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Research and Development

James Stevens edited this page Dec 21, 2018 · 2 revisions

Blockchain insertions feels just like the early internet - tiny highly compressed images with Flamewars, insults and ego mania and where individual voices are visible. I feels like the excitement of using netscape to look at images from foreign places. The blockchain can been seen as a kind of cyclical return to the vision that were there at the beginning of the internet. A terra ignonito of a world that is yet to be written rather than a space suitable for corporate exploitation.

Yet what would it mean to invent this cultural history? Does this mean faking it? Obviously not but it is more than representation or mere performance of its dynamics. But an inventive construction involves taking a position re interpreting and representing and remaking it. Allowing people to write themselves into this history to transform it an own it. Yet rather than something static and in the past this is a real time anarchaeology hopes to develop a performative inventive media history of the book chain via its insertions. In particular it will focus on the methods of how to tell this history as a participatory interactive artwork and both its analytical power of telling this history as well its its potential for reinventing this history. Or perhaps something more performative and live. What would it mean not to represent the blockchain but to perform it. A tool that lets people investigate for themselves. Something like a a web stalker for the blockchain: IOD Webstalker

Just as the internet grew the idea of writing the history of the internet started to feel like a ridiculous task of trying to map the constantly growing unmappable now, this project faces a daunting task

What is a blockchain Insertion? Blockchain insertion is a term given to deliberately adding media content into the blockchain ledger itself. Calling it insertion is an implicit value judgement that hosting this media is extraneous while the core goal of the blockchain should be financial transaction. While in the technical community there is an argument that the founder of the blockchain Nakamoto fallidated the notion of embedding media content in the block by doing so himself within the genesis block leaving the message “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”. Despite this rather negative term of blockchain insertion this paper will use this term as the clearest description as well as its broad acceptance within the technically community around the block chain.

State of play in terms of blockchain insertion There are many journalistic articles in newspapers and magazines talking about blockchain insertions. The main focus in on pornographic material

Discussions in the tech community that manin started in 2011. In one an internet poster suggested child pornography is embedded in the blockchain

There are a variety of articles talking about blockchain as a legitimate repository medium Interestingly they make many of the arguments familiar from the beginning of the internet of making data permanently accessible to the public in order to hold government accountable. It is the unalteratibity of the blockchain that is seen as a way of surviving censorship

In the most detailed analysis Matzutt et al. suggest there are at least 1600 items 59 of which include links to unlawful images of child exploitation, politically sensitive content, or privacy violations. Two of them are backups of link lists to child pornography, containing 274 links to websites, 142 of which refer to Tor hidden services. The remaining instance is an image depicting mild nudity of a young woman. In an online forum this image is claimed to show child pornography.

What is interesting is that it is not clear what is image was. The only one we found so far is not clear that it was really nudity at all. Nevertheless the authors have produced a follow up paper (Matzutt et al. 2018) that proposes methods to try and curb what they see as illegitimate insertions.

There are now many website and services such as Apertus and Cyptografitii that provide tools for both inserting and looking at media in the blockchain content.

The messages from the mines project is significant since it both tries to visulise the content and add some interpretation such as “Aluminum Falcon is a reference to a Robot Chicken joke about the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars”. Most usefully the code of the software is fully open source

There are also some projects that try to narrate what is in there an make sense of it. One of the best ones is Ken Shirriff It lists many of the classic insertions and explains how they worked. While out of date now what is interesting is that the comments of this page have now become a resource where people working on newer software and papers on this topic are adding their links. In this way this site is the most definitive starting point for blockchain insertion.

Interesting examples in the blockchain

Religious prayers in the coinbase part of the blockchain that seem to spark surprising controversy and flame wars. People talk about the prayers as graffiti or as spam but also propaganda. Elgius is a mining conglomerate that is signing each block with religious prayers. Essentially bading other people’s work and labour with catholic doctrine. “Your religious mumbo jumbo is just as valuable to me as Viagra ads. It is, for all intents and purposes, spam.”

“the fact that it was actually started with political propaganda in the Genesys block by Satoshi himself, setting a clear and undeniable precedent.” “Not that our blockchain was quite virginal - but how sullied it is now!“ Interesting to think what would be the RL equivalent of this?

Doing a bit of research I found a story of someone showing hospital photos of injuries the poster received from police grenade shot at their arm.

Extensive memorial


Matzutt, R. et al. (2018) ‘A Quantitative Analysis of the Impact of Arbitrary Blockchain Content on Bitcoin’, in Proceedings of the 22nd International Conference on Financial Cryptography and Data Security (FC), Nieuwpoort, Curaçao. Available at:

Manski, S. (2017) ‘Building the blockchain world: Technological commonwealth or just more of the same?’, Strategic Change, 26(5), pp. 511–522. doi: 10.1002/jsc.2151.

Matzutt, R. et al. (2018) ‘Thwarting unwanted blockchain content insertion’, in Proceedings - 2018 IEEE International Conference on Cloud Engineering, IC2E 2018, pp. 364–370. doi: 10.1109/IC2E.2018.00070.

Zielinski, Siegfried. 2006. Deep Time of the Media: Towards and Archaeology of Hearing and Seeing by Technical Means. Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling. MIT Press.

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