WorldBrain — Vision, Values & Roadmap

Imagine a world where the internet supports a well-informed, less polarised society that enables citizen to make effective, sustainable and compassionate decisions. An Internet where individuals enjoy full privacy and control of how their data is used, where there are no provider locked-in and everyone gets the best software tools for their individual needs.

This is the internet we are working towards. 
Big task, we know. But we are in it for the long-game — and we are luckily not alone on this journey. #dweb

To get us there, WorldBrain.io’s current mission is to make it effortless for individuals to organise, recover and share the most useful and knowledge-expanding content on the web.
Our first step is Memex, an open-source browser extension to annotate, power-search and share your web-research. (More Info & Download)

If you’re interested in a deeper insight into our vision, values and a roadmap, this is the place. If the post is too long for you, here is a short presentation summarising our approach.

We hope to welcome you soon as a user, community member, supporter investor and/or friend.

- Oliver | Founder of WorldBrain

Table of Content

  1. Context
  2. Memex — Your digital brain extension.
  3. The WorldBrain Vision
  4. How we make money
  5. Product Design Values: Data Ownership, Interoperability, Open Data, Hyper-individualisation
  6. Besides the hard Technology: The Soft Side — Education
  7. How we raise money
  8. Contributing to WorldBrain

1. Context

WorldBrain was born when I tried, and failed, to sort fact from fiction in the genetically modified organism (GMO) debate. I realised my ignorance — and the amount of work it took to understand this topic — made it easier for me to be misled. This was 2013 — long before the spectre of fake news saturated our headlines. Back then it was already clear to me that misinformation was one of the biggest problems our society faces.

Since then, my research revolved around two questions:

  1. How to sustainably counter online misinformation and 
    polarisation at scale?
  2. How to produce the enormous amount of data necessary to do this?

1. Sustainably countering online misinformation and polarisation at scale?

To explain this, let’s clarify “sustainably” and “scale :

Sustainability

Any perspective claiming to be a single source of truth or that make a judgement about quality, is inherently biased and at risk of being rejected by those who don’t share this same bias. When it comes to understanding societal issues, one-sided arguments miss out on crucial aspects. In order to reach a wide ideological spectrum of people with different worldviews, we can’t build yet another system that ‘knows’ what is true or not.

Instead we need to build tools that allow for shared truths to emerge through information transparency and effortless sharing and comparing of perspectives. Tools that enable people to think for themselves and execute on critical thinking.

Scale

Scale means that the network needs to provide enough data to offer perspectives on the majority of the content and topics on the web. Data can take the form of quality ratings or contextual, related background information (like scholarly papers or fact-checking articles).
If you as a user get such data only for 1 in 10 articles, any software providing that information will not be really useful.

2. How and who will produce the enormous amount of data necessary to do that?

The nuanced data required can’t be automatically generated; we need humans to provide it. However, manual data entry isn’t possible at the required scale. There have been many attempts to build fact-checking communities and algorithms to get there. Unfortunately hey’ve all failed. :(

The Challenge?

To fact check at scale you need a significant community. But to create a sizeable community you need users; the classic chicken-egg dilemma.

Our approach is to build a personal productivity tool that provides benefits to individuals without an existing community. A tool that allows people effortlessly share their perspectives on the websites and topics they see. The data necessary needs to be a byproduct of using such a tool. 
This is why Memex exists.

2. MEMEX — Your digital brain extension.

Annotate, Power-Search and Share your Web-Research

The Problem?

We use 15th century tools to organise 21st century knowledge.

Back then we used bookmarks, now we use…bookmarks
Back then we used notebooks, now we use….note taking apps
Back then we used newspapers, now we use…newsfeeds

What do they have in common?

The tools we use are disconnected from each other and don’t leverage the power of our brains: Thinking in Context.

The tools we used back then and today are all disconnected from each other, 
In the 15th century it was due to physical limitations, today it is because of artificial ones. Companies providing knowledge management tools have an intrinsic motivations to lock you and your data in and to disallow the free flow of information. But our brain connects everything. Its core strength is associative thinking. The ability to to remember and organise information contextually.

How does that affect my workflows today?

You as a user suffer from it, because you cannot implement the complex and highly individual workflows of organising your knowledge.

  1. To recover information you have to bookmark everything valuable, keep 100s of tabs open and create sophisticated archiving tactics, instead of being able to search with the combination of information you remember. 
    Like “That article I saw last week on my friend Tom’s Facebook timeline, that had the words “cats in tuxedos” in it and that I bookmarked”
  2. To add thoughts about websites, social posts or comments you see, you have to copy paste the url, and/or a relevant piece of text in them, into your note taking application. To recover this information you have to remember where you put it.
  3. When trying to share your noted thoughts, you have to again copy paste that information into the format demanded by the place you share it. To share it in other places you have to re-do this work and again fit it to the requirements. Sometimes there are integrations making that easier, but that is entirely out of your control.

Each little situation might not feel significant, but over time adds up to multiple hours per week, a lot of frustration, and a loss of meaningful productivity.

Don’t you want that time back to spend on things that matter?

Introducing Memex

Organising information with the power of your brain.

A free, open-source and private browser extension to annotate, power search and share your web-research.

Core Feature:

  1. Notes and Annotations (Video)
    Instead of making notes in external applications, attach notes to websites, and pieces of text in them. All without leaving the browser.
  2. Power-Search your History (Video)
    Instead of bookmarking things, instantly find websites you’ve seen with anything you remember. Search for every word in the text and filter by time, domain, custom tags, bookmarks. Soon also if you shared/liked or cited it on social media.
  3. Cite with precision (Video)
    Instead of copy-pasting a quote from the article and the url, highlight any piece of text and create a link you can share with anybody. Anyone opening the link will be brought straight to the text you are referring to.
  4. Flexibly Organise (Video)
    Tag, bookmark and organise websites into lists.
  5. Open Source
    Take our code, adapt it to your needs and workflows. Investigate and verify our claims to privacy and transparency.
  6. Full Privacy, Data Ownership and Interoperability
    Our business model is not your data. Our approach to running this business allows us to leave you in full control of your data. By default, all is stored on your computer. Although not there yet, we aim to be as interoperable with existing standards as possible and provide an Open Data platform so you can move your data anywhere you want, and do whatever you want with it.

Roadmap:

  1. Saving Social Posts and Comments
    How often did you find a realllly valuable post or comment on Twitter but were frustrated about the non-existent or badly implemented way to save those for later reading. Again because the systems are so isolated you could not easily save a post to your favorite note-taking app. 
    Not anymore, With just a click you can save a post on Facebook or Twitter and recover it with the same Memex Power Search functionalities.
  2. Collaborative Collections
    Humans like to curate things: Cat fotos, lists of valuable websites, listicles, collections. But curating good lists together with other people is tedious. Especially because you know in most cases the curation work done on one platform cannot be easily used on another. Imagine being able to curate a list of the best articles about “the impact of climate change on costal lines” or easily share all articles that were the research of a new blogpost you wrote, but without the extra work of recurating it and posting it somewhere else. Where would you do that anyhow?
  3. Sharing and Discussing Annotations
    Taking notes about websites is already a great improvement to take nots, being able to discuss those with others: even better. You could use that to review a website with your colleagues, note down things and discuss your comments.

3. WorldBrain’s Vision

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” — Isaac Newton

A peer2peer social network for collaborative web research.
Imagine you could build on the past web-research work of the most respected and trusted minds in any topic, with a wide spectrum of world-views?
Imagine you could know what they think about the website you are reading, what related background information they found or to only search the articles they found useful, instead of the whole web.

STEP 1: Share your Truth

When performing web-research, everyone puts a lot of time and effort into understanding if an article is qualitative, or to research more background information. The knowledge you gather is forming and formed by your personal understanding of the world; your truth. 
But you cannot easily share this. Others can’t easily and effortlessly continue where you started.

And so, the knowledge and effort people put into verifying content is inaccessible to others.

What if people could share what you think about the quality and usefulness of the content you see without extra work?

To improve your search features and precision, Memex locally stores all kinds of data about how you interact with websites, comments, papers or posts on social media.

Combining this data smartly, we enable you to also automatically & voluntarily share with others the articles most useful to you, and how you mentally connected them to each other.
(e.g. a scientific paper or fact-checking article you found after visiting a news article)

Examples of metrics that are captured

STEP 2: Building on other people’s web-research

You’ll be able to follow (groups of) people in networks and get :

a) Quality Ratings, Background Information & Comments

b) Social Search

Instead of sifting through dozens of unqualified Google Results, what if you were able to focus your web-search only on websites the people you follow found useful?

c) Breaking out of your Filter Bubble.

Lastly, what if you can get this information not just from one group of people, but easily get the same information from people with opposing opinions?

This would effectively give you the control to escape a binary narrative and to break free from any filter bubble you are in.

4. How we make money

We believe that it is important we get away from data hoarding business models, that exploit people’s convenience and their personal data without any transparency and control. We believe business models should be seen as services we can deliver to users, not derived of their privacy. 
We are not per se against services that are based on analysing large amounts of user data, but it should be done in a transparent, ethical and with a mutual agreement.

Stage 1: Memex Cloud:

  • Memex on all your devices,
  • Encrypted Backup,
  • Full API Access,
  • Plugins to modify Memex and run custom data analysis,
  • Monetising your own data.
  • Optionally, you can self-host everything to stay in full control of all our data

We want to incentivise people to build different versions of Memex, that serve other users than we have in mind much better than we could ever do with the focus we have. For that we have Memex (Cloud) being open source, but also give developers a business model by making Memex Cloud Infrastructure open source and easy to deploy as well.

If you can run a server, and your users trust you with their data, you have a business model with Memex Cloud.

Stage 2: Memex Enterprise Cloud

Offering a service subscription to companies that want to host their data internally or an enterprise subscription for Memex Cloud.

Stage 3: Micropayments

The ability for users to automatically pay the creators and curators of the most useful content they consume, based on the interactions a user has with content and the resulting ‘usefulness’ ratings.

5. Product Design Values

Your Data Ownership & Privacy = Priority

With Memex, you are in full control of your data, it is all stored on your computer. With Memex Cloud all your data is encrypted in rest and motion.

Later you can voluntarily & selectively share it with your followers, friends, colleagues or other applications.

We strongly believe in a user’s self-sovereignty and data ownership. It is important for the individual, and its important for a healthy society, that we move away from data exploiting business models, towards user centric approaches, that put the power back to the user. Our business model is to provide users with a service, not holding their data hostage.

Interoperability is key for the collaborative world (and our future)

We want to foster a world, where people & companies are incentivised to collaborate, not only to compete. A world where each company has market share because they produce the best service to their users, not because of the biggest leverage and best strategy to get into their habits, and lock them in.

To make a world like this possible, it is paramount that a user can seamlessly switch between the software that suits their current needs the most, without lock-ins by providers, and without losing (access to) their data through a change in service to a similar value proposition.

This is why we will have a strong focus on building on top of existing, and designing, shared standard protocols, like the Open Annotation Data model & datproject.org.

To follow through with that, we collaborate with ScienceFair, Stenci.la & CodeForScienceAndSociety in order to create a shared data layer, which allows users to use these softwares in a seamless cooperative experience

Hyper-Customization & Control

One of the big problems with current social networks is that you have little to no control over how that media’s newsfeed is built for you.
These algorithms are a one-size-fits all solution that try to figure out for you what you like, and engage with. Ultimately this is what earns social giants advertisement revenue.

We see that this as dangerous because the result is the creation of comfortable filter bubbles. These are little more than echo chambers where people experience little if any cognitive dissonance, and thinking isn’t challenged or changed. Even if you wanted to, you have no ability to intervene and improve your experience, yet alone breaking out of your bubbles.

This is why we think it is crucial, that the algorithms used to pre-filter and display content for you are highly customisable and influenceable.
To go one step further, we believe algorithms should be plug-and-play, and replaceable through others that you deem to be more useful to you.

Openness by Design

In most data-driven business models nowadays, it is vital to hoard data, and make its access as limited as possible and as open as necessary.
A good example is the way Facebook allows users access to their data.

You have a broad enough API so that business can attach to it and make some meaningful stuff with it, but whenever access would hurt Facebook’s bottom line or would make competitors stronger, they restrict access to it.

We won’t have any such restrictions. Your data will always be fully controlled by you. You can share it, close it up, add API endpoints if necessary. It’s all yours.

Our business model does not depend on storing and analysing your data. You own your data.

Extensibility/Plugins

Following the last two points, Openness and Hyper-Customization, Memex will enable users to modify their their client and server software with plugins.
With this we want to leverage ingenuity of the community, and the desires of users to make the best possible software for any individual.

These plugins could, for example, change work-flows, add features, analyse certain data sets (e.g. to build a good recommendation engine) or build bridges to other applications.

By running on your server/computer, those plugins could be used for edge computing approaches, that enable both sophisticated processing by external applications, and privacy protection of your base data.

6. Besides the Technology: Education

We fundamentally believe that the misinformation problem cannot be solved using technology alone.

People need to go through a personal cognitive transformation that involves learning critical thinking, compassion, reflection, meditation and mediation as well as purpose and self-esteem.

Essentially, people need tools to learn how to think critically, be better communicators and have opinions that are less ego-bound.

This is why our whole marketing effort will revolve around delivering useful and transformative content to people to help them on this journey. #ethicalmarketing

So if you are a writer, filmmaker, science communicator or educator passionate about teaching people how to

  • detect and overcome their biases, learn critical thinking
  • learning how to be a better listener, empath
  • develop purpose, self-esteem & meaning

please contact us and join our efforts: info@worldbrain.io

We look forward to working with you.

7. How we raise money

Our Values to running our company and taking investments

Letting people participate in the growth of an endeavour, especially early believers is important and fair, an growth incentives are not necessarily a bad thing. It’s about moderation. 
However, classical, equity-based investments are not an option for us. Ethically and practically.

Ethically because its dynamics create an incentive structure that heavily contributes to unhealthy wealth distributions and centralisation in an economy. It creates ecosystems where it is cheaper/more profitable to compete, and thus produce a lot of waste of resources, socially and ecologically. 
This is because in order to offer investors a return through increase in stock value, they require the value generation happening centrally inside a single company only, and thus dis-incentivising collaboration in an economy. 
Additionally they promise stakeholders potentially ‘unlimited’ Return-on-Invest — there is no cap to what you can earn. This lets everyone strive for maximising their ROI, oftentimes neglecting the ethical boundaries.

Practically it is also counterproductive, as our growth strategy and vision is based on collaboration and interoperability with other Memex-y projects. As a financial instrument, equity is unsuitable for the collaborative service economy we want to contribute to.

We see the need to find alternative models both for our world and our project.
We actively want to foster and contribute a service-based economy in which companies earn as much as they provide value to us people, in which everyone who contributes is fairly compensated and in which there is not the need for such massive centralised growth in order to collectively progress.
Essentially it needs to get economically more viable to collaborate than to compete and uninteresting/impossible to monopolise.

Our Approach

The principles we were looking for in an investment model for the worldbrain.io company:

  1. The company value is not based on speculation, as it is with stocks.
  2. There is a limited amount of return (expectation) for investors and team members.
  3. Investments of time (contributors) and should be valued more than investments of money (‘regular’ investors). But both need to be evaluated fairly on the basis of their opportunity costs.

We found a suitable approach in the model advocated for by purpose-economy.org, which is called Steward Ownership. 
It is explained by Armin Steuernagel in his recent TEDx talk.

In this model, investors get non-voting/non-tradeable shares that can be bought back for a predefined multiplication factor by the company. 
Investors are paid back by a pool of 25% of the profits generated on a monthly basis.

Advantages for Investors:

  1. The ROI is not only paid back at an exit in 8–10 years, but continuously.
  2. The initial investment can be paid back relatively quickly. Then it is only profitable for the investor.
  3. Capital is freed up much earlier for reinvestment purposes.
  4. The survival rate of steward-owned companies is 600% higher than regular companies. A investor portfolio with steward owned companies can get more profitable in the long-term.

Advantages for Company:

  1. No need to dominate the entire market to be profitable or have value
  2. Company is in full control of its purpose. Investors cannot dictate course to pump up stock value (there is no need to pump up the value anymore)
  3. Aligned interests of employees, the company and investors to produce sustainable revenues, instead of pumped up company evaluation.
  4. People working in steward owned business feel more connected and responsible for its purpose. They stay longer in the company, and are more happy.
  5. Decreased costs of development because companies are incentivised to collaborate on key infrastructure with other companies doing similar things. (e.g. note taking applications, or all providers of Memex variations)

Advantages for Society

  1. It lays the incentive structures for a collaborative, instead of a competitive economy. This shift is absolutely necessary for humanity to solve the countless challenges we face in the next 100 years. It is about us surviving or not. 
    For steward owned companies, it becomes economically more viable to collaborate than to compete with other companies doing similar things. If you don’t have to dominate a market anymore because you need to increase the speculative value of your company. You can focus on building highly specialised tools for the customers you want to serve best and make sustainable revenue, as opposed to serving everyone well enough to keep them as a user (or worse: locked-in through network effects or high migration costs)
    In practice, product development can become cheaper because there is an incentive to collaborate with other projects on key infrastructure/common denominators, and only spend money on the specialisation you want to build to serve your users the best. Example in the Memex context: All providers of Memex variations likely will provide Annotations, or Full-Text search. Each providercould focus on the work-flows they want to implement for their specific users (e.g. students, scientists, journalists, entrepreneurs), but collaborate on building this shared infrastructure.
  2. Decreased centralisation through missing incentive of creating monopolies and market-domination.

Interested to learn more about Steward Ownership and in investing in worldbrain.io, I’d love to get in touch with you: oli@worldbrain.io

8. Contributing to WorldBrain

We are a community driven project and currently engage over 
12 lovely people working on the development and spread of Memex.

As you can see in the “Chapter 8: How we raise money”, our goal is to let people who contributed to WorldBrain benefit fairly from its growth.

We are not a pure for-profit, nor non-profit. We are something in between.

In that sense, we are happy to also have some volunteers supporting us in the roles below and then find a way that everyone is happy and gets something out of it.

We are here for fairness and to leave a lasting impact. Not for the money.

Support we need

  • Social Media Manager
  • Decision-Making Coach/Mentor
  • Financial Person to help us calculating through our investment structure, and keeping tabs on our finances
  • Developers. Always.
  • Security Engineer
  • Devops
  • Community Manager for Dev & Users
  • UX Designer who knows how to build habitual products
  • Graphic Designer
  • Writers/Journalists that love to write about cognitive and emotional development, and mediation. (See Section 7: Education)
  • White-paper co-author

What we can give

  • If we succeed, a chance to significantly change the world to the better
  • A diverse and globally distributed team
  • A large network in academia, the blockchain space, open-source development and social entrepreneurship
  • Working from anywhere
  • A lot of responsibility and ability to grow and learn. We are all about learning.
  • A fair return on investment on your time and money (as seen in Section 8)

Resources to get started