In the seminal novel 1984, George Orwell imagines a dystopian future in which governments routinely rewrite historical records as a means of control: “He who controls the past controls the future.” While few Western governments have yet to engage in the wholesale creation of false history, the practice is too common in totalitarian governments. And with AI-generated fakes being increasingly hard to differentiate from the real thing, the ability to create alternate historical records has never been easier.
One of the attractive properties of blockchain technology is its ability to create immutable and permanent records. For instance, every bitcoin transaction ever made is maintained within the bitcoin blockchain, and it’s only through this permanent record that we have confidence in the ownership of individual coins.
Unfortunately, blockchains cannot, on their own, solve the fake history problem. At best, blockchains can store a hash of information. While this hash can validate the timestamp of some information if you have it, it cannot protect against the loss of information.
Two software engineers—Sam Williams and William Jones—created the Arweave project as an attempt to create a solution to this dilemma. Williams had worked on decentralized systems at Google and Microsoft, while Jones had focused on graph theory at Amazon and Facebook.
Simplistically, Arweave can be thought of as “bitcoin for data.” It’s a decentralized network in which participants are rewarded for storing—and proving that they have stored—data.
The core of Arweave is the Blockweave—a blockchain-like structure that allows for the efficient storage and access of data. Arweave has a token—AR—which users employ to pay for storage and which miners who store data are rewarded with.
So far, this is conceptually like Filecoin. Filecoin is a system in which users pay for storage on IPFS using the Filecoin token. Miners maintain copies of the data on their IPFS servers, ensuring that the data does not “age out” of IPFS. However, while in Filecoin, one pays for data to be stored for a certain period (say 10 years), Arweave storage is guaranteed forever. Forever is a very long time: How can this possibly work?
The key to the “forever” nature of Arweave is the Sustainable Storage Endowment. When a piece of data is stored on Arweave, the user pays enough into the storage endowment to pay for it to be stored on the network in perpetuity. At this point, you might be thinking “Hang on—to store it forever, I’d need to pay an infinite amount!” Well, you would—if storage in the future cost as much as storage today. But as we all know, storage gets cheaper all the time. In fact, it gets exponentially cheaper.
During the past 50 years, the price of storage has reduced by about 30% every year. What this means is that what costs $1 to store for a year today will cost only 3 cents to store in 10 years and less than 1/10th of a cent in 20 years. If you do the math, you can see that provided the cost of storage keeps reducing, a finite amount of spend can be sufficient to pay for an effectively infinite amount of storage.
Like IPFS and other storage systems using content-based addressing, data stored on the Arweave network cannot be modified once created. And since it’s distributed across a world network of participants, a government or hacker cannot delete an item either. Therefore, Arweave offers a unique permanent and non-censorable storage solution.