WorldBrain — Vision, Values & Roadmap

WorldBrain.io
Feb 1, 2018 · 12 min read

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, a privacy focused & open-source browser extension to power-search, annotate & organize your web-research. (More Info & Download)

- 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
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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?
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1. Sustainably countering online misinformation and polarisation at 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. “Objectivity” needs to be approximated through many subjective experience so that “shared truths” can emerge.
To counter polarisation effectively we need to make it possible to easily compare perspectives and access to diverse opinions.

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).

2. Who will produce the enormous amount of data necessary to do that?

The nuanced data required can’t be automatically generated. It needs humans to provide it. However, manual data entry isn’t possible at the required scale.
It needs to be automated. Our approach is to build productivity tools for individuals that make it easy to organize their web-research and produce enough metadata as a by-product to help people share deep knowledge more effectively with less work.

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MEMEX — Your digital brain extension.

An open-source, privacy-focused browser extension to search, annotate organize and share your online research. For individuals and teams.

🔍 Full-Text Search your Web History & Bookmarks

Instantly recover anything you’ve seen before without doing any upfront work. Even if you just remember a single word, the time frame or the domain.

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📝 Add Highlights and Notes on any Web Page

No more copy-pasting of important pieces and thoughts. Highlight, click, done. Keep your thoughts organized with their original context.

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⚡️ Organize your Discoveries Fast and Flexibly

Tag and sort what you find online into full-text searchable collections.
Automatically sync with your browser’s bookmarks and use keyboard shortcuts for everything.

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😎 Full Privacy — All data is stored on your device

No more “go online to use”. All data is stored locally and never shared with anyone without your proactive actions of sharing or backing up data.

Roadmap:

View a constantly up-to-date roadmap here: worldbrain.io/roadmap

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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)

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

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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?

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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.

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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:

  • Sync Memex on all your devices,
  • Sharing of collections & annotations
  • Co-curating collections as teams, communities and friends
  • Discussing content with annotation-threads
  • Encrypted Backups
  • Full API Access
  • In the future you’ll be able to 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.

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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.

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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, and growth incentives are not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s more about the question: “How much is enough?”

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. Due to the speculative nature of defining “value”, it creates ecosystems where the key metric is unlimited growth.

Practically it is also counterproductive, as our growth strategy is to democratise the development of knowledge management tools and make it possible that every person has the iand 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 with 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 the company:

  1. No need to dominate the entire market to be profitable, or provide shareholder returns.
  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 profits, instead of pumped up company valuation.
  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 share costs for the development of key infrastructure with other companies doing similar things. (e.g. note taking applications, or all providers of Memex variations)

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