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Hypothes.is Reaches Funding Goal PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Tim Farley   

Good news came this past Sunday in the funding of a new software project that could become crucial for skeptics. The Kickstarter fund-raiser for Hypothes.is exceeded its initial goal of $100,000 for initial startup funds.  With a matching pledge by entrepreneur Sunil Paul, the project now has over $230,000 to begin work.

The purpose of Hypothes.is is an ambitious one. It hopes to be a peer review layer for the entire Internet. It is designed to address many of the shortcomings of the current state of the art in commenting online.  I blogged last month about how important I feel this will be for skeptics when it becomes available. I believe it will allow skeptics to post criticism of pseudoscience and the paranormal in such a way that the people who need it the most can see it.

It is true that there have been past attempts to create similar tools. For instance, Google SideWiki has been used by some skeptics to post skeptical material and attach it directly to the website it criticizes. Unfortunately Google decided to shut down SideWiki and it will cease to operate on December 5. Clearly (at least as far as Google is concerned) it was not entirely successful.

Will Hypothes.is fare better? Only time will tell, but it does seem to have some advantages over past approaches. It is being launched as a non-profit and the technology will be open-source, so there will be no gatekeeper (like Google) who could unilaterally shut it down. They've even enlisted the help of the Internet Archive to provide permanent archival storage for the content. It will be designed to be transparent and auditable, so it can detect and resist attempts to game the system. The content will be community moderated and based on merit, again to resist problems like astroturfing and bullying. I think the project leader Dan Whaley and his team have carefully thought through what it will take to build a system that will work.

What Hypothes.is will need is strong support from the skeptic community. That means financial support and a commitment to use the software and participate in the community around it. This has already begun - among the list of donors on their website, there are the names of several prominent skeptics (including myself). I hope it continues.

I've long been a proponent of building custom software to assist skeptics in their work online. Indeed that is why my personal blog is called "Skeptical Software Tools". We've already seen this year how the Fishbarrel software by Simon Perry has enabled skeptic activists to file complaints about false claims on the Internet. I hope skeptics will also rally to support Hypothes.is as a powerful tool for online skepticism.

 

 

Tim Farley is a JREF Research Fellow in electronic media. He is the creator of the website What's the Harm and blogs at Skeptical Software Tools. He researched the dates in JREF's Today in Skeptic History iPhone app and has presented at three TAMs. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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written by Reed, November 17, 2011
Building a new highly-distributed collaborative ecosystem as Hypothe.is aspires to do is an ambitious undertaking. But it's a worthwhile experiment with a huge potential payoff, as Tim notes above.

Apart from the challenges which Tim mentions above, the service will need to be accessible to newcomers in order to build that broad community base. If contributing becomes a significant burden, such as due to excessive or contradictory rules, the service will die a slow death.

At this early stage, does anyone have any idea what their stance on pseudoscience will be? Will they have rules, like Wikipedia does, which explicitly bars fake science as supporting citations?

Does Hypothes.is need (or welcome) "official" input from skeptical organizations on drafting guidelines for good peer review?
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written by krelnik, November 17, 2011
We should definitely reach out to Dan Whaley and the hypothes.is group on those questions, Reed. When I first blogged about it he contacted me and seemed very positive about skeptics as a good community to support it.
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written by rjh02, November 17, 2011
If it can say that certain sites are good then it will be of benefit to many people. I often find a statement on the Internet that I want to use and I would like to be told that I could depend on that statement to be accurate. At the moment if it is not a government site then I often have to rely on methods that are not foolproof.
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