Meet Akord: the blockchain-based permanent storage and publishing protocol

“We believe privacy is a fundamental human right”: Akord co-founder Richard Caetano and cryptography engineer Weronika Kolodziejak on the future of data storage and privacy in Web3.

Akord crypto
Image: Akord

Web2 platforms changed how we interact with our world — at the cost of our personal data being collected, analyzed, and used to influence our decisions. Now, Web3 aims to solve this issue by returning content rights to authors — and Akord is ready to be part of the change.

“Nowadays, we produce petabytes of data but are very limited by centralized control of it. What we want to create is proper incentives for people with surplus storage to store data in perpetuity. We aim to empower data ownership and protect users’ privacy by bringing their content to Arweave blockchain, where it can be preserved indefinitely for a one-time fee,” says Richard Caetano, CEO and co-founder of Akord, a decentralized data storage protocol with private messaging.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

So Akord is a protocol built on top of Arweave blockchain, which, in turn, consists of permaweb and blockweave. Can you explain it all to me like I’m five years old?

Richard: Sure. To begin with, we have Arweave, which is a unique blockchain where people can store data permanently for a one-time fee. The users pay for storage with AR tokens just once, upfront, and the network is incentivized to keep their data stored for hundreds of years. Think of Arweave as a permanent hard drive that everybody can write to and read from — and Akord is a protocol layer built on top of that hard drive. Akord allows users to create special containers for their data — called vaults — and exchange encrypted messages with other network peers.

Weronika: So to clarify, the blockweave, Arweave’s core technology, is a blockchain-like structure where every block is linked not only to the last previous block but also to a random block from the past, thus inciting miners to archive as much data as possible — and that’s why it’s called, well, a weave. While permaweb is basically a network of applications and documents that sits on top of Arweave. I think it’s a very brilliant design

You mentioned that the data is stored for “hundreds of years” — for how long exactly? I remember there was a big discussion about ENS domains’ recurring fees and I’m curious to hear how Akord plans to sustain incentives over time, especially since you mentioned that users pay just once.

Richard: What makes us different from other traditional blockchains is that Arweave was specifically designed for data storage. It incentivizes nodes to store data by setting up a crypto endowment — basically a fund that lives on chain. When users purchase storage, their one-time payments are pooled together in this fund, and its value increases over time due to token appreciation. Meanwhile, the cost of storage is steadily decreasing as new advances in technology are embraced.

Now imagine two curves, one is going up as the value of endowment increases and the other is going down as new technologies are lowering the cost of storage. The spread between these two curves is where we’re able to create an incentive for nodes to keep storing data.

I can imagine that in the future, there will be much more efficient ways to store data than current magnetic hard drives. There might be lasers that write data into crystals or something else, completely unimaginable for modern people to conceive of today. Regardless of what the technology will look like, the next generation of data storage will be much cheaper and more resilient.

For now, it looks to me like Akord’s tokenomics lies on two assumptions: that token will steadily appreciate in value and that the price of storage space will decrease over time, while the demand for storage will remain the same. I’m convinced that the more data storage capacity improves, the more storage space our data consumes. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Richard: Well, what I hear is that there are two questions. The first one is about the viability of our token model — and that’s a valid critique. And the second one is similar to a highway problem — the one that asserts that car traffic always costumes extra lanes — but in relation to data storage.

So, starting with your first question regarding tokenomics. We could say, blockchains never die — they may become a zombie at some point when nobody uses the network, while nodes are keeping it running. If our project is useful, if there is a demand for permanent storage — then this would be the response to your criticism. If Akord provides value to its users and creates proper incentives, we are going to eventually find ourselves in a virtuous cycle of rising demand.

Obviously, the opposite can happen as well. If what we’re doing is worthless and people would rather pay Amazon to store their data, then our project will become a zombie — that’s it. Currently, Arweave’s endowment can pay for two to three hundred years of storage — under conservative estimates that the price of token will remain the same.

So coming to your second question, what makes Arweave different from other traditional blockchains is its unique Proof-of-Access consensus model. Your ability to earn rewards from the network is not based on how much computation you perform or how many tokens you own. It's based solely on how much data you're storing on the network — and you need to be able to create a proof of that data to add new blocks. Every node is incentivized to store random blocks and store as much data as possible. So, the highway problem becomes a theoretical problem that may not really apply to the network — the greater number of nodes simply means that more copies of data are stored in different sets on different nodes.

How did you come up with the idea of founding Akord?

Richard: Before starting Akord, I co-founded Stratum, a blockchain company focused on enterprise traceability, where I was responsible for the vision and the research involving cryptography. But then Pascal [Barry] and I left the company to work on Akord, we built on the principle of “privacy as a fundamental human right”. We started it right at the beginning of the pandemic, in March 2020.

At the very beginning, we were lucky to meet Weronika, who brought cryptography knowledge and expertise. It was a match and we started building our protocol around the concept of secure storage vaults in zero-knowledge. We were able to deliver a working protocol quite early while waiting for the right blockchain to come. One year later, we discovered Arweave that was a perfect fit for Akord, and that’s how all it started.

Weronika: But yeah, privacy has always been the core of our mission. We were really inspired by Signal’s approach to end-to-end encryption and wanted to create something similar but on a blockchain.

How closely are you affiliated with Arweave? Your website states that they participated in your funding round

Richard: Well, we were part of their startup incubator program, The Open Web Foundry, that encourages founders to get on board and adopt Arweave as a data layer for their projects. And when we did our fundraising, they decided to invest in Akord as well, because they saw the value our protocol brings to the ecosystem.

So, we went through the program, became friends with Arweave’s team and other projects in the ecosystem — and the cross-pollination and feedback from other builders has been very beneficial. I think one of the things that we like about Arweave is how the ecosystem is constructed. It's a very decentralized structure, so there’s no place for any kind of dictatorship or rigid hierarchy.

You’ve mentioned that you became close with other Arweave projects as well. Can you name some that are, in your opinion, worth keeping an eye on?

Weronika: Currently, we are working closely with RedStone that brings the smart contract functionality — the Warp contracts — to Arweave. Then there are everPay, a payment protocol that uploads the digital asset ledger of financial institutions to Arweave, and Bundlr, a decentralized storage scaling platform.

I also remember there is an interesting project that collects and uploads to Arweave all information surrounding the Ukraine conflict. I think they preserved terabytes of data so far.

“The Web2 model is broken,” your website reads. How can Web3 fix it, and what is Akord’s role in it?

Richard: Well, that's a good question. So what exactly do we mean by Web2 model? Web1 was about static contents, where everyone can upload and access data. Web2 brought the read/write functionality, and that’s when dynamic websites and social media came into play. As users interact with these services, they [collectively] produce massive amounts of data, which is basically “the new oil” and is worth a lot of money. And the main issue of Web2 platforms is the ownership of this data. When platforms own it, it’s the customer who becomes the product — and ultimately falls victim to data exploitation.

And Web3 aims to solve this issue by giving users control over their data, so everyone can own a piece of Web3 space. In turn, data ownership is closely connected to privacy, and the first thing I think about when I hear about privacy is consent. The user should get to decide who can see their data and who can’t. And that is what excites me most about Akord — along with Arweave, it provides a foundational layer for Web3 where you pay for your space with tokens and own it forever. And you get to choose who you allow to have access to your data.

So yes, what we really bring is control over your data — and the right to decide who you want to share it with.

It may be just my social bubble, but it seems to me that Musk’s Twitter takeover made many rethink their presence on the traditional Web2 social media platforms. We see that Mastodon, a decentralized Twitter alternative, almost doubled its user base — and I’m just curious whether Akord has, too, experienced a noticeable influx of new users.

Richard: Not necessarily connected to Musk’s deal, but I feel like the recent announcement by Meta — when they revealed their plan to store Instagram NFTs on Arweave — really attracted a lot of attention to the ecosystem. I think, for our project, that could be a tipping point that could trigger mass adoption.

And coming back to Elon Musk, the Twitter deal got us discussing the same Web2 issues that has been present there from the very beginning. I think if Elon really wants to make his platform “future-proof,” then the adoption of decentralized protocols is a must. I’m not too familiar with Mastodon, but from what I understand, it’s a federated system where each server is governed by its own set of rules. And that, I think, is a step in the right direction.

In ten years, how do you see Akord?

Richard: What I see is a massive long tail of content creator use cases — like scientists, journalists, and poets – publishing and protecting their work for everyone into the future, families privately storing their photos for five generations down the line. We want Akord to be the prime publishing platform for Arweave’s permaweb that offers the best user experience for its content creators.

Weronika: Even in our most pessimistic scenario that the project is abandoned and becomes a zombie, people will still have access to their encrypted data because it lives on the blockchain — even if we won’t be there. But I hope that even in ten years we’ll still be there because I believe that what we do now is important and will be around for a really long time.