Prototype_ Gossip Chain

#CreativeIndustries | #IntellectualProperty | #InformationValidation | #PredictionMarkets | #Reliability | #Reputation | #DigitalGoods

Narrative  [7-8 min read]

Gossip Chain is positioned within the creative industries sector. The group guiding its co-creation had Enrique Encinas (M-ITI / Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute) and James Auger (M-ITI / Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute) as lead designers, and Jaya Klara Brekke (Durham University), Juan Blanco (Consensys Systems) and Carlotta de Ninni (Mycelia) as expert stakeholders.

This sector was explored by pinpointing an historical context where circulation of information was challenged by traditional institutions and social actors on the ground, and where alternative solutions were devised at bottom-up level. This context was the Tahir Square’s protests on January 2011. The inspiration behind this prototype was the difficulty to disseminate information without unconditioned access to internet or other major telecommunication infrastructures, and especially how to insure information was not halted at specific points of the chain, due to suspicions or divergent views that would evolve into discussion rather than diffusion.

The solution found at the time in Tahir Square was to take advantage of taxi drivers’ ‘gift of gab’ position in a physical social network. Activists on the ground realised that if they could direct conversations towards the gathering at Tahir, taxi drivers would spread the word and the protest would be a success. But instead of direct conversations that were mainly resulting into arguments and discussions, the strategy was to exploit the use of gossip. Thus, they allowed taxi drivers to overhear cell phone conversations where details of the protests would be disclosed, so that they could eavesdrop believing to have overheard a secret and subsequently spread the information.

Taxi as enabler of people's interactions with rumours.

Taxi as enabler of people’s interactions with rumours.

Blockchains create new possibilities for governing and registering content in more open ways, allowing for trusted management, shared data and knowledge layers across industries. In Gossip Chain, however, the more informal aspects of these questions are explored. It traces what might happen if the more volatile and unpredictable nature of rumours and gossip become tokenised, formalised and immutable on the blockchain.

The prototype exists in a larger scenario named On the Block, an imaginary city where informal knowledge becomes intellectual property via blockchains. It points to a neighbourhood where a taxi becomes not only a transportation vehicle but also a vessel for capturing informal exchanges of rumours. And it expands gossip as common knowledge that circulates and is registered, but whose meaning mutates with the ears and mouth that hears it and voices it.

Gossip Chain was not developed, however, as a single use case. The group decided to develop two other secondary use cases that operate on similar grounds to Gossip Chain, and made possible by the validation and verification mechanisms already in place for Gossip Chain. They use cases are named Civic Chain and Maker Chain.

The first one suggests a model based on hashing tables where verification of local knowledge is done deliberately rather than via the market, and contributes to a common resource of local histories and knowledge. The second one allows for a community of makers to determine differential access based on fine-grained commons and commercial contractual arrangements. Full information is accessible for download at the end of this page.

But it is following Gossip Chain in the imaginary city of On the Block that we might understand how the main action of this prototype occurs. A different path of light arises in the streets depending on the route the taxi follows. The light mimicks the path followed by a rumour when it spreads, while gossip is also happening within the taxi and can be only heard from certain perspectives. The taxi is moved by human hands in the prototype towards the Taxi Stop marked by a Totem. This triggers magnetic switches when it travels, and creates a unique light path depending on its route. Finally, once the vehicle arrives at a specific taxi stop the gossip is registered on the blockchain and made broadly accessible and marketable through the same Totem.

Detail of Gossip Chain's operational scheme.

Detail of Gossip Chain’s operational scheme.

One of the buildings in the scenario has a directional speaker that broadcasts gossip in a very specific direction. As such, it is only from one corner of the model that one can hear the voices whispering and try to guess its meaning. With this effect, the prototype encourages people to discover the source of the gossip, to move around the model, and possibly invite commentary on how gossip is generated and heard from certain perspectives. Gossip Chain can be thus described as a reputation and market-backed ledger of rumours, which uses scores and prediction markets to assess the value and reliability of a given rumour.

Gossip about a specific place can only be submitted to the chain at the gossip totem for the neighbourhood. Reliability is assessed based on the reputation of the person submitting the gossip, and there are two ways that contributors gain reputation. First, through market demand for their gossip. And second, through checkers who vouch for a piece of gossip by adding their signatures. Evidence for and against the piece of gossip is incentivised by a prediction market. Those signing the piece of gossip gain financial rewards for verifying the information, but will also be financially punished if evidence is added that contradicts their original information.

Blockchains are used within the On the Block scenario for identity validation, tokenisation of gossip and reputation, and token based prediction markets. Bootstrapping a public blockchain platform based on systems such as the Ethereum network, Gossip Chain is created through a smart contract responsible for all the Gossip system functionality. The Gossip application acts then as the interface between the public blockchain, Decentralised Storage Systems, such as IPFS, where the details of gossips are recorded in digital format, Search and Indexing databases, such as IPDB, and Decentralised Identity Systems such as uPort or Circles.

Two core elements would allow Gossip Chain to function. One is the Gossip Totem, a neighbourhood physically localized artefact where Gossip about a local place is submitted and retrieved. And the other one is the Gossip Wallet that allows a person to submit new Gossip, retrieve Gossip information and participate and receive rewards in the Gossip prediction markets.

A custom local application for validators responsible for classifying gossip allows people to challenge gossip, but also to automate classification using artificial intelligence. This would be done considering that to automate the process of classification of Gossip entries and details, validators might also use artificial intelligence components to simplify the classification process. On top, gossip would also be verified through price mechanisms in a prediction market, such as Gnosis or Augur, where people can bet on which gossip is truthful or not.

Taxi Stop where the Gossip Totem is localised.

Taxi Stop where the Gossip Totem is localised.

A possible explanation of how Gossip Chain would work can be explored using a storyline with Alice and Bob. Alice has many friends in the catering industry and has recently heard that Bob, the owner of an otherwise very popular competitor restaurant, does not have the correct immigration papers. She submits this gossip on the Gossip Chain. The restaurant is popular, so plenty of people want to hear what her gossip is and pay for access to it, and Alice quickly starts to make money from submitting this gossip. Five of Alice’s friends sign her piece of gossip, giving her a good reputation that further increases her gossip value.

In the meantime, Bob the restaurant owner is getting worried that immigration will check Gossip Chain and cause problems. He submits a challenge to her gossip, and because his restaurant is so popular it gains signatures in his favour. The more people sign his challenge against Alice’s gossip, the more Alice’s reputation as well as that of her co-signatories goes down, potentially affecting their future ability to earn from submitting gossip.

Alice was counting on licencing her accumulated gossip about the catering industry to a high profile food magazine. But the value of her gossip is dropping due to the signatures gathered against her claim. A secondary prediction market taking bets on the outcome is primarily backing Alice’s claim, driving more people to go to the Gossip Totem and submit signatures supporting Alice.

The neighbourhood rallies behind Bob, holding pickets and picnics by the Taxi Totem to prevent anyone from supporting Alice with more signatures. And Alice watches it all happen, as her future ability to earn financial resources from her Gossip Chain reputation is determined through the competition between the prediction market and Bob’s popularity in the neighbourhood and ability to gather support and signatures.

Within such a context, Gossip Chain aims to question how knowledge is created and spread in the first place, and what happens when it is turned into intellectual property for instance. Taking advantage of the authority a data-entry has once it is added to the blockchain, Gossip Chain in this imaginary city scenario plays with the interactions between the informal and untrusted and the highly formalised and trustworthy.

Gossip Chain questions how information can be institutionalised into more structured forms such as intellectual property, and who it is produced by and for whom. It raises questions on the existence of intellectual property that adds intrigue to information, intellectual property that is produced and consumed locally, or that finds its value in the scarce and colloquial rather than the ubiquitous and global. And in the end it poses bigger questions on the plausibility or desirability of future marketplaces and commercial applications based on such a system.

These questions are referenced by appealing to the ability of blockchain technologies to re-introduce scarcity into the otherwise fluid space and endless copies of digital assets in a continuously changing creative industries sector. Instead of reproducing and reinforcing the same relations of property rights in the digital space, the group questions: what are the new and fine-grained ways through which blockchain facilitates the curation of conditions of access and contribution to digital goods? How might blockchain not simply enforce but radically transform what intellectual property is in the cultural sector? And what could be the real new possibilities that arise for cultural agents from the application of blockchain in contexts such as those explored in the On the Block scenario?

Panorama of the prototype with Gossip Chain in motion.

Panorama of the prototype with Gossip Chain in motion.

Additional Materials for Download

Gossip Chain, Civic Chain, Maker Chain and their respective text, design, audiovisual, and code elements are made available by the EU Policy Lab of the Joint Research Centre under a EU Public Licence (EUPL), and where not applicable under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0), unless otherwise stated.

You can use, redistribute and/or modify the whole or parts of the available material under these terms “as-is”, as long as you note the licenses and attribute credit (European Commission, Joint Research Centre, lead designers, other contributors). This is without warranty and declared fitness for any particular purpose, and disclaiming liability for any consequences resulting from using, redistributing and/or modifying any of the provided elements in any given circumstances.

GossipChain – Brochure  CivicChain – Brochure  MakerChain – Brochure  Source Files (.py)