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Blockchain and Tokens -- It’s Not Just for the Finance Types, Anymore

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World News Publishing Focus
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Blockchain and Tokens -- It’s Not Just for the Finance Types, Anymore

I’m going to talk about the possible use of blockchain, cryptocurrency and tokens, and gamification for news publishers. 

You understand what I’m talking about, right? 

Well, just in case, I’ll do my best to translate, using an example presented on May 8 by the tech firm PUBLISH at the Publish Asia 2019 conference, held by WAN-IFRA in Singapore. 

By the way, just in case you’re tempted to dismiss any of this, the New York Times is looking at these technologies already. But more on that below.

To picture blockchain, imagine a filing cabinet full of records. Now imagine that exact copies of those records are kept in numerous locations so that the original content is safe from being lost.

Okay, now the analogy needs to become a bit whimsical. 

Imagine that the filing system uses magic paper -- I don’t know, Harry Potter paper -- such that any time a file is updated, all of the other locations are, too. The magic also prevents any old record from ever being altered. All you can do is add new info, so that lets you track every change in the sequence (a.k.a. the chain). 

Oh, and there’s one last magic spell: These records are locked so that only people with permission can access them. Back in the real world, we call that lock cryptography, and it’s unhackable (for now). And the distributed ledger of files and their alterations is a bit like cloud storage with which you might be familiar.

Now, regarding cryptocurrencies and tokens, these are simply new units of exchange -- like dollars, euros, clams, baseball cards, etc. They use the blockchain features described above to keep people’s crypto money safe, transparent, and secure -- all without having some central authority, like your bank, keeping the records.

Okay, great. But what does this have to do with news publishing?


PUBLISH CEO Sonny Kwon says it’s essential that journalists understand these technologies because, “All media will be tokenized in five years.” A bold claim, for sure. Here’s how they see it working.

PUBLISH’s core product is a new content management system (CMS), PUBLISHsoft. They see it as competing with market leader WordPress

But unlike WordPress, their CMS is built on blockchain in order to take advantage of the technology’s features. News assets (text, photos, videos, etc.) will be stored securely in distributed locations using cryptographic locks. The CMS will let you publish like normal. And remember how I said people can’t alter prior records? The blockchain should prevent people from being able to swipe or alter your material, helping to fight content theft.

The next step involves using token technology built on this blockchain to increase reader engagement with your website. It does that by the gamification of your content.

PUBLISH Inc Lunch Session slidePUBLISH Inc Lunch Session slidePHOTO/ BILL POORMAN

Gamification is when you turn something into fun -- a game -- in order to get people to do more of it. Think of how addicted people got to Candy Crush. What if you could do that for your news content? PUBLISH proposes allowing people to earn fractions of a token for engagement in a variety of ways: reading to the end of an article, liking, sharing, commenting, etc. This gets built into the CMS itself and incentivizes increased engagement, which can then be sold on to advertisers, increasing revenue. 

At first glance, this looks a lot like any sort of consumer reward points system. However, tokens are a form of currency, so theoretically, readers can use them elsewhere. For the publishers, of course, there would be a real cost in offering tokens, but PUBLISH says the value of reader tokens would never be allowed to exceed advertising revenue.

For me, I’m not sure if this kind of incentivized, gamified news consumer is exactly what  publishers are looking for. A theme of Publish Asia 2019 has been that news outlets must move people into being willing to pay for valuable content. You want them to be compelled to give you money. The token system seems to flip that goal on its head, but Sonny Kwon asks, “Why can’t you do both?” 

Fair enough. Maybe all news organizations being tokenized in five years really means some of it will be. But it’s probably not wise to ignore these technologies altogether, since at least one major player is looking into it. 

Remember how I mentioned the New York Times? Several sites that cover the crypto world report that the Times advertised a job opening for someone to begin exploring blockchain for journalistic uses. Apparently the ad was taken down relatively quickly, but it does signal that the deployment of these technologies by news publishers might be just around the corner.


About the author: Bill Poorman is a freelance journalist, writer, podcast producer, and video producer, living in Singapore.




Kimberly Lim's picture

Kimberly Lim


2019-05-14 08:23

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