In his Bits On Blocks blog, Antony Lewis has written an article titled: The emergence of blockchains as Activity Registers about the two different roles Blockchains play. For those unfamiliar with the term, blockchains are the distributed ledger technologies used to record transactions in commodity digital assets (aka ‘cryptocurrencies’) like Bitcoin. The item refers specifically to financial services, but I believe it is equally applicable to non-financial digital assets as well:
“[Activity Registers] This second class of blockchain contains entries that contain data, usually fingerprints of data called hashes, possibly stored with some other non-sensitive metadata. The data can represent anything, but in the financial services context, they might be trade facts about transactions negotiated and agreed “off-chain” via another channel. This keeps the commercially sensitive secrets off the industry-shared ledger, while leaving an indelible mark on it that can be referred to later if needed.” [Read More]
The last line of the above quote, in particular, is of significance to DAM interoperability. An issue with most of the generic interoperability protocols that are used by DAM solutions is either having to reveal more asset metadata than you might have wanted to, or the necessity to configure security policies to restrict access to data. While there are wider standards for accessing data now like REST etc, there is no atomic unit identifier which relates to a package of data (i.e. the digital asset). It is possible to use URLs to fulfil this role, but not all solutions support that method and the techniques used to decode them tend to be quite distinct from each other.
As yet, there are no DAM inteorperability protocols. Even something as simple as knowing whether or not an asset exists and having a universal identifier for it which is fungible across different systems is impossible. The current state of DAM interoperability is what it would be like if you had to contract two lawyers to organise exchanging money between different currencies (with all the cost, hassle and time-consuming delays that the description implies). Dealing with just two different types is bad enough, when you start to need to involve may more, the situation begins to get very demanding and complex to manage. Reading through Antony’s article, a number of the scenarios that can be resolved with what he refers to as Distributed Activity Registers sounds a lot like ones which anyone who has managed complex DAM integration projects will have encountered and wished there was a solution for (especially those where there are many different counterparties involved who are all mistrustful of each other by default).
Having references to digital assets from different repositories recorded on the blockchain would remove the first (and biggest) tier of complexity from this task since blockchain transactions provide a universal reference in a predictable format with standardised access methods which different systems can treat like a public key and cross reference back to their own internal identifier, as well as other metadata. This is an issue I have discussed before on DAM News (and elsewhere).
The ‘industry’ Antony refers to in his piece is somewhat different from the one we tend to talk about in this journal, however, that is a historic perspective which I expect to change. I believe that the Digital Asset Management market (as in ‘DAM’) needs to pay more attention to what is happening with distributed ledger technologies as they will have a significant commercial impact on what happens for some time to come in our market.
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