Lessons from the past for peer-to-peer networks

For libraries, Blockchain represents the opportunity to build their own networks.  Beyond being independent of such entities as OCLC, libraries will be able to redefine relationships with patrons.  The lessons of the past show how this opportunity can either define the future or be passed by.  Here are the three main lessons from the past of Bibframe, Word and Linux.

  1. Agreement to act is necessary.  Bibframe was and remains a superior product.  It failed because of lack of agreement.  The parting of the Library of Congress and Zepheira meant that MARC would dominate for another decade.  Libraries have been unwilling or unable to organize and agree on a standard.  Other linked data protocols have emerged but to no avail.
  2. To stay on top, one must be willing to change.  One reason that WordPerfect lost the mass market to Microsoft Word was a delayed transition from DOS to Windows.  As the world switched to Windows, staying with WordPerfect wasn’t an option until it was too late.  Since then, Microsoft Word has changed again and again.  There is even an online version that competes with Google Docs.  A related corollary might be that keeping a niche requires a willingness to stay the same.  WordPerfect keeps its user base due to its reveal codes feature and command structure. 
  3. What begins as a community initiative often finds its greatest success in the corporate world.  While Linus Torvalds’ Linux kernel remains free, it has been most successful in the corporate world.  Linux dominates on servers but has yet to catch on in desktop environments beyond Chromebooks powered by Google’s Chrome OS.  Android OS, also from Google, means that Linux dominates the mobile market.

Are libraries willing to agree in order to advance?  Once something is up and running, are libraries willing to keep working on it?  Blockchain is already well established as a tool used by vendors for building better products.  It remains to be seen whether communities will agree to act and build their own networks.

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