Google Culture Blocks

Blockchain_TA.jpg
 

Engineering
User Testing

Google’s Creative Lab wanted to explore a way to demonstrate proof of ownership for a digital book. We built a blockchain-based solution that allowed to pass the digital book to other people through dedication as well as alter the book’s content.

 
 
 

We wrote a smart contract that would manage the book ownership transfers, store and retrieve the changes, dedications and owner names from the blockchain. We also built a Javascript api that handles the interaction with the smart contract and generates the key pairs for the owners. The book was passed along via email.

What does it mean, when we own something? Owning a physical book, for example, is pretty straightforward: after you purchase it or get it as a present, you can do whatever you want with it. You can scribble on the margins and dog-ear pages. You can gift it to a friend, lend it or write a dedication. You can sell it at a garage sale. 

You might have never thought of it, but you can do none of these with a digital book. When you buy a digital book, you don’t “buy” it in a traditional sense, but license it according to a licensing agreement that comes along with all digital products. This gives you the right to use it, but you can’t alter it, copy for your own use, lend it to a friend (unless you lend it together with the device), give it away as a gift, or even keep indefinitely.

Google’s Creative Lab in Sydney, Australia has been experimenting with digital-native books for some time through Editions at Play, a digital publishing platform for 'books that cannot be printed'. This time they wanted to create the first digital book that could be owned, gifted and passed along, just like the physical book. Impossible Labs entered the stage.

 
 

Having the mechanics defined, we had to choose which blockchain to use to record all transactions. We went for Ethereum. One of the main reasons was that it has built-in smart contracts and intelligence within the blockchain itself that eases the data storage and the transfer of ownership.

We wrote a smart contract that would manage the book ownership transfers, store and retrieve the changes and dedications as well as the owner names from the blockchain. We also built a Javascript API that handles the interaction with the smart contract and generates the key pairs for the owners.

Once the needed infrastructure was built, we started passing the book to each other by email. Every owner was making the aforementioned changes to the book, until we reduced it to one word per page. This served to demonstrate how a digital book can get “worn out” just as a library book wears out after too many uses. The same scenario can be used for lending, gifting or bequeathing digital books.

 

Why

Google’s Creative Lab wanted to explore a way to demonstrate proof of ownership for a digital book.

What

Impossible Labs built a blockchain-based solution that allowed to pass the digital book to other people through dedication as well as alter its content.

Wow

With the help of blockchain we recreated the experience of owning, dedicating and altering a digital book. By the end of the experiment, the book contained 1 page per word, thus bore the traces of all instances of ownership.