IDEA: "Substack.com" for online research & annotations

Hey folks,

We have applied with a proposal to Grant for the Web in the June '20 round.
Since we are an open project we wanted to make this proposal public to get feedback and reach out to potential collaborators to make this happen with or without the grant.
We requested the full 100k because we think it’s an adequate amount for the work that needs to be done.

TL;DR: Here is a video walking through the things we want to build.
What would you improve? What features are missing for you to make this work well for your personal workflows?

Want to collaborate? Reach out to me at oli[at]worldbrain(dot)io or simply start commenting here :slight_smile:

The Project

Project Name

Memex Social - A “substack(dot)com” for online research, bookmarks and web annotations

Brief Project Summary

Memex Social is a “substack(dot)com” for online research.
Knowledge workers can curate, publish & discuss lists of web content, notes & annotations and get paid by followers via the Web Monetisation Standard.

What problem is your project trying to address?

The business model of the web economically rewards the creation and curation of low-quality content. As a result people suffer from information overload, causing them to be easy victims of
misinformation and social polarisation.
However, there are millions of knowledge workers (journalists, scientists, online debaters) doing quality online research.

They’re creating, curating and discussing quality blog post, papers & social media posts for personal and professional use.
Because of the short-lived nature of social media and the work required for curating content, most of this research work is not accessible. Additionally, apart from “Substack(dot)com” (for newsletters)
there is currently no system for economically incentivising the curation of quality content by knowledge workers.
If their online research was accessible, you could start your own research with articles, papers and social posts that people you trust found valuable, and see and discuss their highlights and notes when
visiting the same websites.
With this proposal we aim to solve the problems of frictions for knowledge workers to curate & share the output of their online research and to create an economic reward for doing so, by enabling
followers to pay content curators (and subsequently creators too) via the Web Monetisation standard.

Describe your project

Memex Social is a “substack(dot)com” for online research, bookmarks & annotations. Knowledge workers curate, publish & discuss lists of web content, notes & annotations and get paid by followers.
The work extends the open-source and offline-first browser extension Memex (getmemex(dot)com). It currently enables users to fulltext search their web history, annotate websites/PDFs and organise
content with lists and tags. Memex has about 15k users who are mainly knowledge workers like developers, journalists, scientists, students and productivity geeks.
This project adds the ability for users to share & discuss their lists, notes and annotated, as well as the integration with the Web Monetisation standard into each user profile.
Followers get RSS-like updates to shared lists and see new highlights and annotations via a
sidebar on the websites and PDFs they visit.
In this proposal we focus on developing the sharing features, a basic integration with the Web Monetisation standard and research to inform the further roadmap. In subsequent proposals, we aim to
enable curators to individually define how much they want to charge from followers or individual lists, and consumers can enable automatic micropayment based on their browsing behaviour.

How will you use, build on, or build with Web Monetization technology?

We are new to the Web Monetisation ecosystem, so we keep the integration scope of this first proposal small.
In this proposal, every curator profile will have the Web Monetisation standard built in so they can receive donations from Memex users and non-users. We focus on creating a good user experience to
donate and the core feature to share lists & annotations & collaborate with followers through discussions and co-curation of lists.
Later, we’ll add the ability for curators to individually define what they want to charge for following them or their lists.
In a third stage, payments can be extended to not only support curators, but also for creators of content through automated payout of micropayments.
This is possible because Memex is in the unique position to capture a lot of metadata about how users interact with content e.g. how far they read, visit frequency, what they bookmark, annotate, like and share. This data is stored privately on their computer by default.

Example: A user sets 20€/month for their media consumption. The funds are then automatically distributed between the content they interacted with the most positively & the curators that made them
aware of content.

What are the goals of your project?

The goal of our project was since its inception to find a scalable way to combat online misinformation and social polarisation. We are convinced that in order to solve the misinformation crisis, technology, curation of quality content or fact-checking is not enough. We need to find ways to economically reward the creation and curation of quality content.
We aspire to make it frictionless for for consumers to pay for quality web content they consume and reward the millions of unrewarded hours knowledge workers invest in their online research and creation
of high quality content.
However, introducing economic incentives will have grave implications on the behaviour of people that need to be well understood before introducing paywalls in later stages.
This is why together with the research lab Ink&Switch we want to conduct research on user friendly & ethical design of sharing/following/payment systems that protect a user’s attention
and agency to consume content.

What does success look like?

Success means for us that after the grant period curators have a way to share their online research and the first curators earning income through it.
We also aim to have 500 high profile influencers being part of a beta community with which we can improve the feature in a controlled environment.
Additionally we have strong insights into the sharing, collaboration and payment practices of our users that will inform the future roadmap.

What are the key deliverables? What will you produce?

The aim is to deliver 4 key outputs during the grant period:

  1. The ability to share & discuss lists of pages & annotations
  2. The ability to follow curators profiles with their lists and a basic
    feed
  3. The ability to pay curators with the Web Monetisation standard
  4. A research document outlining the next roadmap and further integration potential with the Web Monetisation Standard We attached early mockups to the application and made a video
    demo of what we have in mind. The video can be found here: https://www.loom.com/share/24df0d65cb4340729e258f9a839cbc1a
    Parts of the work on those features will already be done before the grant so it’s hard to draw a clear line which subtasks will be executed during the grant period or not.

Either way, the work packages we aim to get done to consider the feature releasable as an MVP are:

  • Share lists of pages and notes with Memex users and non-Memex users
  • Ability to follow updates to lists
  • Have conversations on the level of lists, pages and specific sections of the text
  • Basic notifications
  • Curator profiles with integration of Web Monetisation endpoint
    Our ongoing progress is documented here:
    worldbrain(dot)io/projects/sharing-collaboration

What do you hope to learn by the end of the project?

To arrive at the current state of specs we have facilitated roughly 40 user interviews in order to understand the most important basic features to provide.
However, sharing online research and paying for it is a completely new user experience and requires further user research and investigations in real-world environments.

To inform our future roadmap and the scope of subsequent proposals, those are some of the open questions we have:

  • Are users willing to donate for people’s online research?
  • How will their behaviour change when payment becomes mandatory through paywalls?
  • How do users want to share their research? Which things will be kept private?
  • How do you make it easy for people to differentiate between shared and private knowledge?
  • What is good UX to filter notifications and incoming feeds?
  • How do we integrate the Web Monetisation Standard (WMS) in a user-friendly way into Memex?
  • How do we integrate WMS in a way that allows for easy extensibility of payment use case later on
  • What are the key user ad option challenges of the WMS in the context of Memex

Find this interesting? We would love to collaborate!
Reach out to me at oli[at]worldbrain(dot)io or simply start commenting here :slight_smile:

10 Likes

Great to see this, Oli, and thanks for sharing in full! For anyone interested, here’s a link to a conversation I’ve been having with Mark Boas, who’s developed technology to allow remixes of video content. Seems very aligned with what Memex are proposing here. :slight_smile:

1 Like

Interesting. Well done. We proposed something simpler to build in roughly the same space but without as much thought as you have given to the full breath of potential requirements. If we get our funded it is possible that our work could be leveraged by your project to broaden your reach. (Note that we are going full open source for our work.)

Our concept is to design and add extensions for Web Monetization to MarkDown and then implement plugins for publishing tools and static content deployment engines that would inject the web monetization logic into the deployed Markdown content. While there are some technical challenges to work out, we think we have figured out most of the details already (although we haven’t started any coding yet.) We also have identified several tools in the knowledge creation, publishing and static deployment space that we will likely target first.

We also have ideas for leveraging this concept to address an even wider market, but we aren’t keen on developing and selling an entirely new tool. Instead we would look for ways to integrate with exiting tools. It seems to me that coordinating with your project could makes sense if we are both funded and I have made a note about that possibility. (I use note taking software too!)

While we await the funding decision we are creating some tools around the recently announced PayId Protocol as we can imagine that it could come into play for most web monetization projects if it catches on.

@RockMH

This is great.

Have you thought about integrating this into Markdown based knowledge tools like Notion or Roam?
I could well imagine that you could build a plugin that injects Web Monetisation snippets into the Markdown/web pages of those tools, and knowledge professionals could sign up.
This way you can make sure that WMS is properly injected on all of their public sites.

Could be fairly easy to do actually and would not need any direct integration with neither of their tools.

@tukkrr

Great to see you again here too, Nick.
Thanks for the thoughtful connection.

Indeed @maboa it seems as if there is some sweet overlap between what you and we do.
I could well imagine being able to annotate (with or without) Memex the text pieces, and make those available as curations in an interoperable network for annotations.
We are actually in concrete conversations with Hypothes.is and Factmata on how to do that, so that notes & annotations can be shared across all those services in a user-centric way.

Being able to do that with video files would be a dream.
Happy to chat and go a bit deeper into this if you are down for that.

1 Like

Yes. Hooking up with Notion was the original idea and supporting it is still a stretch goal for our project. Since Notion’s API and many other APIs and plug-in architectures are pending for many tools in this space, we decided to simply target MarkDown first and, once that was working, decide on the best plan for targeting additional integrations.

Hey Oliver (thanks @tukkrr for the connection).

Yes we certainly think there’s an opportunity in annotating transcripts of audiovisual material. We’ve often thought about ways we could incorporate something like Hypothes.is (and great that you’re having those conversations).

Happy to chat further – I’ll be about for a couple of days before I head off for a holiday for 10 days :desert_island: