I love to think about how to apply emergent technologies to the production, distribution, and ownership of books. Some of these technologies may go nowhere, others may someday revolutionize the publishing industry, and it’s impossible to know, in the moment, which is which.
Most of my experiments in the past couple of years have involved using NFTs to enhance and mediate access to stories. But what if we could have blockchain-based ebooks without NFTs? That’s the promise of ordinals.
What Are Ordinals?
Ordinals use cryptocurrencies to inscribe information directly onto a blockchain. Instead of all coins of a chain being identical, interchangeable, equal in value, and in all other ways fungible, some individual coins are inscribed with data and made to be uniquely identifiable, potentially more useful, potentially more valuable, and decidedly non-fungible.
The information in an ordinal can be an image, video clip, text, or perhaps an entire book. Since the data resides on the blockchain, it’s far more durable than data on a web server or decentralized network that’s merely linked to the blockchain with a smart-contract and URI, as is common with an NFT.
I initially shied away from ordinals because they were difficult to work with and debuted on a blockchain that doesn’t meet my standard for environmental sustainability. But ordinals have since gotten easier to work with and have spread to many additional chains.
The Asteroid Protocol
The Asteroid Protocol is a new refinement that brings Bitcoin-style ordinals to the Cosmos ecosystem. Quick. Easy. Cheap. It also allows for the creation of coins where, as I understand it, each is connected to a shared data file.
So here are the experiments:
First, I made an inscription of the book cover for Fraud: The Art of the Steal. The image is recorded directly on the blockchain and does not rely on a web server or hosting service to remain accessible.
The ebook itself was larger than the maximum file size, but I can imagine ways to reformat to put the entire contents of the book onto the Cosmos blockchain if I wanted to preserve its contents, as, for example, from potential censorship.
Then, I issued a coin onto the Cosmos Hub using the new CFT-20 format of the Asteroid Protocol. Each coin holds an image of Inverted Homer. As I described in a previous newsletter, Inverted Homer is a 2021-era digital collectible that I’ve repurposed as a rewards token for this newsletter.
Inverted Homers are giveaways with no value other than the good feeling that comes from receiving them, holding onto them, or passing them along to others. There are a million Inverted Homer NFTs, and starting today, there will also be one million Inverted Homer coins, called $UNHOMERs, which have no implied value and exist only as a demonstration of the technology. There are many coins out there but this one is mine, even if I don't derive any particular benefit from people holding them.
To grab a bunch of $UNHOMER tokens you'll need a Cosmos-compatible wallet like Keplr and a bit of $ATOM for gas. If you're able to do this, let me know!
The Cosmos ecosystem is relatively new to me, but I like it for its sustainability, cost, interchain operations, and some seriously smooth user interfaces. It's also the new home of PageDAO, the decentralized writers' trade organization, which I'll be discussing in a future newsletter.
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