Seminar Reading List

UNIT ONE: Introductory and Background

Week 1 – What Are the Problems About the Internet?

Reading
Larry Sanger, Essays on Free Knowledge, Ch. 12: “The Future of the Free Internet” paperback (Amzn) • ebook (Gumroad) (Chapter 12 available from staff on request.)

Topic
A lot of us serious criticisms of how the Internet has been evolving in the last decade especially. Our digital rights, including the freedom of speech, the right to privacy, and autonomy generally, are under concerted attack. At the same time, we loathe “fake news,” or sensationalized, biased reporting. What is the root nature of these problems? What brought us to this situation? And is there anything we could possibly do about it?

Session Leaders

  • Larry Sanger (KSF President, Wikipedia co-founder)
  • Jean-Francois Groff (engineer, a key developer of the Web at CERN)
  • Peter Magnusson (Silicon Valley executive/apostate)

Questions

  • Identifying the problem: What problems of the Internet, exactly, are decentralized networks supposed to solve?
  • History of decentralization: In what ways were the networks created by original protocols of the Internet decentralized? What is (or was) “decentralized” about them? What conceptual and historical relationship is there between open source (or public domain) technology and decentralized networks?
  • Digital naïveté: Were consumers (and many developers) naïve about the prospects of digital freedom, and the extent to which we could trust Silicon Valley startups with our data?
  • How the giants grew: What enabled Silicon Valley startups to evolve into massive giants? Why didn’t this happen sooner, i.e., why did it happen when it did?
  • The possibility of decentralized networks in 2021: Is it even possible to build or rebuild successful, competitive old-fashioned decentralized networks when the Internet is dominated by Big Tech?

Week 2 – The Encyclosphere Project: Making a Decentralized Network for All the Encyclopedias

Reading
Knowledge Standards Foundation, “Introducing the encyclosphere project” (2019-21).

Topic
We will introduce and discuss the encyclosphere project. The encyclosphere project will, we hope, become another example of how the use of neutral, open standards leads to the development of decentralized networks hosted atop the pre-existing (and already decentralized) infrastructure of the Internet. The topic of the seminar is to explore the difficult concepts and questions that must be addressed if we are to develop a decentralized network intelligently. So, we will treat the encyclosphere as an example of that topic.

Session Leaders

  • Larry Sanger, KSF President, Wikipedia co-founder

Guest Speakers

  • Leslie Graves, philosopher and founder/publisher of Ballotpedia
  • Sam Kazemian, cofounder/president of Everipedia
  • Pat Palmer, computer scientist and editor-in-chief of Citizendium
  • Phil Parker, business AI professor and project lead for the exciting new Botipedia
  • Sergei Schekanov, CERN physicist, programmer, and publisher of the STEM-oriented Handwiki

Questions

  • Is Wikipedia decentralized? In what way—why or why not?
  • What would it even mean to create a decentralized encyclopedia network?
  • Why are we thinking about creating an encyclosphere?
  • Why should developers and publishers adopt uniform, neutral standards for formatting encyclopedia articles (and other categories of content)?
  • What do you think of the idea of publishing your metadata, and your content, in a standardized format?
  • We are thinking of making a white-label encyclopedia reader mobile app. As far as I know, none of your projects have mobile apps yet. Do you have some feedback on this idea? Could you see adapting this software for your own app?
  • What are some other requirements you would like to see satisfied for any part of the whole encyclosphere architecture?
  • Do you have any other advice for the KSF?

Week 3 – Decentralizing Social Media: Why and How

To develop; interested speakers include executives at Minds, Bitchute, and others

Week 4 – Digital Identity: Why We Need It and How Not to Do It

To develop; led by the W3C DID:Web contributor Christian Gribneau and others

A later week… – Internet Governance: History and Recent Developments

Reading
Laura DeNardis, The Global War for Internet Governance, Chs. 1-3 (esp. ch. 3)

Topic
We will learn some broad generalities about standards-setting bodies such as W3C, IETF, IEEE, etc., as well as governance/policy bodies like ICANN, WSIS, IGF, Dept. of Commerce, etc. This is essential for us to understand as the context in which the KSF and encyclosphere are working, and of decentralized networks for social media and video that we also propose to help set up and/or promote.

Session Leaders
tbd

Questions

  • How are technical standards best drafted, adopted, and popularized?
  • Are there dangers associated with standards—and with standards-setting bodies? What can we learn from problems with existing standards and standards-setting bodies?
  • How are standards developed alongside practice (software and data structures in use)? Consider, e.g., the history of the development of the RSS and HTML5 standards. What implication does this have for how we should go about developing Encyclosphere standards?

Further Topics and Questions (not sorted into weeks yet)

The rest of the course will be built out of the following general topics and questions. We will generally attempt to keep our course plan detailed with readings and questions a month in advance. See also this blog post on LarrySanger.org, which we will also use to develop the syllabus.

Standards More Specifically (3-6 weeks)

  • There seem to be two models for adopting standards, the IETF model and W3C. Which is best?
  • What level of detail does there need to be?
  • Should we not encourage people to launch projects, or to add features to existing projects, that allow us to determine what the standards are? What sort of guidance should we (a would-be standards-setting body for the encyclosphere) offer to such people?
  • How do our standards-in-progress measure up against what we have learned in this section? Can we already make some changes?

Identity Standards (several weeks)

  • What is digital identity?
  • What is digital privacy and why is it important?
  • Does there have to be a digital identity system in order to maintain a useful network of encyclopedic content and ratings? (We do not have one for the blogosphere.)
  • Is it possible to uniquely identify people via any sort of digital identity system? How?
  • What is the best sort of digital identity system?
  • What risks do digital identity systems pose to digital privacy and autonomy? (Think the Chinese social credit system.) Is it possible to guarantee that our digital identity stays in our control, and that it remains private? How?
  • <p”>What are the best digital identity systems at present? DID? Are any of them adequate for the purposes of the Encyclosphere?</p”>
  • Should the Encyclosphere require articles and encyclopedias to be attached to any sort of “digital identity”?
  • What publisher, author, and rater information should be required, if any, as part of the Encyclosphere standards? What should be optional but supported?
  • How do our standards-in-progress measure up against what we have learned in this section? Should we make some changes?

Decentralized Content Networks in General (several weeks)

Laura DeNardis, The Global War for Internet Governance, ch. 7 (“The Public Policy Role of Private Information Intermediaries”)

  • What is decentralization? What are decentralized networks?
  • Why is the Internet decentralized? How did the decentralization of the Internet come about?
  • Why might one care about this?
  • What are some classic examples of decentralized networks/open protocols? TCP/IP, DNS, email, Blogosphere
  • How well did they work? To the extent that they succeeded, why did they? When they failed, why did they?
  • Is blockchain the technology of decentralization?

Decentralized Distribution, Storage, and Networking (1-2 weeks, technical)

  • BitTorrent
  • IPFS
  • DAT
  • Blockchain
  • LibP2P
  • WebRTC
  • Hypercore

How to Decentralize Social Media (2-4 weeks)

  • What are the special problems associated with the centralization of social media?
  • What is the difference between federated and P2P networks? Does it matter?

How to Decentralize Video (1-3 weeks)

Encyclopedia Standards (several/many weeks here)

  • What should the encyclopedia data format standards look like? What standards exist that would be closest to encyclopedia standards that we might adopt? RSS, Atom, ActivityPub…?
  • Should there be a single markup standard for the content of encyclopedia articles? It seems like there will have to be at some point. Is this something readers should do individually (rendering “raw content” from various different formats into the reader’s format), or is it the way that information should be distributed via feeds?
  • And if there is some single content markup standard, what should it be? How fine-grained should it be? How strictly should it be enforced?
    Are there any standards currently in existence that we might use?
  • What should the scope of the standards be? Should we attempt to include only encyclopedia articles, various kinds of reference material, or something broader such as educational content?
  • What sort of metadata should be tracked in the standards?
  • How do our standards-in-progress measure up against what we have learned in this section? Should we make some changes?

Special Challenges of the Network in General (several/many weeks here)

  • Can the network support a full set of article histories? Should it? How?
  • Should we encourage/support FADs, independent of end-user Encyclosphere reading apps? How important is it to decouple the aggregating of feeds into a database, on the one hand, and building front ends for the database, on the other?
  • How can the network support multiple versions of what began life as the same article? How can this support content forking, without unnecessarily confusing the average end user, who after all wants to read at most only one version of an article, and without unfairly preferring any specific version and allowing exploits to hide versions deemed “bad” by powerful players?
  • Is it technically feasible to allow people to sell content via the network? How? Is this a good idea? It seems important for purposes of getting proprietary encyclopedia publishers involved. But is there even potentially a demand? If this requires encryption, then are there any special technical, legal, or other issues associated with distributing encrypted content over an open network?
  • How, and to what extent, should the network protect the right to free speech? What, if anything, should we do about speech deemed “hate,” yet still legal in some jurisdictions?
  • Should we try to prevent the use of the network to post illegal (copyrighted, libelous, private, secret, etc.) content? We must take into consideration that there are many different laws and jurisdictions.
  • How do we prevent DNS-type attacks, or flooding the network with garbage or spam in attempt to render the network inoperable, while continuing to prevent censorship?
  • What are some unintended consequences of the existence of the network we have in mind to build?
  • How do our standards-in-progress measure up against what we have learned in this section? Should we make some changes?

How Might it All go Wrong?

To be continued.