Introduction to Prosapia
As detailed in my previous post, the idea of creating an incentivized data commons struck me while working in the Energy industry. However, nearly any ecosystem where data is acquired or held by participants in a distributed or decentralized way can benefit from using a blockchain to aggregate the data. The real trick is aligning incentives to create a win-win for all participants in the network. This post will be focused on my passion project called Prosapia and why we propose the creation of an incentivized data commons for genealogical data.
Genealogy is the study of family history, or the tracing of a person’s lineage through history. According to Time and USA Today, genealogy is the second-most popular hobby in the United States and has a global community which is several times larger. Individual motivations vary, however the pursuit of family origins generally springs from one of the following:
The desire to place one's family in the larger historical context
A feeling of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations
A sense of fulfillment in sharing a communal story
There are millions if not billions of people participating in a global effort dedicated to remembering the collective human story. We can greatly help one another discover and unravel who we are and where we come from by working together to gather and curate the data into a commons.
The greatest obstacle faced by the genealogical community is in accessing accurate data. Family history information is scattered amongst innumerable repositories, many of which are highly siloed. Everything from organized religions (usually held locally by parishes or churches), governments (local, state and national agencies), public societies, private organizations and even individual attics and cellars. Given how difficult it is to access such a distributed knowledge base, we suspect that only a very small portion of the data is accessible to the public. What has been collected thus far is largely due to herculean efforts made by individuals and small groups to bring this information to light.
The internet provided a tremendous boost to genealogists around the world as it opened new avenues for the sharing of data. This has led to massive efforts to manually digitize genealogical information in order to expand our collective knowledge of the past. It also paved the way for the emergence of interactive web based genealogical platforms such as FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, and 23andme.com. These platforms provide a collection of services, but one of their primary benefits comes from their efforts to aggregate data. Fortunately, many of these platforms have signed sharing agreements which greatly benefit individuals in searching records across multiple databases. However, the majority of the data in existence remains siloed and inaccessible.
Given that the collection and aggregation of genealogical data is largely a decentralized (distributed) process, wouldn’t it make sense to marry this with a decentralized/distributed database? In other words, can we create a decentralized platform which is logically organized into a single data store (a data commons) where all this data can be uploaded and which allows anyone/everyone to participate in the sharing and curation of the database? After all, the human story shouldn’t be owned by any one entity but collectively shared since we all have a stake in our history. In fact, nature’s model of organizing humans into families is itself, decentralized.
Let me introduce my passion project called Prosapia:
Prosapia proposes a network and shared industry protocol with standards for how deceased individuals are identified and registered on the blockchain. This will provide the foundation for sharing databases which otherwise will remain restricted and disconnected from general consumption. At its core, Prosapia is a shared data layer which is maintained and audited by participants in the network. The goal is to create a shared foundation on which the community can build additional data analytics and applications while not compromising the data ownership of the underlying custodians. We believe that this will usher in a new paradigm of growth and open data repositories otherwise impossible to access. It will also make it possible for much smaller organizations to contribute and make meaningful additions. In the end, the heritage of the human race is a shared treasure which should be owned by everyone, and finally can be through the innovation of the blockchain.
Obviously there is a lot to unpack in this statement especially around platform design, incentives, and network participation. Our plan is to role out the plans for the platform over a series of blog posts culminating in the Prosapia White Paper. We look forward to sharing these with you and receiving feedback from both the blockchain and genealogy communities. The Prosapia website has just gone live and this unveiling is shared there as well as other places around the web.
It is especially appropriate that we unveil the Prosapia project during the holiday season. As families gather to celebrate, we share our stories one with another. Undoubtedly, intermingled will be stories of those freshly joining with those who are no longer with us. It is of paramount importance that more of these stories are captured and recorded for future generations. And on a slightly more grand scale, the holidays represent a time when everyone chooses to be a little better, more charitable, and kinder to their fellow human beings. At its heart, Prosapia is an effort to connect humans together in the vast web of relations we all have with one another. And I can think of nothing that would make the world a better place than if we all started treating each other like what we are, a family.