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The Social Tech Guide to Access to Knowledge

The Social Tech Guide to Access to Knowledge

March 03 2015

By Ed Anderton

Early on in our research process, we made the decision not to include Wikipedia in our directory, given its status as a ‘grandparent’ of the internet age. It has had an indisputably huge effect on the range and accuracy of knowledge we are able to access, to the extent that we felt it was more usefully regarded as a utility - and so widely recognised it needed no more publicity from us. Unlike Creative Commons, founded in the same year, which is not a household name, and yet is a crucial piece of ‘legal technology’ used by millions to publish their work openly. As such it underwrites our access to a vast array of writing, images, music, film and data (such as the Nominet Trust's very own open data).


Image courtesy of WeFarm

These two pieces of 'sharing infrastructure' have played a crucial role in establishing the benefits of a radically different approach to collaboration.  These benefits are neatly encapsulated in the incredible success of Github, the collaborative coding platform which has demonstrated that many minds working together with a well-designed set of tools can achieve quite astonishing things. Like compile a highly accurate, open source map of the world, as the 1.6 million contributors to OpenStreetMap have done over the past decade. Or, build a virtual “Openworm”, precise down to the cellular level, which could accelerate our understanding of our brains, and contribute to the development of cures for conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  WeFarm and Stupid Cancer also exemplify the ever increasing range of communities of interest who are informing and supporting each other through collectively contributing to a shared knowledge base.


Image courtesy of Worldreader

This same tech-enabled phenomenon of collaboration en masse has, in Librivox, built a huge library of audiobooks, more than 8000 works in 35 languages, copyright-free or creative commons licensed, opening up a world of freely accessible literature. Using an exception in US copyright law, Benetech have transformed the libraries of Bookshare’s 250,000 members, all of whom have a disability which makes accessing reading material more of a challenge, by publishing over 220,000 copyrighted titles. Addressing a different angle of accessibility, the team at Worldreader have established a distribution network across the developing world, delivering - via e-readers and mobiles - millions of books to hundreds of thousands of readers, who would otherwise be deprived of such cultural riches.