We Need to Decentralize Publishing… Again

Let’s take the power from centralized platforms and give it back to the creators

Cardstack Team
Jun 28, 2019 · 14 min read
The future of content creation and distribution — done the Web 3.0 way! Cardstack enables makers, storytellers, developers, and designers to form decentralized networks and finally create on their own terms.

A s a writer, you lose your baby the moment it gets published. Which is painful, frustrating, and there’s no way around it. Not in a centralized world. You hand over your work to someone else. In the past, this may have been a publishing house that agreed to print your stuff. For a brief moment after the advent of the World Wide Web, individuals started hosting their own home pages and blogs that were directly under their control — no middlemen. These days, most likely, you will publish on a centralized social media platform — so we’re back to middlemen. And why would you do that? Because you’ve worked hard on your piece, you feel it is important, and you want people to see it. You want to build an audience for yourself — a loyal following for your projects, ideas, or business. And taking the help of an intermediary can be useful in achieving that goal; mainly because these platforms promise you a built-in audience that is already eager to find new articles, stories, or books that will be worthy of their time. Sharing your writing with these readers therefore gets you some attention instantly — at least in theory.

In real life, these centralized platforms do much less for you than you initially expect. They may come with a built-in audience, but certainly not with a built-in guarantee that your stuff will be read or make you any money. In fact, not even paying readers get access to all articles on certain platforms; classified stories are reserved for premium memberships (which collect money for the platform, not for you). As a writer, it is tough enough to make money. If you’re any kind of freelance writer, you should definitely have a day job or you will probably starve to death. So, at the very least, you should be the one reaping the rewards for the interesting work you put out there — both financially and attention-wise. Yet, the traffic that your post may generate — as people’s Google search for certain topics leads them to your article — will help the platform more than it helps you. After all, the link goes to the centralized website with its own brand and name, where your article just happens to be located; it makes the platform more popular, but it does next to nothing for you and your own brand. And do you really want people to talk about “one of the articles they saw on this giant web platform” or do you want them to speak about “the article written by this writer or that company”? Do you want them to remember the platform, or you?

So, first of all, you lose your baby in the crowd. It becomes one of many works that may or may not be read by the “built-in” audience your centralized publisher promises. But more importantly: Not only do these platforms not make miracles happen for you; instead, some of them effectively take control over your published work. Once you give it to them, they can do anything they want with it — steal it, clone it, kill it, and take it from you forever. You don’t have to read the Terms of Service like a lawyer to know that those terms are written in the platform’s favor, not yours.

What if they don’t like what you’re saying? What prevents them from simply taking down your article and dropping it in a deep black hole? Too bad, cause you’ll never find it again. What if the site suddenly gets shut down or changes its algorithm, and you haven’t saved your articles anywhere else? Too bad, cause they’re gone; your articles and traffic (aka your audience) have disappeared with the platform. What if they plagiarize and sell your work for profits (their own, of course, cause who forces them to include you in the deal)? Too bad, cause although your work may finally get the exposure you always wanted, you won’t be the one getting paid. And what if, one not so fine day, the platform gets hacked? Too bad! Cause nobody will care that you have just lost everything.

So, there it is. As a writer posting in a centralized world, you will lose your baby. Quite literally. You’re giving it away to someone else, trusting that this “someone” will take proper care of it and give it the attention it needs. In return for a place to publish it and some potential readers, you sacrifice your rights as a writer — accepting that, ultimately, you no longer own your own work. Someone else owns your stuff; even if they say they don’t. And even if they say they would never ever do anything with it that you don’t approve of, who knows? Because, really, they could. Who would punish them for it? From censorship to plagiarism — the power these platforms have over your work could be abused at any time. Which basically means: You cannot count on these people. They don’t have their writers’ best interest at heart, but exclusively their own. They’re unpredictable. They may get your creation some attention today and feed it to the wolves tomorrow, who knows? And PS: You may not even notice.

Writers have been taken advantage of for way too long, being trapped in the centralized system of publishing platforms. It’s time to turn the tide, decentralize publication, and give writers their power back. Not only that; it’s time to give them everything they need and deserve. This includes the perfect writing and designing tools, the greatest exposure and audience, the fairest rewards, and the control over their own work.

At Cardstack, we have taken the first step towards turning this vision into a reality, by creating a decentralized Web publishing system: the “Card Board” application. This app is already open-sourced — but that is only the beginning. We are working hard to improve Card Board, as it is our goal to use the Cardstack Ecosystem to facilitate a network of creators, who can come together to be their own publishers. With the help of our developer community, we can not only achieve parity with large centralized publishing platforms, but surpass them in every way!

The growing toolkit — when creators share, add, and improve

Imagine you could actively add to the toolkit of a decentralized Web publishing system, thereby improving the application and getting rewarded in the process. With Card Board, you can! All the writing, formatting, and publishing tools are open-sourced, so you can build on them.

The easy-to-use editor built into Card Board — which is meant to make the writing process, including styling, formatting, and design, a pleasure for every writer — will get better with each developer who makes an addition to it. Developers can improve the editing options, add new features, and then open-source their self-made tools, by sharing their code and enabling even more people to expand the editor. This way, the tools for publishing articles become better and better, while everyone who enhances Card Board behind the scenes gets rewarded by the system, through the continuous use of our proportional attribution and allocation model.

As a writer, you know that the more features you have in your digital pencil case, the more colorful your article or blog post or e-book will be, and the more interest it will spark. Therefore, it would be great to have a self-improving toolkit at your hands, right? One that gets magically filled (by the coders you never see) with a growing number of writing implements, theming options, and other fantastic tools. You don’t have to worry about coding yourself or paying the coders to code for you — the Cardstack Hub can take care of all that. You don’t even have to think about your data sources; you could insert any audio or video file, not only link out to the few sites your publishing platform supports. Because Cardstack has a plugin mechanism that can connect to everything, you could do anything you like. No need to improvise or settle for anything less than what you really want. This leaves you free to focus on your art.

But it gets better. Imagine you had access to an open-source Shutterstock that is neither insanely expensive nor annoyingly separate from your Web editor; a collection of countless pictures, uploaded and shared by writers, photographers, graphic designers, illustrators, and other creators. You wouldn’t have to open a website in a new tab, create an account, confirm that account, find a picture, pay too much for it, download it, and then finally (after what feels like a million steps) insert it into your article.

You could even add to this image library yourself, thereby improving the user experience for other writers. Say you take photos of adorable koalas for your “Australia rocks!”-article, and think to yourself, “What if someone else wrote about cute, furry animals? What if that person found my picture in the library, used it, and I got paid for it? Wouldn’t that be awesome?” It would! And who knows — if people like it, your pictures may make you more famous than your writing ever could. Suddenly, you wouldn’t only be using Card Board, but creating it too.

At Cardstack, we want app creation tools to be open and free, so that people can use them, share them, and improve them to their heart’s content — without blood-sucking centralized platforms taking control of, well, anything. Developers keep ownership of the tools they create just like writers keep ownership of the articles or pictures they publish, while their work gets efficiently propagated to their audiences. Card Board is a win-win — both developers and writers will be able to derive huge benefits from this decentralized approach to publishing.

The rewarding network — when writers join forces as publishers

Wouldn’t it be great to be your own publisher, backed by a network that doesn’t absorb all your power and success?

Publishing by yourself isn’t easy. As writers know, if you want to have any chance at being successful, your self-publishing efforts require you to put in a lot of knowledge (which you don’t have, unless you’re already an expert in all things publishing, including proofing, layout, sales, distribution, and marketing), plus energy (which you probably want to put into your day job that pays for your writing), time (which there’s never enough of anyway), and money (which there’s never enough of either). Building your own audience of readers is tough when you’re all alone.

That’s where the network effects of our Card UI come in: With Cardstack, you can do so much more than just publish on the Web. The key term is syndication!

Imagine you could form a powerful artists’ collective. You could create or join a community of writers with a built-in audience — one that offers you readers, but doesn’t take control of your work in return. Numerous authors could come together to share their pieces with the public in a decentralized way. With no central upper hand. No central power. No central leech.

Your shared readership would grow with the art and the network. As more writers join the collective and publish their work, this digital library would become increasingly comprehensive. Finally, readers will be able to search an amazing collection of articles or books, containing countless writers’ pieces; they will find whatever they’re looking for — whether that’s an essay explaining how grammar can save lives, an article describing 40 ways to rescue socks from the washing machine, or a blog post teaching them how to tie their exes to a tree so they will get eaten by bugs.

The literary output of such a writers’ guild would be fantastic for the readers, and even more so for the writers. Just imagine: Every author who joins the network brings his own audience to the table, ready to share. This brings more exposure for everyone, as it continuously grows the reader base. Add all those audiences together and you get a huge readership for the whole community, where all writers have a great shot at being discovered by each other’s followers. Quickly, another author’s 4,000 readers become yours too.

And it doesn’t have to end there! By teaming up, you could charge your common audience a membership fee for your writing; a fee to generate revenue that doesn’t go to a platform, but to you, the writers — the people who actually deserve the money, which would be fairly allocated.

Say you charge a fee for the community’s collection of bizarro memoirs. Now, let’s assume you like to write down garbage collectors’ exciting life stories; another author specializes in envelope lickers’ confessions; and a third one focuses on frozen broccoli testers’ memoirs. Since the community of writers would be linked through affiliate agreements, a reader who pays for the garbage collectors would get access to the broccoli testers as well. Based on the number of reads and the traction your garbage men generate, you would get your deserved slice of the revenue-coming-from-memoirs-readers cake.

Thus, by forming a syndicate, you would not only aggregate your work, but multiply your readers, and increase your earnings too. Plus, you would stay in control of your art, due to the absence of a self-declared central god who takes the credit, considers the audience his own, and collects your rewards. You wouldn’t have to sacrifice your baby. You could share it, but it remains yours. Your work, your network, your audience, your reward. We want to offer you all the benefits of a centralized publishing platform, but without the drawbacks; furthermore, we aim to provide additional opportunities that a centralized system can’t provide.

In summary, Cardstack’s decentralized approach to publishing creates a triangular connection that will benefit the writers and readers as much as the developers, as they build each other up continuously. It comes down to this: The writers share readers, hence grow a common audience. The audience, in turn, pays not the publishing platform, but the writers themselves through their subscription fees. And that’s how the developers, who provide the tools for the writers in the first place, get fairly compensated too. This means total freedom, total control, and fair rewards for everyone involved.

This is how you will be able to use the Card Board editor yourself

Our aim is to enable storytellers to write, format, and beautify their work quickly and easily — with fun, freedom, embedding possibilities, theming options, and all the tools they need. Therefore, Card Board offers what we call an “Article Card” that consists of many other cards and features, all of which make up the smooth publishing experience we want to offer creators around the world. Our Web publishing system is still in the works, as we are improving the front-end experience; but the following scenario shows you how our editor will work in the future.

Say you are a blogger who likes to give travel advice. You want to tell your followers that Europe is the perfect place for snowboarding. First, you pick a cool title and subtitle for your article.

Now, you start writing your article paragraph by paragraph, which you can format as you go along, for instance with a “Freeride” font size 47, if you want to make sure even grandparents can read it (although their desire to go snowboarding may be slightly limited).

Naturally, you know your audience, and you are well aware that people are lazy. They often prefer nice pictures to actual writing. So, you pick out a pretty image of some ice and snow, or a cute photo of some reindeer licking their ears, by dragging it either from your own computer or from your Cardstack library, and insert it into your article. You place it anywhere you like and adjust the size. You can add a caption to engage your readers, such as, “If you see reindeer, tie them to a sleigh. Someone really should find out if that actually works.”

Another way to keep your readers excited is to emphasize certain sentences, for instance by use of pull quotes, which is just as simple as dragging and dropping a picture into your article. Simply choose the quote you want to highlight and turn it into a pull quote with one click.

To point out interesting facts, you can create a list of bullet points that may even include a link to an external website. This is an easy and straightforward way to give your readers some interesting facts about the place.

To keep your readers interested, you may want to include a video or podcast in your article. Now, since there is nothing more exciting than a snowcat (a vehicle named after an animal, hello?), you have already interviewed a snowcat driver. All you need to do now is search your Cardstack Library for your podcasts. Choose your “Interview with Jack Frost” from the recordings you have previously added to your library, and place it into your article. If you don’t like the look of the podcast as part of the bigger picture, you can change the size or replace the image with something else. With one click, you isolate the podcast card, overwrite the image of a snowman with the image of a furry cat taken from your library, and insert it back into the article. Click “save” and move on to writing a caption for your interview, which can serve as a nice introduction to your podcast; for example, to answer the question where the “snowcat” came from in the first place: “Once, there was a cat. Or a tractor shaped like a cat. Or just a vehicle steered by a cat. Truth is, nobody really knows.” Always keep your readers guessing.

Now, you can review your completed article and publish it, so that your followers can choose from your collection of blog posts and be forever grateful for your sound travel advice. Since you own everything you write and publish, your creations — including the rights associated with them — remain in your control. You decide where to store your articles, who gets to re-use your articles, who is allowed to copy or embed your articles, and how they can be referenced across the internet. You could even tweet various parts of your article as separate cards, if you feel like sharing specific quotes.

By the way, back-ups are part of the deal. You can upload and synchronize your pictures and articles with a server to make sure you never ever lose them. Or, alternatively, your files can be stored safely in a Cardstack lockbox — a repository to which you (and only you, or whoever else you choose) have the keys.

Because it’s about you, the writer. You should be able to compose and style your work easily, so it reflects your personal taste. You should be the one to determine what happens to it. You should be allowed to write anything you want without being afraid of censorship. You shouldn’t have to be afraid of losing your work. And you should get properly credited and paid for it.

It’s high time we build a Web 3.0 that gives creators their power over their creations back. We need a decentralized system that keeps them in control, while rewarding them fairly for their art. After all, they are the ones who put their heart and soul into their work, and they deserve much more than what they are getting these days. In order to achieve this, they need to be connected with each other in new, direct, decentralized ways — which enables them to lead self-sovereign lives and sidestep the vortex of publishing intermediaries, who soak up all the success that should belong to the creators themselves. Card Board is our first step towards achieving that goal, as it will make creators’ lives more fun, more comfortable, more collaborative, more promising, and more rewarding than they could ever be on a centralized publishing platform — including this one.

Learn More

This is the first in a series of articles and videos presenting new cards that will gradually be added to the Card Catalog. Join our Telegram group and announcement channel to get all the latest updates!


The experience layer of the decentralized Internet.

Cardstack Team

Written by

Official account for the team behind the Cardstack project.



The experience layer of the decentralized Internet. https://cardstack.com

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