MySpace Just Lost More Than a Decade of Uploaded Music. Can Blockchain Do Better?
03.18.2019

MySpace, a once-dominant social network that extended its relevance for a time by hosting music for bands, appears to have lost or destroyed files uploaded before 2015. According to BoingBoing, that amounts to “all the music its users uploaded between 2003 and 2015,” based on messages from MySpace customer service.

“Due to a server migration files were corrupted and unable to be transferred over to our updated site. There is no way to recover the lost data,” one message from a MySpace rep read. We’ve reached out to MySpace for confirmation.

The issue was highlighted in part by the blog JWZ.org, which is substantially focused on internet infrastructure, and consistently refers to cloud storage and cloud computing as “the Clown.” The lessons here are pretty obvious, but it helps to have a giant screwup to drive them home. In the words of JWZ:

“The Clown is just someone else’s computer and they can and will fuck you. If it’s not on your computer, it’s not under your control. Why do you all keep doing this to yourselves??”

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That comment came after Microsoft’s acquisition of Github, a cloud platform crucial to the open-source community. While it seems unlikely Microsoft would commit the kind of technical error that would wipe out more than a decade’s worth of data, it’s not impossible—and it’s perfectly plausible that MS would make some sort of policy decision that deletes or otherwise messes with the many years’ worth of work archived there. BoingBoing also emphasizes that “someday, this will happen to Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.” Putting your data in the hands of a big company also has substantial privacy risks.

What is to be done? There is, of course, the turn-back-the-clock solution: Keep things on your own hard drives, make regular DVD backups, and if you want something to really last, put it on archival-quality paper. But that misses some of the big appeals of cloud storage, including the convenience of outsourcing the hassle, and the appeal of having an off-site copy of your data in the case of flood, fire, or other catastrophe.

Though it’s still very early days, some blockchain advocates have (of course) proposed decentralized solutions. The most prominent so far is Storj, an early ICO-funded project that uses a native token to pay a decentralized swarm of “Storage Node Operators.” It’s conceptually closer to an actual Cloud than services like Dropbox, since the servers aren’t under the control of a single company. And Storj both encodes files and break them up among several hosts, potentially reducing privacy risk. (Storj is also, it should be noted, a conceptually plausible case of “tokenomics,” which uses digital tokens to manage computing networks. The concept of tokenomics has arguably been eroded by the ICO bubble, when lots of nonsense arguments were made for tokenizing off-network functions.)

This is not the same thing as storing data on a blockchain. In theory, because public blockchains provide economic incentives for maintainers, data embedded in a chain could be made to last forever. This has some interesting, though limited, applications. Late last year, the publication Popula embedded a news story into the Ethereum blockchain, and similar methods have been used by activists to embed time-stamped documents.

Related: How the Airbnb of Data Storage Plans to Take on Amazon S3

That has potentially major anti-censorship implications, but embedding data in a blockchain makes much less sense when it comes to big multimedia files, or anything you want to keep private. The size of a full node—a record of all historical transactions and embedded data—is already a major problem for chains including Ethereum, so this isn’t a method that can scale, even for text-only documents.

One final blockchain-adjescent alternative to our present-day choice between privately owned, centralized servers and our own imperfect hard drives is called IPFS, or “Interplanetary File System.” It aims to be a kind of mashup of BitTorrent, HTTP, Storj, and Github, combining swarm file storage, addressing, and version-tracking. Wired referred to it as the real version of Pied Piper, the fictional “decentralized internet” at the center of HBO’s Silicon Valley. It’s more complemented by blockchain tech than based on it, but it’s still way more appealing than letting MySpace babysit your creative output.