Ciro Santilli $$ Sponsor Ciro $$ 中国独裁统治 China Dictatorship 新疆改造中心、六四事件、法轮功、郝海东、709大抓捕、2015巴拿马文件 邓家贵、低端人口、西藏骚乱
Current status: alpha. It now should be possible to immediately understand the goals of the website just by looking at it. Now we have to make article editing much much more user friendly. See also: Section 3. "Action plan".
Mission: live in a world where you can learn university-level mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and engineering for free whenever you want from perfect open source books made for free by random people who want to get famous to get better paying jobs.
In this project, Ciro Santilli wants to explore if it is possible to create a sustainable website that will make learners (notably university students taking courses) write freely licensed university-level natural science books for free.
OurBigBook.com is a bit like Wikipedia but:
  • each user can have their own version of each page which cannot be edited without their permission, e.g. only cirosantilli can edit http://ourbigbook.com/cirosantilli/mathematics
  • each user has a single table of contents shown at their home page, e.g. http://ourbigbook.com/cirosantilli, which contains all their articles in a single tree
  • you can copy and modify other users' pages under your own username scope, since Creative Commons license will be mandatory. You can also make suggestions to their page if you want to.
  • each page has an issue tracker/comment section at the bottom to allow for sane discussion about the subject. As opposed to Wikipedia's unusable talk pages.
  • more granular pages than Wikipedia: every single header has its own page/metadata, no matter how specific the topic it covers is
  • you can upvote and downvote the headers/pages
If you are a software engineer, you can see that this is basically a cross between Wikipedia, GitHub and Stack Exchange.
Suppose that user Obama is your calculus teacher and has his pages organized as:
If you feel that one of the sections is not very clear, e.g. "Integral", you could then see pages by other users with about the same topic by visiting: https://ourbigbook.com/go/topic/integral. The pages there are sorted by upvotes, so you should see the most popular ones first.
From there you will be able for example to see Mr Trump's version of the page https://ourbigbook.com/donald-trump/integral which hopefully will englighten any doubts that you might have.
Anyone can create their own version of any page: students, teachers, or any self learner. If you feel that you've understood something in a way that others haven't explained, you can just add your own version, and try to make it the most popular one.
Every single page has their own comments section, where users can share any errors founds, or ask any questions about the article. Furthermore, we also want to create a simple Q&A system like Stack Overflow for each existing topic for more general questions about the topic. Users would then be incentivized to answer questions by simply referencing their own existing tutorial pages.
In some ways, Ciro wants the website to feel like a video game, where you fluidly interact with headers, comments and their metadata. If game developers can achieve impressively complicated game engines, why can't we achieve a decent amazing elearning website? :-)
Ciro predicts that the general organic user acquisition will go as follows:
  • Google into rare specific subject
  • look around, then login/create account with OAuth to leaves a comment or upvote
  • notice that you can fork anything
  • mind = KABOOM
These are websites that offer somewhat overlapping services, many of which served inspirations, and why we think something different is needed to achieve our goals.
Quick mentions:
  • You don't get any/sufficient recognition for your contributions
  • The stuff you wrote can be deleted anytime by some random admin/opposing editor
  • Scope too limited, and politics defined. Everything has to sound encyclopedic and be notable enough. This basically excludes completely good tutorials.
  • Insane impossible to use markup language-base talk pages instead of issue trackers?! Ridiculous!!! That change alone could make Wikipedia so much more amazing. Wikipedia could become a Stack Exchange killer by doing that alone + some basic reputation system. Some work on that is being done at: https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Extension:DiscussionTools, already in Beta as of 2022.
This edit perfectly summarizes how Ciro feels about Wikipedia (no particular hate towards that user, he was a teacher at the prestigious Pierre and Marie Curie University and actually as a wiki page about him):
rm a cryptic diagram (not understandable by a professional mathematician, without further explanations
which removed the only diagram that was actually understandable to non-Mathematicians, which Ciro Santilli had created, and received many upvotes at: https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/776039/intuition-behind-normal-subgroups/3732426#3732426. The removal does not generate any notifications to you unless you follow the page which would lead to infinite noise, and is extremely difficult to find out how to contact the other person. The removal justification is even somewhat ad hominem: how does he know Ciro Santilli is also not a professional Mathematician? :-) Maybe it is obvious because Ciro explains in a way that is understandable. Also removal makes no effort to contact original author. Of course, this is caused by the fact that there must also have been a bunch of useless edits not done by Ciro, and there is no reputation system to see if you should ignore a person or not immediately, so removal author has no patience anymore. This is what makes it impossible to contribute to Wikipedia: your stuff gets deleted at any time, and you don't know how to appeal it. Ciro is going to regret having written this rant after Daniel replies and shows the diagram is crap. But that would be better than not getting a reply and not learning that the diagram is crap.
Another one: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Finite_field&type=revision&diff=1044934168&oldid=1044905041 on finite fields with edit comment "Obviously: X ≡ α". Discussion at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Finite_field#Concrete_simple_worked_out_example Some people simply don't know how to explain things to beginners, or don't think Wikipedia is where it should be done. One simply can't waste time fighting off those people, writing good tutorials is hard enough in itself without that fight.
It is also for this reason why Ciro basically only contributes images to Wikipedia: because they are either all in or all out, and you can determine which one of them it is. And this allows images to be more attributable, so people can actually see that it was Ciro that created a given amazing image.
Wikipedia is perfect for things like biographies, geography, or history, which have a much more defined and subjective expository order. But when it comes to "tutorials of how to actually do stuff", which is what mathematics and physics are basically about, Wikipedia has a very hard time to go beyond dry definitions which are only useful for people who already half know the stuff. But to learn from zero, newbies need tutorials with intuition and examples.
Stack Exchange solves to a good extent the use cases:
  • I have a very specific question, type it on Google, find top answers
  • I have an answer, and I put it here because it has a much greater chance of being found due to the larger PageRank than my personal web page will ever have
points of view. It is a big open question if we can actually substantially improve it.
Major shortcoming are mentioned at idiotic Stack Overflow policies:
Where blog is taken in a wide sense, including e.g. Medium, WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, etc., etc.
The main shortcoming of blogs is the lack of tag convergence across blogs. Each blog is a moderated castle. So who is the best user for a given tag, or the best content for a given tag, across the entire website?
The only reasonable free material we have for advanced subjects nowadays are university lecture notes.
While some of those are awesome, when writing a large content, no one can keep quality high across all sections, there will always be knowledge that you don't have which is enlightening. And Googlers are more often than not interested only in specific sections of your content.
Our website aims to make smaller subjects vertically curated across horizontal single author tutorials.
Author  1 | Author 2  | Author 3
Subject 1 | Subject 1 | Subject 1
          | Subject 2 | Subject 2
Subject 3 |           | Subject 3
Subject 4 |
It is arguable that this is currently the best way to learn any university subject, and that it can already be used to learn any subject.
We basically just want to make the process more efficient and enjoyable, by making it easier:
  • to find what you want based on an initial subject hit across the best version of any author
  • and to publish your own stuff with one click, and get feedback if people like it or not, and improvement suggestions like you do you GitHub
One major problem with lecture notes is that, as the name suggests, they are merely a complement to the lecture, and don't contain enough detail for you to really learn solely from them without watching the lecture.
The only texts that generally teach in enough depth are actual books, which are almost always commercial.
So in a sense, this project can be seen as a path to upgrade free lecture notes into full blown free books, from which you can learn from scratch without any external material.
A major difficulty of getting such this to work is that may university teachers want to retain closed copyright of their work because they:
Therefore the only way is to find teachers who are:
  • enlightened to use such licenses
  • forced by their organizations to use such licenses
The forced option therefore seems like a more bulk efficient starting point for searches.
No matter how much effort a single person puts into writing perfect tutorials, they will never beat 1000x people + an algorithm.
It is not simply a matter of how much time you have. The fundamental reason is that each person has a different background and different skills. Notably the young students have radically different understanding than that of the experienced teacher.
Therefore, those that refuse to contribute to such platforms, or at least license their content with open licenses, will inevitably have their work forgotten in favor of those that have contributed to the more open platform, which will eventually dominate everything.
Perhaps OurBigBook.com is not he killer platform that will make this happen. Perhaps the world is not yet ready for it. But Ciro believes that this will happen, sooner or later, inevitable, and he wants to give it a shot.
Some possible/not possible sources that could be used to manually bootstrap content:
Also worth checking:
Figure 1. The Grad Student Brain by PhD Comics (2010) Source. Convincing academics that their tutorial are not always perfect is one of blocking points to the acceptance of solutions such as OurBigBook.com. To thrive in the competition of academia, those people are amazing at publishing novel results. Explaining to beginners however, not necessarily so.
TODO gotta research those more:
One major point is that most of those personal knowledge databases have very little/no focus on public publishing, which is the primary focus of OurBigBook.com.
This website basically aims to be a learning management system, allowing in particular a teacher to focus his help on students that he is legally obliged to help due to their job. But it will have the following unusual characteristics in current LMS solutions:
  • public first, to allow reuse across universities, rather than paywalled as is the case for most top universities
  • students can create material just like teachers, both are on equal footing. Students/teachers will see an indicator "this is your teacher"/"this is your student for this/past semester", but that is the only difference between their interfaces.
If Ciro Santilli were to write a book about quantum mechanics as of 2020 (before OurBigBook.com went live), he would upload an OurBigBook Markup website to GitHub Pages.
But there is one major problem with that: the entry barrier for new contributors is very large.
If they submit a pull request, Ciro has to review it, otherwise, no one will ever see it.
Our amazing website would allow the reader to add his own example of, say, The uncertainty principle, whenever they wants, under the appropriate section.
Then, people who want to learn more about it, would click on the "defined tag" by the article, and our amazing analytics would point them to the best such articles.
  • HyperCard: we are kind of a "multiuser" version of HyperCard, trying to tie up cards made by different users. It is worth noting that HyperCard was one of the inspirations for WikiWikiWeb, which then inspired Wikipedia
  • Semantic Web
  • NLab
  • https://physicstravelguide.com/ Nice manifesto: https://physicstravelguide.com/about by Jakob Schwichtenberg.
  • OpenStax
  • https://www.ft.com/content/5515ec3e-0040-4d90-85a9-df19d6e3ebd2 (archive) Twilio’s Jeff Lawson: an evangelist for software developers
    As a student at the University of Michigan, he started a company that made lecture notes available free online, drawing a large audience of Midwestern college students and, soon enough, advertisers. At the height of the dotcom bubble, he dropped out of college, raised $10m from the venture firm Venrock and moved the company to Silicon Valley.
    His start-up drew interest from an acquirer that was planning to go public early in 2000. They closed the acquisition but missed their IPO window as the market plunged, and by August the company had filed for bankruptcy. Stock that Lawson and investors in his start-up received from the sale became worthless.
    You can never be first. But you can have the correct business model. That company's website must have gone into IP Purgatory, and could never be released as an open source website.
    This project won't make a lot of money. Open source and not-for-profit seems like the way to go.
    The website was called https://stubhub.com/, as of 2021 the domain had been sold to an unrelated website.
    He might actually be interested in donating to OurBigBook.com if it move forward now that he's a billionaire.
  • Knol: basically the exact same thing by Google but 14 years earlier and declared a failure. Quite ominous:
    Any contributor could create and own new Knol articles, and there could be multiple articles on the same topic with each written by a different author.
  • leanpub: similar goals, markdown-based, but the usual "you own your book copyright and you are trying to sell your book" approach
  • nature Scitable
The steps are sorted in roughly chronological order. The project might fail at any point, and some steps may be carried in parallel:
  • make OurBigBook Markup good enough, to the point that it allows to create a static version of the website, which is used to prototype certain ideas, and for Ciro to start writing test content.
    Status March 2022: reached a point that it is already highly usable. The following website may continue.
  • create a basic implementation of the website, without advanced features like PageRank sorting and WYSIWYG. This is not much more than a blog with some extra metadata, so it is definitely achievable with constrained resources.
  • find a university teacher would would like to try it out.
    Ciro would like to volunteer to work for free for this teacher and students to help the students learn.
    He would like act like a "super student" who has a lot of free time and motivation.
    Ciro would start by mapping the headers of the lecture notes onto the website, and then slowly adding content as he feels the need to improve certain explanations.
    Finding teachers willing to allow this will be a major roadblock: how to convince teachers to use CC BY-SA.
    If such enlightened teacher is found, it will allow for the initial validation of the website, to decide what kind of tweaking the idea might need, and start uploading quality technical content to the site.
  • once some level of validation as been done, Ciro will start looking for charitable funding more aggressively
  • if things seem to be working, start adding more advance features: pageRank-like ranking sorting and WYSIWYG editing
    The recommendation algorithms notably is left for a second stage because it needs real world data to be tested. And at the beginning, before Eternal September kicks in, there would be few posts written by well educated university students, so a simple sort by upvote would likely be good enough.
Ciro decided to start with a decent markup language with a decent implementation: OurBigBook Markup. Once that gets reasonable, he will move on to another attempt at the website itself.
The project description was originally at: https://github.com/cirosantilli/write-free-science-books-to-get-famous-website but being migrated here. The original working project name was "Write free books to get famous website", until Ciro decided to settle for OurBigBook.com and fixed the domain name.
Crush the current grossly inefficient educational system, replace today's students + teachers + researchers with unified "online content creators/consumers".
Gamify them, and pay the best creators so they can work it full time, until some company hires for more them since they are so provenly good.
Destroy useless exams, the only metrics of society are either:
  • how much money you make
  • how high is your educational content creator reputation score
Reduce the entry barrier to education, like Uber has done for taxis.
Help create much greater equal opportunity to talented poor students as described at free gifted education.
Give the students a flexible choice of what to learn, which basically implies that a much large proportion of students get a de-facto gifted education.
Related:
Many subjects have changed very little in the last hundred years, and so it is mind-blowing that people have to pay for books that teach them!
If computers are bicycles for the mind, Ciro wants this website to be the Ferrari of the mind.
This project is likely to fail. It could become the TempleOS of wikis. The project' autism score is quite high. It might be an impossible attempt at a lifestyle business. But Ciro is beyond caring now. It must be done.
Since Ciro Santilli was young, he has been bewildered by the natural sciences and mathematics due to his bad memory.
The beauty of those subjects has always felt like intense sunlight in a fresh morning to Ciro. Sometimes it gets covered by clouds and obscured by less important things, but it always comes back again and again, weaker or stronger with its warmth, guiding Ciro's life path.
As a result, he has always suffered a lot at school: his grades were good, but he wasn't really learning those beautiful things that he wanted to learn!
School, instead of helping him, was just wasting his time with superficial knowledge.
First, before university, school organization had only one goal: put you into the best universities, to make a poster out of you and get publicity, so that more parents will be willing to pay them money to put their kids into good university.
Ciro once asked a chemistry teacher some "deeper question" after course was over, related to the superficial vision of the topic they were learning to get grades in university entry exams. The teacher replied something like:
You remind me of a friend of mine. He always wanted to understand the deeper reason for things. He now works at NASA.
Ciro feels that this was one of the greatest compliments he has ever received in his life. This teacher, understood him. Funny how some things stick, while all the rest fades.
Another interesting anecdote is how Ciro Santilli's mother recalls that she always found out about exams in the same way: when the phone started ringing as Ciro's friends started asking for help with the subjects just before the exam. Sometimes it was already too hopelessly late, but Ciro almost always tried. Nothing shows how much better you are than someone than teaching them.
Then, after entering university, although things got way better because were are able to learn things that are borderline useful.
Ciro still felt a strong emotion of nostalgia when after university his mother asked if she could throw away his high school books, and Ciro started tearing them all down for recycling. Such is life.
University teachers were still to a large extent researchers who didn't want to, know how to and above all have enough time and institutional freedom to teach things properly and make you see their beauty, some good relate articles:
The very fact that you had very little choice of what to learn so that a large group can get a "Diploma", makes it impossible for people to deeply learn what the really want.
This is especially true because Ciro was in Brazil, a third world country, where the opportunities are comparatively extremely limited to the first world.
Also extremely frustrating is how you might have to wait for years to get to the subject you really want. For example, on a physics course, quantum mechanics is normally only taught on the third year! While there is value to knowing the pre-requisites, holding people back for years is just too sad, and Ciro much prefers backward design. And just like the university entry exams, this creates an entry barrier situation where you might in the end find that "hey, that's not what I wanted to learn after all", see also: students must have a flexible choice of what to learn.
We've created a system where people just wait, and wait, and wait, never really doing what they really want. They wait through school to get into university. They wait through university to get to masters. They wait through masters to get to PhD. They wait through PhD to become a PI. And for the minuscule fraction of those that make it, they become fund proposal writers. And if you make any wrong choice along the, it's all over, you can't continue anymore, the cost would be too great. So you just become software engineer or a consultant. Is this the society that we really want?
And all of this is considering that he was very lucky to not be in a poor family, and was already in some of the best educational institutions locally available already, and had comparatively awesome teachers, without which he wouldn't be where he is today if he hadn't had such advantages in the first place.
But no matter how awesome one teacher is, no single person can overcome a system so large and broken. Without technological innovation that is.
The key problem all along the way is the Society's/Government's belief that everyone has to learn the same things, and that grades in exams mean anything.
Ciro believes however, that exams are useless, and that there are only two meaningful metrics:
  • how much money you make
  • fame for doing for doing useful work for society without earning money, which notably includes creating new or better free knowledge such as in academic papers, either novel or review
Even if you wanted to really learn natural sciences and had the time available, it is just too hard to find good resources to properly learn it. Even attending university courses are hit and miss between amazing and mediocre teachers.
If you go into a large book shop, the science section is tiny, and useless popular science books dominate it without precise experiment descriptions. And then, the only few "serious" books are a huge list of formulas without any experimental motivation.
And if you are lucky to have access to an university library that has open doors, most books are likely to be old and boring as well. Googling for PDFS from university courses is the best bet.
Around 2012 however, he finally saw the light, and started his path to Ciro Santilli's Open Source Enlightenment. University was not needed anymore. He could learn whatever he wanted. A vision was born.
To make things worse, for a long time he was tired of seeing poor people begging on the streets every day and not doing anything about it. He thought:
He who teaches one thousand, saves one million.
which like everything else is likely derived subconsciously from something else, here Schindler's list possibly adapted quote from the Talmud:
He who saves the life of one man saves the entire world.
So, by the time he left University, instead of pursuing a PhD in theoretical Mathematics or Physics just for the beauty of it as he had once considered, he had new plans.
We needed a new educational system. One that would allow people to fulfill their potential and desires, and truly improve society as a result, both in rich and poor countries.
And he found out that programming and applied mathematics could also be fun, so he might as well have some fun while doing this! ;-)
So he started Booktree in 2014, worked on it for an year, noticed the idea was dumb, and then started building this new idea and the courage to do it.
Ciro is basically a librarian at heart, and wants to be the next:
Video 1. "Jimmy Wales: How a ragtag band created Wikipedia" 2005 TED talk. Source. Original source: https://www.ted.com/talks/jimmy_wales_the_birth_of_wikipedia.
Video 2. "Brewster Kahle: A digital library, free to the world." 2007 TED Talk Source. Talks about the Internet Archive which he created.
Video 3. Sal Kahn from Khan Academy 2016 TED talk. Source. Ciro is not a big fan of the "basis on top of basis focus" because of his obsession with backward design, but "learn to mastery at your own pace" and "everyone can be a world class innovator" are obviously good.
Video 4. One Man's Dream - Ken Fritz Documentary (2021) Source. In some ways, Ciro was reminded of OurBigBook.com by this documentary. Ken built his ultimate audio system without regard to money and time, to enjoy until he dies. Ciro is doing something similar. There is one fundamental difference however: everyone can enjoy a website all over the world.
Education has become an expensive bureaucratic exercise, completely dissociated from reality and usefulness.
It completely rejects what the individual wants to achieve, and instead attempts to mass homogenize and test people through endless hours of boredom.
And the only goals it achieves are testing student's resilience to stress, and facilitating the finding of sexual partners. True learning is completely absent.
Teachers only teach because they have to do it to get paid, not for passion. Their only true incentive is co-authoring papers.
We reject this bullshit.
Education is meant to help us, the students, achieve our goals through passionate learning.
And, we, the students, are individuals, with different goals and capabilities.
The way we protest is to publish the knowledge from University for free, on the Internet, so that anyone can access it.
And we do this is a law-abiding way, without copyright infringement, so that no one can legally take it down.
We come to our courses just for the useless roll calls. But we already know all the subject better than the "teacher" on the very first day.
And we are already more famous than the "teacher" online, and through the Internet have already taught more way way more people than they ever will.
The effect of this is to demoralize the entire school system at all levels, until only one conclusion is possible: implosion.
And from the ashes of the old system, we will build a new one, which does only what matters with absolute efficiency: help the individual students achieve their goals.
A system in which the only reason why university exist will be to allow the most knowledgeable students to access million dollar laboratory equipment, and to pay the most prolific content creators so they can continue content creating.
No more useless courses. No more useless tests. Only passion, usefulness and focus.
In this section we will gather some more advanced ideas besides the basic features described at how the website works.
It would be really cool to have a PageRank-link algorithm that answers the key questions:
However, Ciro has decided to leave this for phase two action plan, because it is impossible to tune such an algorithm if you have no users or test data.
Ciro is looking for:
The initial incentive for the creators is to make them famous and allow them to get more fulfilling jobs more easily, although Ciro also wants to add money transfer mechanisms to it later on.
We can't rely on teachers writing materials, because they simply don't have enough incentive: publication count is all that matters to their careers. The students however, are desperate to prove themselves to the world, and becoming famous for amazing educational content is something that some of them might want to spend their times on, besides grinding for useless grades.
Once the ball starts rolling, these are people who should be contacted.
Basically anything under educational charitable organization counts.
Start with consulting for universities to get some cash flowing.
Help teachers create perfect courses.
At the same time, develop the website, and use the generated content to bootstrap it.
Choose a domain of knowledge, generate perfect courses for it, and find all teachers of the domain in the world who are teaching that and help them out.
Then expand out to other domains.
TODO: which domain of knowledge should we go for? The more precise the better.
  • maths is perfect because it "never" changes. But does not make money.
  • computer science might be good, e.g. machine learning.
If enough people use it, we could let people sell knowledge content through us.
Teachers have the incentive of making open source to get more students.
Students pay when they want help to learn something.
We take a cut of the transactions.
However this goes a bit against our "open content" ideal.
Forced sponsorware would be a possibility.
Would be a bit like Fiverr. Hmmm, maybe this is not a good thing ;-)
Don't like this very much, but if it's the only way...
Maybe focus on job ads like Stack Overflow.
Then:
  • like YouTube, pay creators proportionally to views/metrics
  • paid subscription to remove ads from site
Maybe we should talk to innovative schools, as they might be more open to such use of technology.
All original content, or reuploads of pre-published content that you own copyright for, are immediately licensed as cC BY-SA 4.0 (the same license family used by Wikipedia) upon upload.
Any non-freely licensed content that you upload has to fall under fair use. These are murky waters, but Wikipedia's guidelines are likely the best pointers one can find https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Non-free_content.
Some examples of what should generally be OK:
  • quote up to a paragraph from a copyrighted book, clearly attributing it
  • explain what you've learned from a book or course in your own words.
    You also have to take some care to not copy the exact structure of the original, as that itself could be subject to copyright.
    One good approach is to just use several sources. If multiple sources use the same structure, then it is more arguable that this structure is not a novel copyrighted thing.
  • use a copyrighted photograph when there is no free alternative to illustrate what you are talking about
If the copyright owner complains, we might have to take something down, but as long as you are not just uploading a bunch of copyrighted content, it's not the end of the world, we'll just find another freer way to explain things without them.
Anything you want, as long as it is legal. This notably includes not violating copyright, see also: content license.
At some distant point in the future we could start letting people self tag content that is illegal in certain countries or for certain age groups, and we could then block this content to satisfy the laws of each country.
Unlike websites such as Wikipedia or Stack Exchange, your content cannot be deleted by other users.
Moderators of the website will only delete content that is illegal, see also Section 7.2. "What content can I publish on this website?".
We haven't implemented it yet, but it is an important feature that we will implement: you will be able to download all your content as a .zip file containing OurBigBook Markup files, and then you will be able to generate the HTML for your content on your own computer with the open source OurB implementation. There are then several alternative ways to host the generated HTML files, including free ones such as GitHub Pages.

Ancestors