Want to help build an open encyclopedia network—an “Encyclosphere”?

Larry Sanger

We are fed up. After ten years of domination by big social media—which might finally be in decline—we are tired of giant Silicon Valley corporations using us contemptuously. We still remember an Internet in which we charted our own destiny.

It’s not just social media. It’s Wikipedia, too. If you want to participate in the world’s largest encyclopedia, you must collaborate with a shadowy group of anonymous amateurs and paid shills on exactly one article per topic. If you’re new, you won’t be treated very nicely. If you don’t play their strange game, you’ll be summarily dismissed. Like the social media giants, Wikipedia has become an arrogant and controlling oligarchy.

Like Facebook, Wikipedia is also controlling its readers. It feeds them biased articles, exactly one per topic, does not let users give effective, independent feedback on articles (you’re forced to become a participant) or to rate articles. They have in a very real way centralized epistemic authority in the hands of an anonymous mob. This is worse than Facebook. At least with Facebook, Congress can call Mark Zuckerberg to testify. There isn’t anyone who is responsible for Wikipedia’s content. The situation is, in some ways, more dire than with Facebook, because you can’t effectively talk back to Wikipedia.

We don’t have to tolerate this. We don’t have to be at the mercy of these people.

What if all of humanity wrote encyclopedia articles, and rated them, as part of a completely decentralized knowledge network, with no individual, group, corporation, or government in charge of the whole?

We could create a knowledge commons, defined by neutral, open, technical standards and protocols: a network that decentralizes encyclopedias, exactly as the Blogosphere has done for blogs.

If we do this, we won’t create just one website or app. We will create a truly decentralized, leaderless network of the people, by the people, and for the people. A commons, like the Internet itself. As to apps and editorial policies, let a thousand flowers bloom.

But that means we the people need to roll up our sleeves and get to work making it happen.

To this end, I recently tweeted:

As of this writing it was liked over 1,100 times and RTd 360 times, and the new Knowledge Standards Foundation Twitter account, @ks_found, jumped from 60 to 1,441 followers in a few days. Please follow if you haven’t already!

We have been calling for early participants to prepare the site for an upcoming announcement (Oct. 17, rather than Oct. 18 as stated above). We have over 30 volunteers now—and now it’s a matter of getting them (and others who might sign up after this CFP) together building stuff.

Bear in mind this isn’t a for-profit startup, it’s not a coin, there is no ICO, and we’re not building an app. Nobody is going to get rich here (unless they build a for-profit app on top of the resources we’re building, which is totally OK). No, we’re simply launching the discussion, the supporting nonprofit Foundation, starting work on supporting technical tools, and building an open source volunteer-driven movement.

Do you want to be among the very first participants/builders in a completely centerless, leaderless, open source network, like the Blogosphere, that I propose to call the Encyclosphere? The organizing site isn’t public yet, but it is far enough along for our first participants (just not observers or the idle curious—actual participants only, please).

So, what’s going on?

We are now calling for the new network’s first participants. Do not write unless you’re willing to get to work. We don’t want observers, we want motivated participants. If that’s you, please tell me a bit about yourself and which of the following you could put in some time doing in the next few weeks?

  • Social media managers: share and promote using #Encyclosphere. We need somebody to maintain Knowledge Standards Foundation accounts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Gab, and Minds; if interested, get in touch.
  • Reporters, bloggers, podcasters, vloggers: interview me, invite me on your news program, video series, or blog. I promise to be interesting.
  • Writers or any sufficiently smart person: various stuff.
    • List all online encyclopedias. Make a massive list. Work with developers on doing any initially needed data about said encyclopedias (one thing I can think of is whether they have an API and if so, where and if there are instructions somewhere).
    • Help author and keep up-to-date text pages on Encyclosphere.org (such as “Site Map” and “About”).
  • Developers: start doing exploratory coding. Like what?
    • Create scrapers to get metadata about encyclopedia articles out of Wikipedia, Everipedia, Britannica, Ballotpedia, etc. Scrape responsibly. Don’t overload servers.
    • Create a regularly-updated (not too regularly-updated) database (or multiple databases) of encyclopedia articles.
    • Set up a GitLab group.
    • Install Matrix (as in Matrix.org) for developer discussions or advise about a better chat app, preferably OSS. I can give you access to an Encyclosphere.org subdomain & subdirectory.
    • Then let’s share both the code and the data generated (both as a downloadable database and a queryable API). If you’re interested, let’s post on the blog and solicit ideas for requirements. If you already have such a database, please get in touch and let’s talk next steps. There are lots of other potential projects; let’s brainstorm.
  • Legal beagles:
    • Advise us on the legalities involved in the aforementioned scraping.
    • Advise us on and help us to set up a 501(c)(3).
  • Connectors of all sorts: outreach to experts. If you know interested people, reach out to them and introduce them to the project (and me).
  • Experts on anything closely related to our mission: give us advice. When it comes to executing on the early stages of a project, doing the most effective things can spell all the difference to success and failure. We know we don’t have it all figured out, so if you have useful practical advice and ideas we can act on, we’d love to have them.
  • Encyclopedists and technologists: discuss, discuss, discuss. For all the work we can immediately start doing, when it comes to the standards themselves, I refuse to go off half-cocked. We’re going to do this right. There are many deep, difficult, and important questions about every aspect of this endeavor. For this reason, the main method of extended deliberation about the standards will be via a group blog (as opposed to exploratory coding, which we can organize via the ordinary sort of chat). We’ll have up to eight posts per day, whoever wants to post can submit something; I’ll post a fair bit myself, probably, and I’ll be the lead moderator. Mutual respect and staying on-topic will be requirements.
  • Foundation volunteers generally: get in touch. Send me your name and strengths; let me know if you’re in central Ohio. I’ll add you to a growing list, and if you help us get useful stuff done, we’ll put you on Foundation’s Team page. Send me your name and strengths here or DM on Twitter here.
  • Encyclosphere enthusiasts generally: also get in touch. We’ll try to give you some pointers depending on what you might want to do.

Note, the above list is likely to change rapidly as we learn more and get to work. I’ll let you into the “pre-alpha” site (encyclosphere.org) and introduce you to people who are working on similar things.

Also, you must be an alpha tester: that means you’re OK with bugs and rough design (that will, of course, be fixed and prettied up).

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