For our second grant, the Mysilio team has been working with Dr. Antara Haldar to create Limen, a digital knowledge commons combining research across disciplines into a single web-monetized site for citizens, academics, policy makers, and activists. The goals of Limen are to provide both an interdisciplinary public knowledge base of cutting edge policy research, as well as a test bed for economists and technologists to experiment with new passive monetization strategies like Web Monetization. Over the last few months, we’ve been hard at work on the initial design, discovery, and strategy work with Dr. Haldar to determine how Limen site will function, what initial data to publish, and who will serve as the initial contributors to the site. We hope this model may eventually provide an open alternative to paywalled providers like LexisNexis and the current academic publishing ecosystem.
The site we’ve designed will consist of a community of three key stakeholder classes: Editors, Researchers, and Contributors.
- Editors refer to professors and other senior academics who already have strong academic reputations, and perhaps their own datasets, papers, and knowledge to publish. They will be charged with curating the knowledge commons, and deciding which contributions to feature.
- Researchers refer to graduate students and other researchers who will help curate and discuss research. They will form the bulk of the social participants of the platform, and will be the primary participants in the many of the monetization experiments we hope to run.
- Contributors refer to non-academics who will be able to take a variety of qualitative quizzes and assessments, and have their responses recorded in shared datasets managed by the Limen project. This will allow Editors and Researchers to solicit input from the general public in an academically rigorous manner.
Despite our progress on the design of the Limen knowledge commons, we’ve faced a number of challenges so far that have required modifying the scope and timeline of the project slightly. Our first major challenge has been getting access to the initial academic dataset we were originally hoping to publish. Once the potential of monetizing the existing research was mentioned, the other academic organizations and grant partners involved in its creation were hesitant to release it to us for use in an experimental knowledge commons. So, we’ve been forced to start from scratch and use part of our own grant money to hire a research assistant for Dr. Haldar who can help us assemble a new initial dataset owned entirely by the Limen project. We hope this, in addition to subsequent contributions collected from other Editors, will prove substantial enough to seed the platform.
In addition to problems with the data, we’ve also faced issues with the underlying technologies used. As many of you are also aware, getting participants to create multiple accounts with Coil, Uphold, and Solid (our solution for content and data management) has proved difficult and confusing. Additionally, the Solid specification itself (a new experimental architecture for RDF based personal data storage) is still in flux. As a result of these complications, we’ve been forced to reduce our initial scope. However, we hope that what we are able to build with this grant will still prove substantial enough that Dr. Haldar can raise additional grant funding from the academic community to continue work.
Despite our setbacks, we’ve still managed to make progress towards the goals we originally outlined. Our primary objectives were to publish a knowledge commons for Dr. Haldar (now branded as “Limen”), to use it as a testbed for Web Monetization, and to release an open source library for managing Web Monetized social content.
For the first two objectives, we’ve been hard at work on the Limen knowledge commons. We’ve created an initial prototype and scaffolding for the data and contributions, as well as a detailed plan for onboarding contributors. We’re currently in the process of onboarding contributors and collecting the initial data and resources to be published. As a result, we have not yet been able to perform some of the monetization experiments we hoped to have started by this period of the grant. However, Dr. Haldar hopes to involve her students in the Limen project starting in the fall semester, which should give us a full semester of experimental data to include in our final case study.
In the meantime, we’ve gotten a head start on our final objective: open-source libraries that will allow for the management of a shared content repository monetized for multiple contributors. The first set of open source repositories we’d like to announce are from the monetization experiment we ran during MozFest, Exquisite Garden (https://exquisite-garden.mysilio.page). The frontend for that project is completely open source, and available at https://github.com/mysilio-co/exquisite-garden. We’ve also factored out a simple React hook (https://github.com/mysilio-co/wmhooks) that makes it easy to get information about whether Web Monetization is active and the total monetization paid out during a session. That, combined with the
next/head package makes it quick and easy to deploy web monetized static sites.
We’ve also made significant progress on our library for managing monetized digital knowledge commons, Garden Kit: https://github.com/mysilio-co/garden-kit. This library, named after the Digital Gardening movement (https://maggieappleton.com/garden-history), is the culmination of our last two grants and is the basis for both our personal gardening app, Mysilio Garden, (https://mysilio.garden), and the Limen knowledge commons. It’s still a work in progress as we expand it to support social discussion for Limen, but we hope it will eventually allow others to manage interlinked web-monetized content and data stored in a Solid pod, as well as quickly build interactive frontends for that content. Because of the decentralized nature of the underlying Solid architecture, Mysilio Garden, Limen, and any other sites built with this library will interoperate at the data level, allowing different knowledge commons to easily share content with each other.
- Mysilio Garden (GFTW round 1): https://mysilio.garden
- Exquisite Garden (MozFest 2022): https://exquisite-garden.mysilio.page
- Limen – Coming Soon
Open Source Libraries:
We have not yet begun specific marketing around the Limen project, but we have showcased some of the work we’ve done on Web Monetization and our implementation of it for Mozfest in one of the “Voices from Mozfest” sessions, where @tani went on to talk about building with Web Monetization, our “Art ‘n ‘D” design process, and how this ties into the larger business models of the Web: https://www.onceuponatech.com/chapter-thirty-five.html
Dr. Antara Haldar will be writing a number of articles for a variety of larger web publications over the summer where she hopes to discuss Limen and it’s goals as a sustainably-funded knowledge commons, and the Mysilio team has also started a blog to discuss decentralized technologies, new business models for the web, and how we might rethink some of the existing power structures online; you can check out the blog and follow along here: https://medium.com/@mysilio.
Our funded grant period will last a few more months, and in that time we hope to finish the key objectives listed above. The main focus over the summer will be to recruit and onboard additional datasets, researchers, and students, as well as publicly launch the project to solicit individual contributions.
In order to meet those goals, we will also have to continue expanding the work we have done on our library for managing knowledge commons, including integrating the libraries we use for Web Monetization, and extending the basic model to include social annotation and discussion functionality.
We hope to have the structure and libraries finalized by July, when we plan to publish our semi-final report including the completion of all the key objectives outlined above. However, since the academic community is not very active during the summer, we plan to extend the hosting and use of the platform for an additional 6 months through the fall semester. This will allow us to collect a larger amount of data from a targeted, tight knit community which will hopefully allow us to overcome some of the “empty room” problems we’ve faced with web monetization in the past. Our semi-final report will detail our plans and methods for collecting this data, and we plan to have the monitoring infrastructure in place to collect it by the end of July as well.
Publish semi-final report, including completion of key objectives and plan for testing in the fall
Dr. Haldar returns to teaching during the fall semester, and we hope to use her students as an interconnected initial community for the project we’ve built during this grant. We hope that aligning our data collection efforts with the academic calendar will give us an active group of participants and more substantial usage data that will be valuable to the community at large. At the end of the semester, we will update our previous report with the relevant data collected from Dr. Haldar’s students.
Publish final case study, including data collected during the fall and results of the various Web Monetization economic experiments
Based on the success of the early Limen prototype, Dr. Haldar hopes to secure additional funding to maintain and grow the project on an ongoing basis.
We’re looking for support in a couple key areas:
- Does anyone have experience hosting Forem? Building a custom social discussion space into the Limen project is a lot of work, and has limited the functionality we’d be able to provide. Forem, however, provides most of the social functionality we would need out of the box, including support for Web Monetization. We couldn’t figure out how to self-host it easily on our own, but if anyone has experience we’d love the support.
- Do you know of other academic organizations using Web Monetization? We’re currently recruiting partners and collaborators in the academic community for Limen, and we’d love to include anyone who is already familiar with Web Monetization, or who is building their own knowledge commons. If you know of anyone, let us know.