NeTS: Small: Incentivizing Internet-Scale Web Mining with Webcoin

Project: Research project

Project Details


Overview: Four major search engines, Google in particular, hold a unique position in enabling the use
of the Internet, as they alone direct over 98% of Internet users to the content they seek, using proprietary
indices. While the contribution of these companies is undeniable, their design is necessarily affected by
their economic interests, which may or may not align with those of the users, raising concerns regarding
their effect on the availability of information around the globe. While multiple academic and commercial
projects aimed to distribute and democratize the Web search, they failed to gain much traction, mostly
due to inferior results and lack of incentives for participation. In this project, we show how complex
networking-intensive tasks can be crowdsourced using Bitcoin’s incentive model. We present Webcoin,
a novel distributed digital-currency which utilizes networking resources rather than computational, and
can only be mined through Web indexing. Webcoin provides both the incentives and the means to create
Google-scale indices, freely available to competing services and the public.
In designing Webcoin, while utilizing Bitcoin’s incentive model, we address several major drawbacks
associated with Bitcoin itself. First,Webcoin disrupts its dependence from computation and instead fosters
crowdsourced Web crawling and indexing. In this way, it addresses the problem of the unparalleled computation
power involved in Bitcoin mining, currently at 8–10 exa-hashes per second. The wasted power
serves no other purpose beyond Bitcoin, and by 2020 Bitcoin could consume as much energy as Denmark.
Second, Webcoin is a first digital crypto-currency that dominantly relies on networking resources in the
mining process. Such resources are inherently distributed and cannot be scaled at the same rate as computational
resources, increasing Webcoin’s fairness, relative to Bitcoin, by a factor of 10M. Third, contrary
to Bitcoin, whose mining process creates nothing useful for the rest of the world, Webcoin forces miners
to do useful, Internet-scale, work, i.e., crawl and index the Web. This helps break the key barrier towards
democratizing the search engine space. The key goal of this project is to design, implement, and evaluate
Webcoin, and make it publicly available.
Intellectual Merit: The proposed research will address fundamental questions that are key to developing
and deploying Webcoin. The transition of the cryptographic principles upon which Bitcoin is built into
the networking domain is non-trivial. A major difference between the domains is that while the first is
governed by a priori mathematical and statistical principles, the latter depends on real-world state, and is
thus susceptible to manipulation. Can we, and how, provide the same security guarantees as in Bitcoin, in
such a challenging scenario? Next, the system must provide incentives for every single Webcoin miner to
publish its index, so that the entire product of the indexing effort is made available to all. How do we create
such incentives and cope with the significant scalability challenges? Further, the system should not only
create a Google-scale Web index, but provide guarantees for its quality. How do miners verify the quality
of the Web index in a scalable manner? Finally, how do we democratize the mining process itself: enable
the use of existing personal computers and surplus residential bandwidth for mining in the background,
while guaranteeing equal likelihood to everyone to mine a block and earn the associated rewards?
Effective start/end date9/1/188/31/21


  • National Science Foundation (CNS-1810582)


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