What the Encyclosphere Is Not
Announcements of new Internet initiatives activate a whole set of concepts and their accompanying questions: What’s the team? Who are the investors? What’s the product called? How does the app work? What differentiates it from the competition? When does it launch?
Few of these questions is appropriate to the Knowledge Standards Foundation or the Encyclosphere. In fact, this project is so unusual that it should clarify matters significantly to say what it isn’t. (More precisely, what it will not be, but we will use the present tense for convenience’s sake.)
The Encyclosphere is not an encyclopedia. It’s a network of many encyclopedias and, ultimately, of the work of thousands or maybe millions of casual encyclopedists scattered all across the Web. Similarly, you wouldn’t call the Blogosphere a blog; you’d call it the superset of all blogs (that use the RSS and Atom blogging standards).
The Encyclosphere is not a platform or network for building encyclopedias. It’s not a piece of software to build on. It’s not a closed, proprietary network you can tap into. It is a centerless, leaderless web of different, wholly independent pieces of content and technology.
The Encyclosphere is not a blockchain. Larry developed the idea for this project both before and during his time as CIO of Everipedia, and it will be possible to create a blockchain port (representation) of some or all of the articles and data that makes up the Encyclosphere. But the Encyclosphere itself, at its root, will be the sum total of encyclopedia feeds found throughout the Internet,
It is misleading to call the Encyclosphere “a project,” insofar as that implies a centralized development project. While the Foundation will be a clearinghouse for information about the Encyclosphere, and while Foundation volunteers will surely develop technical tools for the use of the broader Encyclosphere developer community, development of the Encyclosphere in general is expected to proceed by many completely independent companies and individual developers. We expect there to be many different encyclopedia communities (and individuals) and feeds, many feed aggregators, and many encyclopedia readers, with none in charge of the rest.
The Knowledge Standards Foundation is not itself developing an encyclopedia. Having worked on a half-dozen different encyclopedia projects, Larry Sanger is not developing yet another encyclopedia, not even as a test project. He is launching a nonprofit which champions a new, networked way of developing encyclopedic content.
Similarly, the KSF is also not developing an app such as an Encyclosphere reader. This in order to avoid any tendency toward centralization. If the KSF has the unusual authority to declare the technical specification for the Encyclosphere, it would have an unfair advantage; it might tend to concentrate authority in this project; and it would, in time, attract power-seekers who would try to craft the standards to favor itself.
The KSF is not an industry consortium; it is not a project paid for and controlled by reference publishers. Again, knowledge is hugely powerful. We do not want that epistemic power in the hands of a few powerful corporations. That is why we reject donations by corporations and reference publishers generally. This project will be controlled by a Board very carefully selected for their honesty, independence of publishing and government interests.
The Encyclosphere will not be censored by the KSF. The specification developed by the KSF will be neutral, or unbiased; the KSF will never serve the interests of just one (or just a few) political point of view, religion, nationality, etc. So many publishers in recent years have become quite open and shameless in advancing narrow, controversial points of view. The standards that the KSF develops will be, as RSS and Atom are, entirely agnostic with regard to content. We will not permit on our Board any member who is not absolutely committed to keeping the standards free of such needless and damaging rules.
We emphatically reject any suggestion that a commitment to neutrality in encyclopedia standards is in any way “conservative” or “reactionary”; it is, in fact, quite the opposite. If the Encyclosphere is to be a global and decentralized project, then it must permit—as do other open standards, e.g., for email, IRC, blogs, etc.—the widest variety of political, religious, philosophical, and other views. Some of those views will be “liberal,” some “conservative,” and still others will be neither. Any restrictions on the basis of offensiveness, heresy, and even illegality could be enforced except by a decisionmaking body, which would centralize editorial policy for the whole. If a successful, thriving Encyclosphere came into being, adding such a body would empower a set of easily corruptible global censors. That is a situation the KSF will always oppose.
The Encyclosphere specification will certainly include methods whereby governments, corporations, watchdog groups, and self-appointed moderators can identify which articles violate laws, court orders, and rules of various kinds. Such metadata would allow an app maker in, say, China, to censor articles that are declared illegal by Chinese authorities. Similarly, if a social media giant wanted to block exposure to certain perspectives are too offensive for the delicate sensibilities of its readership, it could use metadata published to a feed on the Encyclosphere, either by itself or some third party, to do the blocking. But the Encyclosphere would be maximally open, permitting app developers to, if they wished, let users view all articles without restriction—as browsers do with the World Wide Web itself.