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Publishing is broken. Creators are struggling. Public discourse is a mess.

Business models on the World Wide Web (WWW) rely on intrusive advertising and onerous paywalls while exploiting creative labor. Many cultural institutions, which have historically raised the quality of works and protected creator livelihoods, are being eroded by the extractive business models of major tech platforms. As a result, creators are atomized and underpaid, quality is undervalued, while opaque platforms reap disproportionate economic benefits.

The distributed web presents emerging alternatives.

The promise of the Distributed Web (DWeb) is that it gives everyone the ability to control their digital networks and platforms. In distributed networks, the underlying code, data, and network infrastructure are managed by many. So theoretically, the DWeb should also empower writers and artists to own and govern digital infrastructure to best suit their needs.

Yet DWeb projects are unable to provide dependable livelihoods to contributors. This is because, unlike investors and technologists, content creators rarely participate in decision-making at the organizational level. Without giving creators a seat at the table, the potential for the DWeb to be a true digital commons will remain unfulfilled.

That’s why we need participatory and democratic organizations that ensure meaningful livelihoods and steward the Web of the future.

Our plan is to: (1) prototype a magazine published on the DWeb and WWW (2) build a tool for creators to publish and monetize their work.

The creators of the magazine and the technologists developing the tool will operate as a publication cooperative.

Our magazine, COMPOST, will feature writing and graphics about the digital commons, telling stories about people building the web as a shared resource. It will compensate contributors using a sustainable reader membership model. Our tool will allow creators to publish across several web protocols (i.e., HTTP, IPFS, DAT/Hypercore). It will also enable audiences to pay publications and creators directly through micropayments.

Shared ownership and democratic decision-making will ensure equity and transparency in how revenue is distributed, as well as how capabilities like digital signatures and monetization tools are deployed. The tight feedback loop between creators and technologists will ensure better design and content outcomes.

We want the Web to be a commons — to run on open protocols, be adaptive to feedback, and be maintained and stewarded by sturdy organizations with participatory governance.

Our project is a seed of the new Web where community and open protocols help to decentralize content distribution and monetization.

We want to provide readers with a variety of creative work, without paywalls or intrusive ads, that are accessible through their choice of Web protocols. We want authors and artists to be equitably compensated for their work, while maintaining agency over their creative expression. We want to ensure technologists are fairly paid for their open source contributions.

Our goal over the next three years is to deploy and maintain an open source tool that authors can use to publish content to the DWeb and WWW. The tool will streamline distribution and monetization on the DWeb, editorial and fact checking, and guide authors to establish creator owned cooperative publications. In turn, the tool will be sustained by the federation of cooperative publications it enables.

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