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How To Restore Trust On The Internet

Featuring Guest -

Sebastiaan van der Lans

Headshot of podcast host.
hosted by: Brandon Stover
EP
54
March 1, 2021

Sebastiaan van der Lans is the Founder of WordProof & Chairman of the Trusted Web Foundation. Sebastiaan is an open source nerd who won Europe’s Blockchains for Social Good contest in 2020 for his innovative dutch startup that is on a mission to restore trust in the internet through transparency and accountability via blockchain timestamping.

And with fraud, fake news, and privacy issues the internet has been  hungry for this! Within just 6 months of launching they had 162,173 timestamps, 25,000,000+ Unique Pageviews, and 17,000+ Views of wordproof content on youtube. And the spread across the internet keeps climbing. As of today, they have had 1,023,572+ articles, media files and legal documents time stamped by their product.

An amazing feat but no surprise for an open source entrepreneur who has had over 15 years of experience in internet technology. Starting out in 2006, he founded Van Ons, a leading tech agency in Amsterdam with a team of 25 experts who are focused on building WordPress sites, shops and applications for big names such as IKEA, eBay, Unilever, and several governments, serving over 100M page views a year. In 2016, their agency launched an open source WordPress GDPR Compliance plugin which has been downloaded 1.2M+ times and is actively being used on 100,000+ WordPress sites around the globe.

But this misinformation expert does not stop at technology. He has a proven track record in collaborating with EU policymakers, spoken at dozens of conferences, written a book on digital transformation, and started a nonprofit to change the DNA of the internet for the better.

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Scroll below for important resource links & transcripts mentioned in this episode.

Want hear another founder using blockchain technology to save the world? - Listen to Episode 053 with Christian Shearer, the CEO & Co-Founder at Regen Network, a community of actors engaging with ecological regeneration, ecological monitoring, verification, distributed computing and technology development, centered around Regen Ledger.

what you'll learn in this episode

  • Why Sebastiaan was drawn to the web and the power of open source
  • How community and open source democratize the internet
  • Why Sebastiaan invested $60,000 of time into building a free GDPR plugin
  • How to test out developers before hiring them for bigger projects
  • The origin of blockchain and what drew Sebastiaan to it
  • Why trust on the internet is such a big issue
  • How Sebastiaan is going to save the internet with a digital fingerprint
  • How to bring more transparency and accountability on the internet
  • The "levels" strategy for making social media more believable
  • The secret way Sebastiaan funded his blockchain startup
  • How WordProof got it's first users
  • How to explain something as complicated as blockchain to everyone from investors to policy makers
  • The ultimate strategy to win a startup competition
  • Why Sebastiaan started a nonprofit alongside his startup to educate people about the internet
  • How the State of Misinformation has effected the internet
  • How to not fall prey to misinformation
  • How we can apply open source and community prinicples to other problems
  • How to make the internet have more human to human connection
  • How 5 minutes of time turned in 20k return on investment

How Sebastiaan Believes We Can Push The World To Evolve

If you want to know something, if you're eager to learn, maybe what a news outlet previously had there, just ask them and tell them about the trusted web. That would be really helpful that we can really get this movement in motion.

Selected Links & Resources From This Episode

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FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Sebastiaan van der Lans Interview

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:00:00] the internet was built to connect computers, to computers and computer said, do know dream.

They don't care about power or self enrichment, but. Humans do as we have egos and therefore the internet now suffers from manipulation and theft and fraud. And because the internet is a bit of a mess that echoes back through society. So what we say is to save the world, we need to fix the internet and trust really must become part of the base layer of the internet. And that's possible in an open-source way. True timestamp.

Brandon Stover: [00:00:54] Hey everyone. Welcome to evolve. I'm Brandon Stover and today's guest is an open source nerd who, when Europe's blockchains for social good contest in 2020 for his innovated Dutch startup, that is on a mission to restore trust to the internet, through transparency and accountability via blockchain. Timestamping. And with fraud, fake news and privacy issues. The internet has really been hungry for this within just six months of launching, They had 160 to 173 timestamps over 25 million unique page views. And over 17,000 views of word proof content on YouTube and the spread across the internet just keeps climbing. as of today, they've had over 1 million articles, media files and legal documents timestamped by their product.

An amazing feat, but no surprise for an open source entrepreneur Who has over 15 years of experience in internet technology starting out in 2006, he founded van owns and leading agency in Amsterdam with a team of 25 experts who are focused on building WordPress sites, shops, and applications for big names, such as Ikea, eBay, Unilever, and several governments serving over a hundred million page views a year.

2016, their agency launched an open source, WordPress, GDPR compliance plugin, which has been downloaded over 1.2 million times and is actively being used on over a hundred thousand WordPress sites around the globe.

But this misinformation expert does not stop at technology. He has a proven track record in collaborating with the EU policy makers spoken at dozens of conferences, written a book on digital transformation and started a nonprofit to change the DNA of the internet for the better

today's guest is none other than Sebastian vendor lawns, founder of word proof and chairman of the trusted web foundation. Sebastian has always been someone passionate about community open source and democratization of the internet before starting and running a leading open source and WordPress agency for almost 15 years.

Sebastian fell in love with technology and the internet.

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:02:56] As long as I can remember? Yeah, absolutely. And I've always been, not only in fact, but also in sharing information. So Even, or when with the agency, we found it in 2006 and we were the first one publishing on WordPress in the Netherlands or one of the first ones. And what I learned really early was not, not only to build customer base, but also an audience.

So yeah, that's what we do until today.

Starting an Agency, Open Community, GDPR Plugin

Brandon Stover: [00:03:24] And what drew you to starting an agency and why did you become such an advocate for WordPress and open source?

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:03:30] Because like every one, working with everyone who builds websites, they always start with building their own content management system. And yeah.

Then while researching and building our own, we came across WordPress in 2006 or 2007 already. And then we thought, okay, This is so much bigger than what we can make ourselves. And that was by then the first one way to what you see is what you get editor. So without the help of a programmer, an entrepreneur or a journalist was able to publish on the internet with the ease of identity, Microsoft word.

So, yeah, that was mind blowing by Dan and we thought, okay, this is a movement. And we want to be part of that as opposed to having our own provide proprietary so far. And. From day one, we got phone calls with people from other agencies who said really to us, Oh, you're destroying the market, which are free so far.

So super cool. We thought, okay, if we make people angry, this is the

Brandon Stover: [00:04:30] right. Right. And really, driving home, the idea of democratization of the internet, being able to bring it to everybody, given them the ability to be a part of it via publisher within it.

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:04:42] Open source democratizes in many ways.

So for information that was Wikipedia open, there's open source so far, and there's the community, the writers on Vicki pedia, and it's the biggest anchor and cyclopedia in the world. Then you have WordPress it's an open source community and its users. No Otter called the management system that has a company behind it, or that's proprietary.

You can't compete with a community of hundreds of thousands of people building websites with the same four bits going, for example, it's open source technology and it's it's it's users, It's super interesting to see how open source so far and communities are eventually dominating every market they enter.

Brandon Stover: [00:05:27] Yeah. And so in 2016, when the Europe decided to adopt GDPR, you guys were like, okay, we're going to give to this community and you invested $60,000 worth of hours to create this plugin. Why did you care so much about, you know, helping the community with this and. You know, with trust being built on the internet, starting to dive into that world.

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:05:49] So yeah, a few stories stairs. So we were an agency. We are an agency with 25 developers and it's super hard to find good developers for an agency. And we worked with WordPress for over almost a decade by then. And we always had the wish to do a significant open source project within the agency. And then.

The GDPR came GDPR. And it's the J the general data protection ruling from Europe and the execution was not that sexy. Nothing. I always start at going forensics conferences with the question who likes GDPR. And everybody said, no, no, of course it's terrible. And people start to love and GDPR.

Although the execution wasn't wonderful. The invention behind it is amazing because what you're upset there is the people in Europe, they aren't able to protect their privacy rights themselves. So we need to make companies and organizations responsible for an internet world with better data rights for consumers, citizens.

And we thought, okay, No entrepreneur and organization, no one wants to pay for being GDPR compliance. There's a hard deadline in May, 2018 that you must be GDPR compliant. So that's the ultimate thing we can build for free. If we build that for free, it will be adopts. It's fast. And people will be thankful because they don't have to pay to be GDPR compliant.

That is not for the technical part. So we thought, okay, that's, that's a cool thing to do. And we built the software, the team worked on it and we, we launched it a few months before the deadline, a few weeks after Dan's 10,000 downloads a week off there, tens of thousands of downloads today, it has 2 million downloads and over 200,000 active users.

Protecting tens of millions of people on a daily base dare GDPR rights, and it's cost us by today, even with, with supporting it maybe around 100 K direct benefit, zero indirect benefits. That's twofold and that's the power of open source. Firstly, it was super hard to find developers. Working on open source tools for developers is super cool as it's kind of a public resume for them.

So it became way easier for us to find amazing programmers who want to work for us. The second fee in sales compensation questions are always, Oh, GDPR. How do you operate as an agency? If you say, Oh, we have a product we have a free login running on 200 thousands of websites. So yeah, we know bits about it.

It makes us credible there. So it made sales easier as well. direct benefit zero, but indirect benefits were massive.

Brandon Stover: [00:08:42] Yeah. Amazing. I love that. I love the idea of basically being able to test out developers, which you know, you're going to use in the future as we go further into your story, but putting them on a project that maybe, you know, is something that you want to do, but doesn't have as much risk to it.

And then also building a ton of credibility for your agency. I think that's genius.

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:09:00] Thanks. Yeah. And it's really the power of open source. It's it's getting a lot for free and it's giving a lot for free and in the end, everyone wins. So we will later talk about the timestamping of course the bookends I'm stepping stuff, but I, I really care about inclusivity. with WordPress, for example, it's the best technology or it's super good technology, which is available for everyone. It's literally free as not only free in price, but also in freedom, you can modify WordPress. You can share your modified version. It's yeah. It's how to work, how the world should be.

Learning about blockchainBrandon Stover: [00:09:38] before we get to the details of WordProof, why did you decide to found another company when you were doing so well as an agency for 15 years?

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:09:46] I learned about the blockchain technology in 2013. And although most people are familiar with Bitcoin, blockchain was invented in 1991 already 30 years and one month ago, For proofing, the integrity of information that are, hasn't been tempered with information and all in an open source way.

And when I learned about Luke chain and there are all sorts of problems on the internet. We can explore them later in this conversation, but I saw the power of open source technology that it was not only able off. May I democratizing Bob publishing what the mission of work as is, but it could be democratize finance.

That's what we see with Bitcoin, but also doing business and to all content, we can bring integrity to all information that matters through search and just do policymakers. And when I learned about that, I thought, okay, we need to step up the game. Someone needs to. Bring the benefits of blockchain timestamps to all information that matters.

And I thought with the experience from the GDPR plugin with the big network we have in the content management space with a big network, we have in the open source space with the the credibility in Europe from GDPR. Yeah. I thought. That I was well positioned to do so. So that's why why I said let's yeah, let's start Disney with it. Sure.

Problems with the InternetBrandon Stover: [00:11:18] Can you elaborate a little bit and paint a picture for our listeners? Just how deep rooted the issue of trust is on the internet, why it's so important to resolve it.

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:11:26] Yeah, for sure. I love the internet and the internet has brought us many good things with the push of a button. We have a car in front of our house, which can drive us everywhere.

We once we have social media to connect with our friends and family, but at the same time, There's a deeper rooted issue and that's trust quite obvious that that happened. A stress simply wasn't part of the Internet's design. The internet was built to connect computers, to computers and computer said, do know dream.

They don't care about power or self enrichment, but. Humans do as we have egos and therefore the internet now suffers from manipulation and theft and fraud. As in a normal world, we have kind of the common sense and systems in place to make sure that those obnoxious human behaviors won't thrive, but on the internet, those systems aren't in place and therefore search engines, social medias.

They aren't first worth places. And because the internet is a bit of a mess that echoes back through society. So what we say is to save the world, we need to fix the internet and trust really must become part of the base layer of the internet. And that's possible in an open-source way. True timestamp.

Brandon Stover: [00:12:39] Hey, this is Brandon Stover, and you're listening to the evolve podcast with Sebastian Vonda loans of word proof. in just a moment. You're going to hear how Sebastian started building a blockchain solution, similar to a digital fingerprint to help fix the internet.

Uh, first I wanted to let you know that all the resources and lessons from this episode are available as a free worksheet at evolve. the.world/episodes/sebastian Vander loans. All of the lessons. Sebastian is sharing are super valuable, but they were only as valuable as the ones you actually put into execution.

That's why I distill all of the action items from each episode into one, easy to use step-by-step worksheet. So you can immediately apply them to your life and business Lessons like how to create credibility with future customers, how to fund a blockchain startup, or how to win a startup competition.

And so much more, These lessons are available at evolve. the.world/episode/sebastian Vonda lawns. That's evolved the.world, or you can follow the link inside the show notes of your podcast app.

Now let's get back to the evolved podcast with Sebastian bonder loans of word proof, as he describes his solution for fixing the issue of trust on the internet, through blockchain technology.

And timestamping.

So this is when you decided, Hey, this blockchain technology, timestamping kind of like a digital fingerprint. This is a solution. So can you explain to our listeners what WordProof is?

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:14:05] we have two things. I run the nonprofit and that's called the trust with web because that's what we aim for an internet where all information that matters is transparent and accountable and work proof is the company.

That's a software as a service company, but there's also a free plan and there's an open source tooling to place the timestamps. So the nonprofit is about education and doing ad focusing with policy makers and search engines and a work group is the timestamp. So what we do is making tooling that every moment you publish in terms of condition or product information or news articles, which your headline and your body, or your images that it will be timestamped on the blockchain.

So what is the timestamp? It's a unique fingerprint off your information, and that's stored in a blockchain transaction information in a blockchain cons be altered. So you can group that the information existed at the moment of the blockchain timestamp, which, and in practice, what would that look like on the news website?

For example, you often see our last edited three hours ago, right? You could say, wow, thanks for sharing. That's super transparent, but you could also be a bit suspicious. What was there three hours ago? Not allowed to see anymore. Probably that was an important detail or maybe it was just a typo, but then I want to know and what I.

Like to see in the coming years and decades to unfold is an internet or for information that matters. So in terms of conditions, but also news outlets, governments, information that all information is. Transparent that I can see how it evolved over time, because in many cases it matters to see how it changes and transparency results in trust, but also the ability to verify who really was the center of that information results in more trust.

And one of the big things we're working on is making sure or educating. Well, let's see magazine and search. And just as social media at that, there must be a relation between. The amount of transparency that a sender of information takes and how high information should rank in the algorithm and the same for our accountability.

So if you connect no identity to information, it's going to be published, but it shouldn't go viral. And the more accountability you take for the information as a person or as an organization, the further content should be able to reach. So you have always freedom of speech. You can always publish anything on the internet or otherwise it's censorship, but there's not how to medically freedom of rich.

Brandon Stover: [00:16:54] Yeah. You have a interesting idea about these tier levels that I was hearing about, especially with like maybe on a social media platform, such as Facebook, where it reaches a certain tier level and it can be. Reach more people. Can you kind of explain what that is?

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:17:08] Yeah. So once you can do is wait a blockchain account or blockchain address, you can timestamp information, but what you can do with a blockchain account is connect an identity to that information.

You can do it anonymously, but you can also say I connect my government ID to information, which is the highest level, right? You don't always want to do that. There are plenty of use cases where you don't want to put your government information at risk, right? But there are all kinds of steps in between.

So the lowest is no identification which your blockchain accounts, a step higher could be an email address. A step higher could be a Twitter accounts and Twitter accounts. You can have multiple Twitter accounts. A step higher can be a LinkedIn account that exists for longer than five years. Probably you're really Brandon then you're really a person.

And in that way you have tier levels from a low to high, how much you can say on social media, you can always publish information, also anonymous Lee, but then only your friends can see it. If you have a bit more identification, a bit more identity connected to it. It's kind spread through friends. So friends, but for a, for information to go viral, you must have at least a certain amount of accountability attached to your information.

Brandon Stover: [00:18:28] Hmm. One of the other points I wanted to touch on was when you were bringing up the example about a news outlet, you know, posting something and it says edited three hours ago. I think that is something that's like highly important in our society right now, especially when they put something out and it gets terrible response.

And then they go back and change it because they want it to be in line with society. But you can see that their views have changed and it's like a dramatic shift. And so being able to go back and look at well, what did they originally say? How did they actually originally put forth these issues?

I think that's super important.

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:19:02] Yeah. So do I am the thing is it takes, it takes some courage to do so to be transparent. And that's why we work, for example, with search engines, because they can, courage must be a rewired. It. If a search engine and icon elaborate too much on it now, but you might assume that in a few months from now,  that timestamps information or search results that are timestamps.

Must in a way be labeled. That would be super cool. Hey, this information has been timestamp or this news outlet shows revisions of this article in a way you could argue that that's a higher quality search results than a non timestamp than a version or done a version that has no revisions.

So ideally search engines and social media rewatch your courage. So then there, because then there's an incentive to be transparent.

Funding Wordproof

Brandon Stover: [00:20:01] Well, I want to talk about initially getting word proof started and you funded it in a unique way. Maybe then different startups and then even different than other blockchain startups.

And from my research, my understanding there's two ways to fund, which is a token initial coin offering and a worker proposal system. Can you explain both of these funding options and how you started board proof with the worker proposal?

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:20:26] Yeah, for sure. So in a way, a blockchain startup is just a startup, the things you mentioned.

So to the ICO, the initial coin offering, that's the way that, that happens a lot in 2017 and aware a lot of scams. So it has a bad reputation. We didn't choose to work with a specific work proof token, because working with a token is the opposite of some, something really inclusive what happened a lot with ICO's speculation and you don't, I didn't want people to speculate on the price of the timestamp.

Right. We want it to be as cheap as possible. So we chose not to work with a token. One of the funding things we did was UN worker proposal system. So it's, so don't totally democratized way of funding, how it works. There are multiple different blockchains and I will send to you an article, which step-by-step describes the worker proposal thing, but what it is, it's kind of, there's a community.

There there's a blockchain. The blockchain has a billion in value and let's or a million in value. And let's assume that a hundred people holds tokens in that blockchain that. Blockchain has an innovation budgets of 1% inflation per year. So there's $10,000 available for innovation every year. What I can do is I propose, Hey, I want to build this future for work proof.

This will improve the internet and this will improve the value of the blockchain. So yeah. Please as token holders, I convinced people to vote on my plan. And when enough people vote, yes, I get the funds that I need for that plan. For example, a 10,000 or a thousand dollars a month in that token. And every month they hold me accountable to say, okay, it's Sebastian.

And it's a waterproof team deliver. Yes. We fund him again next month. If not, we stopped funding and all that happens in an open-source way through a smart contracts. And there are multiple, there are a dozen of blockchains that have systems like that in place Google for work or proposals or read the article.

So our first 20 or $30,000 of funding came from a worker proposal system.

Initial CustomersBrandon Stover: [00:22:55] Well you were getting this ready for WordCamp Europe 2019, correct? Yeah. And gonna basically give a presentation in front of 2,500 industry people. Were you thinking that these were going to be your initial customers and delivering this product to them

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:23:11] in a way? Yes. I love the worker, repress community. I'm part of that community for almost 15 years. I I'm getting old. And it's a great community. People are so supportive and blockchain is really. Added score, a hard concept to explain. And the great thing of people in the WordPress community is they understand the principles of open source the freedoms of open source.

So I was really thankful to be invited to share the story on the main stage and. Launched the first version of work group, which was a terribly working product by then. But we, we had hundreds of people that started using it and it got better and better and better until where it is today. With over a million articles, almost 2 million articles VIN timestamped from a few.

Yeah. What is it? Almost a thousand different websites using it. The great thing. They are initial users, but they are really a community that loves to give feedback. So it helped us really in improving the product really fast.

Brandon Stover: [00:24:18] Yeah. What happened after you first launched? Like what were the results of that first version?

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:24:22] Blockchain? And if, if anyone, if any of your listeners bought Bitcoin five years ago, it was really hard. You had to have a. A wallets on your computer and you had to wait until the book Chan was singing.

Really. If you work with blockchain, you work with with with a blockchain wallet to sign every transaction you do. And when we launched a product, we have you, you needed the wallets to yeah. To put your signature, your timestamp under every piece of content at the moment of publishing, which was.

Okay for a developer, but way too hard for a journalist and for an editor. Yeah. So from. The open source perspective. It was the most philosophical, amazing product that we deliver. But from a usability perspective, it was terrible. So one of the biggest learnings was okay. Make an edition of the product that works automatically on the background.

So that was one of the biggest learnings and we implemented that one, one and a half year ago after all the feedback we got that was a big step in, in usability, in UX. And yeah, from there, adoption blends up rapidly.

Working with Yoast

Brandon Stover: [00:25:36] What did you guys do in terms of iteration and, you know, improving the UX? I mean, when I was on your website and looking at it, it's, it's very easy to use now. Very simple, like straightforward.

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:25:48] Thanks. That's a great compliment for the team. One of the co-founders is really into UX, so that helps. And you said the yellow from day one. I only want to work with you if you ask, is as important as technology.

And that was quite unique in the blockchain industry when we started the company in 2019. And so. I am in the WordPress ecosystem for over 15 years, gala is in the blockchain or in the WordPress ecosystem for over I guess, 12 years. And. What, what we did. One of the companies that's really great at UX in the WordPress ecosystem is a Yoast to SEO search engine optimization.

Most people who work with WordPress probably work with Yoast SEO tool, the founders as they are running on 11 million websites at 16% of the incident, Yoast Yoast fog is one of the two founders theaters. Maricka his wife, who is the CEO of the company he wasn't a proponent of blockchain, but he really is an open source fence.

So when I told Yost about the product, he said, okay, this solves so many problems in the world of search engines. This open source timestamp technology, although I'm not a blockchain fan. Must become widely adopted. So that's where a Yosemite could have found some Fios decided to we're proof as they have the platform to add you gate and to bring this really to the masses, to, to mass adoption.

So we learned a lot from working with them. he loved how our UX worked, but he had some tips based on Derek Barrick implemented those people that use, but also people from the work group rural press community. Yeah. They gave us a lot of advice. So we often ask people where you really trust and love and like to roast our product and Good ideas are coming from there and we're a team of eight, so we can quickly it's right with all the feedback we get.

Explaining Blockchain & Competition

Brandon Stover: [00:27:54] How do you go about explaining something like blockchain you know, to the founders of Yoast, to, you know, all the EU policy makers that you work with. I mean, you work with a variety of people that have different levels of education about this sort of technology. How do you explain it to everyone?

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:28:09] So it differs who you're talking to. So. The European commission did something great. The biggest funding we got on until now was a grant of 1 million euros. There was a competition organized by the European commission and that was called blockchains for social goods. And 176 participants from over 40 countries wrote the proposal and we were among the finalists, the 23 finalists.

And we will that whole competition with 29 and a half out of 30 points, the highest possible rate. I was really impressed by the European commission organizing such a contest as it was not only a blockchain contest, but it was a blockchain for social good for a continent to organize blockchains for social goods.

A lot of steps must be made. Firstly, you must understand what blockchain is. Secondly, you must understand that it can bring. Good things for society. Yeah. And so we didn't have to explain to them what blockchain was. We were just really thankful that they organized that the competition there wasn't a category for what we were doing.

So they created because blockchain is awesome for finance and logistics and stuff like that. They create it. A new category for us, which they called quality contents. And we, yeah, well, we, one not only in that category, but the whole competition winning grants. So for the European commission, we educate them a lot.

What timestamping can do and how death can democratize and improve search engines and social media and the internet as a whole and how that fixes society so for the European commission, it's really about educating them on how we, how we educate them with policy framework. So the, in firstly, we said the internet was unregulated.

Then Europe tries to make the rights of citizens, give them better rights through GDPR. And now that they have a bit of better data rights, it's time for a next step. So after GDPR comes to the trusted web, where all information that matters is transparent and accountable. So that's what we educate the the the European commission and governments around the world on and.

When I explain blockchain or timestamping to publishers, I start or to consumers or whoever. I always start with the benefits. The benefit is that there's an open source way to verify who to send or if information was, and how information changed out for time that blockchain is used. Most people don't scare. Right,

How They Preparred and Won the CompetitionBrandon Stover: [00:30:51] right. Well, I want to touch on the competition because that's an amazing achievements as you were speaking of in preparation for that competition, you guys spent over 600 to 700 hours preparing, and you wrote a pretty good blog post kind of breaking down what you did to win that competition, but can you share how you approach preparing for it?

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:31:12] It's really a FA official thing organized by continent. And so there's a big list of requirements. And by debt, when we send in the proposal for the contest, our company officially was only three months. So we thought, okay, we want to participate in the competition. And if we don't win.

At least we have document it's all processes in our company. So we thought, okay, the big win must be that we have all paperwork done when we are done with writing proposal and. I guess we spend more time than any of the participants on preparing for the competition. So there were six requirements.

One of them is sustainability environment, social impact scalability. There were all sorts of requirements. And one of my go founders is really into working together with policy, with policy makers. So he said, okay, there will be a score system. Every detail must be perfect. As buzz nature would have said.

To, to stars and beyond. So six requirements, normally you do one or two brainstorming sessions. We did 12 brainstorm sessions on every requirement. We need two full days, firstly, to the stars second day and beyond. So we did that for all requirements. So there was No stone unturned. Every aspect of the story was so well thought off from a technology perspective, from a policy perspective, from a social perspective.

And I think that the holistic city viewing everything from every perspective. Yeah. That that's really helped. So as a listener, if you're into getting grants or See it, firstly see it as an opportunity, not only to see to win that grant, but also for getting your documentation for getting your thinking up to speed.

So if we didn't win the million, we still had really well thought of every aspect of business.

Brandon Stover: [00:33:32] One of the points that you brought up in that breakdown was dealing with problems and not ignoring them. Were there any specific problems during those brainstorming sessions that came up and you were like, I don't know how we're going to deal with this, but we're able to come up with a good solution for it.

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:33:46] Ooh, one really specific one in our case was European commission really cares about diversity and teams. And one of the problems was we were One, a nonbinary person, but the other four were men, but three of us were gay. So. What we did was explaining how gay is diverse as well. So that was kind of a crude solution.

We're all really proud. I often get emails, people saying, Hey this is such cool that you're openly gay. And that helps me. And seeing that it shouldn't be an obstacle in my entrepreneurship or life as a whole I'm white. I won't say an activist, but I'm vocal about it because I know that I know that it helps me when I was young seeing gay people doing great stuff.

Yeah. My co-founder was the organizer of the Amsterdam gay prize. So one of the problems was we weren't. From, from an outsider perspective, we weren't very diverse as a team, but we emphasized our diversity and that that's in different things than being female. Now we luckily have females on the team and it's part of my hiring strategy to make a diverse team.

But yeah, that was one of the obstacles that we tackled by emphasizing some details.

Brandon Stover: [00:35:16] Yeah. Tons of time doing this, you know, 12 research sessions 700 hours. How did you feel going up and pitching at this competition? Did you feel like with all this preparation you were going to win or did you feel still having anxiety?

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:35:33] Yeah, of course we have anxiety. We was a big Ardagh in anything I ever worked on and. when we got the invites to go to Brussels, right? The headquarters of the European commissions were 23 of the 176 companies or initiatives were invited. To give a pitch of three minutes and do a hearing session for Shuri of eight people, which really went through the proposal.

We have raised them, which was 30 pages for all initiatives and yeah, it was nerve wracking and We were really confident about which I think practiced just the pitch, which was a three minute pitch for over 50 hours, just the three minute pitch and shooting every word. We're not native English speakers.

So yeah, there were some obstacles to overcome there After the pitch, we were there with the 23 finalists. We needed to go to the hero ration, where we were really grilled on our IDs and really critical questions. And I was there, my co-founder Frank was there, yellow stair, and we had the grill by jury and. Frank said to me, okay, we totally fucked up, everything went wrong.

We just that's that, that was what Frank said. And I said, where are we in the same session? Although they were really critical in two of their questions was the assumption that we were winning already. They made us my . Yeah. What I hear from their questions is that they already decided that we are winners, as they asked us about really the practical stuff.

Okay. We have the WordPress, how can I use it on Drupal? They were really into flow of. Okay, what's next? What's the next. So Frank and I, we worked. I know Amanda verbal fights of course, because we were both nervous and we didn't sleep for three days as we were doing the final details on the presentations.

And then a few months later we heard that we were winners. So yeah, I, I was, I, of course I called Frank and I said, yeah, I feel too, for me, it's not news, but we won. And he, we, we both started crying and yeah, it was such a special moment. Not. For the money, the money was of course helpful, but the credibility that comes with your continents saying this is the best initiative in blockchain and social good.

For example, they make research reports on the open source ecosystem, or the startup ecosystem were approved was mentioned 31 times in there in one of their reports from the European commission. And. The recognition that comes with the price, that was the most helpful.

After Winning The Competition focus on education and use casesBrandon Stover: [00:38:18] Yeah. How have you guys use this momentum from the competition and the money, the award money to grow the startup in the product.

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:38:26] It really helped. So one of the things we found it recently, but started working on a, we thought, okay, we're proof of school. Timestamping is cool. Everyone, every publisher, every big deck party, every consumer who learns about timestamping thinks that timestamping is amazing. That is really cool. But the problem is no one knows what timestamping is.

Right. So we thought, okay, lots of the budget must go to education. So that's why we found it. The nonprofit, the trusted led foundation and. Because we got a lot of attention by the, by the media. Oh, a duck startup, one, a 1 million. And Devon was great, but now we had to educate everyone on what the power of blockchain is and what's the power of the time centers.

So that's why we asked that. Lots of money and time I can educational stuff. That's why we found it. The the trust web foundation, because we needed to connect what we see. The Internet's broken 86% of all Europeans have fallen for fake news at these once. And that's the people who know that they have fallen for fake news.

One name three is regularly suspicious of Inez. Thinking, Hey, gotta trust this website. Not only my parents, not only my possibly even my future kids, but my own generation is often suspicious. Can I trust this this website? So we built momentum in really making sure educating that. This timestamps are a solution to the misinformation on the internet are possibly a solution to fake news are possibly a solution to online fraud are possibly a solution to copyright infringements.

For example, a lot of young creators and a lot of crew of people running startups. Golden tent is being copied all the time.  W which hurts, you spent hours, you spent your time, your money on making beautiful contents and hours after it. It's sculpt. It's going to be copied. And the thing is people think that there's no solution for that because a lawyer is expensive.

And in a way, what we learned is people take for granted that content will be stolen through timestamps. You can really democratize the protection of your creative work as well. One of the use cases on our website is a creative studio in in Amsterdam. They make beautiful lamps with two brothers  loam and they make beautiful products and beautiful content around it, photography text it's, it's really amazing to make passports for the furniture they make.

Jericho contents. The problem was their content was stolen all the time. People ripping dark content, putting it on eBay and start selling cheap copies of the products. They often tried sending an email to eBay. Hey, it's a copy product, but they never got any answer. They started timestamping one and a half years ago.

And once again, Derek content was copied. They went to the, my work proof back ends there. They were able to say, Hey, this product is copied on this page on eBay. Generate a legal letter. So literally in three mouse clicks, they create a letter which is ascended to E-bay. And in less than one hour, they got a reply.

Sorry. We directly deleted the fraudulent copy. It won't happen again. They are a party that they took for granted that they were copied. They weren't able to pay the fees of lawyer and for less than 100 a year, they now have the legal protection day. They always wished, but never could afford. They didn't have the time for it.

Normally they didn't have the money to pay the lawyer and now it democratized the legal protection for them. So that's but of the super cool small use cases. And for them being small matters again as, yeah. They have the legal protection that the big guys have, unless although they are a small company, but also in publishing through timestamping you can.

Prove not only to people, but also to search engines who was the first one to publish information in Google, in a search engine. It really matters who else? First, if you're a one minute earlier on breaking news, you will get 60 or 70% of all the traffic. So truly being able to prove who was first matters and search engines, visit big websites more often than small websites, but true timestamps.

Being a small publisher or being an independent journalist or writer matters again, as in an open source way, you can truly. Tell to a search engine, prove to a search engine in the language that a search engine understands who was first all through open source time sense, which one does automatically for you on the background?

In a WordPress plugin by the end of February in a Shopify integration by, yeah, there's an API. So you can integrate all sorts of platforms. There are, but. That are some use cases we've really invested in education what writing good use cases and bringing it to all the platforms that people are using.

Brandon Stover: [00:44:03] Yep. Bringing so much power to the little guy and democratizing, you know, the ability for the little people to actually have a chance, a fighting chance against some of the bigger places. You know, we talked about the e-commerce example. You can think about somebody who's much smaller building something and then a large.

Person coming in like Amazon and be like, that product works really well. Maybe we should do a copy of it, sell it ourselves. Or in terms of the publishing example, like the small independent journalists, independent content makers, being able to produce something, a big media person comes in and says that content does really well, gets a lot of engagement.

Let's copy it, use something similar. So I think that's a, that's awesome to empower the little guy.

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:44:46] One more thing in the e-commerce use case, which is super interesting. So if you buy a product, for example, our fridge and that product breaks, there are four shelves in the fridge. One of the shelves breaks in the warranty barrier. You go back to the website and say, Hey, sorry. One of my chefs broke and that is say, yeah, but on the website you see that it only has three shelves.

So the product information changed on that website, right? There's not really for you as a consumer, as a buyer, a way to prove what the information was at the moment of buying true timestamps. You can show what the terms and conditions were. What the product information, we're all at the moment of buying.

So if there's a dispute now and emergent update its terms and conditions or product information, you as a buyer are really dependent on the willingness of the merchant to help you. So as a consumer, you're almost helpless if. The merchant has bad intentions through timestamps, you can really give the consumer, it levels the playing field between the buyer and the seller.

Then a logical, next question could be, why would emergent do this? Firstly, policymakers can say, Hey, at least you're required to timestamps your term cycle, but the opposite is lots of. Transactions in e-commerce or a few percent of transactions, three to 5%. What's the number I guess, of transactions result in any form of dispute.

There are a lot of consumers with bad intentions as well, trying to misuse to say, Hey, I don't trust your terms and conditions making misusing the goodness of the merchant and. True timestamps to merchants can indisputably prove that they didn't temper dairy information that they did and tempered our product information, which makes for every merchant of the handles with integrity support, way easier in many cases.

So it's anyone who handles with great integrity.

Brandon Stover: [00:47:05] Yeah. And really building that foundation. Yeah. Building that foundation of trust because that's what commerce was built upon is like two people needing to be able to trust each other, to actually have a transaction. So taking that to the internet only makes sense.

Yeah.

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:47:21] yeah, it really brings transparency and accountability as we have it in the offline world through to information on the internet, which can be product information, terms of condition needs to go from information, all information of matters.

Brandon Stover: [00:47:35] Hey, this is Brandon Stover, and you're listening to the evolve podcast with Sebastian Vonda loans of word proof in just a moment, you're going to hear Sebastian. And I discussed some of the state of misinformation report, his trusted web foundation conducted, and how we can help ourselves from falling prey to misinformation.

Uh, first I wanted to let you know that all the resources and lessons from this episode are available as a free worksheet at evolve. the.world/episodes/sebastian Vander loans. All of the lessons. Sebastian is sharing are super valuable, but they were only as valuable as the ones you actually put into execution.

That's why I distill all of the action items from each episode into one, easy to use step-by-step worksheet. So you can immediately apply them to your life and business Lessons like how to create credibility with future customers, how to fund a blockchain startup, or how to win a startup competition.

And so much more, These lessons are available at evolve. the.world/episode/sebastian Vonda lawns. That's evolved the.world, or you can follow the link inside the show notes of your podcast app.

Now let's get back to the evolve podcast with Sebastian and founder loans of word proof and dive into the state of misinformation on the internet.

Trusted Web Foundation ReportI'd like to talk about the report that the trusted web foundation did. That was the state of misinformation. There were some really eye opening statistics in there. One of them being you know, people were overconfident in their ability to spot fake news, 93% of respondents feeling overconfident about that.

They believe they see it maybe only a few times a week. And that fake news is more of a threat to society than terrorism. they also said that misinformation is going to get worse before it gets better. So do you think this will be the case and how can people keep themselves from falling prey to this information warfare almost.

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:49:28] Yeah, so that, that's a great set of questions. Firstly, why did we do the research? Because. We need learn more on the state of misinformation. Also doing a, both gas, the trust web podcast, where I interview professors and solutions for misinformation information

solution is multi-dimensional. So one of them being educating consumers on. It's called media literacy in in, in in, in the U S there are a lot of initiatives on media literacy. So educating people on how they can research facts, timestamps help there as they are an open source way to get transparency and accountability, who was the center of that information?

One of the outcomes of the reports is intentional misinformation must be a crime, must be handled as a crime, which really helps us in going to policymakers and saying, Hey, we did a survey. And we learned that people want that intentional misinformation is a crime. How can you do that?

Timestamping, isn't aim for a structure for at least not per se, making, making making fake news a crime, but at least we're holding people accountable and that's an infrastructure for doing policymaking.  And. Making the relationship between taking accountability and how viral information can go

Brandon Stover: [00:51:03] What are some of the habits that you use to check or discriminate between trustworthy sources on the internet for yourself?

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:51:11] Yeah. One of the things I do is researching multiple sources. So and, and that's, what's coming. What's coming from more types of research that five to seven articles must be read on a topic to have understanding of the topic. What we aim to do or what timestamps do or what we aim to do. And what time sensitive do is bring transparency and accountability to read you because we make.

Bitcoin makes money sound. It's hard money, which and, and that's what we want to do with content. We make content Hart. Untamperable it's, it's hard to, it's impossible to change content without the receiver, being able to see that that happened so true timestamping and building a trust as weapon is open source way.

we can make researching much easier as, as it's easier to see who the center of the information was and how it changed over time. Maybe you need two or three sources instead of five to seven.

The Power Of Community

Brandon Stover: [00:52:21] You believe a lot in community and the open source movement, how has the community really helped you get to this point of success and how do you hope to contribute to it?

Moving forward with all the initiatives that you're doing?

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:52:36] Great question. So the ideas, and that's often a phrase in startup world release early release often. So When we launched our first first product on the world's largest WordPress conference work WordCamp Europe in 2019, we launched it and we directly asked for feedback.

So it wasn't a marketing event. It was really an open ask for help, which really helps. People in a work group where press community, they really care about inclusivity. So a few weeks after the plugin for WordPress was translated in 13 or 14 languages already. Super cool. That was a con con contribution from the community.

Today, one of the biggest Drupal agencies in this case, in the Netherlands, they offered to make a Drupal integration as an open source contribution. So by being articulate and how we tell the story with a nonprofit and by drag to be good custodians of the open source philosophy that works magnetic too.

People in the content management industry seems, it seems like it seems to be a half a magnetic working as people translate it for free people, built integrations for other platforms. Yeah. So by being deeply connected To those open source, multiple officers' communities. Yeah. That really helps.

Brandon Stover: [00:54:11] thinking about this open source philosophy and, you know, the way it's played out on the internet, if we can take that same sort of. Community and open source philosophy and translate it to other problems in society that are going to take, you know, all of us working together to solve, whether it's climate change or poverty or things like that.

How do you think that can translate over into some of these other issues?

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:54:36] Yeah. In a way we see this happening already. Bitcoin being an example. There are many people around the world, billions of one of 8 billion. What's the last number at I rap because they don't have a bank account. And what you see with a base coin is basically, and if you don't have a bank account, if you're not able to save a bit of the the monetary energy you have in this world, if you're not able to save that.

That makes life way harder. And it's going, doesn't discriminate. So I see Bitcoin as an experiment. It's not a finished product or it's not a finished bank, but all sorts of blockchain and Bitcoin and projects around that are focused on bringing just the simple thing of having a bank account to all participants in the world.

So that's a wonderful example of how. Open source technology and a community its users can in this way, democratize finance.

Brandon Stover: [00:55:40] And in terms of, you know, the internet and how much like impact that's had on us to this point, how do you think the internet is going to affect some of those other global issues as we go forward,

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:55:50] To save the world. We need to fix the internet. That's what I deeply believe in society. We have all sorts of systems, the policy makers to Coleman sense. For example, when, when someone is walking here next to me and I've pushed that someone and she, or he falls and breaks an arm, people would say, Sebastian, what are you doing?

How can you do that? But on the internet, we Rob each other and we aspire each other all the time by making transparency and accountability, part of the base layer of the internet. It will become more like the normal world where we can hold each other accountable. And

that will unleash the true potential of the internet what did the internet do? It really helped us in forming communities with fairs around the globe for inspiration working together. True. Timestamping true blockchain technology. We can make communication way more human to human without to noise.

Which makes collaborating easier, we, we learned so much in the last year during go fit time. Yeah. We really, all of us learned to work to get our remote, for example, working on getting investors in the proof company. Normally, if I wanted to have investors in the U S and from Asia and from all around the world, they expected me to fly over and do my pitch life with them.

Now I bought a beautiful camera and a good setup, some lighting, and from the comfort of my own little studio here. I can pitch to investors, pitch to customers without hurting the environment. So that's not a direct answer to your question, but those snippets make that doing business as a whole. We'll be way more sustainable as we're all open to do stuff more remotely and true.

Open source technology. We can, in this case, make the ins and outs about a connection from human to human, which is special. That wasn't possible before. Always in many cases, someone was spying or toxic trolling was there. Internet will be about human to human, which will really unfold the new generation of what's possible.

Brandon Stover: [00:58:22] Yeah, I think that's a hugely important. I mean, a lot of them problems we see with social media is that lack of, you know, human to human connection. We're talking about trust. That's a huge human component that we have in real life. That's not on the internet. So I think these are important things. The more we can humanize the interactions on the internet, it's going to help build that foundation going forward.

How COVID effected businessSomething I wanted to touch on was when you were mentioning COVID, I'm curious how. COVID and in the U S we just had our presidential elections. Did you see any sort of boost in word proof or the adoption of it during these times? Because of the,

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [00:59:01] yeah, it's hard to say because we're such a young company. We almost had the pandemic in all of our love in all of our lifetime. So What we see is when we started. And when we wrote the proposal for the European commission, we had to explain that misinformation literally can cost lives during the pandemic.

All of us saw how reliant we are on the internet. And secondly, that misinformation is so harmful that it ghosts lives. So it made founding the word approve and the trust with web stories so much easier. firstly, we improve the messaging as we spent so much time on it and talking to so many people.

But secondly, the problem of misinformation it's it almost seemed like it even, it was a big problem two years ago, but it seemed to have doubled and the awareness of the problem. people are aware that it's a problem. And through the trust with web and the reports we make, we educate them that we don't have to take it for granted.

Brandon Stover: [01:00:12] What do you see going forward for you and for word proof in terms of where it's going, where it's going to grow to

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [01:00:20] in a few years from now, if information. Isn't timestamps, you'd be considered a frog. What are you hiding? That's a shift we need to make. That's a quote. That's a Brendan bloomer dates, a founder of a great blockchain company and 2017, so And that's really what we fight for. We all information that matters must be timestamped. And as we as school zoomers as citizens of planet earth, we deserve. The transparency and accountability that it brings. So The mission for the trust web foundation, the nonprofit is to educate everyone on timestamping all stakeholders of the internet and we're proof.

The mission of work proof is delivering those timestamps to all sites owners, to all the web show boats. in our rising and emerging ecosystem, which we call the trust with web and we're proof. We'll be one of the players over there.

Brandon Stover: [01:01:19] Awesome. Well, before I get to my last question, where can everybody find more, more about you and work for?

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [01:01:26] Yeah, so at me on LinkedIn, my name sorry for that is really Dutch it's Sebastiani thunder loans, but you can copy and paste it from the show notes, probably that'd me on LinkedIn. If he wants to stay in touch on Twitter the lawns, D a L a N S that's my handle. We're approved. That's com is the website.

If you're a WordPress user, you can just search for the word, prove login. Then you have the trust of the web for the non-profit. It's the trusted web built org where you can find the reports all for free all without leaving your email address. If you want to start timestamping. There's an open source plan and there's a free plan.

So 10 times cents a month for at least your terms and conditions timestamp your terms and conditions.

One short story story for telling it now, instead of earlier, that was a guy having a great business so far as to surface business and with the free plan. He timestamps his terms and conditions.

Then he had kind of trouble. We had a customer accusing him unfairly about, Hey, I don't want to pay this 20 K invoice because I don't trust you. I think you've done put your terms and your temperature terms and conditions. So I'm not paying that 20 K you said. Yep. Sorry. I didn't do, I did them for that information.

And I can prove it. So then he showed the timestamp and a few hours later, she directly paid that's a user of the free plan. So it really democratized. So that's a calling to everyone listening. I don't want to sound too commercial here, but with the free plan, you can time your terms and conditions. And there's no reason not to do that. No need to buy any, any, or by commercial plan at times some place stop using it is a timestamp place.  

How Sebastiaan Believes We Can Push The World To Evolve

Brandon Stover: [01:03:23] Well, that's an excellent investment. I mean, five minutes of time for maybe a 20 K return. That's that's pretty good. yeah. My last question is how can we push the world to evolve?

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [01:03:33] Yeah, if you read in a news outlet, you see last edited four hours ago, and you want to know what was there. That's not there yet. If you, if you can't see what was there, just send them an email with, Hey, I was eager to know what was on your websites before. So. If you want to know something, just ask and ideally put a link of the trust as web the non the the nonprofit, the trust is web.org.

There's a two minute explainer video explaining everything the core concepts of what the internet should look like. So if you want to know if you're eager to learn what the news outlet had there, just ask them and tell them about the trusts with web. That would be really helpful that we can really get this movements in motion.

It's picking up speed in in this month we expect that. Two millions timestamps to be placed. Yeah. And everyone, if you want to know, just ask.

Brandon Stover: [01:04:34] It. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Sebastian, for coming on the show today and sharing everything that you have.

Sebastiaan van der Lans: [01:04:40] Yeah. It was a pleasure to be your guest and the thanks for the important work to do with evil, both guest of right.

Brandon Stover: [01:04:46] That was Sebastian Vander, lawns of word proof, which empowers internet users and content creators with tools to build a safer and more trustworthy internet with the help of blockchain technology.

I believe that if we're going to solve any crisis, our society or planet faces right now, we are going to have to get better at collaborating. The internet has opened up so many possibilities for this. However, as we heard today, it has also widened the gap to trust one another as well. That's why I think Sebastian startup is so important. We must restore our ability to trust one another on the internet so we can continue to use it as a powerful tool for collaboration, commerce, and discourse to solve critical issues.

Now as a reminder, all the resources and lessons from this episode are available as a free downloadable worksheet at evolve, the.world flash episodes slash Sebastian Vander lawns. Yeah, I know that name is super hard to spell with it being Dutch. So if you go to evolve the.world/episodes, you can search Sebastian in the search bar at the top, you can also find all the show notes and transcripts for this episode there as well.

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