Oyster Mainnet Promises to Make Ads Obsolete
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At this moment, there’s a photograph of my kitten stalking a duck somewhere on the internet. It’s hard to say “where” on the internet, because it doesn’t really exist on any specific computer—the file is somehow dissolved throughout the Iota Tangle.
Anyone who wants to see my cat can find it here, by pasting in the following key:
This is the first public trial for the Oyster Protocol, whose Mainnet launched in beta form last week. The project has two main goals: first of all, a “decentralized, distributed, and encrypted platform” for your personal files (like cats playing with ducklings), and second, they’re also going to do that in a way that abolishes website ads. That’s aiming pretty high for a six-month old project.
Imagine your friend Alice is looking for a safe place to store her collection of cat pictures, as well as a very embarrassing video from Karaoke night. She could store them on Dropbox (at the mercy of the first hacker to come along), or leave it in a hard drive in the attic.
With the Oyster protocol, she uploads her files to a couple of guys named Bob (‘broker nodes’) who break ups her awkward album into tiny, encrypted pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle. Each fragment is encrypted (‘buried’) on the Iota Tangle, along with a small reward in the Pearl (PRL) Token to keep them on there.
This is where the web nodes come in, along with in-browser “mining” that makes ads obsolete. “Having an internet economy where the only way to access content for free is through advertising means that the internet is broken,” says Chris Garner, the CMO and “Evangelist” for the Oyster Protocol. Instead of hosting soap commercials, websites will make revenue by borrowing a bit of their visitors’ processing power to keep Alice’s files alive on the Tangle, in exchange for keeping her pearl rewards.
Normally we save the disclaimer for the end, but we might as well come out and say it: the author has a small position in PRL (currently worth around $13), mostly because he was sick of having to toggle off adblocker. Despite many reservations, the idea of a net where you don’t need to go Incognito to read an article was too tempting to ignore.
Garner is quick to point out that Oyster nodes won’t be doing the usual kind of mining—the proof-of-work is light and cheap enough for small devices to handle, with little wasted energy. “As you’re logged into a site as a user, you’re seeing lots of ads that are using your GPU and CPU anyway. Why wouldn’t you want to donate that electricity and that token to the publisher for not seeing ads?”
At least, that’s what’s planned, but the Mainnet release is still a skeleton, with the sinews being added as they go along. Files are currently hosted on a private Tangle, with only two visible broker nodes, and you can’t upload anything over 5 MB. Even so, the Beta has raised plenty of interest—Oyster is providing the initial pearls for free, with thousands of uploads.
This isn’t the first clever crypto project to replace your photo album. Several other solutions—notably Siacoin, Storj and Filecoin—are also trying to decentralize cloud storage. Most of those solutions involve renting a few spare gigabytes on someone else’s device, and securing the trade on a blockchain—they agree to store your files, in exchange for a payment at the end of your contract.
Oyster is a bit different. Instead of dealing with the scaling limitations of a blockchain, the Protocol stores your data directly on the Iota Tangle—which is infinitely scalable, at least on a whiteboard. The result is a product that Garner compares very favorably against other solutions. “It’s significantly cheaper than Dropbox,” he says. “How it compares with Siacoin and Storj, it’s still relatively cheap, but it’s more anonymous and decentralized as well.” Unlike its competitors, Oyster has no setup, account registration or extra fees.
Between Sia and Charybdis
Pearl prices have fallen quite a bit since their highest point, but Garner is clear that he’s not bothered. “There’s plenty of other projects out there that are happy to pump and dump,” he says, but Oyster is not interested in short term speculation. “We don’t even look at the price of Pearl—we try to price Pearl as something that’s competitive for data storage. “
It’s usually a good sign when a project focuses on slow growth over fast pumps. But it’s not just investors who want high prices—if you were a website owner, the decline in PRL values since January would probably make you think twice before you cancelled your ads.
This problem isn’t unique. If Siacoin or Storj prices crashed, you can bet that someone will decide that your rented space is better used for movie downloads. But Oyster has cliffs on both sides—pearls need to be cheap enough to compete in online storage, and valuable enough for websites to keep looking for them.
Wide Eyes Ahead
It’s a thin tightrope to walk, but at least the team’s not walking it with a blindfold. “What we’re trying to do is something that no one’s ever done before,” Garner says. “With any new technology, there are going to be bumps along the road.” And, he adds, it also depends on Iota’s development.
“We started building the code in February,” Garner says. “A mainnet in less than five months is unbelievable.” As the project adds sinews, it’s also pushing forward on the marketing front: the protocol has recently appointed a new CEO, and begun negotiations to bring PRL to new exchanges.
They’ve also got bigger plans than data storage. Last month the project airdropped the “Shell” (SHL) token, which it says will become the basis of a censorship-proof decentralized network for dapps and other online functions. “As we scale both the web nodes and the broker nodes,” Garner says, they will eventually create an “Oyster mesh net.” “You can send communications through that mesh net at a really low cost, that will circumvent internet service providers.”
That idea may be best left for the drawing board. While most projects pick one problem to solve, Oyster Pearl is already trying to overthrow two established industries. Believing that they can take on yet a third is a bit more than even we can swallow.
The author is invested in various cryptocurrencies, and promises never to give up the $13 he has saved in PRL – he believes in will never let him down or run around, so he will never desert it.