How do you store data permanently?

Every day the world generates more and more data. We send more than 300 billion emails daily and produce around 2.5 million terabytes of data every 24 hours. Much of this data is not worth keeping, but there are large amounts that would be beneficial to individuals and societies to store permanently.

How do you store data permanently? The best way to store data permanently is through blockchain technology, and, specifically, the Arweave network. Arweave has developed blockchain technology that allows digital files to be kept for 200 years at a minimum, but probably much longer.

In this blog post, we will explore how blockchain (and, most notably, Arweave) can be used to store data permanently and why it is the best option available.

But before we get there, let’s walk through a brief discussion about some of the methods used for long-term data preservation.

Infinite mirror photo by Peter Burgess, 2006

Redundancy: The key to the preservation of information

For most of human recorded history, the key to the preservation of any type of information has been redundancy. The key was to make multiple copies of a particular scroll, book, or digital file and make sure that it is kept in several places in case the others were lost.

In theory, this would allow information to be kept safe as there would always be an intact copies somewhere in the world in case your copy went missing.

A good example of a redundant system working perfectly is a large regional library with multiple copies of the same books spread out over different locations.

With the onset of the digital age, libraries themselves have begun to seem redundant and expensive, and moves are being made to centralize more information (digitally) in just a few centers.

Image by DALL•E 2

The fluidity of the internet

Most of us feel the internet is unchanging and static, but actually, its defining characteristic is fluidity. The web is in a constant state of change, with new websites and pages appearing and disappearing all the time.

This can be a good thing: it means that there’s always something fresh on the home page of your favorite news site. But it also means that a lot of useful information gets lost in the shuffle.

According to some estimates, as much as one-third of all the information on the internet disappears within two years of it being put up. After 20 years, the majority of it has been lost.

This phenomenon is known as link rot, and it confounds our efforts to find reliable information online. Link rot occurs when links to a web page becomes outdated or broken. When this happens, you might end up on a page that no longer exists, or one that has been replaced with something else entirely.

While link rot is a natural part of the web, it can be accelerated by things like changing terms of service, high-profile data loss incidents, and the way that social media platforms are designed.

For example, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have all been through major redesigns in recent years. These changes can result in links to old content becoming broken. In some cases, entire pages or accounts may be deleted, taking years of information with them.

Similarly, storage companies like Dropbox and Google are difficult to depend on for permanent storage because they regularly change their terms of service, and often charge users subscription fees. What happens to your data if you miss a payment? Or what happens if they delete inactive accounts?  There are countless ways you can lose access to centrally stored data.

Read a Related ArticleInternet is a Collective Hallucination: the rotting of the Internet and Lose of Data

Image by DALL•E 2: “usb memory device … on the center of an ornate stage, oil painting”

Hardware solutions (or, limitations)

One of the leading ways that people try to store data for long periods of time is with computer hardware.

Computer hardware includes external hard drives and USB thumb drives that are separate from your main computer.

The upside is that most computer hardware is relatively cheap to buy, holds a lot of information, and can last for a reasonable amount of time. However, with hardware we are left with the same problems of needing to come up with backup copies, and the worry about hardware malfunctioning over time.

It would not be uncommon to have to replace a hard drive every 5 to 7 years – which hardly makes it permanent! However, up to this point it is seen as the safest alternative to keep your digital files secure.

Can the new blockchain technology help us out with a better data storage solution?

Early blockchains and permanence

When Bitcoin and (a little later) Ethereum rolled out to the world they brought blockchain technology into the public consciousness.

Part of what made them so captivating is their open, immutable (unchanging), and decentralized network, hosted by computers around the world.

This was new as we were used to information being completely siloed within the companies who owned it.

A limitation of these two blockchains, however, is that they were not designed to store large amounts of data at reasonable prices. This got several developers to start experimenting with a solution and see if this technology could be used for data storage.

A number of them succeeded including Filecoin, Storj, and Siac. These three are great innovations that offer storage on a decentralized network, but they offer storage at subscription prices. So they are decentralized, but would they solve the problem of permanence?

Arweave: Permanence at last

To solve the problem of long-term data storage the Arweave team innovated upon existing blockchain technology to create permanent storage at an affordable cost.

Blockchain provided the building blocks of what Arweave needed to provide reliable long-term storage: immutability (data that doesn’t change), decentralization (not controlled by third parties), and ownership (people would be in charge of their own information).

The innovation that has brought permanence to blockchain technology is Arweave.

Arweave is the first data storage of any kind to offer permanent storage. It offers storage on its immutable and decentralized network for a minimum of 200 years but probably much longer.

In tech circles, a zero to one invention is creating something that is unlike anything that has gone before it. And that is what permanent data storage is – something that is unlike anything that has gone before it.

Arweave offers two things that are unlike anything else on the internet today:

  • Permanent file storage – the ability to save any type file onto the Arweave network – documents, mp3s, pdfs, movies, digital art, and more.
  • The permaweb – the ability to save webpages permanently that are indexed and searchable. As Arweave puts it:

The permaweb looks just like the normal web, but all of its content – from images to full web apps – is permanent, retrieved quickly, and decentralized – forever. Just as the first web connected people over vast distances, the permaweb connects people over extremely long periods of time.

Who is using Arweave?

Arweave is being used by a wide and diverse group of users including:

  • Individuals – Everyday new people from around the world are storing their most valuable items digital items – photos, documents, audio files – through Arweave.
  • NFT projects – Arweave has become the home for a number of small-to-large NFT projects. From digital art to gaming to music, a growing number of artists have chosen to use Arweave’s main file sync app ArDrive to organize and manage their files on the permaweb.
  • Developers – The Arweave File System (ArFS) is the most powerful way to build upon Arweave. With the core library developers can save time when building in the Arweave ecosystem with the power and flexibility of our file system, toolkits, and CLI. ArFS is open-source and free to use.  Learn more
  • Enterprises – Lawyers, accountants and other professionals are using Arweave to manage their internal documents and work flows. If you have any questions about enterprise applications for Arweave, feel free to contact us through ArDrive Valet.

How can I use Arweave and store my data permanently?

To interact directly with the Arweave protocol by yourself requires a reasonably high technical ability.

However, several applications have been built on top of Arweave that act as bridges between you and the Arweave network.

One such application is ArDrive – it brings an additional layer to Arweave that allows you to upload and download your files easily from the permaweb.  In addition it enables you to:

  • Make your files private (Arweave by default only allows public documents)
  • Organize your files into files and folders (Arweave organizes by long, unfriendly transaction numbers)
  • Share all your files and folders with others
  • Archive or host web pages and static sites
  • Host decentralized apps

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