As a new technology, blockchain technology is constantly in a state of flux. And that is even before we have decided which blockchain we are referring to, be it Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin or any of the others. And then we are confronted with the question of what to call it. As the story goes, the banking fraternity showed interest in the technology but did not want to acknowledge the Bitcoin origin, so they called it the blockchain. More recently, even the word “blockchain” has been seen as too risky, so it has been called “distributed ledger technology” (DLT).

I bring this up so that I can set, in sharp relief, the difficulty of defining the elements that contribute to the Bitcoin and Ethereum builds, which is a research project that I have been working on recently. To help with this challenge, a team, led by Dr Vicki Lemieux of UBC, with support from colleagues at the University of Zagreb, and now also a growing number of participants around the world, have come together to compile a database of blockchain terms. This team consists of not only academics but also database developers, bitcoin enthusiasts, and archival and information science researchers. Full disclosure, I am one of those researchers.

What sets our project apart from other work aimed at defining blockchain terminology is our recognition of the different communities of interest involved in this technical space, A number of these communities hold the strong views about how the term blockchain and associated terms should be defined, often linked to core values and use cases for the technology. We respect these diverse views and think that documenting terminological differences is an essential step in converging on international standard definitions from a place that acknowledges a broad range of perspectives. Our approach also ensures that the provenance of each definition is carefully documented so that we can trace them back to their most authoritative source. This will make sure that the origins of definitions are transparent, and all contributors are acknowledged for helping to build this open source blockchain resource.

Our team has been working on this since January 2017 and we are pleased to announce that our terminology database can be accessed at this link: http://arstweb.clayton.edu/interlex/blockchain/`.

Earlier in April, Dr Lemieux submitted our database as the one of the Canadian contributions to the work of ISO TC307 at its inaugural meeting in Sydney, Australia. It was acknowledged that Canada’s contribution on terminology was the most comprehensive and many participants applauded the Canadian delegation’s approach to this project. On May 3, the committee put forward Dr Lemieux as a nominee to become international project leader. We are grateful for this recognition of the value of our terminology database to the development of the ISO standard as a whole.

We invite you to review our terminology database, let us know what you think, and suggest new definitions, or revised versions of existing terms.