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Forked from tav/gist:604107
Created September 30, 2010 07:27
What would you like to do?

I've made some changed to try and make it clearer, e.g.: putting summaries at the top of the main answers. In some cases I've edited a bit more. I hope the revisions make sense.

The main issue is the first main answer 1. The idea and its potential market impact. I've half revised and then made a note for you to finish off.

n.b.: I've changed references to Reputation Economy to Aggregated Micropayments -- for me it made much more sense to talk about a feature rather than a concept.

Please provide a short summary of the content and objectives of the project including what is innovative about it. Please refer to the Guidance for Applicants Section 4

Espra is an open source, web-based social platform built around two innovations:

  • Trust Maps use contextualised social graph data to help people filter and overcome information overload
  • Aggregated Micropayments enable content creators to get rewarded for their work

Fundamentally, Espra aims to improve quality of life and create new market opportunities by helping people to efficiently organise ideas and resources.

How does this application align with the specific competition scope?

Espra will significantly improve people's ability to function in the digital world by tackling the problem of information overload and allowing them to get paid for their work.

The ability to filter information flow through Trust Maps opens up new opportunities for applications and services. Aggregated Micropayments address the TSB's wider Digital Britain Strategy of enabling "a sustainable marketplace for intellectual property" and helping create "economic and social benefit from increasing volumes of information".

By nurturing an open ecosystem around these innovations, we are applying a new approach to major challenges that, if successful, will be highly disruptive.

1. The idea and its potential market impact

The idea is to turn the major challenges facing the web into the opportunity to create Espra: the next generation social platform.

The first major challenge is information overload. As more and more people sign up to various web services, they have to deal with ever-increasing volumes of information. Espra solves this problem by introducing a radical new paradigm, where your information is filtered by your Trust Maps.

Trust Maps are similar to the social graphs generated from personal relationships on Facebook and Twitter. However, instead of simply following people for everything that they have to say, Trust Maps allow people to state what context they are following someone else for. This simple addition of context adds immense value to the wealth of digital information that is generated daily. For example, you can search on an architecture related topic and Espra will filter the results according to who you trust for architecture (and who they trust in turn).

The second major challenge is developing a sustainable marketplace for rewarding content creation. Espra solves this with Aggregated Micropayments that reward content creators for their work. These work through a system that enables people to assign points to those whose work they find valuable and then make dividend-like "payouts" to everyone they've given points to.

Espra will introduce both Trust Maps and Aggregated Micropayments on top of a real-time messaging platform similar to Twitter. However, unlike Twitter, the underlying technology will be fully open source and we will foster the development of a vibrant ecosystem around it. And thus we intend for both Trust Maps and Aggregated Micropayments to become ubiquitous elements of the future internet.


I've run out of time. It's crucial that the end of the answer nails the market opportunities. For gods sake remove the crap about valuing the opportunity. Instead, you have to explain the platform and eco-system: what economic opportunities does it create, e.g.: people can write apps, people can get paid for making content, people can do business through it, people can build systems on it, etc. etc. Be clear so the reader goes "ah, right, so if we fund this, it creates ... new market"

Email me a draft if you want!!!

By offering a more useful and open alternative to the likes of Facebook, we believe that Espra has the potential to usher in a new era in the evolution of the Web -- similar to the Web 2.0 boom from around 2004. We will capitalise on this in a manner similar to how the open source Wordpress blogging platform has been successfully commercialised as a hosted service at

It is hard at this stage to put a quantitative value on the market opportunity -- but, for comparison, Twitter is currently valued at over a billion and Facebook at over £20 billion. We believe there is potential for more signifiicant value to be generated by emergent apps which build on top of Espra.


2. What you propose to do in the study?

We'll bring together, in London, a team of highly talented developers for an intensive, agile development sprint.

The study will focus on the software implementation of Espra as described above. This will be done through a series of agile development sprints over the course of three months. These will take place in London and will bring together a highly talented team with diverse skillsets: Tav, Sean B. Palmer, James Arthur, Mamading Ceesay, Maciej Fijalkowski, Yan Minagawa, Danny Bruder and Alex Tomkins.

The sprints will be quite intensive and guided by the architecture and lessons learnt by developing various prototypes in the past. We will start by concurrently working on both the backend infrastructure and the user-facing frontend and iteratively work towards the middle, continuously refining the spec as appropriate before finishing with a round of user testing.

A wide range of programming languages will be used -- C, Go, Java, Javascript, and Python. And existing open source software will be taken advantage of wherever appropriate, e.g. Caja, CoffeeScript, jQuery, Native Client, Node.js, Redis, Tornado, etc. High code quality will be assured by the use of modern development practices such as behaviour driven development.

(It's perhaps worth noting that Google have expressed an interest in collaborating with us on researching the object capability-based security mechanism that underlies Espra. If this works out, we'll invite the Google engineers to join our development sprints.)

3. The deliverable

We will deliver a fully working implementation of Espra that proves that it is technically viable and that the architecture is fit to scale.

The implementation of the platform will deliver the various features described above, i.e. Trust Maps, Aggregated Micropayments, real-time messaging, etc. There will be a usable, public instance running at as well as an installable, open source download for Windows, Linux and OS X.

The delivery will include some ground-breaking technical achievements:

  • A decentralised transactional datastore capable of indexing petabytes of structured data.
  • A pattern-based sensor network capable of supporting real-time searches and updates.
  • An object capability-based security framework that supports rich and composable applications.
  • An exchange mechanism based on computing resources like storage, processing and bandwidth.
  • A dynamic columns-based user interface that fits user needs better than legacy windowing systems.

Despite the underlying technological complexity, we will ensure that the user-facing elements of Espra are as easy to use as the popular web applications of today and that it works across all modern, HTML5-compliant web browsers.

4. Why you need this grant?

We need the grant for the very same reasons that the early internet needed government funding. It is extremely challenging to bootstrap open ecosystems but, as the Web has clearly demonstrated, the benefits can be significant.

We have approached a number of different funding sources without success. Bank loans have not been possible as we do not have assets to offer as collateral. It is too early stage for private investment: we're lacking a fully working product and an established user base.

Investors have also felt that the risk is too high given the complex nature of the problems we are addressing and the open source nature of the project is sometimes seen as not being commercially defensible. In contrast we believe that there are greater long term benefits to be had by keeping in spirit with the openness of the Web. These hard problems need to be tackled, otherwise the technical debt simply gets passed along for future generations to deal with.

As a consequence, we've been funding the research and development of Espra through consultancy and contract work. However, this is a painfully slow process. This grant can change that. By funding the development sprint, you will enable a highly talented team to come together and create a truly open and innovative platform-led ecosystem with significant market opportunities.

How could this project, with increased investment of up to £100k, be bigger, better or faster?

With increased investment, we will deliver a project that is able to take on Silicon Valley giants like Facebook and Twitter. The funds will support a larger team to develop the technical platform into a marketable product and prove its commercial viability.

Espra will be optimised, well tested, documented and further developed so that it can scale to millions of users. With this in hand, we will develop a repeatable sales roadmap, launch Espra and demonstrate user adoption on a significant scale.

Special care will be given to make the user interface as simple as possible. We have already prototyped a number of novel interfaces for desktop/mobile devices. These will be fully developed and integrated so that people can better manage their digital presence and information flow.

The combination of Trust Maps, Aggregated Micropayments, structured data and real-time messaging will make possible a wide range of new applications. We will develop some of these apps and integrate them into Espra -- with specific focus on the ones that enable better collaboration.

The underlying technology will be extended into a decentralised application platform so that others can leverage the platform to build their own innovative applications. An open ecosystem will be nurtured around this so as to foster a new set of market opportunities.

By supporting Espra as the competition winner, you will be enabling the next iteration in the development of the Web.

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