The island of Alderney, a self-governing British Crown Dependency, has sponsored an experimental open-source timestamping service based on distributed ledger technology.
The company cites use cases for MetroGnomo that include the dating of contracts; proving authorship of books, images and music; authenticating closed-circuit TV footage; and facilitating information exchange between organisations.
Marc Morris, a researcher at Z/Yen told CoinDesk that MetroGnomo can be employed for "any application" in which a third-party proof that a given piece of information was in existence is needed.
For example, Morris said content creators could prove ownership using the platform:
"In the same way that scientists have previously concealed their theorems in anagrams, an author can use MetroGnomo to prove that he had access to the book’s content at a given time whilst concealing the content itself. To achieve this, the user simply timestamps the hash of the book using his registration, which is linked to his email address."
He cited security guards timestamping site checks and care workers proving a patient has been visited as examples of how it could be implemented.
Bob McDowall, chairman of the finance committee of the States of Alderney, told CoinDesk that the island is seeking to establish itself as a centre for standards setting and accreditation in the blockchain technology sectors.
Regarding its involvement with MetroGnomo, he explained that Alderney is lending its name to the project, adding that the self-governing island embarked on the initiative as a way to showcase how it is has created an environment open to innovation.
CoinDesk asked Morris about the legitimacy of using an MDL timestamp for legal purposes, say, as evidence in court.
"At the moment we don’t know," he said. "We are discussing with lawyers how this might be admissible. We expect it is likely to be, but first we have to experiment with a variety of applications to ensure robustness."
MetroGnomo also provides a mechanism for coordinating other distributed ledgers and blockchains, such as bitcoin, Ethereum or Ripple, which normally act as separate networks.
"MetroGnomo provides the global inter-ledger time ticks we need to enable multitudes of ledgers to work together smoothly," Z/Yen Executive Chairman Professor Michael Mainelli said.
Morris explained that MetroGnomo timestamps provide the 'MetroTime' (the time the timestamp was issued) and unique universal identifiers (UUIDs). The MetroTime is guaranteed to be unique, so it can also act as an identifier.
"In a world where there are multitudes of MDLs in existence, MetroGnomo’s third-party validated time and unique identifiers can provide trusted connections between entries on different ledgers," he explained.
Following registration, users are able to generate a timestamp for their file – composed of the MetroTime, a UUID and an optional description and file hash. Users can choose whether to make the item publicly available (to a maximum size of 10MB), with the file being saved in MetroGnomo’s publicly accessible central storage.
The firm notes that care should be taken with uploading files, as every timestamp is entered onto MetroGnomo’s transparent and immutable ledger – that is to say, it cannot be removed at a later point.
Should the original creator of the file wish to prove its provenance or date, they can point others to the record, using either the MetroTime, the UUID, the file hash, or the file itself.
CoinDesk tested MetroGnomo, which after a quick sign-up process, allowed us to register a JPEG file on the MDL.
We found the process to be relatively simple and produced a search return based on the UUID within seconds of creating the timestamp (see image below):
Strength in numbers
Rather than distributed miners, MetroGnomo is supported by a network of independently operated receivers. Morris explained that, by becoming a receiver, or node on the network, cooperating organisations are able to hold a copy of the ledger.
"This allows them to not only to add their own hashing information, but to retrieve this information at a later point independently – for example, if they are worried about the service ceasing," he said.
The firm further explained that higher node numbers are important for the network, saying: "As with all mutual distributed ledgers, the addition of new nodes to the community incrementally increases robustness – making the ledger yet more persistent and pervasive."
Even though the MetroGnomo MDL is similar in some aspects to other types of blockchains, Z/Yen has worked to produce "the most 'stripped down' MDL system possible" and that it has key differences from, say, bitcoin's blockchain.
Z/Yen indicated that MetroGnomo's experimental stage will be deemed a success if it demonstrates that it can can deliver something useful and work well with other distributed ledgers.
"Because it is so stripped-down, it is also very inexpensive for Z/Yen and Alderney to run almost indefinitely," said Morris, concluding:
"If other participants decide, over time, to provide transmitters and receivers, MetroGnomo may run forever in a mode analogous to bitcoin but without the large-scale costs."
Ledger image via Shutterstock