Visiting Assistant Professor
University of Virginia
Decentralized and distributed technologies and protocols are being discussed as mechanisms by which to reconfigure scholarship (e.g., BitTorrent, blockchains, dat). Some of these have entered mainstream conversation and make daily appearances in the popular press (e.g., Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies). Often the main goal of implementing such technology, in scholarship as well as more generally, is by exploiting a feature of decentralization: increased robustness of a system should any individual component or player disappear. These goals are often paired with benefits to privacy, user and/or university ownership, identification, and long-term retention. All of these are good things. However, it is often assumed that these new technologies will simply fix scholarship’s problems, without much consideration for user experience, side effects of the technology, resource costs, or the fact that some of these technologies have known and open challenges yet to be addressed. For example, can users currently conceptualize true immutability (i.e., it’s never going away) such that they can responsibly use technologies that offer immutability? If they can’t, how do we achieve similar goals related to that feature in a way that respects the user? This session will introduce several distributed and decentralized protocols and technologies, their core features, and known issues that could impact the efficacy of their implementations. It will also include descriptions of how the community might be able to capitalize upon some of their core features by making incremental investments that take into account known challenges and end-user experience. Several overarching questions will form the basis for most of this discussion: what are we trying to achieve, what problems are we trying to solve, and what is the most practical way to get there, sooner rather than later?