We’re excited to finally be able to share with you all the work we did as part of the second round of Grant for the Web. While we weren’t able to achieve all our goals, we were able to build a solid (pun intended) platform for building and deploying a knowledge commons community using Solid and Web Monetization. In addition to the functionality we’ve already built, our architecture is now easy to extend and integrate with, allowing anyone to build their own custom add-ons and plugins with relatively little effort. The Digital Gardening movement is just getting started, and we’re excited to provide this toolkit for others to build their own richly interlinked knowledge commons ecosystems.
Unfortunately, due to some complications with our original proposed dataset, we are unable to publish our academic partner’s work as a knowledge commons. So instead, we’ll be taking everything we learned these last two years about new economic models and decentralized web tools, including all the information in our case study, and building our own knowledge commons in Mysilio Garden to help future developers and researchers easily access the output of our work and continue to build up this resource of information. This knowledge commons will use the strategies we developed for splitting monetization among multiple participants, so we encourage you to contribute your own ideas and discoveries (and receive a share of the revenue).
Mysilio Garden is a demo interface for managing and automating a social knowledge commons stored by and monetized for multiple Solid personal online datastores, or pods. Each user logs into the application with their own Solid pod, and all data is stored in those pods. We have no other databases we use to store data – just the Solid pods. This means that every piece of data on the platform is owned by a specific person or organization with a specific WebId and Web Monetization payment pointer.
Each user has a few different Gardens they can compose and publish notes into. Additionally, there is a shared Public Garden that anyone can publish too. Everyone's individual Gardens are monetized for their individual authors. The shared Community Garden revenue is split between all the individuals who have contributed to it. Clicking on a note in the Community Garden or an individual Garden brings you to the full page view of a note, which is always monetized for the original author.
We think this model provides an interesting example of how monetization pointers could be used to track and reward content stored in any personal online datastore format, not just Solid Pods. Communities like Mysilio would maintain shared indexes of content written and stored by individuals in their own personal datastores. Users could seamlessly take their content from site to site, while each site would still be able to have a unique, curated community vibe.
Additionally, the new webhook support in the Solid spec means integrating with other services is as simple as writing a serverless function. As a sample, we built a function endpoint into Mysilio Garden that receives a webhook every time a file is updated in your Pod, and updates a full text search index (also stored in your Pod). But that’s just an example, you could have write functions to publish a new version of a website every time content is updated, or post to the social network of your choice. This allows Solid Pods to serve as the core of a highly configurable social CMS that can be used to build custom web experiences drastically faster than current systems.
Part of what makes it fast to develop new Web-Monetized experiences using Solid is the work we put into our two core open source libraries, swrlit and garden-kit.
Swrlit combines Vercel’s SWR with Inrupt’s solid-client to provide a simple suite of React hooks for authenticating with Solid, managing payment pointers, fetching and setting data in a Solid Pod, and updating the permissions of that data. This makes powering React apps using Solid dead simple as demonstrated by the Exquisite Garden app we hacked together in a few days for MozFest last year: https://exquisite-garden.mysilio.page/.
Garden-kit builds on the work of swrlit and provides a shared data model to help organize and manage Garden formatted data. Garden-kit provides convenience functions for creating workspaces, uploading notes, images, files, and associated metadata into Gardens stored in those workspaces, and a default permission system for sharing and publishing those Gardens. This allows code running in multiple applications to all interoperate on the same core data model.
We began this project working with our grant partner to publish her dataset of post-capitalist economics under the project name “Limen”. The goal of Limen was to provide an online space for community discussion amongst cross-disciplinary academics in the fields of sociology, psychology, law, political science, and philosophy. Unfortunately we are unable to publish this dataset due to conflicts around the intellectual property rights of her research. While this was a frustrating turn of events for our team, it also highlighted why something like Web Monetization is needed to create sustainable frameworks for knowledge as a commons. Academics need spaces to have conversations and continue their research with other participants that are not explicitly owned by institutions or scientific journals, and Web Monetization could potentially provide hope towards a future where knowledge is both freely shared across institutions as a commons, and also economically valued and financially supported towards making this intellectual labor sustainable. Our case study will dive deeper into the politics and ownership rights that currently govern the free exchange of knowledge, and how tools like Web Monetization may open up new pathways to shared ownership and governance of data and content.
During Mozfest we showcased how Web Monetization could be integrated into a lightweight social app that we built called Exquisite Garden. This was a collaborative writing game (inspired by the surrealist parlor game Exquisite Corpse) that invited participants to reimagine the future of the Web, together. It was also a showcase of how different contributions to a shared content commons could be individually monetized using Web Monetization payment pointers. We spoke about this fun project on “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
In August 2022 we collaborated with the team at @gradual to give a talk on the history of Digital Gardens, and how Web Monetization could be a tool for funding the sustainability of knowledge as a commons: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1vlpQ1wh9SyYTSDQ_9lKvZsw9rE9Q3AjuYAGGl_f0RhA/edit#slide=id.g143f177aef7_0_116
During this past year’s DWeb camp, @ianconsolata set up a DWeb “camp stream” on Mysilio Garden as a prototype for a live-updating collaborative knowledge sharing tool that conference attendees could use to share notes and thoughts from the various sessions.
In January 2023 we gave a talk at Newspeak House - the London College of Political Technology - about our work with Solid, Web Monetization, and the potential future for decentralized knowledge sharing online. It was a wonderful session with lots of thoughtful engagement from attendees who were excited to be exposed to some of these ideas for the first time: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1d9H_u3iVpF3vsBz-hAE_ewP3Vw-SSRDPFK5u6172RvY/edit#slide=id.p
Finally, the Mysilio team is working with Ritika Puri of Storyhackers to publish a final case study that sums up our two years of working on Mysilio Garden, and gives an exhaustive deep dive into our R&D on Solid, Web Monetization, and how to think about building on the decentralized Web. We’ll update this post with a link to this case study, which will be published both as a standard PDF whitepaper and as a richly-interlinked digital garden hosted on Mysilio Garden. We hope other Grant for the Web grantees might contribute to this resource with their own learnings and research so that it becomes a larger body of knowledge for builders in the Web Monetization + Interledger ecosystems.
This week, we’ll be releasing version 1.0 of the core libraries we used to build this platform, swrlit and garden-kit, as well as the source code for our demo app, Mysilio Garden. We’re also in the final round of edits for an extensive case study describing in detail the tools we used, including Solid, Web Monetization, and NextJS, as well as some novel new approaches for building decentralized apps we’ve come across in our research, like DIDs and UCANs. We hope this case study will be a signpost for others who are interested in building decentralized web apps and help them learn which technology primitives are best suited for a variety of use cases, and where the limits of these technologies still exist.
The case study will be published in both a linear format as a PDF (we will add a link to this post when it is made publicly available), as well as a digital garden version hosted on Mysilio Garden.
Once the report is finished, we’re not certain exactly where this project will go next. With Coil shutting down, and other changes around the decentralized web ecosystem, it’s hard to know what technologies will form the foundation of the Mysilio Garden platform going forward. But we’re still passionate and excited about the future of interlinked, social knowledge gardens, and are increasingly excited about the technologies being pioneered by Fission.Codes and the wider Protocol Labs Ecosystem, including IPFS, Filecoin, UCANs, DIDs, and others. We think they could form a stronger foundation for personal data management that would help us realize our dream of making a platform for activists, artists, and academics where they can share their work and collaborate easily using self-sovereign, encrypted data stores rather than taking on the complex task of managing their own infrastructure.
We would love for the case study and Mysilio knowledge commons to become active resources for those looking to build on either Solid or Web Monetization (as well as some of the other decentralized technologies we’ve explored in our R&D), so that it may help lower the bar for folks interested in building products in this way. Building decentralized web apps is not just about learning a new stack or language, it also involves heavily adjusting one’s thinking about the architecture of these apps and opens up a whole new paradigm for how to build this next era of the internet, and we hope our work during this grant can help get others up to speed on these ideas quickly.
If folks would like to contribute their own work to the Mysilio knowledge commons, we would love to add you as a collaborator! Feel free to sign up for an account at https://mysilio.garden/ and start publishing your notes to the “Community Garden”.
If you’re interested in hosting a fork of Garden with your community, interested in funding future research with Dr. Haldar on Limen and passive monetized knowledge gardens for academia, or just want to reach out and chat about any of these technologies, feel free to send us an email at email@example.com.
Some stories and ideas that have inspired us over the past 2 years: