Design for a history engine

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What is Gistorio?

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History, or at least our ‘collective’ history, has a major flaw. History is written and may be subjectively altered based on needs and requirements of existing population or figures in power. While it is harder to hide certain facts that have solid documentary proof, it is easy to skew, or sometimes completely turn around, subjective interpretation of a fact. For a radical example, lets take the holocaust. We all know for a fact, that holocaust happened, we have proof for that in documents (texts, pictures, witness reports, etc). Now what we do not know for a fact if that historical event was good or bad. We have subjective interpretations of it, and given enough initiative some facts can be skewed to become good or bad. I sincerely hope that holocaust will never become a victim of skewed historical interpretation, yet there are many more less known incidents that are used to manipulate people into thinking one way or another.

And some are really close to home.

I live in a post soviet country. Grandfathers of my generation have fought in partisan wars to restore the independence of our country. During the times of upheaval many events, that can be vaguely interpreted had happened. Recently people who had fought in the actual war (and are still alive) had started to notice that opinion about particular events is changing over the course of time. I imagine that if there were enough information accessible about any of those events, the opinion would be more stable. And hopefully closer to actual truth.

So idea behind Gistorio is to serve as a link between historical events, objective sources behind that event and various interpretations of those sources. There is only one requirement: Gistorio must be trustworthy.

How to ensure trustworthiness?

Steal ideas from Wikipedia, crypto currencies and git.

  1. Any edit to the Gistory must happen on top of last edit, with an unbreakable linking to ancestor.
  2. There can’t be a single source of truth. Majority holds the truth.
  3. Keep human feedback as valid as any other source of interpretation, track historical changes to interpretations.
  4. Because it is impossible to gather all historical documents in one location, Gistory should resort to ‘protected links’, which would simply check if the document changed or not from the moment it was linked. Think sha sums.

Alone these ideas will not make Gistory anything better than Wikipedia. And actually Wikipedia has the second and third points almost covered, with several exceptions. Namely – I can, given enough time and lack of interest/protection on a particular topic, skew the topic to whatever side I see useful, just by editing the wiki page.

Second point should help to diminish the possibility of history altering events. As funny and paranoid that sounds, but nobody could stop a determined individual from altering internal Wikipedia database to suggest that holocaust was a genetic cleansing and brought only greater good. That is a ridiculous and obviously false suggestion, but how many people, without seeing actual documents, would come to accept that given idea, just because they don’t have enough information to rule that fallacy themselves? And, hey, things in Wikipedia have always been true. Why someone would lie on the internet?

While the argument seems ridiculous applied to historical events that have physical proof, like paper documents, stone slabs or photographs, it is way more important to events that are happening right now, where a tweet is source document, a meme is an interpretation and a blog post is an analytical overview.

What now?

At this point – this is just an idea. And this place is used to gather information and (perhaps) support for it. Go on in GitHub issues and report whatever you seem worth noticing.