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

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).





Please do dive in (politely). I want your reactions!

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

  1. Speaking as someone who has spent much of this decade building my own encyclopedia of sorts in my field of expertise, I would say that the number one barrier here is the instistence (unless I am reading this wrong?) upon a commons license. This means that various distributid contributors will have their content scooped up by an aggregator – maybe even Wikipedia itself – which will then receive support, funding and credit which should have gone to the content creators , precisely the model of Wikipedia. There are flavors of commons which might limit the potential for abuse, for example ND would foil Wikipedia and others whose first act will be remove the byline, but really there is no good reason for commons at all as legitimate uses are already covered by fair use or just assent: by definition, commons supports unfair use to which creators might object if asked. When’s the last time you picked up a book or a paper and said, “whoa, I can’t read this, it’s copyrighted?”

  2. This is just.a message that doesn’t have to be posted here — I’ll write an actual comment later.

    Larry, I’ve just tweeted you an alert you might not find about a sequel to my last post on the SMS of 2019. … Separately, there is a thought I’d like to try out on you, but for that I’ll need an email address. Can you please send one to [omitted by editor]?

    Here’s that tweet: Mystery solved? Famous newspapers that ignored the Social Media Strike of 2019 have agreed to accept regular payments of millions of dollars from Facebook

    https://post-gutenberg.com/2019/10/30/10478/ — Cheryll

  3. You spell out a range of ways to contribute that is most impressive in its specificity. Promising and practical. I’ve never seen anything like this call-to-action list before:

    Social media managers; reporters, bloggers, podcasters, vloggers; writers or any sufficiently smart person; software developers; legal beagles; connectors of all sorts; encyclopedists; foundation volunteers; Encyclosphere enthusiasts.

    I’ve signed up at encyclosphere.org and my contribution in the ‘sufficiently smart person’ category — anyone can get lucky! — will be to write about this collection of ideas on my site. Would have done so already, without a surreal problem that devoured too much of last week and is still hugely distracting.

    1. Thanks for this inspiring reply—put a smile on my face.

  4. Jesse matchey

    I was an Army Medical Evacuation Blackhawk Pilot and retired as a Captain after 15 yrs when a spinal injury from a car wreck ended my career. While I was recovering from surgery, I did a lot of thinking about how to solve some world problems. One of the ideas I came up with but has since been developed by someone else is Whenhub. I’ve thought of other decentralized concepts…one, of which, I’m working on with someone that is intended on being For Profit; however, I’m thinking of bringing it to the world in a non-profit capacity if I could get a group like what you’re organizing to develop it.

    I have no coding understanding. Besides the military, I was a financial planner and am now in an Executive MBA program. I like the direction you are heading, and I don’t know that there’s a way that I can help. I would like to bring what I feel to be a world transforming idea to you, if my current plan falls apart.

    1. Sounds intriguing. As I’m sure your MBA program has told you many times, ideas are overrated and execution is everything—but a good idea in the right hands can certainly change the world.

  5. Timothy Ruff

    Love this. It’s similar in principle and complementary to self-sovereign identity, which I’ve been working on for seven years and now has global momentum.

    It appears that the Encyclosphere is dependent upon ratings that are not gamed. Amazon, Airbnb, and everyone else struggle’s with trustworthy ratings.

    What is your plan for trustworthy ratings?

    1. Hi Timothy, we’re looking into identity solutions, as you might know. I know you’re very much into that. More than that I don’t want to say right now.

      Obviously, ratings must be tied to relatively stable identities, and require one vote, one person. This is very hard, but a basic way forward is to use public keys associated with various identity attributes, and then any of various third parties construct whitelists. Then you decide whether or not to trust a third party whitelist.

      1. I gather from this comment and your more recent blog on this topic that you’ve come the conclusion I did back in 2016 that ‘trust’ and ‘relevance’ are relative in the eye of the beholder, because people have different preferences which may cluster with others who are like-minded.

        Stable (even allowing for pseudonymous) identity is only one facet of the problem of enabling decentralized curation. As I’ve also argued in a several comments on your more recent blogs, decentralized curation is a power vacuum which for the outcome we desire requires an economic paradigm that both resolves unbounded spam and rewards like-minded over well-funded curation.

        I’ll throw stones in the unrealistic, glass ivory tower that blissfully ignores economics and “filthy lucre”. You cite the decentralization of blogs as the pertinent example, but blogs are unbounded. I’m confident there’s thousands of blogs on topics interesting to me which I’m unaware of such as yours before yesterday. I wouldn’t even have time to read them all anyway. Whomever attempts to filter from the unbounded blog spam for me has to be paid. But there’s an asymmetry because the (potentially unbounded) number of blogs to be filtered/curated far exceeds the number of blogs that will be read. So if the reader pays (via a subscription model, donations or bombarded with advertising) then not only is the curator being paid by an aggregation which may have incentives antithetical to those of the reader, but the curator can’t be paid enough to find new diamonds in the haystack of blog spam. Schelling points, power-law distribution of fungible resources (including monetary wealth) and economies-of-scale dictate that unbounded choice will not inherently and automagically[1] resolve as differentiated choice for the reader.

        Thus as I have suggested in a different comment I posted in your other blog no this topic, the bloggers must pay the curators to curate if we hope to achieve our goal of a decentralized curation power vacuum which is not captured by the well funded apparatchiks. How can (encyclopedia article) bloggers pay curators if not with cryptocurrency microtransactions? If we instead rely on centralized payment services such as Paypal, then the apparatchiks can confiscate the funds of those who don’t obey the politically correct religion.

        Why would bloggers pay? Because likely they’re curators also. And because they value the neutrality paradigm within which they can publish effectively. Presumably they blog for the value returned from an audience.

        Although the necessity of cryptocurrency I’ve posited is somewhat orthogonal to standards for publishing and feeds, there’s also benefits to recording publishing on a blockchain such as a time ordering consensus. I think readers want objective publishing timestamps. Additionally and perhaps more importantly is that private keys can be stolen or hacked, so the necessity of objective record of what an identity published *before* such an unfortunate incident.

        [1] Arthur C. Clarke.

  6. Paul

    Hi Larry, you say all encyclopedias will be in this thing. How is that possible if most of them are copyrighted? e.g. Encyclopedia Britanica?

    1. We will at least have meta-data about articles that are not included, so they can still be found via searches and rated by people who have access to them. This will be the case for many academic articles which often live behind pay walls.

  7. […] Want to help build an open encyclopedia network—an “Encyclosphere”? […]

  8. ‘How do you discover the actual origin of a bug — such as ‘surveillance capitalism’ — when its history as a feature is all but lost? Could a better Wikipedia help?’


  9. Katherine A Kaplan-Locke (That Ain’t Write [tm pending])

    Hi. This sounds like a great idea! I’d like to freely offer my proofreading skills to help out. I am trying to start my own business right now and this is right up my alley! I can also assist with research and writing. How do I sign up?

  10. Alexander Birchley

    Just a concerned citizen, hoping this works.

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