A Deeper Dive into Blockchain with S!NG

Photo by Elijah Ekdahl on Unsplash

S!NG is built to ensure you feel safe and confident sharing your work with people you know, or people you’d like to work with, but have never even met. Beyond our own experience, we’ve heard countless stories from creators around the world who have been faced with the impossible task of reclaiming their property as a result of theft — accidental or otherwise. So if your art involves bouncing work back and forth between different collaborators, S!NG will have your back every time.

But how do we do that exactly? How does S!NG protect you behind the scenes? The answer lies in the most secure documenting, protecting and sharing tool ever created: blockchain. Blockchain is a powerful technology that eliminates any question of ownership of a file, when it’s created and especially after it’s been shared. Thousands of independent network nodes bear silent, instant, and permanent witness to everything you create, who you share it with, and every change after that. And while the premise alone is remarkable, the intricate workings of S!NG and blockchain together are even more impressive. If you came by our earlier post explaining how blockchain secures your work on the S!NG platform, you may have left wondering about the specifics. In this article, we’ll define blockchain, how it works, and its unique advantage to S!NG and creators like you.

But first, there are 6 key concepts we need to cover (definitely worth the read in our humble opinion, but we completely understand if you want the TL;DR at the end of this section)

Ledgers — simply a method of keeping track of who owns what — have been around for 7,000 years, and in their modern form since Fra Luca Pacioli, an Italian mathematician and Friar invented the double-entry bookkeeping system in the 16th century. Traditional ledgers are centralized — maintained by trusted central authorities like banks, brokerages and governments who reconcile between themselves. Distributed ledger technology (or DLT) is a massive improvement on these honey-pots of valuable data. Instead of one central ledger that you have to pay to use, that is controlled by a third party (bank fees, anyone?) and are sitting ducks for cyber-attack, DLT means everyone on the network has their own copy of precisely the same information. If you own something, the entire network agrees by consensus and enables you to prove it — instantly and without question. Because there is perfect consensus among all the nodes of the network as to the accuracy of the distributed ledger, a potential hacker faces the impossible task of altering at least half of all the copies in the world in order to mount an attack.

So how does DLT relate to blockchain? What is blockchain technology anyway? According to BDO, who we think said it best, Blockchain is: “a type of distributed ledger technology (DLT) that facilitates peer-to-peer transactions in a secure and verifiable way without a centralized party. It is a single, incorruptible database that continuously records and timestamps transactions (or “blocks”) chronologically. Every transaction must be verified through a process known as “consensus,” requiring multiple-system participants to independently verify authenticity of the output of the algorithm creating the “block.” Once a new entry has been agreed to (verified) and made in the blockchain, it is “locked”, meaning it cannot be modified; it can only be updated by adding a new entry as an addendum. It is a type of distributed ledger technology (DLT) that executes peer-to-peer transactions in a way that’s completely decentralized. It is an independent, unchangeable database that records and timestamps every transaction in a chronological order. Everything uploaded to the blockchain must be validated through a series of steps known as a “consensus”, requiring millions of witnesses to authenticate the transaction being performed by the algorithm creating the block. Each time a new addition is made and verified within the blockchain, it is then cemented there — this means it cannot be modified; it can only accept new entries to the chain, which are then verified and locked into the sequence.”

The Ethereum network is a blockchain. The second-largest global blockchain, in fact (behind Bitcoin — its perhaps more famous cousin used solely as a cryptocurrency) and continues to grow exponentially year after year. Ethereum is what Bitcoin could have been if it had more flexibility, computing power and the ability to manage not only simple coins, but smart contracts as well. “Launched in 2015, Ethereum is an open-source, blockchain-based, decentralized software platform used for its own cryptocurrency, Ether. It enables smart contracts and Distributed Applications (ĐApps) to be built and run without any downtime, fraud, control, or interference from a third party. Ethereum is not just a platform but also a programming language (Turing complete) running on a blockchain, helping developers to build and publish distributed applications.”Investopedia

Yup, you might have heard about this one. A token is simply a single asset that is documented and tracked on the Ethereum distributed ledger blockchain. There are two basic kinds of tokens on the Ethereum blockchain. The first, ERC-20 is what is often referred to as cryptocurrency — a simple coin where there are a set number of the exact same token, each representing an equal amount or store of value, very similar to a dollar (except better because the supply is limited). These tokens are fungible, meaning they are identical, allowing them to be bought, sold, saved or spent just like any other currency. The second, ERC-721 is much more interesting. It is a non-fungible token (NFT). Like a piece of land or an original work of digital art, there can only ever be one of them. When you save a song as a token using the ERC-standard it is, by definition, a one of one. In case you missed it, we’ve written a bit more about the power of creating free NFTs with S!NG here — and why it’s game changing for creators everywhere.

A hash is a tiny digital fingerprint that looks exactly like this:

aeabf93eac9a14dcb7544b147df0fbc0881e3c5be54952968fd5ec34dddf630d

You can generate a hash from any digital object — a picture, movie, song, PDF — anything. And the cool thing is that every hash, like a fingerprint or DNA, is utterly unique. If even a single pixel changes in a file, then your original hash…

aeabf93eac9a14dcb7544b147df0fbc0881e3c5be54952968fd5ec34dddf630d

becomes this…

2b930e91ae296aa016d8588e886a27ca397491b18a5e334798a19e1150d0f6fb

Completely different. So if two hashes match, you have irrefutable proof that they represent the exact. same. file.

The goofily-named but amazingly cool InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) adds the last missing piece giving us permanent, secure storage. Imagine taking your original work (now coded as an absolutely unique ERC-721 token) breaking it into thousands of encrypted chunks and storing each one on thousands of different nodes on the Ethereum blockchain. Not only is each chunk impossible for anyone but you to read, only *you* have the pointers necessary to call them all back, reassemble them in the correct order and produce your original file again. Only you hold the keys to reassemble it. It’s an ingenious way of saving your important work — free and forever — on the blockchain. It is inherently superior to the cloud — or any other storage medium — because it, too, is immutable, distributed and fundamentally un-hackable. Everybody who uses IPFS cooperates in this network and it becomes stronger and more permanent the more users participate. It’s brilliant.

Putting it all together, we have:

Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) — millions of identical and constantly synced copies of who owns what, regularly and permanently locked forever into a Blockchain called Ethereum, which adds computing power and intelligence. Ethereum lets you create an ERC-721 Non-Fungible Token (NFT) of which there can only ever be one. This unique file is represented by a hash, recorded in the token, that perfectly represents — to the bit — your original file which, along with its hash, is recorded for the remainder of human history on IPFS retrievable any time only by you (or your great-great-great grandchildren if you decide they deserve to be in your will).

Taken as a whole, this is insanely powerful stuff. In fact, it represents the most complete, secure and perpetual method of record keeping humans have ever devised. If Ethereum and IPFS ever fail it’s most likely because Earth has been vaporized because the sun went supernova, in which case we would argue we’re facing a bigger problem than data loss.

At S!NG, we use Ethereum to manage all aspects of the blockchain transactions. Ethereum allows us to execute chunks of code that can lay out specific conditions for an action to be carried out without any outside interference. These bits of code are referred to as ‘smart contracts’, representing an agreement that is able to enforce itself. At S!NG, we use the ERC-721 NFT standard, meaning every file you protect on the S!NG platform becomes its own unique token, immutably guaranteeing its uniqueness.

According to the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO):

“So much of economic production, distribution and consumption these days is done digitally. One of the vulnerabilities of doing business digitally is the proof of the existence of a digital object or a digital file at a given date and time. That can be extremely important for creative works like music or songs in evolution. It’s very important that one has firm and reliable evidentiary support to show that the digital file originated with the person who is purporting to be the owner.”

- Francis Gurry, Director General

By law, if you can prove you are the first to create something, it is yours. To prove something is yours, you need to show who you are, what the idea is and when you created it. It is critical that this proof be recorded in a trusted fashion in a way that all parties can agree. Blockchain, specifically the Ethereum blockchain, is by far the best way ever devised to record this critical information. Unlike email timestamps or file creation dates in your computer or on the cloud, documenting your files on Ethereum means the record is immutable — it can never be changed — by you or anyone else. Unlike a cloud database or any other kind of central record, this proof is accessible by anyone at any time without resorting to subpoenas. Because it is incredibly inexpensive to create these Ethereum blockchain records, anyone can afford not just to document their finished work, but every version of it — from a quick thought all the way to a finished commercial masterpiece. You can record everything — whether or not it is important; whether or not it ever becomes valuable. The important thing is it’s valuable to you. You can now afford to protect every single digital asset you have ever created — free — with a degree of certainty that a room full of government notaries could never provide.

As we’ve seen above, records documented on Ethereum are not only public and immutable, but they are permanent in a way that even ancient Egyptian record-keepers would have envied. In fact, Ethereum is the safest, most permanent form of record-keeping ever devised in human history. So now we have a perfect, permanent record of your creation on the blockchain, and the creation itself — both archived for future generations.

Due to its vast size and scope, however, the very strengths that make Ethereum such an amazing archive make it a lousy database. Ethereum is notoriously slow, causing bottlenecks in speed and storage, often only able to process a few transactions per second worldwide. Few users will wait 30 minutes to store or retrieve a song. And until now, it has been inaccessible to normal people without an advanced degree in computer science or an unhealthy amount of time on their hands.

To mitigate this, S!NG uses a protected side (federated) chain, along with the public Ethereum blockchain to protect everything that’s uploaded to the platform. With a protected side chain, S!NG is able to execute transactions quickly without the wait time for the public network to catch up. Also, when you document an idea using S!NG a copy is cached on our AWS S3 servers allowing for instantaneous retrieval and media streaming and a much faster and smoother in-app experience.

S!NG is how you get to the blockchain. Your stuff belongs only, ever to you — and the blockchain is permanent. What we do is to greatly simplify the process of using the blockchain’s great power so that your files are uploaded automatically and turned into NFTs without even thinking about it in the background, all while keeping the file itself private — accessible only to you. And to save it fast and quickly access your file without waiting. S!NG is your onramp to the blockchain, and how you access what you decide to record there. But the files are permanent and the blockchain is forever, no matter what happens to S!NG.

S!NG is the safest way to create, protect and share your NFTs . For the first time, creativity intersects with state-of-the-art protection, a concept that we know is valuable for every creator out there. Everything put into your Stack creates a detailed and trusted blockchain trail establishing ownership, even before you share it. Once you do, the blockchain is your irrefutable witness. With a growing need to prove legal ownership today, S!NG offers a seamless process that allows creators to access and prove their authorship of any type of work, at any stage of completion.

Now that you know exactly how your creations are protected, it’s time to make some NFTs! We’ve got you covered.

Ideas shared effortlessly and without hesitation, documented and protected in seconds.