Encyclosphere

Introducing the encyclosphere project

Executive Summary

  • Independence: We will not be beholden to any publisher, government, corporation, religion, or other organization. All our work will be done with nothing less than the general public service in mind. There will no special favors done for big donors.
  • Neutrality: We will take proactive and extensive steps to ensure neutrality in all respects. As to politics, we will not favor the left or the right; as to religion, we will favor neither atheism, nor Christianity, nor any other religious attitude; as to popularity, we will not favor mainstream views over minority views; and we will not favor any nationality or language, with the standards explicitly designed to support fully international efforts from the very beginning.
  • Credibility: We strongly wish to support the most trusted and distinguished institutions and experts, from societies around the world, in their desire to communicate clearly to the the public about what is known, about which articles they deem to be most credible. This is why a rating system is necessary.
  • Free speech: Ordinary, undistinguished scholars will be able to post whatever they like to their article feed, just as anyone can publish a blog. Of course, app makers may judge the work of the public in whatever way they deem best. Ratings and category metadata should help.
  • Responsibility: The standards will allow governments, corporations, and others to identify to the public any content they regard as illegal (copyright infringement, privacy violations, sedition, hate speech, etc.), directing publishers in their jurisdiction to take it down. Of course, publishers in other jurisdictions will be able to ignore directives that do not apply to them.
  • Openness: Our deliberative work will always be out in the open and the standards documents will be in the public domain.
  • Decentralization: Our primary mission is focused on providing tools for a decentralized network of independent actors, not to serve as a central hub of activity. In this way, we want the encyclosphere to resemble older Internet networks.

We will take proactive and extensive steps to ensure neutrality in all respects. As to politics, we will not favor the left or the right; as to religion, we will favor neither atheism, nor Christianity, nor any other religious attitude; as to popularity, we will not favor mainstream views over minority views; and we will not favor any nationality or language, with the standards explicitly designed to support fully international efforts from the very beginning.

My Appeal to You

I started dreaming about knowledge projects facilitated by the Internet when I was a grad student in the 1990s. When I started Nupedia and then Wikipedia in the early 2000s, that only clarified to me how powerful online collaboration can be. I discovered that organizing knowledge online is my life’s work.

I’m taking a leap of faith by quitting Everipedia and starting the Knowledge Standards Foundation without a big runway. I’m not independently wealthy and don’t have that much saved. But this project is important enough to me that I really want to try, and I really think this is the time to get to work on it seriously.

But what I really have faith in is that there is an absolutely enormous, global, latent interest in this project, and that enough people, when they learn what we’re up to, will be willing to support the project with their donations. This is not like a for-profit startup or an artist’s Patreon campaign (not that there’s anything wrong with that). What I want to build is not a product, but a centerless network, a public knowledge commons defined strictly by standards, that will, like the Internet itself, immediately take on an independent life of its own. This will empower the ordinary person and undermine tyrants. Do you want to see that happen? Then support the Foundation.

If you are disgusted with Wikipedia for its bias, or with the media (both news media and social media) for its rampant disinformation, irresponsible sourcing, and insufficient coverage of important stories, you should support the creation of an encyclosphere.

Go here to donate, and see above (“Things We Should Do”) for other practical ways you can become a leader in this project.

What I want to build is not a product, but a centerless network, a public knowledge commons defined strictly by standards, that will, like the Internet itself, immediately take on an independent life of its own. This will empower the ordinary person and undermine tyrants. Do you want to see that happen? Then support the Foundation.

As the organizer of this effort, I know it is crucial that you be able to trust me. Therefore, I am hereby making the following pledges.

  • I will work very hard on this project at least for as long as the Foundation can stay afloat.
  • As long as I can pay my personal bills by working on the Foundation, it will be my only paid job. If the Foundation can pay me enough, I will reject all paid positions as advisers, on boards, etc.
  • But if my short runway runs out and I do have to get a job to pay my bills—not at all unlikely—I will make sure it is not in the field of encyclopedias or reference publishing.
  • I will not abandon the project. I will keep working on it part-time in any case. Until I can make it my vocation, it will be my avocation.
  • I will begin the process of seeking 501(c)(3) status for the Foundation soon.
  • I will begin seeking suitable Board of Directors members soon. These must be thoroughly vetted, free of conflicts of interests, and have a proven reputation for honesty.
  • I will send receipts and thanks for all donations.
  • I will publish the names of all donors upon request.
  • I will reject all large donations ($1,000 or more) if they are anonymous. If necessary, we will pass any such donations along to another worthy charity we choose.
  • I (or, in time, the Board) will vet very large donors and their donations will be rejected if there is a conflict of interest, a quid quo pro, or any other issues. We will do all we can to ensure that the funding for the Foundation is 100% clean.
  • I will publish all the Foundation’s books openly, including my own salary. (Any volunteer bookkeepers out there? We’ll start paying you when we can.)
  • I will never accept more than $150,000/year total salary and benefits in 2019 dollars (and I won’t be paying myself nearly that much as long as the organization is small), or otherwise use the Foundation to enrich myself. I won’t pay myself more than $75K until we after we have a small staff.
  • If at all possible, we will spend less than we take in. We will build up a “war chest” to provide for the future. We’re in it for the long haul.
  • If money for them arrives, I will hire competent specialists to work on projects that directly advance the core mission of the Foundation.
  • I also pledge to remain true, and to do all I can to ensure that the Foundation remains true, to the following founding principles.

Founding Principles

The encyclopedia network we aim to create will be so potentially powerful—articulating what are the most credible views on every subject—that it is unusually important to ensure that the enterprise is as upright and incorruptible as possible. Therefore the Foundation will declare from the outset that we are committed to the following principles.

  • Independence: We will not be beholden to any publisher, government, corporation, religion, or other organization. All our work will be done with nothing less than the general public service in mind. There will no special favors done for big donors.
  • Neutrality: We will take proactive and extensive steps to ensure neutrality in all respects. As to politics, we will not favor the left or the right; as to religion, we will favor neither atheism, nor Christianity, nor any other religious attitude; as to popularity, we will not favor mainstream views over minority views; and we will not favor any nationality or language, with the standards explicitly designed to support fully international efforts from the very beginning.
  • Credibility: We strongly wish to support the most trusted and distinguished institutions and experts, from societies around the world, in their desire to communicate clearly to the the public about what is known, about which articles they deem to be most credible. This is why a rating system is necessary.
  • Free speech: Ordinary, undistinguished scholars will be able to post whatever they like to their article feed, just as anyone can publish a blog. Of course, app makers may judge the work of the public in whatever way they deem best. Ratings and category metadata should help.
  • Responsibility: The standards will allow governments, corporations, and others to identify to the public any content they regard as illegal (copyright infringement, privacy violations, sedition, hate speech, etc.), directing publishers in their jurisdiction to take it down. Of course, publishers in other jurisdictions will be able to ignore directives that do not apply to them.
  • Openness: Our deliberative work will always be out in the open and the standards documents will be in the public domain.
  • Decentralization: Our primary mission is focused on providing tools for a decentralized network of independent actors, not to serve as a central hub of activity. In this way, we want the encyclosphere to resemble older Internet networks.

We will take proactive and extensive steps to ensure neutrality in all respects. As to politics, we will not favor the left or the right; as to religion, we will favor neither atheism, nor Christianity, nor any other religious attitude; as to popularity, we will not favor mainstream views over minority views; and we will not favor any nationality or language, with the standards explicitly designed to support fully international efforts from the very beginning.

My Appeal to You

I started dreaming about knowledge projects facilitated by the Internet when I was a grad student in the 1990s. When I started Nupedia and then Wikipedia in the early 2000s, that only clarified to me how powerful online collaboration can be. I discovered that organizing knowledge online is my life’s work.

I’m taking a leap of faith by quitting Everipedia and starting the Knowledge Standards Foundation without a big runway. I’m not independently wealthy and don’t have that much saved. But this project is important enough to me that I really want to try, and I really think this is the time to get to work on it seriously.

But what I really have faith in is that there is an absolutely enormous, global, latent interest in this project, and that enough people, when they learn what we’re up to, will be willing to support the project with their donations. This is not like a for-profit startup or an artist’s Patreon campaign (not that there’s anything wrong with that). What I want to build is not a product, but a centerless network, a public knowledge commons defined strictly by standards, that will, like the Internet itself, immediately take on an independent life of its own. This will empower the ordinary person and undermine tyrants. Do you want to see that happen? Then support the Foundation.

If you are disgusted with Wikipedia for its bias, or with the media (both news media and social media) for its rampant disinformation, irresponsible sourcing, and insufficient coverage of important stories, you should support the creation of an encyclosphere.

Go here to donate, and see above (“Things We Should Do”) for other practical ways you can become a leader in this project.

What I want to build is not a product, but a centerless network, a public knowledge commons defined strictly by standards, that will, like the Internet itself, immediately take on an independent life of its own. This will empower the ordinary person and undermine tyrants. Do you want to see that happen? Then support the Foundation.

As the organizer of this effort, I know it is crucial that you be able to trust me. Therefore, I am hereby making the following pledges.

  • I will work very hard on this project at least for as long as the Foundation can stay afloat.
  • As long as I can pay my personal bills by working on the Foundation, it will be my only paid job. If the Foundation can pay me enough, I will reject all paid positions as advisers, on boards, etc.
  • But if my short runway runs out and I do have to get a job to pay my bills—not at all unlikely—I will make sure it is not in the field of encyclopedias or reference publishing.
  • I will not abandon the project. I will keep working on it part-time in any case. Until I can make it my vocation, it will be my avocation.
  • I will begin the process of seeking 501(c)(3) status for the Foundation soon.
  • I will begin seeking suitable Board of Directors members soon. These must be thoroughly vetted, free of conflicts of interests, and have a proven reputation for honesty.
  • I will send receipts and thanks for all donations.
  • I will publish the names of all donors upon request.
  • I will reject all large donations ($1,000 or more) if they are anonymous. If necessary, we will pass any such donations along to another worthy charity we choose.
  • I (or, in time, the Board) will vet very large donors and their donations will be rejected if there is a conflict of interest, a quid quo pro, or any other issues. We will do all we can to ensure that the funding for the Foundation is 100% clean.
  • I will publish all the Foundation’s books openly, including my own salary. (Any volunteer bookkeepers out there? We’ll start paying you when we can.)
  • I will never accept more than $150,000/year total salary and benefits in 2019 dollars (and I won’t be paying myself nearly that much as long as the organization is small), or otherwise use the Foundation to enrich myself. I won’t pay myself more than $75K until we after we have a small staff.
  • If at all possible, we will spend less than we take in. We will build up a “war chest” to provide for the future. We’re in it for the long haul.
  • If money for them arrives, I will hire competent specialists to work on projects that directly advance the core mission of the Foundation.
  • I also pledge to remain true, and to do all I can to ensure that the Foundation remains true, to the following founding principles.

Founding Principles

The encyclopedia network we aim to create will be so potentially powerful—articulating what are the most credible views on every subject—that it is unusually important to ensure that the enterprise is as upright and incorruptible as possible. Therefore the Foundation will declare from the outset that we are committed to the following principles.

  • Independence: We will not be beholden to any publisher, government, corporation, religion, or other organization. All our work will be done with nothing less than the general public service in mind. There will no special favors done for big donors.
  • Neutrality: We will take proactive and extensive steps to ensure neutrality in all respects. As to politics, we will not favor the left or the right; as to religion, we will favor neither atheism, nor Christianity, nor any other religious attitude; as to popularity, we will not favor mainstream views over minority views; and we will not favor any nationality or language, with the standards explicitly designed to support fully international efforts from the very beginning.
  • Credibility: We strongly wish to support the most trusted and distinguished institutions and experts, from societies around the world, in their desire to communicate clearly to the the public about what is known, about which articles they deem to be most credible. This is why a rating system is necessary.
  • Free speech: Ordinary, undistinguished scholars will be able to post whatever they like to their article feed, just as anyone can publish a blog. Of course, app makers may judge the work of the public in whatever way they deem best. Ratings and category metadata should help.
  • Responsibility: The standards will allow governments, corporations, and others to identify to the public any content they regard as illegal (copyright infringement, privacy violations, sedition, hate speech, etc.), directing publishers in their jurisdiction to take it down. Of course, publishers in other jurisdictions will be able to ignore directives that do not apply to them.
  • Openness: Our deliberative work will always be out in the open and the standards documents will be in the public domain.
  • Decentralization: Our primary mission is focused on providing tools for a decentralized network of independent actors, not to serve as a central hub of activity. In this way, we want the encyclosphere to resemble older Internet networks.

We will take proactive and extensive steps to ensure neutrality in all respects. As to politics, we will not favor the left or the right; as to religion, we will favor neither atheism, nor Christianity, nor any other religious attitude; as to popularity, we will not favor mainstream views over minority views; and we will not favor any nationality or language, with the standards explicitly designed to support fully international efforts from the very beginning.

My Appeal to You

I started dreaming about knowledge projects facilitated by the Internet when I was a grad student in the 1990s. When I started Nupedia and then Wikipedia in the early 2000s, that only clarified to me how powerful online collaboration can be. I discovered that organizing knowledge online is my life’s work.

I’m taking a leap of faith by quitting Everipedia and starting the Knowledge Standards Foundation without a big runway. I’m not independently wealthy and don’t have that much saved. But this project is important enough to me that I really want to try, and I really think this is the time to get to work on it seriously.

But what I really have faith in is that there is an absolutely enormous, global, latent interest in this project, and that enough people, when they learn what we’re up to, will be willing to support the project with their donations. This is not like a for-profit startup or an artist’s Patreon campaign (not that there’s anything wrong with that). What I want to build is not a product, but a centerless network, a public knowledge commons defined strictly by standards, that will, like the Internet itself, immediately take on an independent life of its own. This will empower the ordinary person and undermine tyrants. Do you want to see that happen? Then support the Foundation.

If you are disgusted with Wikipedia for its bias, or with the media (both news media and social media) for its rampant disinformation, irresponsible sourcing, and insufficient coverage of important stories, you should support the creation of an encyclosphere.

Go here to donate, and see above (“Things We Should Do”) for other practical ways you can become a leader in this project.

What I want to build is not a product, but a centerless network, a public knowledge commons defined strictly by standards, that will, like the Internet itself, immediately take on an independent life of its own. This will empower the ordinary person and undermine tyrants. Do you want to see that happen? Then support the Foundation.

  • Writers: start writing. Post encyclopedia articles on your blogs, an existing encyclopedia site (if they allow it), or wherever.
  • Experts: start rating encyclopedia articles (and publish your ratings on social media). If you really want to do this and to help, let me (and the rest of us) know and we’ll give you feedback about requirements, things to try out, etc.
  • Social media users: share and promote using #encyclosphere. Whenever you are sharing anything related to this whole movement on social media, use the hashtag to build familiarity. Also, I need somebody to maintain accounts on Facebook and Instagram; if interested, get in touch.
  • Media folks: interview me, invite me on your news program, video series, or blog. I promise to be interesting.
  • Developers: create a database (or multiple databases) of encyclopedia articles. I’d like to ask anyone who has the time and ability to start creating an updating database of all encyclopedia articles online. Then let’s share both the code and the data generated (both as a downloadable database and a queryable API). Let me know if you’d like ideas for requirements. If you already have such a database, please get in touch and let’s talk next steps.
  • Connectors of all sorts: outreach to experts. If you know interested people, reach out to them and introduce them to the project (and me). Have them subscribe to our announcement list.
  • Thinkers: discuss, discuss, discuss. For all the work we can immediately start doing, when it comes to the standards, I refuse to go off half-cocked. We’re going to do this right. There are many deep, difficult, and important questions about every aspect of this endeavor. For this reason, the main method of deliberation about the standards will be via a group blog. We’ll have up to eight posts per day, whoever wants to post can submit something; I’ll post a fair bit myself, probably, and I’ll be the lead moderator. Mutual respect and staying on-topic will be requirements.
  • Experts again: give me advice. When it comes to executing on the early stages of a project, doing the most effective things can spell all the difference to success and failure. I know I don’t have it all figured out, so if you have useful practical advice and ideas I can act on, I’d love to have them.
  • Foundation volunteers generally: get in touch. Send me your name and strengths at larry@sanger.io with email title “KSF volunteer”. Let me know if you’re in central Ohio. I’ll add you to a growing list, and if you help us get useful stuff done, we’ll put you on Foundation’s Team page.
  • Encyclosphere enthusiasts generally: also get in touch. We’ll try to give you some pointers depending on what you might want to do. Send me your name and strengths at larry@sanger.io. (In the future, we might set up ticketing system for this sort of help system.)

My plan is for the Foundation to maintain and regularly update a page of “to do items” that volunteers and partners are urged to act on.

Risky But Necessary: A Citizen-Funded Foundation

The Foundation faces a difficult task: to publishers and developers to agree on a set of technical standards (concerning article formatting and metadata) that will make it possible for the encyclosphere to come into existence—but, most importantly, to do so while remaining free of undue influence by any corporation or government.

The Foundation will reject all funding from corporate and governmental sources. We will accept funding from individuals, and I hope this will form the bulk of our fund-raising.

For this reason, we will not permit participation in our Board of Directors by publishers, government agents, or any others known or discovered to have a conflict of interest. Board members will be drawn from technologists, retired editors, writers, academics, and perhaps others, as long as they have no such conflicts of interest. Publishers might still, of course, be informal members of the Foundation, because the Foundation will be serving them as well as the public. But permitting them in the leadership, or to have significant influence over the decisionmaking apparatus, of the foundation threatens to create a dynamic that would once again centralize epistemic authority.

But what about funding? He who pays the piper calls the tune, and while it seems it might be possible to get funding from a number of different competing corporate sources, those sources might seek to privilege their own needs over those of the general public. For this reason I have decided that the Foundation will reject all funding from corporate and governmental sources. We will accept funding from individuals, to be sure, and I hope this will form the bulk of our fundraising.

So, will I really forgo money from Everipedia and from other publishers? Am I not making things difficult for myself, in that case?

Yes, I am. And in case that’s puzzling, let me tell you a few things about myself.

I founded a top-10 website worth billions of dollars. But it was destined to be a nonprofit (a status I supported, and thought might be necessary, from the beginning). I never got rich from Wikipedia: I am far and away the poorest founder of a top 10 website.

Jimmy Wales paid me a measly $36,000/year to start Wikipedia for Bomis. (I never said that publicly before, but it’s true.) I haven’t made use of the more lucrative opportunities that my one famous win has unlocked. I’ve been offered or chased for jobs on the coasts, but I live in Ohio by choice, deliberately eschewing the amoral coastal rat race, and if I don’t think I can really improve the world in a position, it doesn’t interest me. I turned down job offers by Jason Calacanis—twice. I’ve also been offered numerous opportunities to advise startups, which I’ve done only very infrequently; that’s just not a game I choose to play, because it seems cheap and wrong. I have never had an exit because I’ve never worked for long on for-profit startups, preferring non-profit, educational projects. I joined Everipedia because they agreed to let me work on what I’m now calling the encyclosphere (we never got past the planning stage). I had a chance for an exit with Everipedia, but as I said, I just gave them back my equity without compensation.

So, that’s why I’m quite middle class. That’s why you shouldn’t think that, because I’m ex-co-founder of Wikipedia, it follows that I’m loaded with cash and favors from rich people. I know and have occasionally worked with (and spoken alongside) such people, but I’m not one of them.

I founded a top-10 website worth billions of dollars. But it was destined to be a nonprofit (something I supported from the beginning). I never got rich from it. I am far and away the poorest founder of a top 10 website.

As I said above, there is exactly one proper way to do this project—to ensure that the encyclosphere comes into existence and remains thoroughly independent of powerful interests—and I’m going to try that way. If we fail to get it off the ground, we fail. Fine; failing’s not so bad, I’ve done it before. But if we succeed, only imagine!

The Project Organizer’s Pledges to You

A message from Larry Sanger:

As the organizer of this effort, I know it is crucial that you be able to trust me. Therefore, I am hereby making the following pledges.

  • I will work very hard on this project at least for as long as the Foundation can stay afloat.
  • As long as I can pay my personal bills by working on the Foundation, it will be my only paid job. If the Foundation can pay me enough, I will reject all paid positions as advisers, on boards, etc.
  • But if my short runway runs out and I do have to get a job to pay my bills—not at all unlikely—I will make sure it is not in the field of encyclopedias or reference publishing.
  • I will not abandon the project. I will keep working on it part-time in any case. Until I can make it my vocation, it will be my avocation.
  • I will begin the process of seeking 501(c)(3) status for the Foundation soon.
  • I will begin seeking suitable Board of Directors members soon. These must be thoroughly vetted, free of conflicts of interests, and have a proven reputation for honesty.
  • I will send receipts and thanks for all donations.
  • I will publish the names of all donors upon request.
  • I will reject all large donations ($1,000 or more) if they are anonymous. If necessary, we will pass any such donations along to another worthy charity we choose.
  • I (or, in time, the Board) will vet very large donors and their donations will be rejected if there is a conflict of interest, a quid quo pro, or any other issues. We will do all we can to ensure that the funding for the Foundation is 100% clean.
  • I will publish all the Foundation’s books openly, including my own salary. (Any volunteer bookkeepers out there? We’ll start paying you when we can.)
  • I will never accept more than $150,000/year total salary and benefits in 2019 dollars (and I won’t be paying myself nearly that much as long as the organization is small), or otherwise use the Foundation to enrich myself. I won’t pay myself more than $75K until we after we have a small staff.
  • If at all possible, we will spend less than we take in. We will build up a “war chest” to provide for the future. We’re in it for the long haul.
  • If money for them arrives, I will hire competent specialists to work on projects that directly advance the core mission of the Foundation.
  • I also pledge to remain true, and to do all I can to ensure that the Foundation remains true, to the following founding principles.

Founding Principles

The encyclopedia network we aim to create will be so potentially powerful—articulating what are the most credible views on every subject—that it is unusually important to ensure that the enterprise is as upright and incorruptible as possible. Therefore the Foundation will declare from the outset that we are committed to the following principles.

  • Independence: We will not be beholden to any publisher, government, corporation, religion, or other organization. All our work will be done with nothing less than the general public service in mind. There will no special favors done for big donors.
  • Neutrality: We will take proactive and extensive steps to ensure neutrality in all respects. As to politics, we will not favor the left or the right; as to religion, we will favor neither atheism, nor Christianity, nor any other religious attitude; as to popularity, we will not favor mainstream views over minority views; and we will not favor any nationality or language, with the standards explicitly designed to support fully international efforts from the very beginning.
  • Credibility: We strongly wish to support the most trusted and distinguished institutions and experts, from societies around the world, in their desire to communicate clearly to the the public about what is known, about which articles they deem to be most credible. This is why a rating system is necessary.
  • Free speech: Ordinary, undistinguished scholars will be able to post whatever they like to their article feed, just as anyone can publish a blog. Of course, app makers may judge the work of the public in whatever way they deem best. Ratings and category metadata should help.
  • Responsibility: The standards will allow governments, corporations, and others to identify to the public any content they regard as illegal (copyright infringement, privacy violations, sedition, hate speech, etc.), directing publishers in their jurisdiction to take it down. Of course, publishers in other jurisdictions will be able to ignore directives that do not apply to them.
  • Openness: Our deliberative work will always be out in the open and the standards documents will be in the public domain.
  • Decentralization: Our primary mission is focused on providing tools for a decentralized network of independent actors, not to serve as a central hub of activity. In this way, we want the encyclosphere to resemble older Internet networks.

We will take proactive and extensive steps to ensure neutrality in all respects. As to politics, we will not favor the left or the right; as to religion, we will favor neither atheism, nor Christianity, nor any other religious attitude; as to popularity, we will not favor mainstream views over minority views; and we will not favor any nationality or language, with the standards explicitly designed to support fully international efforts from the very beginning.

My Appeal to You

I started dreaming about knowledge projects facilitated by the Internet when I was a grad student in the 1990s. When I started Nupedia and then Wikipedia in the early 2000s, that only clarified to me how powerful online collaboration can be. I discovered that organizing knowledge online is my life’s work.

I’m taking a leap of faith by quitting Everipedia and starting the Knowledge Standards Foundation without a big runway. I’m not independently wealthy and don’t have that much saved. But this project is important enough to me that I really want to try, and I really think this is the time to get to work on it seriously.

But what I really have faith in is that there is an absolutely enormous, global, latent interest in this project, and that enough people, when they learn what we’re up to, will be willing to support the project with their donations. This is not like a for-profit startup or an artist’s Patreon campaign (not that there’s anything wrong with that). What I want to build is not a product, but a centerless network, a public knowledge commons defined strictly by standards, that will, like the Internet itself, immediately take on an independent life of its own. This will empower the ordinary person and undermine tyrants. Do you want to see that happen? Then support the Foundation.

If you are disgusted with Wikipedia for its bias, or with the media (both news media and social media) for its rampant disinformation, irresponsible sourcing, and insufficient coverage of important stories, you should support the creation of an encyclosphere.

Go here to donate, and see above (“Things We Should Do”) for other practical ways you can become a leader in this project.

What I want to build is not a product, but a centerless network, a public knowledge commons defined strictly by standards, that will, like the Internet itself, immediately take on an independent life of its own. This will empower the ordinary person and undermine tyrants. Do you want to see that happen? Then support the Foundation.

  • Writers should be able to publish their own articles wherever and whenever they want, without asking anyone.
  • Readers around the world should be given easy and unfettered access to those articles.
  • Raters—the general public, including people identified as experts—should be able to rate those articles.
  • Users should be able to sort and re-sort articles according to all ratings, or selected ratings.
  • The control over whose ratings to pay attention to should always be in the hands of the user.
  • The data is slurped up and aggregated by different databases or APIs.
  • Many competing apps, all around the world, use the aggregated data to build encyclopedia readers according to their own editorial standards. The Foundation’s technical standards will be completely neutral with regard to such editorial standards.

This way we can, in a decentralized and democratic system, do an end run around Google and Wikipedia.

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.)

Since so many explanations are necessary, we have placed them in a separate page.

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.

The Knowledge Standards Foundation

This is the vision I’ve had for encyclopedias since around 2014. That was when I first started talking about something I called “GreaterWiki”; I even started learning to code more seriously just in order to execute the vision. I went to work for Everipedia, the blockchain encyclopedia, in late 2017 with the promise that I’d be able to work on this project. But, when I joined the startup (three years after the co-founders began work on it), one thing we discussed would be the necessity of creating a nonprofit organization holding technical standards for encyclopedias. I thought that heading up such a foundation was a job I’d like to have.

For almost two years, I’ve been developing and promoting this vision (and related ideas, like decentralizing social media) as CIO of Everipedia. I’m grateful to Everipedia for the opportunity to develop and share the idea. But now it’s time for me to get to get serious about actually executing the plan. And for that, I’ve decided that I need to start an independent organization to work on open technical standards for encyclopedias.

Therefore, I am announcing that I have left my position as CIO of Everipedia to start a new Knowledge Standards Foundation. To demonstrate that the Foundation and Everipedia are independent entities, I have given back my equity to Everipedia—without compensation, i.e., they didn’t pay me for my returned equity and I did not receive any money for IQ.

I expect that Everipedia will become among the very first to use the open standards that the Foundation develops, and I will continue to work with Everipedia’s technical team—along with other reference publishers and the general public, I hope.

The Foundation’s purpose will be to publish technical standards for encyclopedia articles and for metadata about encyclopedia articles, according to which they may be freely shared in a decentralized, neutral, and uncensored fashion as well as rated by the general public. We will host open source tools and other software mainly for the developer community. And we will serve as a neutral public forum for discussion of such standards.

I and future Foundation staff will confer with the leadership and technical teams of a number of different app developers, standards experts, online reference publishers, and other potential stakeholders—including, of course, anyone from the interested general public. We will develop draft standards together, while vetting them in a very public, open, civil, and moderated process. As we develop software, we will host it in a Git repository controlled by the Foundation.

I am announcing that I have left my position as CIO of Everipedia to start a new Knowledge Standards Foundation. To demonstrate that the Foundation and Everipedia are independent entities, I have given back my equity to Everipedia—without compensation, i.e., they didn’t pay me for my returned equity and I did not receive any IQ tokens.”

Things We Should Do: Join In!

I want to get everyone in what I hope will be an ever-growing encyclosphere community to work as soon as possible. On what? On activities that will move us from initial announcement to a mature, constantly updated, and completely distributed and decentralized system of exhaustively catalogued and rated encyclopedia articles (the encyclosphere).

But what activities would those be? What can you do? I have ideas for lots of different sorts of participants. I am leery of calling these people “volunteers,” because that implies a central nonprofit project. The Foundation will be nonprofit and it might have volunteers, but the encyclosphere will have participants, or enthusiasts, just as the blogosphere does. You wouldn’t call a blog writer a “volunteer” for the blogosphere, so you shouldn’t call an encyclopedia article writer, who posts articles to a public feed, a “volunteer.” Such people are encyclopedists.

Anyway, we do need to get organized and working on many things.

  • Writers: start writing. Post encyclopedia articles on your blogs, an existing encyclopedia site (if they allow it), or wherever.
  • Experts: start rating encyclopedia articles (and publish your ratings on social media). If you really want to do this and to help, let me (and the rest of us) know and we’ll give you feedback about requirements, things to try out, etc.
  • Social media users: share and promote using #encyclosphere. Whenever you are sharing anything related to this whole movement on social media, use the hashtag to build familiarity. Also, I need somebody to maintain accounts on Facebook and Instagram; if interested, get in touch.
  • Media folks: interview me, invite me on your news program, video series, or blog. I promise to be interesting.
  • Developers: create a database (or multiple databases) of encyclopedia articles. I’d like to ask anyone who has the time and ability to start creating an updating database of all encyclopedia articles online. Then let’s share both the code and the data generated (both as a downloadable database and a queryable API). Let me know if you’d like ideas for requirements. If you already have such a database, please get in touch and let’s talk next steps.
  • Connectors of all sorts: outreach to experts. If you know interested people, reach out to them and introduce them to the project (and me). Have them subscribe to our announcement list.
  • Thinkers: discuss, discuss, discuss. For all the work we can immediately start doing, when it comes to the standards, I refuse to go off half-cocked. We’re going to do this right. There are many deep, difficult, and important questions about every aspect of this endeavor. For this reason, the main method of deliberation about the standards will be via a group blog. We’ll have up to eight posts per day, whoever wants to post can submit something; I’ll post a fair bit myself, probably, and I’ll be the lead moderator. Mutual respect and staying on-topic will be requirements.
  • Experts again: give me advice. When it comes to executing on the early stages of a project, doing the most effective things can spell all the difference to success and failure. I know I don’t have it all figured out, so if you have useful practical advice and ideas I can act on, I’d love to have them.
  • Foundation volunteers generally: get in touch. Send me your name and strengths at larry@sanger.io with email title “KSF volunteer”. Let me know if you’re in central Ohio. I’ll add you to a growing list, and if you help us get useful stuff done, we’ll put you on Foundation’s Team page.
  • Encyclosphere enthusiasts generally: also get in touch. We’ll try to give you some pointers depending on what you might want to do. Send me your name and strengths at larry@sanger.io. (In the future, we might set up ticketing system for this sort of help system.)

My plan is for the Foundation to maintain and regularly update a page of “to do items” that volunteers and partners are urged to act on.

Risky But Necessary: A Citizen-Funded Foundation

The Foundation faces a difficult task: to publishers and developers to agree on a set of technical standards (concerning article formatting and metadata) that will make it possible for the encyclosphere to come into existence—but, most importantly, to do so while remaining free of undue influence by any corporation or government.

The Foundation will reject all funding from corporate and governmental sources. We will accept funding from individuals, and I hope this will form the bulk of our fund-raising.

For this reason, we will not permit participation in our Board of Directors by publishers, government agents, or any others known or discovered to have a conflict of interest. Board members will be drawn from technologists, retired editors, writers, academics, and perhaps others, as long as they have no such conflicts of interest. Publishers might still, of course, be informal members of the Foundation, because the Foundation will be serving them as well as the public. But permitting them in the leadership, or to have significant influence over the decisionmaking apparatus, of the foundation threatens to create a dynamic that would once again centralize epistemic authority.

But what about funding? He who pays the piper calls the tune, and while it seems it might be possible to get funding from a number of different competing corporate sources, those sources might seek to privilege their own needs over those of the general public. For this reason I have decided that the Foundation will reject all funding from corporate and governmental sources. We will accept funding from individuals, to be sure, and I hope this will form the bulk of our fundraising.

So, will I really forgo money from Everipedia and from other publishers? Am I not making things difficult for myself, in that case?

Yes, I am. And in case that’s puzzling, let me tell you a few things about myself.

I founded a top-10 website worth billions of dollars. But it was destined to be a nonprofit (a status I supported, and thought might be necessary, from the beginning). I never got rich from Wikipedia: I am far and away the poorest founder of a top 10 website.

Jimmy Wales paid me a measly $36,000/year to start Wikipedia for Bomis. (I never said that publicly before, but it’s true.) I haven’t made use of the more lucrative opportunities that my one famous win has unlocked. I’ve been offered or chased for jobs on the coasts, but I live in Ohio by choice, deliberately eschewing the amoral coastal rat race, and if I don’t think I can really improve the world in a position, it doesn’t interest me. I turned down job offers by Jason Calacanis—twice. I’ve also been offered numerous opportunities to advise startups, which I’ve done only very infrequently; that’s just not a game I choose to play, because it seems cheap and wrong. I have never had an exit because I’ve never worked for long on for-profit startups, preferring non-profit, educational projects. I joined Everipedia because they agreed to let me work on what I’m now calling the encyclosphere (we never got past the planning stage). I had a chance for an exit with Everipedia, but as I said, I just gave them back my equity without compensation.

So, that’s why I’m quite middle class. That’s why you shouldn’t think that, because I’m ex-co-founder of Wikipedia, it follows that I’m loaded with cash and favors from rich people. I know and have occasionally worked with (and spoken alongside) such people, but I’m not one of them.

I founded a top-10 website worth billions of dollars. But it was destined to be a nonprofit (something I supported from the beginning). I never got rich from it. I am far and away the poorest founder of a top 10 website.

As I said above, there is exactly one proper way to do this project—to ensure that the encyclosphere comes into existence and remains thoroughly independent of powerful interests—and I’m going to try that way. If we fail to get it off the ground, we fail. Fine; failing’s not so bad, I’ve done it before. But if we succeed, only imagine!

The Project Organizer’s Pledges to You

A message from Larry Sanger:

As the organizer of this effort, I know it is crucial that you be able to trust me. Therefore, I am hereby making the following pledges.

  • I will work very hard on this project at least for as long as the Foundation can stay afloat.
  • As long as I can pay my personal bills by working on the Foundation, it will be my only paid job. If the Foundation can pay me enough, I will reject all paid positions as advisers, on boards, etc.
  • But if my short runway runs out and I do have to get a job to pay my bills—not at all unlikely—I will make sure it is not in the field of encyclopedias or reference publishing.
  • I will not abandon the project. I will keep working on it part-time in any case. Until I can make it my vocation, it will be my avocation.
  • I will begin the process of seeking 501(c)(3) status for the Foundation soon.
  • I will begin seeking suitable Board of Directors members soon. These must be thoroughly vetted, free of conflicts of interests, and have a proven reputation for honesty.
  • I will send receipts and thanks for all donations.
  • I will publish the names of all donors upon request.
  • I will reject all large donations ($1,000 or more) if they are anonymous. If necessary, we will pass any such donations along to another worthy charity we choose.
  • I (or, in time, the Board) will vet very large donors and their donations will be rejected if there is a conflict of interest, a quid quo pro, or any other issues. We will do all we can to ensure that the funding for the Foundation is 100% clean.
  • I will publish all the Foundation’s books openly, including my own salary. (Any volunteer bookkeepers out there? We’ll start paying you when we can.)
  • I will never accept more than $150,000/year total salary and benefits in 2019 dollars (and I won’t be paying myself nearly that much as long as the organization is small), or otherwise use the Foundation to enrich myself. I won’t pay myself more than $75K until we after we have a small staff.
  • If at all possible, we will spend less than we take in. We will build up a “war chest” to provide for the future. We’re in it for the long haul.
  • If money for them arrives, I will hire competent specialists to work on projects that directly advance the core mission of the Foundation.
  • I also pledge to remain true, and to do all I can to ensure that the Foundation remains true, to the following founding principles.

Founding Principles

The encyclopedia network we aim to create will be so potentially powerful—articulating what are the most credible views on every subject—that it is unusually important to ensure that the enterprise is as upright and incorruptible as possible. Therefore the Foundation will declare from the outset that we are committed to the following principles.

  • Independence: We will not be beholden to any publisher, government, corporation, religion, or other organization. All our work will be done with nothing less than the general public service in mind. There will no special favors done for big donors.
  • Neutrality: We will take proactive and extensive steps to ensure neutrality in all respects. As to politics, we will not favor the left or the right; as to religion, we will favor neither atheism, nor Christianity, nor any other religious attitude; as to popularity, we will not favor mainstream views over minority views; and we will not favor any nationality or language, with the standards explicitly designed to support fully international efforts from the very beginning.
  • Credibility: We strongly wish to support the most trusted and distinguished institutions and experts, from societies around the world, in their desire to communicate clearly to the the public about what is known, about which articles they deem to be most credible. This is why a rating system is necessary.
  • Free speech: Ordinary, undistinguished scholars will be able to post whatever they like to their article feed, just as anyone can publish a blog. Of course, app makers may judge the work of the public in whatever way they deem best. Ratings and category metadata should help.
  • Responsibility: The standards will allow governments, corporations, and others to identify to the public any content they regard as illegal (copyright infringement, privacy violations, sedition, hate speech, etc.), directing publishers in their jurisdiction to take it down. Of course, publishers in other jurisdictions will be able to ignore directives that do not apply to them.
  • Openness: Our deliberative work will always be out in the open and the standards documents will be in the public domain.
  • Decentralization: Our primary mission is focused on providing tools for a decentralized network of independent actors, not to serve as a central hub of activity. In this way, we want the encyclosphere to resemble older Internet networks.

We will take proactive and extensive steps to ensure neutrality in all respects. As to politics, we will not favor the left or the right; as to religion, we will favor neither atheism, nor Christianity, nor any other religious attitude; as to popularity, we will not favor mainstream views over minority views; and we will not favor any nationality or language, with the standards explicitly designed to support fully international efforts from the very beginning.

My Appeal to You

I started dreaming about knowledge projects facilitated by the Internet when I was a grad student in the 1990s. When I started Nupedia and then Wikipedia in the early 2000s, that only clarified to me how powerful online collaboration can be. I discovered that organizing knowledge online is my life’s work.

I’m taking a leap of faith by quitting Everipedia and starting the Knowledge Standards Foundation without a big runway. I’m not independently wealthy and don’t have that much saved. But this project is important enough to me that I really want to try, and I really think this is the time to get to work on it seriously.

But what I really have faith in is that there is an absolutely enormous, global, latent interest in this project, and that enough people, when they learn what we’re up to, will be willing to support the project with their donations. This is not like a for-profit startup or an artist’s Patreon campaign (not that there’s anything wrong with that). What I want to build is not a product, but a centerless network, a public knowledge commons defined strictly by standards, that will, like the Internet itself, immediately take on an independent life of its own. This will empower the ordinary person and undermine tyrants. Do you want to see that happen? Then support the Foundation.

If you are disgusted with Wikipedia for its bias, or with the media (both news media and social media) for its rampant disinformation, irresponsible sourcing, and insufficient coverage of important stories, you should support the creation of an encyclosphere.

Go here to donate, and see above (“Things We Should Do”) for other practical ways you can become a leader in this project.

What I want to build is not a product, but a centerless network, a public knowledge commons defined strictly by standards, that will, like the Internet itself, immediately take on an independent life of its own. This will empower the ordinary person and undermine tyrants. Do you want to see that happen? Then support the Foundation.

  • The encyclosphere will be the universal network of encyclopedias—an ownerless, leaderless, centerless knowledge commons. Like the blogosphere, it will be a decentralized series of “feeds,” but feeds of encyclopedias and individual articles posted anywhere online.
  • Data from these feeds can be aggregated by different services, then developers will use the aggregated data to build encyclopedia reader apps, with none privileged or “official.”
  • The brand-new, non-profit Knowledge Standards Foundation will launch by organizing the discussion and formulation of the standards (technical specifications) for this system (at encyclosphere.org—right here).
  • The KSF mission will never build an encyclopedia app, just technical specifications and the tools needed to let others build the network.
  • The KSF is and will remain 100% independent of any corporation or government and is absolutely committed to other founding principles, including neutrality, credibility, free speech, responsibility, and openness.
  • For both technical development and funding, we rely on donations from the general public: individuals and families.

We are fed up.

After ten years of domination by big social media—which might finally be in decline—we are tired of giant Silicon Valley corporations using us contemptuously. We still remember an Internet in which we charted our own destiny.

Big Tech dominates us in social media, but Wikipedia has a similar problem. If you want to participate in the world’s largest encyclopedia, you must collaborate with a shadowy group of anonymous amateurs and paid shills on exactly one article per topic. If you are new, you will be treated shabbily. If you refuse to play their strange game, you will be summarily dismissed. Like the social media giants, Wikipedia has become an arrogant and controlling oligarchy.

Like Facebook, Wikipedia is also controlling its readers. It feeds them biased articles, exactly one per topic, does not let users give effective, independent feedback on articles or rate articles. Merely to give feedback, you must become a participant, and thus subject yourself to the tender mercies of this shadowy group. In this way, Wikipedia has centralized epistemic authority in the hands of an anonymous mob. This is worse than Facebook. At least with Facebook, Congress can call Mark Zuckerberg to testify. There isn’t anyone who is responsible for Wikipedia’s content. The situation is, in some ways, more dire than with Facebook, because you cannot effectively talk back to Wikipedia. Who can you talk to? Everyone and no one.

We do not have to tolerate this. We do not have to be at the mercy of these people.

What if all of humanity were empowered to write encyclopedia articles, and rate them, as part of a completely decentralized knowledge network, with no individual, group, corporation, or government in charge of the whole?

We could create a knowledge commons, defined by neutral, open, technical standards and protocols: a network that decentralizes encyclopedias, exactly as the blogosphere has done for blogs.

If we do this, we will not create just one website or app. We will create a truly decentralized, leaderless network of the people, by the people, and for the people. A commons, like the Internet itself. As to apps and editorial policies, let a thousand flowers bloom.

But that means we the people need to roll up our sleeves and get to work making it happen.

Larry Sanger, the ex-founder of Wikipedia, started a Knowledge Standards Foundation in fall of 2020 to help define technical standards for encyclopedias and to spearhead an effort to network them together loosely.

The following document explains how you and I can make it happen.

What is an encyclosphere?

Blogs give everyone an independent voice. All blogs taken together are called the “blogosphere,” but there is no single, central blog repository and no blogging authority. That is a good thing. Can you imagine what it might be like if all our blogs were ultimately controlled by a giant, powerful organization like Facebook, Twitter, or Wikipedia?

Can you imagine what it might be like if all our blogs were ultimately controlled by a giant, powerful organization like Facebook, Twitter, or Wikipedia?

What made the blogosphere possible were technical standards for formatting, sharing, and interlinking blog posts: the RSS and Atom specifications. The nontechnical basics about these standards are easy and important to understand. They are simply a way to format info about blog posts and to let bloggers alert the world when their blog has changed. In general they allow for an organized type of interconnected, networked activity—blogging—without a central, controlling body.

Plenty of websites, like WordPress.com (currently the leader according to Alexa.com), Tumblr, Medium, and Blogger.com, have tried to become the home of blogging online. But none has been able to gain exclusive dominance, because it’s just too easy to move your blog elsewhere. The existence of common blogging standards makes that possible.

We need to do for encyclopedias what blogging standards did for blogs: there needs to be an “encyclosphere.” We should build a totally decentralized network, like the blogosphere—or like email, IRC, blockchains, and the World Wide Web itself. The encyclosphere would give everyone an equal voice in expressing knowledge (or claims to knowledge), and in rating those expressions of knowledge. There would be no single, central knowledge repository and no central knowledge authority.

So, considering that RSS and Atom enabled the development of the decentralized blogosphere, we need to develop technical standards for encyclopedias. That’s where the Knowledge Standards Foundation will come in.

Writers and publishers would then be able to post feeds of encyclopedia articles (or metadata about articles, and ratings of articles). App developers would be able to collect the data from all of those feeds and use the data to construct massive search engines, and other neat features, for all the encyclopedia articles in the world. No one app would be privileged, but all would tap into—and help build—a “knowledge commons.” Ultimately there would be a massive knowledge competition to best express human knowledge on every topic and from every point of view.

There’s never been anything like this. But if we get together, we can build it. Nobody’s stopping us. We’ll never run out of runway because it’s not a startup. It’s a distributed, collective project, an open source movement that is bigger than any of us (and certainly much bigger than the Knowledge Standards Foundation, which will serve only as the catalyst).

How It Will Work (Technical Details)

A section with a technical proposal about how the encyclosphere would work has been moved to this page.

The Encyclosphere Must Be Independent and Democratic

Let’s talk a bit about the politics of knowledge. Our new specification need to be developed independently of any corporation or government. Why?

Knowledge is very powerful. More specifically, authoritative statements of what is known on various subjects are powerful. How? Such statements can be used to influence elections, justify policies, and articulate controversial points of view—in effect to gain, wield, and build and consolidate power. The power to declare what is known is nearly the power to rule the world. No small group—no person, corporation, oligarchy, or cadre of insiders—should wield such power.

We can imagine an encyclosphere, which does for encyclopedias what the blogosphere, and its defining technical standards, did for blogs—not an app, but the encyclopedia layer of the Internet. Not an app, not a proprietary network, but a real, decentralized, and distributed network defined simply by standards and protocols, just like the Internet itself.

We believe in democracy: we believe that political power is best spread out, not concentrated in the hands of a few, where it is apt to be abused. We should also believe, therefore, in epistemic democracy: the power to declare what is known should also be very widely distributed.

So it should not be concentrated in the hands of Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, The New York Times, or any such exclusive group. The history of publishing, including Internet publishing, makes all too clear that the authority to declare what is known is wielded by selfish, powerful interests to advance their own agendas, which always unsurprisingly have the effect of consolidating their own power.

Epistemic power should be spread out among the public. But how?

We can imagine an encyclosphere, which does for encyclopedias what the blogosphere, and its defining technical standards, did for blogs—not an app, but the encyclopedia layer of the Internet. Not an app, not a proprietary network, but a real, decentralized, and distributed network defined simply by standards and protocols, just like the Internet itself.

The democratic promise of the encyclosphere is that, by meaningfully decentralizing the publishing and rating of encyclopedic content, we will spread epistemic authority out among the public, thereby disempowering giant, abusive corporations and totalitarian governments.

I argue that the root problem about encyclopedias and knowledge resources generally today is that they are in the hands of big centralizing organizations—even as it becomes increasingly normal to use such resources to push a political and cultural agenda. Wikipedia, for example, has become more strikingly biased as the years have passed, representing Establishment and moneyed interests, and increasingly rejecting any challenges from outsiders. But such challenges are absolutely essential to the advancement of knowledge.

Ordinary smart people and good writers are essentially prevented from participating meaningfully in, or even having significant input on, “the official story” according to most knowledge resources. What happened to the “encyclopedia anybody can edit”? It’s the world’s biggest encyclopedia. But if you want to contribute, you must work on exactly one article and negotiate about what it says with whoever is already there—anonymous volunteers frequently with enormous amounts of time on their hands, for some reason.

That’s not how it should work.

How should a more democratic encyclosphere work?

  • Writers should be able to publish their own articles wherever and whenever they want, without asking anyone.
  • Readers around the world should be given easy and unfettered access to those articles.
  • Raters—the general public, including people identified as experts—should be able to rate those articles.
  • Users should be able to sort and re-sort articles according to all ratings, or selected ratings.
  • The control over whose ratings to pay attention to should always be in the hands of the user.
  • The data is slurped up and aggregated by different databases or APIs.
  • Many competing apps, all around the world, use the aggregated data to build encyclopedia readers according to their own editorial standards. The Foundation’s technical standards will be completely neutral with regard to such editorial standards.

This way we can, in a decentralized and democratic system, do an end run around Google and Wikipedia.

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.)

Since so many explanations are necessary, we have placed them in a separate page.

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.

The Knowledge Standards Foundation

This is the vision I’ve had for encyclopedias since around 2014. That was when I first started talking about something I called “GreaterWiki”; I even started learning to code more seriously just in order to execute the vision. I went to work for Everipedia, the blockchain encyclopedia, in late 2017 with the promise that I’d be able to work on this project. But, when I joined the startup (three years after the co-founders began work on it), one thing we discussed would be the necessity of creating a nonprofit organization holding technical standards for encyclopedias. I thought that heading up such a foundation was a job I’d like to have.

For almost two years, I’ve been developing and promoting this vision (and related ideas, like decentralizing social media) as CIO of Everipedia. I’m grateful to Everipedia for the opportunity to develop and share the idea. But now it’s time for me to get to get serious about actually executing the plan. And for that, I’ve decided that I need to start an independent organization to work on open technical standards for encyclopedias.

Therefore, I am announcing that I have left my position as CIO of Everipedia to start a new Knowledge Standards Foundation. To demonstrate that the Foundation and Everipedia are independent entities, I have given back my equity to Everipedia—without compensation, i.e., they didn’t pay me for my returned equity and I did not receive any money for IQ.

I expect that Everipedia will become among the very first to use the open standards that the Foundation develops, and I will continue to work with Everipedia’s technical team—along with other reference publishers and the general public, I hope.

The Foundation’s purpose will be to publish technical standards for encyclopedia articles and for metadata about encyclopedia articles, according to which they may be freely shared in a decentralized, neutral, and uncensored fashion as well as rated by the general public. We will host open source tools and other software mainly for the developer community. And we will serve as a neutral public forum for discussion of such standards.

I and future Foundation staff will confer with the leadership and technical teams of a number of different app developers, standards experts, online reference publishers, and other potential stakeholders—including, of course, anyone from the interested general public. We will develop draft standards together, while vetting them in a very public, open, civil, and moderated process. As we develop software, we will host it in a Git repository controlled by the Foundation.

I am announcing that I have left my position as CIO of Everipedia to start a new Knowledge Standards Foundation. To demonstrate that the Foundation and Everipedia are independent entities, I have given back my equity to Everipedia—without compensation, i.e., they didn’t pay me for my returned equity and I did not receive any IQ tokens.”

Things We Should Do: Join In!

I want to get everyone in what I hope will be an ever-growing encyclosphere community to work as soon as possible. On what? On activities that will move us from initial announcement to a mature, constantly updated, and completely distributed and decentralized system of exhaustively catalogued and rated encyclopedia articles (the encyclosphere).

But what activities would those be? What can you do? I have ideas for lots of different sorts of participants. I am leery of calling these people “volunteers,” because that implies a central nonprofit project. The Foundation will be nonprofit and it might have volunteers, but the encyclosphere will have participants, or enthusiasts, just as the blogosphere does. You wouldn’t call a blog writer a “volunteer” for the blogosphere, so you shouldn’t call an encyclopedia article writer, who posts articles to a public feed, a “volunteer.” Such people are encyclopedists.

Anyway, we do need to get organized and working on many things.

  • Writers: start writing. Post encyclopedia articles on your blogs, an existing encyclopedia site (if they allow it), or wherever.
  • Experts: start rating encyclopedia articles (and publish your ratings on social media). If you really want to do this and to help, let me (and the rest of us) know and we’ll give you feedback about requirements, things to try out, etc.
  • Social media users: share and promote using #encyclosphere. Whenever you are sharing anything related to this whole movement on social media, use the hashtag to build familiarity. Also, I need somebody to maintain accounts on Facebook and Instagram; if interested, get in touch.
  • Media folks: interview me, invite me on your news program, video series, or blog. I promise to be interesting.
  • Developers: create a database (or multiple databases) of encyclopedia articles. I’d like to ask anyone who has the time and ability to start creating an updating database of all encyclopedia articles online. Then let’s share both the code and the data generated (both as a downloadable database and a queryable API). Let me know if you’d like ideas for requirements. If you already have such a database, please get in touch and let’s talk next steps.
  • Connectors of all sorts: outreach to experts. If you know interested people, reach out to them and introduce them to the project (and me). Have them subscribe to our announcement list.
  • Thinkers: discuss, discuss, discuss. For all the work we can immediately start doing, when it comes to the standards, I refuse to go off half-cocked. We’re going to do this right. There are many deep, difficult, and important questions about every aspect of this endeavor. For this reason, the main method of deliberation about the standards will be via a group blog. We’ll have up to eight posts per day, whoever wants to post can submit something; I’ll post a fair bit myself, probably, and I’ll be the lead moderator. Mutual respect and staying on-topic will be requirements.
  • Experts again: give me advice. When it comes to executing on the early stages of a project, doing the most effective things can spell all the difference to success and failure. I know I don’t have it all figured out, so if you have useful practical advice and ideas I can act on, I’d love to have them.
  • Foundation volunteers generally: get in touch. Send me your name and strengths at larry@sanger.io with email title “KSF volunteer”. Let me know if you’re in central Ohio. I’ll add you to a growing list, and if you help us get useful stuff done, we’ll put you on Foundation’s Team page.
  • Encyclosphere enthusiasts generally: also get in touch. We’ll try to give you some pointers depending on what you might want to do. Send me your name and strengths at larry@sanger.io. (In the future, we might set up ticketing system for this sort of help system.)

My plan is for the Foundation to maintain and regularly update a page of “to do items” that volunteers and partners are urged to act on.

Risky But Necessary: A Citizen-Funded Foundation

The Foundation faces a difficult task: to publishers and developers to agree on a set of technical standards (concerning article formatting and metadata) that will make it possible for the encyclosphere to come into existence—but, most importantly, to do so while remaining free of undue influence by any corporation or government.

The Foundation will reject all funding from corporate and governmental sources. We will accept funding from individuals, and I hope this will form the bulk of our fund-raising.

For this reason, we will not permit participation in our Board of Directors by publishers, government agents, or any others known or discovered to have a conflict of interest. Board members will be drawn from technologists, retired editors, writers, academics, and perhaps others, as long as they have no such conflicts of interest. Publishers might still, of course, be informal members of the Foundation, because the Foundation will be serving them as well as the public. But permitting them in the leadership, or to have significant influence over the decisionmaking apparatus, of the foundation threatens to create a dynamic that would once again centralize epistemic authority.

But what about funding? He who pays the piper calls the tune, and while it seems it might be possible to get funding from a number of different competing corporate sources, those sources might seek to privilege their own needs over those of the general public. For this reason I have decided that the Foundation will reject all funding from corporate and governmental sources. We will accept funding from individuals, to be sure, and I hope this will form the bulk of our fundraising.

So, will I really forgo money from Everipedia and from other publishers? Am I not making things difficult for myself, in that case?

Yes, I am. And in case that’s puzzling, let me tell you a few things about myself.

I founded a top-10 website worth billions of dollars. But it was destined to be a nonprofit (a status I supported, and thought might be necessary, from the beginning). I never got rich from Wikipedia: I am far and away the poorest founder of a top 10 website.

Jimmy Wales paid me a measly $36,000/year to start Wikipedia for Bomis. (I never said that publicly before, but it’s true.) I haven’t made use of the more lucrative opportunities that my one famous win has unlocked. I’ve been offered or chased for jobs on the coasts, but I live in Ohio by choice, deliberately eschewing the amoral coastal rat race, and if I don’t think I can really improve the world in a position, it doesn’t interest me. I turned down job offers by Jason Calacanis—twice. I’ve also been offered numerous opportunities to advise startups, which I’ve done only very infrequently; that’s just not a game I choose to play, because it seems cheap and wrong. I have never had an exit because I’ve never worked for long on for-profit startups, preferring non-profit, educational projects. I joined Everipedia because they agreed to let me work on what I’m now calling the encyclosphere (we never got past the planning stage). I had a chance for an exit with Everipedia, but as I said, I just gave them back my equity without compensation.

So, that’s why I’m quite middle class. That’s why you shouldn’t think that, because I’m ex-co-founder of Wikipedia, it follows that I’m loaded with cash and favors from rich people. I know and have occasionally worked with (and spoken alongside) such people, but I’m not one of them.

I founded a top-10 website worth billions of dollars. But it was destined to be a nonprofit (something I supported from the beginning). I never got rich from it. I am far and away the poorest founder of a top 10 website.

As I said above, there is exactly one proper way to do this project—to ensure that the encyclosphere comes into existence and remains thoroughly independent of powerful interests—and I’m going to try that way. If we fail to get it off the ground, we fail. Fine; failing’s not so bad, I’ve done it before. But if we succeed, only imagine!

The Project Organizer’s Pledges to You

A message from Larry Sanger:

As the organizer of this effort, I know it is crucial that you be able to trust me. Therefore, I am hereby making the following pledges.

  • I will work very hard on this project at least for as long as the Foundation can stay afloat.
  • As long as I can pay my personal bills by working on the Foundation, it will be my only paid job. If the Foundation can pay me enough, I will reject all paid positions as advisers, on boards, etc.
  • But if my short runway runs out and I do have to get a job to pay my bills—not at all unlikely—I will make sure it is not in the field of encyclopedias or reference publishing.
  • I will not abandon the project. I will keep working on it part-time in any case. Until I can make it my vocation, it will be my avocation.
  • I will begin the process of seeking 501(c)(3) status for the Foundation soon.
  • I will begin seeking suitable Board of Directors members soon. These must be thoroughly vetted, free of conflicts of interests, and have a proven reputation for honesty.
  • I will send receipts and thanks for all donations.
  • I will publish the names of all donors upon request.
  • I will reject all large donations ($1,000 or more) if they are anonymous. If necessary, we will pass any such donations along to another worthy charity we choose.
  • I (or, in time, the Board) will vet very large donors and their donations will be rejected if there is a conflict of interest, a quid quo pro, or any other issues. We will do all we can to ensure that the funding for the Foundation is 100% clean.
  • I will publish all the Foundation’s books openly, including my own salary. (Any volunteer bookkeepers out there? We’ll start paying you when we can.)
  • I will never accept more than $150,000/year total salary and benefits in 2019 dollars (and I won’t be paying myself nearly that much as long as the organization is small), or otherwise use the Foundation to enrich myself. I won’t pay myself more than $75K until we after we have a small staff.
  • If at all possible, we will spend less than we take in. We will build up a “war chest” to provide for the future. We’re in it for the long haul.
  • If money for them arrives, I will hire competent specialists to work on projects that directly advance the core mission of the Foundation.
  • I also pledge to remain true, and to do all I can to ensure that the Foundation remains true, to the following founding principles.

Founding Principles

The encyclopedia network we aim to create will be so potentially powerful—articulating what are the most credible views on every subject—that it is unusually important to ensure that the enterprise is as upright and incorruptible as possible. Therefore the Foundation will declare from the outset that we are committed to the following principles.

  • Independence: We will not be beholden to any publisher, government, corporation, religion, or other organization. All our work will be done with nothing less than the general public service in mind. There will no special favors done for big donors.
  • Neutrality: We will take proactive and extensive steps to ensure neutrality in all respects. As to politics, we will not favor the left or the right; as to religion, we will favor neither atheism, nor Christianity, nor any other religious attitude; as to popularity, we will not favor mainstream views over minority views; and we will not favor any nationality or language, with the standards explicitly designed to support fully international efforts from the very beginning.
  • Credibility: We strongly wish to support the most trusted and distinguished institutions and experts, from societies around the world, in their desire to communicate clearly to the the public about what is known, about which articles they deem to be most credible. This is why a rating system is necessary.
  • Free speech: Ordinary, undistinguished scholars will be able to post whatever they like to their article feed, just as anyone can publish a blog. Of course, app makers may judge the work of the public in whatever way they deem best. Ratings and category metadata should help.
  • Responsibility: The standards will allow governments, corporations, and others to identify to the public any content they regard as illegal (copyright infringement, privacy violations, sedition, hate speech, etc.), directing publishers in their jurisdiction to take it down. Of course, publishers in other jurisdictions will be able to ignore directives that do not apply to them.
  • Openness: Our deliberative work will always be out in the open and the standards documents will be in the public domain.
  • Decentralization: Our primary mission is focused on providing tools for a decentralized network of independent actors, not to serve as a central hub of activity. In this way, we want the encyclosphere to resemble older Internet networks.

We will take proactive and extensive steps to ensure neutrality in all respects. As to politics, we will not favor the left or the right; as to religion, we will favor neither atheism, nor Christianity, nor any other religious attitude; as to popularity, we will not favor mainstream views over minority views; and we will not favor any nationality or language, with the standards explicitly designed to support fully international efforts from the very beginning.

My Appeal to You

I started dreaming about knowledge projects facilitated by the Internet when I was a grad student in the 1990s. When I started Nupedia and then Wikipedia in the early 2000s, that only clarified to me how powerful online collaboration can be. I discovered that organizing knowledge online is my life’s work.

I’m taking a leap of faith by quitting Everipedia and starting the Knowledge Standards Foundation without a big runway. I’m not independently wealthy and don’t have that much saved. But this project is important enough to me that I really want to try, and I really think this is the time to get to work on it seriously.

But what I really have faith in is that there is an absolutely enormous, global, latent interest in this project, and that enough people, when they learn what we’re up to, will be willing to support the project with their donations. This is not like a for-profit startup or an artist’s Patreon campaign (not that there’s anything wrong with that). What I want to build is not a product, but a centerless network, a public knowledge commons defined strictly by standards, that will, like the Internet itself, immediately take on an independent life of its own. This will empower the ordinary person and undermine tyrants. Do you want to see that happen? Then support the Foundation.

If you are disgusted with Wikipedia for its bias, or with the media (both news media and social media) for its rampant disinformation, irresponsible sourcing, and insufficient coverage of important stories, you should support the creation of an encyclosphere.

Go here to donate, and see above (“Things We Should Do”) for other practical ways you can become a leader in this project.

What I want to build is not a product, but a centerless network, a public knowledge commons defined strictly by standards, that will, like the Internet itself, immediately take on an independent life of its own. This will empower the ordinary person and undermine tyrants. Do you want to see that happen? Then support the Foundation.

Published by Larry Sanger

See this page for my bio. Welcome to this site! Thanks for being here!

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