Circling back to blockchain’s originally intended purpose: Timestamping

What was blockchain technology originally intended for? It’s generally presumed that it was created in 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto as part of his white paper, creating Bitcoin (BTC). Since Bitcoin would be built on decentralized ledger technology, a blockchain needed to be established as the foundation for the cryptocurrency.

Since 2008, blockchain technology has expanded well beyond cryptocurrency usage and is now being applied in a variety of use cases from healthcare to finance to green tech and more.

But blockchain tech didn’t start with Satoshi’s white paper. It was actually invented in 1991 as a way to verify and protect content through a concept called timestamping.

A blockchain history lesson

In Satoshi’s famous Bitcoin white paper, he cites another paper: “How to Time-Stamp a Digital Document,” published by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta in 1991. The two researchers knew that, in an all-digital world, the issue of certifying documents — when they were created and when they were changed — would become an issue.

They explained that in the past, you could simply flip through the pages of a notebook to see dated entries. They cite other means of certification, such as mailing oneself a letter or having something notarized, but in those cases, tampering of documents would be discovered immediately. But not so in a digital world, where documents can be altered with no evidence left behind.

“The problem is to time-stamp the data, not the medium,” they wrote. The first solution they proposed was to simply send a document to a timestamping service. The TSS would then retain a copy for safe-keeping, which could be brought out for comparison when needed.

What is the problem with this solution? It relied on a third party that might mishandle it.

Instead of a third-party verifier, they would use a cryptographically secure hash function, which would serve as the unique identifier for a piece of content. Instead of sending the whole document to the…

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