The web used to be a place of hope with a promise of democratizing information and communication. And while it’s transformed our lives for the better in countless ways, there is a growing dark side. The decentralization inherent in the early days of the web has all but vanished, replaced with a handful of corporations that control what we see. Their principal business models are largely the same: collect as much information about you as possible in order to stimulate (and sell) your attention. You can draw a straight line from this reality to the toxic information environment we are living with today.
At Civil, we think there is another way. We are part of a growing global ‘decentralization’ movement that aims to put the power of the Internet back in the hands of the people, but structured to incentivize trust. We believe independent high-quality publishers should have a rightful seat at the table, and command their fair share of the information economy. We believe consumers should own and control their own data. We believe advertisers should be verified and respect consumers’ privacy. We are not an anti-tech movement; on the contrary. We believe in the original vision of the web and access to information and expression for all.
At Civil, we’ve been hard at work towards this vision.
In March 2019, we went live with the first phase of Civil: a decentralized platform for news publishers and the public that was built to signal trust. Now, eight months later, over 70 newsrooms from around the world are on the Civil Registry. And they are extraordinary. Just a few of them include the likes of Rappler in the Philippines, Colorado Sun in Denver, Outriders in Poland, Tortoise in the U.K., Libyan Institution for Investigative Journalism in Tripoli, Arepita in Venezuela, and others.
Crucially, our member-owned and controlled governance is working. It’s based on the code of standards and ethics called the Civil Constitution. It is fully decentralized, yet rooted in a set of rules that govern behavior. It’s been really exciting to see it play out in the wild, exactly as we’d imagined it would. We feel we have a very strong proof of concept that a decentralized platform based on trust is feasible.
But now that we have a platform that can signal trust, how do we benefit those publishers?
Our solution is to breathe life into the Civil Registry by adding an ‘identity layer’, which we’re calling Civil ID. It will enable newsrooms to authenticate and control their content as well as own and govern their data in order to better protect and monetize their original work.
We’re getting ready to field test Civil ID for proving, tracing and monetizing content amongst trusted publishers. We’re first piloting with some well-known publishing partners we’ll be announcing soon to demonstrate how Civil ID can increase revenue for their licensing business. We’ll use the same tech infrastructure to help small to midsize newsrooms do the same via WordPress Newspack, followed by other common CMSs. The idea is to build a marketplace for newsrooms to share their content with who they see fit and with terms they control. In addition to boosting the bottom line for original journalism, tagging all this content with Civil ID will allow consumers to tell the difference between what’s from verified sources and what’s not — a key outcome in our quest for the “trusted web”.
We also want to use Civil ID for protecting people’s data while helping newsrooms make money. The first step in this direction is a tool we’re releasing next month called Boosts, which is a mini-crowdfunding and micropayments widget embedded anywhere on a newsroom’s website. Civil doesn’t take a cut of any money raised through Boosts. We tested it with several newsrooms who were able to fund reporting projects such as a new podcast about Venezuela. We will roll Boosts out to all Civil newsrooms in December.
Civil ID lays the groundwork to create a broad decentralized platform where users control their data, content creators reap the benefit of their work, and bad actors are shut out. As a leading philanthropist said to me, “so, you’re building a new infrastructure for civic engagement.” Exactly.
We know this sounds very ambitious but there is growing momentum around decentralizing the web and protecting individual data rights. Given the stakes and the status quo, incrementalism is not an answer.
Of course, we would love to hear what you think. For those who are part of Civil, thank you are being on this journey with us. If you’re new to Civil, please join our movement.