A Quarter In, A Quarter-Million Out: 10 Years of Emulation at Internet Archive

10 years ago, the Internet Archive made an announcement: It was possible for anyone with a reasonably powerful computer running a modern browser to have software emulated, running as it did back when it was fresh and new, with a single click. Now, a decade later, we have surpassed 250,000 pieces of software running at the Archive and it might be a great time to reflect on how different the landscape has become since then.

Anyone can come up with an idea, and the idea of taking the then-quite-mature Javascript language, universally inside all major browsers and having it run complicated programs was not new.

With the rise of a cross-compiler named Emscripten, the idea of taking rather-complicated programs written in other languages and putting them into Javascript was kind of new.

That all being the case, the idea of taking a by-then 20-year-old super-emulator called MAME, using Emscripten to cross-compile it into Javascript, and then running the resulting code in the browser at Internet Archive to make computers and consoles run, was very new.

It was also, objectively, madness.

Well over a thousand hours of work went into the project from a very wide range of volunteers who poured galactic amounts of time into making the project a reality. Along the way, changes were made to Emscripten, the Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Chrome Browsers, MAME, and the Internet Archive’s codebase to accommodate this dream.

It was announced in the Fall of 2013, well over a year after the project started.

Additional announcements came with each expansion of the types of software being emulated, and it became huge news, leading to millions of visitors coming to try this it out.

By any measure, a quarter of a million items later, it has been a huge, huge success.

The rest of this blog entry is pretty pictures and beautiful links, but before we move on, it’s once again important to highlight people who provided major contributions, including Justin Kerk, Daniel Brooks, Vitorio Miliano, James Baicoianu, John Vilk, Tracey Jaquith, Jim Nelson, and Hank Bromley. Dozens more developers spent evenings, weekends, and months to make this system happen. Thank you to everyone involved.

The joy of watching a computer boot up in the browser was (and is) a miraculous feeling. And after that feeling, comes a quick comfort with the situation: Of course we can run computers inside our browsers. Of course we can make most anything we want run in these browser-based computers. What’s next?

Within a short time after our 2013 announcement, the archive was running hundreds, then thousands of individual programs, floppy disks and even cassette-based software from computing’s past.

As emulators besides MAME were added, it became necessary to create a framework for a versatile and understandable method to load emulators. This framework eventually got a name: THE EMULARITY.

In the decade of the Emularity’s existence, the Archive’s software emulation has expanded into directions nobody could have fully expected to work when the project started.

Here are some highlights:

Hypercard Stacks for the Apple Macintosh, a critical period in content creation and computer information architecture, have been restored to easy access, surpassing thousands of hypercards to try instantly.

Plastic Electronic Handheld Games, once a staple of toys in the 1970s through the 1990s, have been able to live once again as, including the original housing that these simple (and not so simple) machines relied on instead of graphics.

As the uploads veered into the many thousands, it became more and more difficult for new adventurous users to figure out what, if any, software was at the archive to check out. This has led to specialized collections focused on one type of program, like the Computer Chess Club. People can use these collections as gateways to quickly testing the waters of now-decades of computer and software history, seeing the turns and twists of countless lost companies and individuals who squeezed every last bit of wonder and spectacle out of these underpowered boxes.

The Calculator Drawer took things to a new level when entire calculators could be emulated, including their unique looks, accompanied by a “drawer of manuals” to browse through if you had to learn (or re-learn) how to make these machines run.

The Woz-a-Day Collection, in many ways, represents the logical end for the role that the Internet Archive’s Emularity can provide for software history. The project is the effort of the software historian 4am, who has spent years on its maintenance. Methodically preserving Apple II software from the original floppy disks, incorporating every last bit and track of the disks with no modifications, and allowing the best fidelity of these programs as they originally were offered, 4am allows some of these programs to be playable for the first time in decades.

With each new batch of added emulated systems and machines have come a greater and greater pool of users, toying with historical software or playing long-forgotten or never-remembered games with a new level of convenience and willingness to try them out.

At this milestone of a decade into this experimental adventure, Internet Archive continues to grow its collection, to test and automate the functioning of both uploaded and self-maintained collections of software, and to provide a vast and necessary service in the preservation of historical software.

And, of course, we all get to enjoy some really great games.

Here’s to what another ten years will bring us!

IMLS National Leadership Grant Supports Expansion of the ARCH Computational Research Platform

In June, we announced the official launch of Archives Research Compute Hub (ARCH) our platform for supporting computational research with digital collections. The Archiving & Data Services group at IA has long provided computational research services via collaborations, dataset services, product features, and other partnerships and software development. In 2020, in partnership with our close collaborators at the Archives Unleashed project, and with funding from the Mellon Foundation, we pursued cooperative technical and community work to make text and data mining services available to any institution building, or researcher using, archival web collections. This led to the release of ARCH, with more than 35 libraries and 60 researchers and curators participating in beta testing and early product pilots. Additional work supported expanding the community of scholars doing computational research using contemporary web collections by providing technical and research support to multi-institutional research teams.

We are pleased to announce that ARCH recently received funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), via their National Leadership Grants program, supporting ARCH expansion. The project, “Expanding ARCH: Equitable Access to Text and Data Mining Services,” entails two broad areas of work. First, the project will create user-informed workflows and conduct software development that enables a diverse set of partner libraries, archives, and museums to add digital collections of any format (e.g., image collections, text collections) to ARCH for users to study via computational analysis. Working with these partners will help ensure that ARCH can support the needs of organizations of any size that aim to make their digital collections available in new ways. Second, the project will work with librarians and scholars to expand the number and types of data analysis jobs and resulting datasets and data visualizations that can be created using ARCH, including allowing users to build custom research collections that are aggregated from the digital collections of multiple institutions. Expanding the ability for scholars to create aggregated collections and run new data analysis jobs, potentially including artificial intelligence tools, will enable ARCH to significantly increase the type, diversity, scope, and scale of research it supports.

Collaborators on the Expanding ARCH project include a set of institutional partners that will be closely involved in guiding functional requirements, testing designs, and using the newly-built features intended to augment researcher support. Primary institutional partners include University of Denver, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Williams College Museum of Art, and Indianapolis Museum of Art, with additional institutional partners joining in the project’s second year.

Thousands of libraries, archives, museums, and memory organizations work with Internet Archive to build and make openly accessible digitized and born-digital collections. Making these collections available to as many users in as many ways as possible is critical to providing access to knowledge. We are thankful to IMLS for providing the financial support that allows us to expand the ARCH platform to empower new and emerging types of access and research.

Internet Archive + IIIF

Making IIIF Official at the Internet Archive

A joint blog post between the Internet Archive and the IIIF Community


After eight years hosting an experimental IIIF service for public benefit, the Internet Archive is moving forward with important steps to make its International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) service official. Each year, the Internet Archive receives feedback from friends and partners asking about our long-term plans for supporting IIIF. In response, the Internet Archive is announcing an official IIIF service which aims to increase the resourcing and reliability of the Internet Archive’s IIIF service, upgrade the service to utilize the latest version 3.0 of the IIIF specification, and graduate the service from the iiif.archivelab.org domain to iiif.archive.org. The upgrade also expands the Internet Archive’s IIIF support beyond images to also include audio, movies, and collections — enabling deep zoom on high-resolution images, comparative item analysis, portability across media players, annotation support, and more.

An image visually detailing each step of how a URL for a conceptual IIIF service run by "example.org" may be used to crop, zoom, rotate, and color correct an image and then download the result as a jpeg. Image from https://iiif.io/get-started/how-iiif-works


In 2015, a team of enthusiastic Internet Archive volunteers from a group called Archive Labs implemented an experimental IIIF service to give partners and patrons new ways of using Archive.org images and texts. You can read more about the project’s origins and ambitions in this 2015 announcement blog post. The initial service provided researchers with an easy, standardized way to crop and reference specific regions of archive.org images. (Maybe you can tell whose eyes these are?) By making Internet Archive images and texts IIIF-compatible, they may be opened using any number of compatible IIIF viewer apps, each offering their own advantages and unique features. For instance, Mirador is a “multi-up” viewer that makes it easy for researchers to view different images side by side and then zoom into or annotate different areas of interest within each image.

Since its launch more than seven years ago, the IIIF labs service has received millions of requests by more than 15 universities and GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) organizations across the globe, including University of Texas, UCD Digital Library, Havana University, Digital Library of Georgia, BioStor, Emory University, and McGill University. In this time, the broader IIIF ecosystem itself has blossomed to include hundreds of participating institutions. For all its benefits, the labs IIIF service has been considered “unofficial,” hosted on the separate archivelab.org domain, and several partners have voiced interest in the Internet Archive adopting it as an officially supported service. Today, several members of the IIIF community are collaborating with the Internet Archive to make this happen. 

Josh Hadro, managing director of the IIIF Consortium (IIIF-C), sees the Internet Archive as filling a critical role “in serving the average Internet user who may not benefit from the same access to or affiliation with infrastructure offered by traditional research institutions.” The IIIF-C promotes interoperability as a core element of IIIF: the ability to streamline access to information and make cultural materials as easy to use and reuse as possible. Because the Internet Archive enables any patron to upload eligible materials, everyone has the opportunity to benefit from IIIF’s capabilities. IIIF-C counts the Internet Archive as a natural ally because of its ongoing support of open collections delivered via open web standards and protocols. With this project, IIIF-C hopes to make the Internet Archive a go-to resource online that facilitates IIIF work for students and scholars unaffiliated with the kinds of institutions that historically have provided IIIF infrastructure. This is an essential step toward a strategic goal of lowering barriers to IIIF usage and adoption worldwide.

In service of this outcome, the Internet Archive has teamed up with a number of IIIF community members to officialize and upgrade the IIIF service in order to make the best use of the new capabilities introduced into the IIIF specifications in recent years.

In the coming weeks, we’ll share more details about the IIIF improvements that will become available to users of the Internet Archive. First, we want to lay out our current plan for the update, including backwards compatibility affordances, to ensure existing consumers have the information they need to successfully migrate from the unofficial to the official IIIF API.


Both the original IIIF labs service the Internet Archive has been running, as well as the new upcoming official IIIF service, wouldn’t have been possible without huge support from volunteers within the IIIF community and Internet Archive staff. A big thank you to the following folks who are making this effort to bring IIIF into production possible:

Stay tuned for more details on the new functionality soon, and if you have questions or would like to get involved in helping us test the new setup, get in touch with IIIF-C at staff@iiif.io. For more updates, including September 13 IIIF Consortium community call announcing the Internet Archive’s IIIF service, please visit the IIIF community calendar at https://iiif.io/community/#calendar.

Technical Notes & FAQs for Partners

This technical section is intended for partners who currently rely on the iiif.archivelab.org IIIF API who may be seeking further details on how these changes might affect them.

What is changing? Previously, partners accessed the Internet Archive’s IIIF labs API from the  iiif.archivelab.org domain. As part of the effort to graduate from labs to production, the IIIF API will move to the iiif.archive.org domain. Because we don’t want to break any of the amazing projects and exhibits that patrons have created using the existing IIIF capabilities on the archivelab.org domain, we’re migrating the API in phases. 

Phasing migration. The first phase will introduce a new and improved, official Internet Archive IIIF 3.0 service on the iiif.archive.org subdomain. The unofficial, legacy service will continue to run on the iiif.archivelab.org for a grace period, allowing partners to migrate. Once we’ve gathered enough data to be confident requests are being satisfactorily fulfilled by the new official service, the legacy iiif.archivelab.org service will be “sunset” and any request to it will redirect to use the official iiif.archive.org service. At this point, all requests for IIIF manifests and IIIF images (whether to iiif.archivelab.org or iiif.archive.org) will default to the latest 3.0 version of the IIIF APIs and be answered by iiif.archive.org. A specifiable “version” endpoint will be available for consumers whose applications require manifests and images to be served using the IIIF v2.0 legacy format. More details, examples, and technical documentation will be made available on this topic in the coming weeks and will eventually be accessible from iiif.archive.org.

Possible Breaking Changes.
1. When the iiif.archivelab.org service was originally launched, iiif.archive.org was set up to redirect to iiif.archivelab.org as a convenience. Regrettably, during the first phase of development, iiif.archive.org will no longer be a redirect for iiif.archivelab.org and instead will run the new official IIIF service. As a result, partners whose code or applications reference iiif.archive.org (expecting it to redirect to iiif.archivelab.org) will experience a breaking change and will need to either update their references to explicitly refer to the legacy “iiif.archivelab.org” service, or update their code to use the Internet Archive’s new official iiif.archive.org service. As far as we can tell, we’re unaware of partners currently referencing “iiif.archive.org”  within public projects on Github or Gitlab and so we hope no one is affected. Still, we want to give fair warning here. For those starting a new project and looking to use the Internet Archive’s IIIF offerings today, we strongly recommend using the iiif.archive.org endpoint.
2. Some partners migrating from the v2 to v3 API who have been saving annotations may also experience a breaking changes because canvas and manifest identifiers for version 3 are necessarily different from version 2 identifiers. We will be doing our best, for the time being, to ensure version 2.0 manifests remain accessible from the archivelab.org address (via redirects) and will retain the iiif.archivelab.org canvas identifiers.

Student’s Use of Internet Archive Expands from High School to College

Rachel Simmons first used the Wayback Machine for research projects at her Sacramento, California, high school. Now a senior at UCLA, she’s discovered even more ways to find material not available elsewhere.  

Rachel Simmons

Simmons, whose mother and grandmother were both librarians, is an applied math major with a minor in film, television and digital media. As she looks up information about media figures or needs to find a rare film, she says the Internet Archive’s digital collection has been an invaluable resource.

“It’s really great to have access to information for anyone to use from their home computer,” Simmons says. “I don’t physically have to go into a library. If I’m working on something late at night, it’s convenient.”  

When taking a class on American film history last year, she was assigned to research a famous actor; she chose Peter Lorre.

“I’m a big fan of classic horror films and he’s an icon whose legacy has continued long past his career,” she said. “I just wanted to learn more about him and what people thought of him at the time.”

To find those contemporary views of Lorre’s work, Simmons turned to the fan magazine collection in the Archive’s Media History Digital Library. There she found interviews with the actor and reviews of his movies from the 1930s. Despite appearing as a mysterious figure on film, Simmons says she learned the interviews present him as a conventional, regular guy. She gained even more insight through the published fan letters in the magazines. “I found it really interesting that I was reading these letters from almost one hundred years ago,” Simmons said.

For another UCLA course, Simmons tapped into the Internet Archive to view silent German films that were discussed in class. While she was studying, Simmons found herself stumbling onto trailers for other films, which led her to checking out similar movies for fun after her projects were complete. Many of the more obscure titles that interest her are not available on streaming services, she notes.

Simmons says she tells others about the resources available through the Internet Archive—including her family of librarians.

Book Talk: Sparks by Ian Johnson

Join author Ian Johnson for an IN-PERSON discussion about his latest book, “Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and their Battle for the Future”


Sparks tells the resonant story of writers, filmmakers, and artists who use history to challenge Communist Party rule.

6:00 PM — Doors Open
6:30 PM — Book Talk: Sparks by Ian Johnson
7:30 PM — Book Signing

Please note that this event will be held in person at the Internet Archive, 300 Funston Avenue, San Francisco.


About Sparks
Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and their Battle for the Future (to be published by Oxford University Press on September 26, 2023) describes how some of China’s best-known writers, filmmakers, and artists have overcome crackdowns and censorship to forge a nationwide movement that challenges the Communist Party on its most hallowed ground: its control of history.

The past is a battleground in many countries, but in China it is crucial to political power. In traditional China, dynasties rewrote history to justify their rule by proving that their predecessors were unworthy of holding power. Marxism gave this a modern gloss, describing history as an unstoppable force heading toward Communism’s triumph. The Chinese Communist Party builds on these ideas to whitewash its misdeeds and glorify its rule. Indeed, one of Xi Jinping’s signature policies is the control of history, which he equates with the party’s survival.

But in recent years, a network of independent writers, artists, and filmmakers have begun challenging this state-led disremembering. Using digital technologies to bypass China’s legendary surveillance state, their samizdat journals, guerilla media posts, and underground films document a regular pattern of disasters: from famines and purges of years past to ethnic clashes and virus outbreaks of the present–powerful and inspiring accounts that have underpinned recent protests in China against Xi Jinping’s strongman rule.

Based on years of first-hand research in Xi Jinping’s China, Sparks challenges stereotypes of a China where the state has quashed all free thought, revealing instead a country engaged in one of humanity’s great struggles of memory against forgetting—a battle that will shape the China that emerges in the mid-21st century.

Ian Johnson is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He has lived more than twenty years in China as a student, journalist, and teacher. His work appears regularly in The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, and other publications, and for five years he was on the editorial board of The Journal of Asian Studies. He has won numerous prizes for his coverage of China, including a Pulitzer Prize.

Book Talk: Sparks by Ian Johnson
October 19 @ 6pm PT
IN-PERSON @ 300 Funston Avenue, San Francisco
Register now!

DLARC Amateur Radio Library Tops 90,000 Items

Internet Archive’s Digital Library of Amateur Radio & Communications has grown to more than 90,000 resources related to amateur radio, shortwave listening, amateur television, and related topics. The newest additions to the free online library include ham radio magazines and newsletters from around the world, podcasts, and discussion forums.

Additions to the newsletter category include The Capitol Hill Monitor, a newsletter for and by scanner radio enthusiasts in the Washington, D.C. region — a complete run from 1992 through today. DLARC has also added more than 300 issues of Florida Skip and its follow-on magazine, SKIP CyberHam, donated by the family of the publisher. Both Capitol Hill Monitor and Florida Skip are online for the first time, scanned from the original paper.

DLARC has also added newsletters from an additional 35 ham radio clubs in the United States and Canada, including hundreds of issues from the Orange County (California) Amateur Radio Club, the Northern California Contest Club, Palo Alto Amateur Radio Association, Acadiana (Lafayette, Louisiana) Amateur Radio Association, Mesilla Valley (New Mexico) Radio Club, and others. 

New additions of Canadian club newsletters include 900 issues from the Lakehead Amateur Radio Club in Ontario, the Montreal Amateur Radio Club, and the Halifax Amateur Radio Club. Raleigh (North Carolina) Amateur Radio Society contributed more than 700 issues of its Exciter newsletter, which DLARC scanned for the first time. Fort Wayne (Indiana) Radio Club has contributed newsletters and other material documenting its 100-year history. The Society of Wireless Pioneers, a program of the California Historical Radio Society, contributed documents going back to its founding in 1968.

The Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club donated hundreds of radio manuals, catalogs, and magazines — literally emptying file cabinets of material. DLARC has scanned them all and made the trove available online.

DLARC has expanded its collection of e-mail and Usenet conversations about ham radio from the early days of the Internet, with the addition of thousands of messages from Glowbugs Digest, an early Internet discussion list about tube-based radios. This collection includes posts spanning November 1995 through March 1998.

DLARC has also added more than 750 books and articles written by Donald Lancaster, the American author, inventor, and microcomputer pioneer who died earlier this year; and scans of hundreds of vintage electronics and radio catalogs.

New additions of podcasts and videos include 200 episodes of the defunct Southgate Vibes podcast from the UK; the Ham Radio Guy podcast; and archives of ham radio YouTube channels KM6LYW Radio and HB9BLA Wireless. More than 1,400 historic recordings and contemporary audio clips are available courtesy of The Shortwave Radio Audio Archive.

Digital Library of Amateur Radio & Communications is funded by a grant from Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC) to create a free digital library for the radio community, researchers, educators, and students. DLARC invites radio clubs and individuals to submit material in any format. If have questions about the project or material to contribute, contact:

Kay Savetz, K6KJN
Program Manager, Special Collections
Mastodon: dlarc@mastodon.radio

Internet Archive Files Appeal in Publishers’ Lawsuit Against Libraries

Today, the Internet Archive has submitted its appeal [PDF] in Hachette v. Internet Archive. As we stated when the decision was handed down in March, we believe the lower court made errors in facts and law, so we are fighting on in the face of great challenges. We know this won’t be easy, but it’s a necessary fight if we want library collections to survive in the digital age.

Statement from Brewster Kahle, founder and digital librarian of the Internet Archive:
“Libraries are under attack like never before. The core values and library functions of preservation and access, equal opportunity, and universal education are being threatened by book bans, budget cuts, onerous licensing schemes, and now by this harmful lawsuit. We are counting on the appellate judges to support libraries and our longstanding and widespread library practices in the digital age. Now is the time to stand up for libraries.”

We will share more information about the appeal as it progresses. 

To support our ongoing efforts, please donate as we continue this fight! 

Book Talk: Memory, Edited

Join archivist Rick Prelinger and author Abby Smith Rumsey for an IN-PERSON discussion about “Memory, Edited: Taking Liberties with History.”


An exploration of historical memory and networks of meaning in the context of today’s crises of extremism and polarization.

6:00 PM — Doors Open
6:30 PM — Book Talk: Memory, Edited
7:30 PM — Book Signing

Please note that this event will be held in person at the Internet Archive, 300 Funston Avenue, San Francisco.


About Memory, Edited
As authoritarianism continues to rise around the world, the stories we tell ourselves about what has happened and what is happening become ever more relevant. In Memory, Edited, Abby Smith Rumsey examines collective memory, how it binds us, and how it can be used by bad actors to manipulate us. Bringing forward the voices of a rich cast of Eastern European artists from the past two hundred years—from Fyodor Dostoevsky to Gerhard Richter—Rumsey shows how their work and lives illustrate the devastation wrought by regimes dependent on entrenched lies to survive. This hijacking of the narrative polarizes communities even as it commandeers our future.

Through an interdisciplinary lens that includes the best thinking from history, the arts, cognitive science, psychology, and political philosophy, Rumsey lays bare our narratives, showing how they are constructed and how they have changed over time. Ever-aware of resisting the false promise of utopia, Rumsey argues that only by confronting the past and reckoning with the crimes that were committed can we ever hope to heal and gain self-knowledge. Memory, Edited is an indispensable text for anyone who cares about democracy, equality, and freedom in our current age of crisis.

Abby Smith Rumsey is an intellectual and cultural historian. She chairs the board of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and is the author of When We Are No More: How Digital Memory Is Shaping Our Future.

Rick Prelinger is an archivist, filmmaker, writer and educator.

Book Talk: Memory, Edited
September 20 @ 6pm PT
IN-PERSON @ 300 Funston Avenue, SF
Register now!

Without Access to a Local Library, Freelance Translator Turns to Internet Archive

Graeme Currie, Freelance translator & editor. Photo: gcurrie.de

When Graeme Currie was working at a university, he went to the campus library for research and often lingered in the stacks just to enjoy the collection.

Now, as a freelance translator and editor operating remotely from a small town near Hamburg, Germany, Currie doesn’t have that same access. Without an institutional affiliation, he relies on materials in the Internet Archive for his work.

“It’s been vital for me because, at times, it’s the only way I can find what I need,” says Currie, 51, who is originally from Scotland. “For freelancers who are working from home without a library nearby and using obscure sources and out-of-print books, there’s nothing to replace the Internet Archive.”

Currie first heard about the Wayback Machine in the early 2000s as a means to check changes in websites. Then, he discovered other services that the Internet Archive provides including its audio and book library.

“For freelancers who are working from home without a library nearby and using obscure sources and out-of-print books, there’s nothing to replace the Internet Archive.”

Graeme Currie, freelance translator & editor

As he edits and translates academic books from German to English, Currie says he often has to check book citations—looking up page numbers and verifying passages. The virtual collection has been helpful as he researches a range of topics in the arts, social sciences and the humanities. Currie says he’s borrowed titles related to philosophy, criminality and global urban history, including the early history of tourism in Sicily.

Not only are many of the books hard to find, but Currie says logistically, they are difficult to obtain. Without the Internet Archive, Currie says he would have to wait weeks for interlibrary loans or try to contact the book authors, who are often unavailable.

“I simply could not do my job without access to a virtual library,” says Currie, who has been freelancing for about five years. “The Internet Archive is like having a university library on your desktop.”

Learn more about Currie at https://www.gcurrie.de/.

DWeb Camp: Exploring Governance & AI

Written contributions by Val Elefante, Jenny Fan, Dazza Greenwood, Cent Hosten, Ronen Tamari, Joshua Tan, Riley Wong, and Jacky Zhao

The Metagovernance Project (aka- Metagov) returned to DWeb Camp for our second year in a row, this year as a DWeb Sponsor, supporting the event by curating some of the camp’s governance and AI sessions. In this blog, we hear from Josh Tan, co-curator of the AI track, and governance researchers from Metagov who helped co-create the governance track. 

To get a sense of our work, watch this video documenting our Redwood Parliament program at DWeb Camp 2022. 

AI Meets the Decentralized Web

What does the DWeb community talk about when they talk about AI? Perhaps more mysteriously, what brings an AI company like OpenAI out to the woods outside of San Francisco to talk about the decentralized web?

At this year’s DWeb Camp, Metagov worked with OpenAI, the Internet Archive, and the Foresight Institute to curate a selection of AI speakers and workshops at DWeb Camp. The programming featured presentations by Aza Raskin (Centre for Humane Technologies), Jason Kwon (OpenAI), Che Chang (OpenAI), Rosie Campbell (OpenAI), Doc Searls, Stephen Hood (Mozilla), Philip Rosedale (Second Life), and many, many others. The planning was led by Allison Duettman of Foresight and Joshua Tan of Metagov, with critical support from Wendy Hanamura of the Internet Archive.

One of the key questions raised was the challenge and risks of open-source AI. For example, in Aza Raskin’s picture of possible AI futures, open-source might also lead us to a future where everyone, everywhere has access to the intelligence needed to design viruses, imitate public figures, or manipulate elections. Yet, in a conversation on open-source AI models featuring Stephen Hood from Mozilla, James Baicoianu from Stability AI, Philip Rosedale, and Qianqian Ye, everyone agreed that “the cat is out of the bag” when it comes to open-source AI. Open-source AI is already here, and it’s not going away.

We didn’t necessarily come away with a conclusion so much as a better sense of the question. From Josh’s closing remarks: “I honestly wrestle with this. I honestly do not know, and it feels weird, it feels very weird to be a student of the legends who built the open internet and ask, should [AI] be open? It reminds me of a question we ask ourselves as a liberal society—is it possible to be too open as a society? Do open societies ultimately bring about their own downfalls?”

Governance at DWeb

Can We Trust Our Fellow “Digital Citizens”?

This session, led by Metagov contributor Jenny Fan, was a round table discussion around the provocation: can civic responsibilities for online “citizens” exist in an analogous way to how civic duties exist in offline communities? As one participant quoted, “The scarcest resource is legitimacy,” and appropriately, the conversation was framed in the context of the dearth of legitimate forms of community governance and content moderation for online communities. Though participants were not primarily governance researchers, we ended up with a comprehensive and thought-provoking survey of existing projects in this space.

We broke down the challenges of online “citizenship” around identity, reputation, intrinsic/extrinsic motivation, the issues of delegating trust to other users, and how the correlation between the level of effort affected online community engagement. Participants mentioned references as wide-ranging as existing political science research (liquid democracy, quadratic voting, radical markets), Web 2-adjacent projects (Periscope, Twitter community notes), Web 3-adjacent projects (Klairos, Nouns DAO’s zero knowledge voting, and one participant’s experience IRL at Zuzalu’s pop-up community), and more. In particular, users highlighted the challenges of shifting typically extrinsic motivators for civic behavior to intrinsic motivation, given the cost-incentive structure of the internet. As one participant put aptly, “The offline world is full of sticks, but the internet only has carrots.”

D20 Governance Playthrough

D20 Governance is a project focused on exploring modular governance through unstable communication environments and simulations. It aims to estrange the quotidian act of communication as a way of revealing ways in which interactions in online communities are infrastructurally prefigured by forms and norms of linguistic interoperability and implicit feudalism. D20 Governance aims to surface this revelation as a way of foregrounding the metagoverning architectures that order online communications, and catalyze experiences that empower communities to imagine and form more creative, flexible, experimental, and intentional patterns of self-governance. The current iteration of D20 Governance takes form as a Discord bot, and extends the composable governance mapping tool, CommunityRule. The D20 Governance working group is led by Janita Chalam, Val Elefante, Hazel, and Cent Hosten, and is supervised by Metagov research director Ellie Rennie.

For DWeb Camp we ran our first playtest with a group of eight campers placed into a “Build A Community” simulation where they had to name their community, decide on an animating purpose, and decide on their first action. The playtest had participants eloquently reciting Shakespearean recitations of their LLM-transformed posts and revolting against consensus as a decision-making mechanism. Stay tuned for future play test announcements in the newsletter. 

D20 Governance Teaser

Let Us Imagine A Communally-Owned Internet

This year at DWeb Camp, Jacky Zhao and Spencer Chang hosted a session asking campers to gather their collective imaginations and dreams for what a communally-owned internet could look like. Collectively, the group had a lot of dystopian fiction and a lot of reminiscing, but not a lot of forward-looking dreams for the web. Dreaming, to us, felt like an important piece of fiction that rallies people to articulate a vision they want to make a reality. In hosting this session, we recalled Ruha Benjamin: “to see things as they really are, you must imagine them for what they might be”.
The session focused on circulating 5 sheets of paper, each with a question on it:

  • What do you wish the Internet evoked for you?
  • What would co-owning digital spaces look like?
  • What is your digital neighborhood?
  • Where have you felt agency online?
  • What is/was your favorite place on the internet?

Each question was meant to evoke certain modes of questioning. In the discussion, the group spent a significant amount of time discussing the feeling that life on the internet feels like living on rented ground and an overwhelming feeling that we have no agency over our digital environments anymore. Some reminisced over Minecraft and building their own forums and webrings. Others wondered why modern platforms like Facebook or Twitter no longer have these affordances. The group closed by wondering how to give people the ability to be architects of their own digital homes again.

Reclaiming agency and ability to communally construct our digital spaces starts with people willing to dream and fight for it. In many ways, this session (and the greater DWeb Camp as a whole) felt like a gathering of people who haven’t given up on the inherent good of the internet and are fighting for this future.

(excerpted from a longer reflection)

Design Charrette on LLM LLC Governance Rules

The session, led by law.MIT.edu’s Dazza Greenwood, focused on an ongoing open-source project developing an algorithmically managed LLC using LLM technology.  This is similar to the Wyoming DAO LLC approach insomuch as there is a role for “algorithmically managed” LLCs, but there is no smart contract, blockchain, or decentralization involved.  Rather, the algorithmic manager is an LLM operating according to “constitutional rules” encoded into the software running the manager operations and communications.  The current codebase is designed as a Discord bot with email integration and is being tested and iterated against a handful of relatively legal and business use cases.  The Metagov-related aspect of this project is the architectural component where a set of rules governing the behavior and actions of the LLM LLC are specified.  A DWeb Camp breakout group discussed the project overall and read aloud the current version of the Constitutional Rules, as the starting point for an engaging and constructive conversation and light design charrette.  For more information, see the current code base, and this demo presentation of the project given to the Wyoming legislature.

Challenges and Triumphs in Community Self-Governance

This session, led by Metagov researcher Val Elefante, began with an overview of Metagov’s frameworks and tools including implicit feudalism, modular politics, CommunityRule, and a demo of CollectiveVoice. It was then followed by a rapid-fire collective brainstorm of challenges that communities face when it comes to online governance. Responses included: scale (from small to larger communities, from “not serious” to “serious” decisions), too many proposals, loss of institutional memory due to platform switching, not easy to experiment, and not many available models.

The group then brainstormed ways of solving some of these governance problems using modular governance frameworks including: a randomly-selected jury system for voting on proposals, organization and summary of relevant information for easy decision-making, improved deliberation formats, and using tech to facilitate in-person governance.

Val Elefante presenting at DWeb Camp

Qualitative Governance

How can community governance frameworks incorporate holistic, cooperative, and emergent processes? How can community governance embrace differing needs and wants, encourage agency, and promote whole group purpose and wellness? 

Facilitated by cooperative governance researcher Riley Wong, this Qualitative Governance session sought to co-create possibilities to these questions and more by naming and observing qualities of effective governance; describing the emotional experience of how effective governance feels; identifying and speculating practices that create these experiences; and ideating ways to integrate and experiment with these practices within our own communities. 

For some, effective governance was described as transparent, creative, honest, flowing, participatory, inclusive, resilient, signal boosting, and fun. It can feel energizing, activating, safe, emergent, warm, playful, joyful, caring, compassionate, holonic, empowering, euphoric, and open-hearted. Practices that can create this experience may include shared rituals, reflection, personal check-ins, “yes, and…”s, trust and relationship building, acknowledging consent, shared maintenance, space for tension processing, voluntary flows, ownership, mini-juries for direct democracy, and dancing. Integration of these practices may involve playing, prioritizing, ceding power, building trust, and celebrating stories. 

Feeling safe as a necessary foundation for navigating differences, feeling seen and heard by others, building trust in the community, and keeping “epistemological humility” were also overarching themes and discussion points throughout the session. Follow-up discussions highlighted personal experiences of governance where community members felt valued, heard, safe, and trusting, and therefore empowered to take on more risk and responsibility. 

Tech for Listening to Each Other Online

In this session, led by Metagov member Ronen Tamari, participants reflected on the dynamics of (figuratively) “speaking” vs “listening” in online spaces such as social media. We have lots of tools for speaking, enabling us to effortlessly broadcast our opinions to wide audiences. On the other hand, listening feels under-served: we lack tools to help sift through noise and distractions on social media and end up doom-scrolling or wandering aimlessly across platforms. 

What would better tech for listening look like?

We did some embodied listening exercises to get a better sense for what listening in the real world involves. We then tried to apply the insights we gained to listening in the social media context; what does empathetic and active listening feel like online, and how can we create a shared sense of reality beyond reality-distorting algorithmic echo chambers?

Brainstorming together was a delight (”One of my fav events from the whole weekend”, as one participant wrote us); we covered a lot of topics (and whiteboards), from AI and human-powered curation to the design of new tools, norms, and rituals. We shared contact details to keep the listening conversation going as we left the luxury of intimate shared physical spaces behind and headed back to our noisy digital metropolises.