In June 2020 WordProof and Sebastiaan van der Lans were awarded the top prize of Blockchain for Social Good by the European Commission and with it a whopping €1 million. They beat off 175 contenders from more than 40 countries at various rounds to emerge the overall winner with a voting score of 29.5 out of 30 by the voting jury. So what is the WordProof project and why did it win?
Sebastiaan starts by explaining that the internet as we know it now is broken. He maintains there is a deep-rooted issue with its trustworthiness. Currently 29% of Europeans are suspicious of the internet with 86% of Europeans saying they have fallen for fake news online.
“Here at WordProof we want to bring back trustworthiness so that what I read is real and I can verify who wrote it. And then in the example of an ecommerce dispute, how can we retrace the steps? Well, our solution was to leverage blockchain timestamps so we can return to a trusted web – for everyone.”
WordProof timestamps content on the blockchain which is helpful for viewers but also for search engines. If changes are made after the original posting, then these are highlighted too. Perhaps the revisions are helpful like a rolling news item, but sometimes they might be unhelpful.
To give a real example, we could look at recent UK political fallout in April during their lockdown. The US chief advisor to the prime minister, Dominic Cummins, made headlines beyond his breaking of the lockdown when changes were spotted on his blog from the previous year to appear to make him more expert if not actually prescient on the issue of the coronavirus.
According to the Guardian newspaper, a data scientist spotted the new edits using periodic snapshots of Cumming’s blog saved by the Internet Archive. But these changes were only spotted as a result of intense scrutiny of his movements during the political furore. Otherwise, the insertion might not have been spotted and the advisor might be able to claim he was much more knowledgeable than he actually was.
WordProof does this automatically to all WordPress websites when installed. Given that some 38% of the all websites are based on WordPress this has the capacity to radically update the content served online.
“Exactly, but even on rolling news sites, it would be good to see what was there before. Has an editor radically changed a view point, added in beneficial news, deleted controversial details. The revisions can be seen – very clearly what was added and more importantly what might have been taken away.”
In simple terms, text altered is colour coded; with green text showing additions and red showing what has been removed. It’s like track changes only time sensitive.
WordProof was launched at WordCamp Europe, the largest WordPress event in the world where Sebastiaan gave a keynote speech. And it has really caught on with hundreds of sites signed up and more than 250,000 pieces of real information timestamped, which in turn have been served on the internet more than 100 million times.
“It’s not just about the technology it’s about social good, making the internet safe for grannies, grandchildren and everyone in between. It is also about rethinking making mistakes.”
Sebastiaan notes that there is a kind of taboo about making mistakes. People lawyer up and become aggressive rather than just putting up their hand to acknowledge the mistake.
“Wouldn’t it be better if news providers can say we want to be transparent and if that means showing our mistakes, so be it. And we need consumers of news to say it’s okay to make mistakes.”
It’s a good point but it will need a seismic change in society and issues like defamation and libel will need to be re-evaluated. If an editor or publishing house gets it wrong, will it be enough for the paper to apologise and correct the mistake or will they still be sued for damages. Will an apology – with transparency – be enough?
Sebastiaan argues that building a trusted web is also going to take some leaps of faith. “Transparency is key as well as linking identities to the content. Combined – they offer accountability and can be ranked higher in a trust score – surely that is to be welcomed by sincere content providers?”
Sebastiaan has been involved in the WordPress community for more than 13 years. He is also an early ambassador for the Europechain project based out of the Netherlands. Europechain is a GDPR chain offering enterprise level solutions for their customers. While blockchain agnostic, he loves what Europechain is doing for GDPR and protection of people’s information. “It’ll work when corporates get on board, and that is what Europechain is doing.”
The more people working to make the interest a trusted world again, the better.
First puboished in VOICE