Edtech Insiders

Credentials for Informal Education with Mario Vasilescu of Readocracy

April 25, 2022 Alex Sarlin Season 2 Episode 8
Credentials for Informal Education with Mario Vasilescu of Readocracy
Edtech Insiders
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Edtech Insiders
Credentials for Informal Education with Mario Vasilescu of Readocracy
Apr 25, 2022 Season 2 Episode 8
Alex Sarlin

Mario Vasilescu is co-founder of Readocracy, an online learning platform that makes all the content you consume count. Readocracy includes a knowledge profile that quantifies and showcases your passions, private insights like a “Fitbit for your information diet”, and social features that reward people for being well-informed. With his team, they are on a mission to create a future where how we feed our minds matters just as much as how we feed our bodies.

Mario is a robotics engineer turned designer, digital strategist, and now founder obsessed with media ecology. Prior to entering the world of startups, he led digital innovation projects and digital literacy campaigns for national organizations in Canada and France. He is based in Toronto.

Resources:

Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman

Show Notes Transcript

Mario Vasilescu is co-founder of Readocracy, an online learning platform that makes all the content you consume count. Readocracy includes a knowledge profile that quantifies and showcases your passions, private insights like a “Fitbit for your information diet”, and social features that reward people for being well-informed. With his team, they are on a mission to create a future where how we feed our minds matters just as much as how we feed our bodies.

Mario is a robotics engineer turned designer, digital strategist, and now founder obsessed with media ecology. Prior to entering the world of startups, he led digital innovation projects and digital literacy campaigns for national organizations in Canada and France. He is based in Toronto.

Resources:

Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman

Alexander Sarlin:

Welcome to Ed Tech insiders. In this podcast we talk to educators and educational technology investors, thought leaders, founders and operators about the most interesting and exciting trends in the field. I'm your host Alex Sarlin, an educational technology veteran with over a decade of work at leading edtech companies. Mario Vasilescu is co founder of Readocracy. An online learning platform that makes all the content you consume count redock cracy includes a knowledge profile that quantifies and showcases your passions, private insights like a Fitbit for your information, diet, and social features that reward people for being well informed with his team. redock cracy is on a mission to create a future where how we feed our minds matters just as much as how we feed our bodies. Mario is a robotics engineer, turned designer, digital strategist and is now founder obsessed with media ecology. Prior to entering the world of startups, he led digital innovation projects and digital literacy campaigns for national organizations in Canada and France. He is based in Toronto, Mario Vasilescu, Welcome to EdTech insiders.

Mario Vasilescu:

Thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

Alexander Sarlin:

It's really great to talk to you. So you know, Mario, you have a background in technology. And you've moved into edtech with this fascinating company called redock cracy. Tell us about redock cracy, and how you got your journey into education technology in the first place?

Mario Vasilescu:

It's really good, big question. So redock cracy, kind of at its simplest level is a platform, which gives you credit for all the content you consume and the self directed learning you do. So all the articles you spend time on papers, YouTube videos, podcasts, books, you can add, you know, who's there to actually make that count for you and quantify it and verified over the course of our lives that can amount to as much time as you'd spent studying during four degrees. So it's a bit crazy that that wouldn't add up to anything and just disappear into the ether. That's every doctor sees the platform that with our technology, we can really with confidence, qualify, verify and quantify your time. So you can you can get credit for it, you can do stuff with it, whether it's understanding yourself better or proving to the world that you're more than just your four year degree or that your last job title. So in practice, what that actually means, what redock cracy is how it works is you can use it as a browser extension that you add onto your browser, you can use it as a mobile app you get on your phone, if you're a website owner, you just add it to your site, and it works for your visitors. From that point in time, thanks to our technology, we are just able to verify the time you spend with content, catalog it, quantify it, and that goes into your account. Right? It's as simple as that. And once it's in your account, there's kind of two primary benefits you get. One is private. So all the ways that you can start leveraging your learning privately. And the main one there is these insights that are like a Fitbit for your information diet. So you can start understanding how all this content you're consuming, might be affecting your mood, and your bias and patterns of knowledge and all sorts of really cool stuff like that. And you know, on a few of other stuff privately, and then there's the public side, the public benefit, which is you get this knowledge profile. It's like a personal webpage, like an intellectual portfolio that you can use to showcase the best of your learning all the stuff you love that you feel comfortable making public. So you can show to the world not just like directly listed, but also quantified your commitment and credibility to any subject you're passionate about. So that's what redock cracy is, there's obviously you know, a lot to unpack there. But on the ad tech side, it's interesting when I'm asked, you know, how did you get into ad tech. And I'd actually say we're like, we're not necessarily an ad tech company, it's and just the way we see the ecosystem is that learning is something that happens everywhere. And we can force it into an ad tech silo. But if we look at the content and learning ecosystem, we really see three broad pillars of media, academia, and corporate. And, you know, academia is where things are processed, where things are improved through learning. And the whole learning ecosystem has evolved. Media is where it's perpetuated and learn a lot of things passively, and it's kind of like fast moving. And then corporate is where we kind of, you know, make money with it. And often cases take it further and like an applied environment. And so I see redock cracy, sitting underneath those things, and more generally, the media ecosystem, which includes, you know, these pillars, which, of course, and learning is arguably the most important one.

Alexander Sarlin:

I'm myself am a redock cracy user and I really enjoy using the platform and one of the things that I sort of the way I think about it is it sort of allows you to formalize informal learning. As you go around the web as you go read the things you are interested in online. It tags them automatically like to ask you about how it does that it sort of figures out what they're about, and then gives you credit literally, as you go scroll down the page, you fill in sort of a progress bar. And when you finish reading, you finish the progress bar, and it counts it towards a profile, and then gives you reports about what you're reading what you're learning what you're doing, it even works for videos. Tell us a little bit about, you know, it's a really fascinating product. Tell us a little bit about how it understands what people are doing all over the internet.

Mario Vasilescu:

Yeah. So, I mean, there's so many aspects of that. And one of them, I just want to start with is even before answering that the significance of privacy, we're really proud of how privacy first we are. And it actually took a tremendous amount of work to create a user interface that catalogs and tracks so much and yet make people have no doubt that they can trust us that in today's day, and age is a Herculean task, given people's paranoia. And so that I think, is just a really big piece, before we even get to how you do it. It's like, well, people trust you to even let you do it. And so that's been a big thing. I'm sure you noticed when you were onboarding, you know, there's a personal welcome video, there's like, big disclaimers on every single steps. And if you're uncomfortable, click here. So we can explain it to you like, it's all over the place, just assuming that they already think the worst of whoever's trying to give him something. But then how we track and how we assess. So the most complex part, which is our bread and butter is the nature of tracking content online, has been shaped by surveillance capitalism. And when I say surveillance capitalism, for those who don't know, it's this idea that all the big tech companies exist to extract data from you like you're an oil well, that they need to suck things out of your brain so that they can then understand you and target you back and make money off of you. And, you know, suck up more of your attention. And so that was largely based on advertising and a very cheap impression of what content is, and its purpose. And so the analytics related to that were always fairly simple, because you didn't really care about what somebody is looking at as long as it fulfilled the reaction or the click or the view. So why would I care what you're looking at that you've only recently started looking at that, and only from the perspective of brand safety? Like, do I want to be associated with this, you know, whatever, right wing militia, whatever it may be. But so outside of that the standard for measuring content was very simplistic, and nowhere near enough to deem whether somebody had actually read something, right, like, you could easily just dip to the bottom of the page, or leave the tab open or whatever, and these systems in the standard for measuring things, you know, that'd be good enough, that's obviously not good enough. And so what we did is we've created a system that goes so much deeper, and it's looking at behavior patterns, it's using AI to, you know, understand what you're even looking at. And so, you know, there's a lot to it. But the end result is that we get as close to the reliability that you'd experienced from camera based tracking, without needing to use a camera. And that's a huge difference. Because, again, the privacy nightmare that that would be, we don't want to track more, right? So we only want to be doing this on content, why would I need your camera on all the time. And so yeah, that's how we do it. And that's kind of the secret sauce, it's really important and different. And then in terms of categorization, I think it's really glad you asked that because, I mean, there's machine learning in there, but the basis is really just studying and evolving, really keyword tracking, I can tell you that it's improved dramatically, even since we turned it on. And that's gonna keep evolving, and benchmarking against what matters to people, how they sort things evolving. And so it's kind of an intelligent keyword system. But what I just want to add to that is the significance of not having to do an extra click. So there's so much research out there that shows that 80 to 90% of our learning, or our knowledge or insights, however you want to use, depending on the study you look at, disappears, because we can't be bothered to take that extra click to have to sort it and in often cases disord it's actually two or three clicks. And worse than, like, just as bad as that, if not worse is when you do it haphazardly. So because one click is all you'll tolerate. And that one click means throwing into a giant Uncategorized pile. It's the same issue you have where more data actually becomes a burden rather than less. And the same way, you know, I won't name names, but there's relator services out there where people so commonly bemoan how you have a giant pile that just ends up stressing you out, you never get back because you're afraid to look at it. And so having a system that is able to detect and categorize for you, just as you organically learn in the flow of learning and the flow of work, without having to do that extra behavior most of the time is a subtle difference that actually makes all the difference in the world.

Alexander Sarlin:

Yeah, I have an interesting personal experience with that. Usually what I read on the internet is education and technology, as you'd imagine. And also I read a lot of politics. And I've actually given read accuracy, you know, a pretty good amount of permission to sort of watch my reading as I go around the internet, which, as you say, took a lot of clicks to actually give it that kind of setting. The other day, I was doing a case study that happened to be about bicycling. So I was reading a number of articles in a row about bicycle manufacturers, and read accuracy popped up and said, you know, we've noticed a new topic that you're reading a lot about, which is cycling, you know, is this a personal interest or work interest and I was like, Well, this is just a passing fad for me. If it was really interesting to just see your own behavior sort of track like that I've never read a cycling article online in my life. And it noticed that I'm curious if you know, as you see, you learners start to use redock cracy. Or I say users start to use redock cracy, to people let you know that they tend to that is sort of giving them insight into their own behavior in a way that they might not have had otherwise.

Mario Vasilescu:

Yeah, absolutely. That's actually the number one piece of feedback we get. I mean, we're about to dive into some formal academic studies of the impact of redock cracy. But just anecdotally, I'm very confident in that, because it's been so consistent. The one thing we heard back, and what's really interesting is it's even subtler than that. So I mean, there's plenty of research that shows that when somebody's observing you, you or you feel like you're being observed, even if that actual person, you're more likely to be responsible. And, you know, part of the doctor sees privacy approach is to show something on the page that you know, it's on, we don't want it to be some extension, which is invisibly tracking, and you're always wondering if it's on or off, it's like that's uncomfortable. That's always see it, but the fact that you see it, and that there's little indicator that is letting you know, if you've you know, you've hit the threshold to start getting credit, once you have started getting credit, like the progress you're making. And when I say progress, again, like giving your real attention, because if you're just a zip to the bottom, nothing would happen. That little bubble, the number of times we've gotten feedback voluntarily, from people saying that thing has changed how I consume content, because it being there and knowing that it's going somewhere, and I'm going to end up having to basically stare myself in the mirror by looking at my data, or, you know, I have to choose whether to make this public or not. And so why am I wasting an opportunity to make something valuable public by just storing away something private, I'm ashamed of all this calculus, like happens in this subconscious loop in the back of your mind. And then you end up saying, like, you know, what, okay, maybe just this one, but I'm not this is it, I'm not going to go down the rabbit hole I was going to go down or for not even it's like, you know, what, actually, no, I don't want to be associated this and I don't want this showing up in my data. And the data is telling me it's not good. And I'm not going to. So it has been very interesting how consistently that comes back to this.

Alexander Sarlin:

Yeah, it is, I've noticed it myself, you really do feel different, especially the psychological mechanism of notices, if I read like half an article, and then you know, the progress bar is sort of half full. And you have this moment of like, well, you know, do I want to finish this or not, but you have that gradient effect, they call it, you're halfway there, and you see the end in sight, and you totally want to read it. And that just that feeling of there being something that cares, whether you finish reading the article or not, is a very different thing than doing something completely on your own.

Mario Vasilescu:

And something cares, there being a consequence, right. Like, I often talk about the fact that, you know, info obesity is something we're trying to make people more aware of. And it's this idea that not having consequences or feedback, the thing you consume makes you consume recklessly and mindlessly. And that applies equally to food, as it does to how we feed our brains, like our minds really like how we think. And when you look back at, you know, the height of the obesity epidemic, and people trying to figure out what to do about it. That was the main issue. You had no nutrition labels, there's barely anything in school that was, you know, good to make people remember, there was no discourse, there's no language could even talk about because you know, what words to use? And so yeah, we were all just getting completely out of control. And so it feels like we have the same thing with information now. And we need that feedback. You need that context, you need that language, and so that, you know, not having a consequence, it's the difference between, I don't know spending two hours on like celebrity tabloid clickbait, and that not having any consequence, there's no reward, there's no feedback you don't feel bad about it's like, it's just you have to rely on your own guilt, which like, you probably have been desensitized to by this point versus something actually tangibly appearing and give you tangible data and tangible language. That's like, night and day, that difference, right? And so that's really, I think, the significance as well of like, not just somebody who cares, but just like, any sort of consequence or feedback to it, whether it's positive or negative.

Alexander Sarlin:

That's a great metaphor. You know, it reminds me of you mentioned this term info obesity, which is fascinating. I've never heard that term, you know, when menus were forced to put calorie counts on their menus in certain states. And I think it's throughout the US now, that literally put a number on your choices that you never had before, I'd never felt like there any consequences. It reminds me of how the phones started adding screen time recordings and reports, as well. And you know, when you see a report that says, you know, you spent six and a half hours on your phone this week, you know, we're more or less, it's a real reflective moment that makes you have to sort of stop and think Is this how I want to be spending my time and I think we're not gonna see feeds into that as well.

Mario Vasilescu:

Yeah, and other point of screentime. You know, it's funny, because anyone who's listening was used screentime it's so easy to underestimate it. I think we're all invariably shocked when we see the numbers like this can't possibly be true. And then you look at the breakdowns, you're horrified. And during the pandemic, Americans on average, spent 13 hours a day with media. I think that's the number like it was an all time high, but it wasn't, you know, wild thing is it wasn't that much of an increase from pre pandemic like it was more but like not a lot more. And you think of that number and you're like, how can that possibly like that's more than half of the hours in a day and you need to take into account sleep too. So are we just glued to our screens all day. And it's really profound see that. But what I wanted to say about screen time is that gives us quantity. And there's a bit of a misunderstanding there. And I think it can be dangerous when we just say, Oh, it's just the quantity I need to worry about. Well, that's not true. Because, hey, if you spent eight hours, you know, everything in moderation, so you know, that would still be too much. But if it's eight hours with some of the most timeless classics that history has ever seen, in your respective field, I mean, Hey, that sounds like a very impressive and productive day. But when you take that eight hours, and it's equal across eight hours of that, or eight hours of whatever it may be scrolling listicles, that's problematic. And so I think the other importance of the darker center, we talked about learning is what are you learning? Is it reliable content? Is it polarizing content? Is it trustworthy content? Is it dense content, like what are all these things? So I think introducing that quality component is so important and, and you know, and if we look at learning in the broader context of how people are informing themselves these days, there is an issue of the intranet optimizing your quantity, not quality. And I think having a system that is motivational and lightweight to make you reflect on the quality, not just the quantity is a very important comparison and contrast to just screen time,

Alexander Sarlin:

screen time puts together low quality internet time and high quality internet time, one big number, rather, you know, it doesn't parcel out whether you've been learning about something really important or following, you know, the news of the European war, or whether you're, as you say, reading movie reviews, or listicles, or celebrity gossip, and I think read accuracy really does that. So, you know, obviously redock cracy is named after democracy. And you mentioned in passing just there that you know about reading polarizing content redock cracy, has some really interesting features around actually the trustworthiness and the polarization of the content that you're consuming. Tell us about how it figures that out and sort of what that feature set looks like.

Mario Vasilescu:

Yeah, so it's so important to unpack this because of, you know, where we are in society right now, unfortunately. But we're not trying to be the arbiters of truth. And we also think it's very important for people to have transparency around any labels they see. So we currently partner with a number of third party databases and partners, which themselves are transparent. So they have analysts, there's just focus on analyzing as many sources as possible, having a transparent methodology that you can check for yourself. And then having a page for every source that says, here's why it has this listing, like, here's their track record, here's what we flagged those problematic or whatever it may be. And so we're using those partners, and plus, you know, some of our own machine learning that also looks for loaded language and exaggeration and whatnot, then we're able to look at all your behavior and start flagging things. And this is getting better and better. I mean, we're, we're soon going to be doing really interesting things where like, in real time will say like, here's the loaded language on the page, and whatever it may be, but then an aggregate you can start seeing trends, right? Like over the past few days, am I skewing left or right? Or did I accidentally consume some misinformation? In real time, actually, if something you're looking at is from a source that has a known source of misinformation, or inciting violence, you'll get a little extra warning triangle. And even that is interesting, because psychology tells us if I tell you, you're wrong, you're just gonna get mad, you're gonna dig in your heels and say, No, you're the stupid one. And so the idea here is to use, you know, objective, calm language that gives people the benefit of doubt, that says, Okay, you probably already knew this. But just so you know, this is flagged as such. And here's a link to like, find out why. And if you have a problem with it, like, you know, we welcome you to report it, type of thing. And the other thing, by the way, is that in redox, you can add context labels, because you could be a misinformation researcher, you could be just trying to inform yourself to understand what's on the other side. So you can add labels to say, like I was doing this for work, I strongly disagree. Like, I'm just skeptically curious, like you can add those labels. And I just want to also add, because we've been in conversations with companies that had worked with governments and whatnot, and they, they were very sensitive to these things, they would kind of say, well, you know, we're currently in a political climate, especially in the US where everything is treated as censorship. And even if, like people who are politically motivated, or simply have been, like misinformed, you telling them that a lie is a lie, will to them be oppression, or some deep political agenda. And so I just mentioned that because it's so important, first of all, to make that distinction between a Chinese style social credit system, where you don't understand the algorithm, you don't understand how the sources are categorized. You never know when something is categorized, and you don't know how you're being judged. And you'll never know. And if you ask him to go to jail or something like who knows, in this system that we're talking about, you know, if you want to call it every da cracy or the structure, everything is transparent, you understand why you're informed why you're given the ability to complain against it. If you really think it's inconsistent, you get an opportunity to present to others you You know, you're very itself. And so it's just all so transparent. There's a night and day thing. And it really puts the onus on people to do their homework and prove why they should be credible, rather than just screaming censorship. And so that's just a very big difference. Just as a last thing, it's funny because people say, Oh, you're trying to censor me, you're trying to influence my mind by making me aware of these things. And it's actually the opposite. I think the good way to think about it is, all these platforms are trying to, for their business model provably are basically radicalizing you for attention, and your ability to see through that and understand how you're being influenced. That's the freedom, that's the ability to be in control. And without that, you're actually just encouraging that, like very scary manipulation, where you are having the freedom taken away from you.

Alexander Sarlin:

So when I think about redock, cracy model, one thing that strikes me is that some of the people who are loudest in the public discourse and who actually read the most online actually know the least, because what they're reading is almost entirely misinformation. How does redock cracy handle that kind of user?

Mario Vasilescu:

Yeah, and it's such an important distinction, a huge part of redock cracy. So we're partnered with these third party partners and databases that help us map polarization. And we have our own systems of detecting loaded language and whatnot. And so it's important to distinguish whether something is you know, just has some bias or if it's a straight up, known source of constant misinformation, or inciting violence, those are, you know, it's important to flag those things and be aware of them. And so in our system, not only do you have this warning label that appears, but also you have insights that we'd like to share like a Fitbit for your information diet. And within those you on this page, you know, this dashboard that was only visible to you, you could see how the mood might be coming from, like the mood that's detected might be affecting your mood, might be seeing how many times you consume this information, how far are you going to certain political extreme, you know, and so in this way, you start being made aware of your blind spots, or polarization or narrowness. And I think that's really important, just to be aware for yourself, but also, again, that's on the social side, people on your profile based on what you make public, they can see where you're getting your information. And you know, if this was in a conversation context, again, if somebody was saying something, and it was using redock, cracy, you would have that flag that would say, well, this person has gotten a lot of their information from these known misinformation sources, here they are just for yourself. And you know, again, that transparency where people can make a call themselves, but they're formed actually to be aware of it. So that's kind of how we address that. And I do agree, it's so important because again, this idea of quantity versus quality, it's important to show you're well informed, but also how you inform yourself and, and again, in a way that's transparent, where nobody passes judgment without the ability for somebody else to understand the context. And so it's really important for people to be able to go in and say, Okay, well, how is this person informed themselves? And okay, you're saying it's misinformation? Why? What are the sources? Okay, let me see for herself. Here's the rationale behind why it's a problem. And using it like that.

Alexander Sarlin:

That's really well said, it's a very interesting way to look at it and to categorize content, you know, it strikes me as a very relevant method to sort of teach media literacy. You mentioned sort of misinformation researchers or various types of people who may be seeking out certain types of polarizing or misinformation. But I would imagine for teenagers, or for people just entering the internet culture, it might be an incredibly good learning tool to understand that, you know, as you're researching for your term paper, some of the sites you're looking at, maybe have disinformation, others may have bias. I'm curious if you've seen any teachers or sort of heard anybody from the education world, think about using redock cracy. For a media literacy tool.

Mario Vasilescu:

Yeah, absolutely. It's been more of a case of like, we haven't had the bandwidth, or like, we weren't in market enough, yet. It's just starting now we're starting pilots at different schools and different teachers. But it's like, either it's in courses where this was like a big part of their curriculum, or it's even in courses where it's just like, I think my students should passively have this element, as they're learning for whatever the subject may be just having this as a nice layer on top. So that's definitely and I think the importance of it is that if you try to teach media literacy, the act of teaching, often we think of it as having to set time aside, you have only have so many weeks to work with, I have to do extra work around this, how am I getting students to care about it, when you weave this in organically into their existing flow, and it happens on an ongoing basis, that is maybe the most effective learning you can do in terms of internalizing. And so that's I think, part of the interest as well. Not only is it saving time as an educator, but it's making it way more impactful so that when you do want to talk about it, students are, you know, can relate in a much more personal fashion. It's not just theory at that point. They've lived it.

Alexander Sarlin:

Yeah, you're basically giving them like X ray glasses to understand on the websites that visit whether they're credible, whether there they have political bias and also just making sure that they know that that it knows they're reading, which is an interesting way as well that they're actually Fair article.

Mario Vasilescu:

Exactly. I don't know broad applied fashion, right? Because if we give people tools, which are just like, Hey, turn this on when you feel like seeing your bias or like when you remember to check is like, not everybody feels like that all the time, or they forget about it, that those things are still valuable. I certainly applaud people who are focusing on that, but weaving it into this concept of lifelong learning, and just how you generally inform yourself broadly and all the benefits that are to that, you know, for your reputation, and for your career, that makes it fit in a sense where you're not compartmentalizing. It's like, oh, this particular semester, I'm learning about it. And then never again, it kind of fits into this ongoing thing where it's like, no, I can keep using this for life, this learning tool I just alongside, it's an organic part of my media journey.

Alexander Sarlin:

100%, it could follow a student from high school, through college and into their working life, and you're constantly getting feedback on what you're reading and what your political leanings might be. And if you're accessing this information, and how much time you're spending, it's not limited to any one, you know, module of a class or any age.

Mario Vasilescu:

Yeah. And on the point of democracy, I just wanted to mention, because I think it's important in an education context. So we have a post where he talks about this, like the philosophy behind the name and the platform, because you can look at it from a really the name came from reading times meritocracy and supporting democracy. But there's also the component of aristocracy, this idea of a society that is, you know, being learned and having knowledge would give you more influence. It's been aristocracy is a dangerous thing, because it's very easy to be manipulated by people in power and who have privilege to ignore lesser people. But if you can make it data driven, and make it a true meritocracy, because right now, people will say that meritocracy is is deeply flawed, and we don't really have meritocracy, because really, most of the time, you just have a huge lockup already. And I really love this idea with redock cracy, of allowing people to be recognized for the work they put in on their own terms. And wherever they start and not taking anything else into consideration. You know, like, when you start on the doctor, see, it doesn't matter that you might be rich, it doesn't matter that you might, you can augment your stuff to give people some context, say, hey, look, I hope you'll give me some credibility because I have this degree or whatever. But ultimately, it's like, okay, but have you kept up with educating yourself? And how have you contributed? Like, what have you actually done to like help out? Or is this like, some theory from like, 30 years ago that you haven't brushed up on in ages. And I just think there's nuances there. They're very important to reviving the idea of an authentic meritocracy, especially when we talk about a knowledge society versus meritocracy. And this like gatekeepers, archaic, you know, kind of world.

Alexander Sarlin:

Let's dig deeper into that, because I think that's a really interesting, I hadn't realized that redock cracy came from meritocracy that makes sense, you know, what the big philosophical aims of redock cracy is to create a world that actually gives people credit for doing the readings, you know, as you said, you know, you might have a degree, you might have gone to school, you might, you know, have some of the signals of education from traditional education, but you may not spend any time in any given day, you know, educating yourself on what's actually happening in the modern world, what redock cracy allows you to do is to actually get credit for doing the reading and learning that you do on your own outside of a traditional education system. Talk to us a little bit about how read accuracy thinks about credentials and and why it does it that way.

Mario Vasilescu:

Well, so there's like two components that I think one is the aspect that if we look at our whole life, our formal education, like when we go to college, university, or include the high school component, is such a tiny part of it. Like if you're fortunate enough to live like a good full life, it's such a small part of it. And what's really interesting is how the further you get from that formal education, the more it can actually become ball and chain like or something weighing you down, where you get pigeonholed by this idea of who you are. And especially in a economy and in a world where people are evolving so quickly. And job hopping is the norm now in people want to change careers so frequently, being stuck with that idea of who you are. And that being the only representation where knowledge is really becomes a burden. And then it becomes a liability. And so to go further than that, like if you're only going by job titles, the same thing, oh, this is what you've done. At some point, I guess that's the only thing you're ever going to do for the rest of your life. And so having another data point that as more current is more dynamic, and yet is transparent, and can be checked, and as shown in a very compelling way, I think is very powerful to give people that kind of liberation from credentials that can actually bog them down. And again, I'm not saying that, you know, you get rid of universities or colleges, whatever. Those are very important parts of our lives. They're important indicators. I just think that there's a world of learning that happens around that, especially for our lives. I mean, it's not a coincidence that every post secondary institution is trying to get into lifelong learning. Sure, there's the business side, but also, it's just a reflection of the world right now, and needs for people to showcase who they are. And so that's one side of it. And I think the other side is the importance of democratizing the way we signal our credibility on subjects. So this Internet, of course democratized access to information. But what's really interesting is it hasn't democratized our credentialing of our relationships information. And so that's still stuck behind gatekeepers. Information used to be the gatekeepers, the credentialing is still stuck behind gatekeepers. And I don't want to ruffle any feathers too much, because I want to collaborate with these institutions as well. And we already are. But even micro credentials, when you look at a lot of the formal definitions of micro credentials coming from school boards, and coalition's and associations, it is this kind of self referential like, oh, you know, it's a micro credential. But if it hasn't been approved through the specific process of selling sell institution, you know, too bad, it doesn't count. And what we really want to do is facilitate credentials that generate themselves in a way that is self evidence, you don't need a gatekeeper, you don't even need to trust redock cracy as a brand in the same way that you need to trust Harvard, or wherever, maybe you just know that it works, and you can check for yourself. So it's kind of the difference between walking into an interview and saying, Here, look at me, I graduate from this very prestigious school, just trust this diploma I have, versus Hey, I'm so committed to this subject. Here's my redock cracy certificate on it, there's a QR code on it, by the way, just click the link or hold up your phone, and it's going to pull up my live transcript. And you can ask me about any of it. And it shows you the time I spent the type of focus I gave the number of credits I gave, you can go check the source. It even shows you contributions I've made in discussions that were appreciated by other people know about this subject, not just any old Yahoo. And on that link, there's also another link where it says if you're not sure how this works, click it. And you'll see how you're tracked in real time in 60 seconds. And so that becomes a self evident system versus something that relies entirely on brand, and gatekeepers and this kind of like old inefficient system. And I kind of see it as again, like that old inefficient system. Again, these are very important pillars. But why is there such a steep drop off from the pinnacle of that pillar to nothing, versus what should actually be a pyramid or a mounted huge mound, where that's just like the center surrounded by so much that should be checkable should be self evident, should be something you can leverage,

Alexander Sarlin:

it's a vision that I think is very exciting, especially for those autodidact or people out there who have spent, you know, hundreds of hours studying subjects out of interest or at a professional need, but don't have formal degrees on those subjects and may not even have access to micro credentials, as you're saying it is, you know, the internet did democratize access to information. And there are people every day going very deep and learning extremely complicated and interesting and worthwhile and valuable things on the internet. And then without having that formal degree or diploma or micro credential or you know, certificate online, there's no way for them to prove it outside of, you know, an hour long conversation where they impress somebody, it's very hard to even get. So yeah, it makes a lot of sense. I just wanted to add, there's an individual personal

Mario Vasilescu:

consequences of this. And there's also an macro economic consequences. Because, personally, I mean, again, the you know, there's all this talk of mental health, wellness and part of mental health is, you know, the anxiety and stress of what's going on in the world. I don't think there's, you'll see so many memes, like dark memes all over the place, saying like, Oh, I look at the news. And I feel like this like, but beyond that, it's also the ability to show who you are, and be recognized for who you are. And then there's like self actualization to a certain degree. And the lack of being able to do that easily. And feeling like you have to run through these hoops and spend all this money to get that recognition is not healthy for society, especially in the society we live in. But on the macro economic sense, I think it's fascinating that we have the great resignation, we have labor shortage, we have a war for talent, we have all these things that it feels like we're in a rapidly evolving economy, there's a need for the collective workforce to be much more fluid and shape shifting. And yet, we're expecting that to work when we're trying to jam it into these really rigid pillars and try to align it and of course, we end up you know, jamming our figurative fingers and hurting ourselves all the time being left out constantly. And so what would it mean? I mean, I would challenge any listener, just like the thought experiment, I guarantee that if you ask any of your friends or colleagues to say, Hey, if you could just start over right now like, and you could get actually recognized for any subject you're passionate about, without needing to go to school, but just on learning you're willing to do on your own time. And like groups, you can be part of it having that all account, what would you be interested in doing? And would you change your career right now? I'm willing to bet that the fact that right now, that's more of a zero to one, like it's binary, it's like, well, no, I either go to school, or invest in a certificate to do all these things that are like very prescriptive, very different schedule, versus something that's more organic. I think it would open up so much of that fluidity that would actually be very healthy for the economy and not only give people more opportunity, but also have a more functional and efficient economy.

Alexander Sarlin:

Absolutely. And that type of lead flung learning transcript, but also be accessible to the learner and even to other learners looking to follow in their path. One aspect of redock cracy we haven't talked about, I want to dig into is the idea of the reading lists. And that, you know, when you are using the read accuracy application, you can actually add any article to any kind of reading list and then share it as basically a curriculum or a set of information to others. So there's a opportunity for user generated content. And then because redock cracy actually tracks reading, you know, if you can get credit for finishing someone else's reading list, if they list 10 articles to read about any particular subject, let's say, microfinance, they're here 10 Amazing articles about microfinance. If somebody finishes all 10 articles, to the extent where they've actually gone through them, read the entire thing, watched all the videos kept their attention on it the whole time, there's a credential that can be on the other side of that. So talk us through the sort of plugin to list to credential pathway, because I just think our listeners would find it interesting to understand the experience,

Mario Vasilescu:

ya know that I'm so glad you asked that question. So there's like a couple of paths to the credentialing path. But in any case, they're extremely straightforward and like, easy to implement. So the lowest hanging fruit, I guess, direct path is you just make a collection. So a collection again, is like a reading list, there's a lot of ways you can think of a reading list is the easiest way. But within this, you can include videos, you can include articles, soon, you're gonna be able to add tweets, there's a lot of stuff, you can add toilet papers, whatever. And as the admin of the collection, you could say, well, I want to turn on credentials on this, I can turn on badges, or if it's above a certain threshold of credits, you can also assign a certificate a really nice looking certificate. And the badges are more like a layers of the ramp up. So you can have a maximum of three which is bronze, silver, and gold. And then as that and then you just set the requirements required to trigger that badge or certificate. So you know, if there's 500 credits, a bounty of 500 credits in the particular collection you made, you would say, Well, okay, for the bronze badge, you need to just hit 100. For silver, you need to hit 304, golden, it's at 450, or whatever it may be. And so once that becomes automated, right, so once you set that, then as the people work their way through, as long as they hit those thresholds by you know, and the doctor sees verifying if we've actually done the work, and again, it is very hard to game, then you know, it triggers the control, the person gets the credential, you as an administrator, have a dashboard with insights that help you understand who's earned them, you know what's resonating, it's all privacy first. But you do have the data to the extent that it's comfortable. And the user now gets this credential, which looks really nice. That tells you you know, who was involved in curating it, the time you spent the credits you got it has a QR code, so anybody can scan it, whether it's on LinkedIn or anywhere else, and just check the live transcript. And so it's really end to end very lightweight, but again, it fulfills that needs for things to be self evidence and mobile. So that's really kind of how it works. And the thing I want to add to it, because you know, from a pedagogical perspective, when we talk about learning, obviously, you know, is reading something enough to understand it? Is it really learning is a question obviously people have on their mind, often and what we've done, I mean, there's a few things, first of all, because we DRS is such a rich annotation layer, your ability to add notes and annotations is, of course, a way to improve recall. And it's something that people use a lot of redock cracy. But there are discussion groups on redock cracy, this is a feature we've kind of had within the beta privately and we're about to turn on. And everything you say within a discussion counts as a piece of content that can itself earn positive feedback. And that's how you get your contribution credits. And so the data starts balancing between being just consumption, which we think of as likely knowledge and contributions, which if they get feedback from other people, I've learned about the subject, those are applied knowledge, how are you applying it with people who know what they're talking about? Or do they appreciate what you have to say? And that being said, I just want to add one caveat that, again, I think people can be quite dismissive to say, Well, okay, is that you know, what is likely knowledge? Is somebody read something, do they understand it? I think that's a valid question. But it becomes less valid, the more somebody is consumed. So I think the value of likely knowledge improves exponentially as somebody consumes, right? So if you read one article on something and tell me hey, I know about the subject that read one article, yes, I have the right to be skeptical. If you tell me it's verify that you have read 307 articles and watch videos on the subject fully, it'd be pretty remarkable if you're still incompetent on the subject, again, assuming a system that actually verifies So yeah, that's just like an important distinction.

Alexander Sarlin:

And the ability to add that contribution credit and see how people digest recall, retain and then use the information adds a lot to that.

Mario Vasilescu:

I just wanted to also add that it does add a lot. But also what's cool is as an admin, or just whoever is making these things, these collections or these discussions, you can use that within the credentials to say, Oh, you can only join our discussion once you've earned the bronze badge. So you have actually have to have done the required learning to even participate in the discussion. And then getting the gold or the certificate requires you to have gotten positive feedback in the discussion. So there's like a whole way you can stack these things to really enforce that in the credentials.

Alexander Sarlin:

That's really exciting. One of the themes that listeners may have noticed as you talk about all the different ways, and redock, cracy, is different than traditional education is that it's very decentralized, it's very peer to peer, an individual can make a collection, which others can consume, and they can receive credentials from each other, a individual can read from a media outlet, and get credit just for having read there without having to prove it on a test or get a credential from a central institution. Those of us who listen to this podcast, you know, may be reminded of you know, decentralization is sort of a sister concept to web three and the blockchain movements. And I know that you have thought a lot about web three. And I'd love to just discuss briefly, some of the ways in which redock cracy is and isn't related to the web three version of decentralization.

Mario Vasilescu:

Yeah. So, so much to work with there. It's a great question. And so to answer that, and just a quick backtrack, on the point of anybody making credentials, I just want to add the caveat, because I'm sure some people would, you know, immediately perk up at this or be concerned, you actually have to have hit a certain level in redox, to be allowed to make a credential. Because, of course, it gets completely out of hand, if somebody who has no experience in a subject is out, claiming that I mean, then we get back to the original sin of the internet, right, where anybody claims to be an expert, and as long as their inflammatory can present themselves, well, then, you know, suddenly they have a megaphone. And so the idea here is that even the credentials that are generated, they themselves, you know, you have to put in the work to get to that level, or, you know, submit evidence that is sufficient that, you know, people would take that seriously, and it'll be meaningful. So just wanted to add that caveat. So on web three, I think within our team, we're very, which maybe you'd have gathered, even just from this conversation, we are very first principles oriented, and that I think, we would argue, doesn't actually fit well, with a lot of what's happening around the web three discourse. If you think from first principles perspective, that brings out the issues that are really evident. So I mean, one of the simplest when we talk about web three is a lot of the applications you see, it's so easy to just ask the question that is, well, why do you actually need to do this in a blockchain context? Or why do you need to use crypto for this? And a lot of times, you'll actually find there isn't a very good answer, it ends up being really convoluted, and people get defensive. And, and so, you know, on one hand, I would say, you don't need to do this to blockchain, because I think it lends itself to an ecosystem that you'll end up with a lot of the issues that the current intranet or web two if you want to call it has. But that being said, I don't think that the idea itself of a more again, meritocratic internet, where you share in the wealth, and you are recognized more appropriately and more thoroughly, is, of course, a bad thing. Like, that's fantastic vision. And I actually think that's why people are so excited about web three, like regardless of the issues and very rampant hugly side of it, which I'd say this one is the majority, unfortunately. And it's almost a reality where the idea of the possibility is what allows us to turn a blind eye to the ugliness of what's happening in practice. So I think we should continue to have the conversations and aspire to the possibilities, but should not be so married to what's happening in practice, and should be striving to find solutions, even if we have to start from scratch, you know, and redo the whole drawing board that we have here. And so with redock, cracy, that could mean a lot of things. It could mean that at some point, yes, we are going to apply blockchain in a certain sense. And actually, we are going to there's a token element that is going to be in play. But at the same time, does it have to be like that, you know, what are the implications of solid like the project at MIT from Tim Berners? Lee, like, what are other ways that we can fulfill the vision of web three without necessarily going with what people insist must be the solution right now. So I know that's a bit meandering. But I think with web three, and education in particular, I think one part that matters is when people talk about Dows. So decentralized, autonomous organization. So for listeners who might not be familiar with this is one of the most important terms in web three. And it's this idea that an organization can be run, and the power you have in voting and making decisions is based on the amount of currency you hold in that respective token or currency. And currently, you would buy that, do you buy your way and therefore by investing more heavily, you have more say, but that ideally would be through other means as well, you earn tokens to other things, one of the issues with such structure and with 1000 General when we talk about non financial data, so just having a company that runs as a downward it's more inclusive of who gets to make decisions, having a community run as a diverse, more inclusive and meritocratic or how decisions are made. While okay, how do you move beyond just financialization? somebody's buying their way to influence How do you move beyond the issue of somebody earning that token or that currency to have more influence through sheer quantity? So just being very active, regardless of how helpful it is? How do you qualify that so that we avoid the same issues of web two. And so I think qualifying that behavior through redock cracy. So whether redock cracy is a protocol, or however it's integrated, so that there is a secondary filter, a second proof of work to show that you've done your homework, and you deserve to have a say, because you've also bothered to really inform yourself, and you've been really helpful to others in a knowledge context. I think that's the part that has made me most interesting, and an education perspective, because it's this much broader idea of education and learning and knowledge, which applies to just how we run companies, how we run communities, what does it take for somebody to have shown that they're informed, and therefore should have as much influence, as they say they should, rather than just being provocative? And so I think that's where the crossover is in an applied context.

Alexander Sarlin:

That's a fascinating answer. And what I'm hearing you say is that the web three movement is sort of has pros and cons. Right? Now, the cons may outweigh the pros a little bit just because some of the sins and you know, of web two are being recreated and some of the vision of a decentralized, equitable world where platforms don't get to inter mediate and sort of make all the decisions is so appealing to so many people that a lot of people are jumping into it. But as of right now, the vision is still a vision. It's not seeing amazing applications quite yet. And one of the reasons it's not seeing applications like that quite yet, is because many of the existing structures reward money that you buy your way into a Dhow. And if you spend more money, you get more voting rights. And you know, for those of us interested in democracy, I'm more voting rights is not exactly the future we want. So I think what I'm hearing you say is that redock cracy, would allow people to be rewarded from their knowledge, their acquisition of knowledge, their contribution of knowledge, their sharing of knowledge, and may be able to take some of the financial aspects out of the current way that does are structured and make it more knowledge based. You also mentioned that blockchain don't have to be together necessarily, which is really interesting.

Mario Vasilescu:

Yeah. And I think, you know, to that point, it's so funny to me how people say like, you know, critics, but even just rational people on the fence saying, yeah, like, it's kind of ugly, how this whole world that we're currently experiencing around the web, through discourse, is turning into this, like hyper financialization of every possible thing, like every tiny thing is turned into an opportunity to invest and to finance and to speculate, like speculate, maybe the most. And it's like, well, yeah, what did you expect when it's literally through? Like, everything's a currency, and everything that needs to be, you know, speculated on like, that's how it works. And so it's maybe not surprising that we would get to this kind of ugly outcome right now. And the question would be like, What Would something else look like? Or what would it look like if we at least balanced it out? To say, you know, what if it didn't start with currency in the sense of money, but it was like knowledge, currency, right? Like it, how you measure that? How much would that clean up the system? When we talk about web three, and a future internet that we can be proud of? Do we really want it to be as a starting point, just around different forms of money, which is, like, arguably, like if the internet is synonymous with our Information Commons, and how we learn and our collective pool of knowledge and keeping it pure? And as high quality as possible? Is that really the starting point and the framework that we want to start from? And so I think those are just open ended questions that I think about a lot. And that's where that kind of redock cracy fits in as well, when talk about what three

Alexander Sarlin:

makes me think about a future in which the biggest voice in the room maybe call it, I wouldn't use words like CEO or boss, because in a decentralized organization, you maybe wouldn't have terms like that. But the person with the most is also by definition, the most informed person who has read the most contributed the most knows the most about the field. And that is a pretty interesting vision, to know that the loudest voices are also the most informed voices is really intriguing.

Mario Vasilescu:

Yeah. Can you imagine if Twitter was like that right in our face, because like that, right now, when he saw a tweet, and he looked at the replies, it wasn't just the person with the most likes, but there was also like a little extra line that said, here's all the reading this person has done on this subject. And here's how helpful they've been. And by the way, you should know that a huge proportion of their context comes from only one source, and this is it, or whatever it may be. And then that would be effect algorithm. I like the person right now who might have the most likes, and therefore is on top said something really flippant and Snide, and, and you know, people find it funny, but it's actually very ignorant. And like that person would rank down because actually, this is the first time they've ever come in to talk about the subject or, you know, the context of, you know, what we're seeing so common are often where you have somebody who is an expert in one field, and therefore they suddenly feel that they're qualified to be very influential and have a strong opinion in a totally unrelated field. And because, you know, we don't again have this layer is like a runaway train where somebody's like, oh, this person is like, super smart, I'm going to trust them on this, when you have maybe not as well known experts or people have bothered to do their homework who like you're not being seen or taken seriously, just because you don't have that. So, yeah, I think it is very important in a lot of applied context, whether it's at work, even in a DI context, we talked about inclusion, you know, people who deserve recognition, a lot of times are the ones who don't want to speak up or they're afraid to. And so, you know, if you want to talk about inclusivity, in a system that allows people to get there. I think that's a big component ties into this as well.

Alexander Sarlin:

Absolutely. I think that's a terrific note, to end on. It's very exciting vision of the future, and why I would love to live in a world where knowledge is, knowledge is the currency, we always end our podcasts with two questions, Mario. One is what is a trend in the Ed Tech field that you feel like is happening right now that our listeners might want to keep their eye on?

Mario Vasilescu:

Oh, my goodness, which one to pick? I would have to say, I mean, it's hard to pick, I think one of them would have to be microcredentials, but not microcredentials, in the sense that we're talking about them. Now. I think it's where that trend is going to go. So like I said earlier, where we've got into my credentials, we're getting more flexible. But I think we're already finding out that people need more flexibility around them and maybe an alternative, like micro micro credentials or something. And I'm really curious to see where that goes. And I think there's such a pull force on that, from the economy, from what you know, students are saying, that's a space that I think there's going to be activity in a lot. Yeah. And I guess around that also, how again, we go from learning to applying and more flexible context.

Alexander Sarlin:

Maybe we could call those nano credentials.

Mario Vasilescu:

Yeah. I love that. What a good term.

Alexander Sarlin:

And then our last question is, what is one book, you can also name a newsletter, Twitter posts that you would recommend for people who really want to understand the issues we talked about today in greater depth.

Mario Vasilescu:

It's my go to book and I think this is more through the lens of media literacy. I think it's still, of course, a extremely valid and central concept to learning and ad tech and just education in the broader sense. So that's amusing ourselves to death. I'm using ourselves to death by Neil Postman. It's the subtitle of public discourse in the age of showbusiness, and it's prophetic. It's just incredible. And I think it's one of those books that even though it kind of meant it to be about the age of television, it somehow has become way more true about the internet age. And it's an incredible read.

Alexander Sarlin:

Fantastic. As always, we will put the link to Mario's recommended resource amusing ourselves to death by Neil Postman in the show notes.

Mario Vasilescu:

Yeah. And if I could, I think a good way to end here would be if I could just read a tiny bit from the foreword to this book, which it's the most impactful forward I've ever read. So could I just read that, please? Okay, so the foreword is essentially he says, we were keeping our eye on 1984. obviously referring to the book, Orwellian, you know, prophecy. When the year came and the prophecy didn't thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. This book was published in 1985. And it goes on say, we had forgotten that, alongside Orwell's Dark Vision, there was another slightly older a slightly less well known, equally chilling Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. And he goes on I'm going to skip a bit here. But the point I really want to reiterate is so powerful to me. What Orwell feared were those who had banned books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of the information, Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we will be reduced to passivity and egoism, Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us but Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture but Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy 4g and the centrifugal Bunco puppy, as Huxley remarked in Brave New World revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to post tyranny, fail to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions. In 1984, Huxley added people are controlled by inflicting pain in Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. So in short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us and this book is about the possibility that Huxley not Orwell was right. Powerful. Thank you for letting me down. I think it's something we all need to internalize.

Alexander Sarlin:

Mario Vasilevsky thank you so much has been truly interesting. Thanks for being here on M Tech insiders.

Mario Vasilescu:

Thank you, Alex. Thanks so much for having me.