Open, Collaborative Commons

Web3, Blockchain, and Next Steps for the Canadian Humanities and Social Sciences Commons

Talya Jesperson 

( is a research assistant at the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab located at the University of Victoria Library. She contributes to the lab’s communication activities across various online platforms and assists with collaborative research projects and planning conferences and events. Talya recently completed her Master’s degree in Sociology with a concentration in Cultural, Social, and Political Thought (CSPT) from the University of Victoria. She also holds a BA Honours in Sociology with a minor in Technology and Society. Her research interests are in science and technology studies (STS), artificial intelligence and machine learning, surveillance, techno-social life, decentralizing big tech, and digital knowledge commons.

University of Victoria

Graham Jensen 

( is a Mitacs Accelerate / INKE Partnership Postdoctoral Fellow in Open, Collaborative Scholarship (Arts & Humanities) in the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab at the University of Victoria. He is also Principal Investigator of the Canadian Modernist Magazines Project. Previously at the University of Victoria, he was a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow in English. His research interests include twentieth-century Canadian literatures, global modernisms, literature and religion, and digital humanities approaches to open publishing, pedagogy, and community-building.

University of Victoria

Caroline Winter 

( is a Mitacs Accelerate / INKE Partnership Postdoctoral Fellow in Open Social Scholarship at the ETCL at the University of Victoria. She holds a PhD in English literature from UVic and is pursuing an MLIS from the University of Alberta's School of Library and Information Studies. Her research interests include open scholarship, digital humanities, digital libraries and information infrastructures, British Romantic literature, women's writing, and the Gothic.

University of Victoria

Alyssa Arbuckle 

( is the Associate Director of the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab at the University of Victoria, where she is Operational Lead for the Implementing New Knowledge Environments Partnership and a co-facilitator of its Connection cluster. With her colleagues Randa El Khatib and Ray Siemens, she is a Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Summer Institute. Alyssa holds an interdisciplinary PhD from the University of Victoria; her dissertation focused on open social scholarship and its implementation.

University of Victoria

Ray Siemens with the INKE Research Group 

( directs the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab, the Implementing New Knowledge Environments Partnership, and the Digital Humanities Summer Institute. He is Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Victoria, in English and Computer Science, and past Canada Research Chair in Humanities Computing (2004-15). In 2019-20, he was also Leverhulme Visiting Professor at Loughborough University and he is the current Global Innovation Chair in Digital Humanities at U Newcastle (2019-22).

University of Victoria

October 31, 2022 


Digital research infrastructure in Canada is evolving at a quickening pace. How does this large-scale system and its constituent parts also interact with emerging technologies from other sectors? In this paper we introduce the Canadian Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Commons as a nascent piece of Canadian digital research infrastructure, provide an update on the project’s current status as of 2022, and think through the possibilities of engaging with popular recent technologies—namely, blockchain and Web3.

The Canadian HSS Commons is an in-development, national-scale, bilingual community space for academics, research partners and stakeholders, students, and interested members of the public. Hosted on Canadian servers, it is based on HUBzero, an open-source platform developed at Purdue University, with modifications to the original HUBzero code freely available on GitHub.1 The Commons serves as a hub for open social scholarship in Canada and beyond, combining elements of social networking sites, tools and platforms for collaboration, and institutional repositories. More specifically, as a not-for-profit alternative to sites such as and ResearchGate, the Commons allows humanities and social sciences researchers to freely share, access, re-purpose, and develop scholarly projects, publications, educational resources, data, and tools.

In the process of developing the Commons, we have benefitted greatly from various community consultations and collaborations. Led by the Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE) Partnership, this project is supported by partners in Canada, Australia, and the United States, including Compute Canada Federation, CANARIE, University of Victoria Systems, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, and Humanities Commons, with additional support from the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN), the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI), University of Newcastle, Edith Cowan University, Érudit, Iter, the Public Knowledge Project (PKP), and University of Victoria Libraries. With these partners, we are developing the Commons and researching the history, theoretical contexts, and present-day applications of open, digital research spaces of this kind.2

The Canadian HSS Commons is committed to being open and accessible and creating a space that allows researchers to have more say in how their work is shared. As we look to the future of the Commons, we want to ensure that we consider the various directions in which our platform could evolve. Most recently, new Web3 and blockchain developments have presented particularly intriguing applications for digital scholarship, maintaining openness, and giving users ownership over their own data and contributions to digital platforms. After providing an update on the Canadian HSS Commons and the events and projects we have on the horizon, this paper offers an overview of Web3 and blockchain as it applies to open, digital scholarship before examining what such technologies could mean—and look like—for the Canadian HSS Commons community, now and in the near future.

In response to these questions and to community feedback, we consider how such technologies could benefit humanities and social sciences research by creating new possibilities for scalability, collaboration, and the recognition of research contributions. We conclude that the Canadian HSS Commons could consider adopting these technologies as part of its larger efforts to facilitate the publication and mobilization of research once some concerns about identification, governance, and the financial implications of blockchain and Web3 are adequately addressed.

Canadian HSS Commons update

On the Commons website, users can create customized profiles and access the platform via Single Sign-On authentication (including through ORCID, a persistent identifier system for authors). Once signed in, they can upload items to the Commons’s repository and take advantage of its many research-sharing, communication, and project management tools, such as those documented in previous studies of the Commons, its key features, its affordances for research data management and open scholarship, and related intellectual contexts.3

At the time of writing (summer 2022), we are well into the process of onboarding members of the INKE and Canadian–Australian Partnership for Open Scholarship (CAPOS) communities. With the help of Hanh Pham and Sajib Ghosh at the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab (ETCL) at the University of Victoria and Ash McIntyre at the University of Newcastle in Australia, we are creating and developing profiles for new users to build the community and populate the system with content. We have added over 100 open access and openly licensed publications to the repository so far.

In addition, our Launching a Digital Commons for the Humanities and Social Sciences event series (January-June 2022), funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Connection Grant, provided valuable opportunities for discussion of issues relevant to digital research commons. This series also included short-term, targeted knowledge mobilization events where academic and non-academic researchers alike received training on—and began to develop and exchange knowledge through—the Canadian HSS Commons. As part of these workshops, Graham Jensen (University of Victoria) taught participants how to develop, exchange, and share open access publications, drafts, preprints, datasets, and teaching materials. The intention of these events was to provide vital research incubators for both new and ongoing collaborative projects while also building reciprocal relationships among humanities and social sciences researchers, research groups and their publics, and scholarly societies in Canada and beyond.

The first event in the Launching a Digital Commons series took place during the INKE Partnership meeting on January 24, 2022 and featured keynote talks by Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Michigan State University, Humanities Commons), John Simpson (Compute Canada Federation), and Lydia Vermeyden (Digital Research Alliance of Canada). The second event, “Launching a Digital Commons for the HSS: Congress,” took place virtually on May 12, 2022, as part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences and featured keynote speakers Leslie Weir (Library and Archives Canada), Julia M. Wright (Dalhousie University), and Gabriel Miller (Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences). Like the other events, it was intended for researchers, librarians, academic administrators, information and technology professionals, students, and emerging scholars, but participants also included representatives from Canadian scholarly societies interested in using the Commons to build community and promote the work of their members. The final event in the series, “Launching a Digital Commons for the HSS: DHSI,” took place virtually on June 9, 2022, as part of the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) at the University of Victoria. The keynote panel, moderated by Alyssa Arbuckle (University of Victoria), featured Kim Martin (University of Guelph) and John Maxwell (Simon Fraser University), who discussed how digital research commons—and research infrastructure more generally—can help advance open, social scholarship in ways that speak to the needs of our communities. During DHSI, there was also a workshop on the history, theory, and modern-day applications of digital commons entitled “Open Knowledge in Context: The Commons.”

In terms of next steps, the Canadian HSS Commons team will improve all areas of the site in response to feedback we continue to receive from our partners and from members of our larger communities. We will also strengthen new and existing relationships with Canadian scholarly societies, working with them to imagine how the Commons can responsibly scale up—and scale across disciplines—in Canada and internationally.

The future of digital knowledge commons? Web3 and blockchain

Increasingly, conversations about the future of digital research infrastructure include references to blockchain and Web3 and how these emerging technologies might play a developmental or structural role moving forward. These iterations of digital networks are growing in popularity and have been recognized for their scalability and ability to create spaces for community participation. For instance, during his keynote address at the Compute Canada Federation HSS Series, Nizar Ladak (2022), the CEO of the Digital Research Alliance of Canada, identified blockchain advancements as one of the most notable recent trends in open technology. Indeed, Web3 and blockchain have great potential for tracking, verifying, and providing credit for distributed labour such as research publication, peer review, and other activities tied to digital scholarship; because blockchain eliminates the need for third parties, it ensures people maintain ownership of their data and contributions. Developments in these areas could positively impact research in the humanities and social sciences. Questions remain, however, about what blockchain is and how it might transform the digital research infrastructure landscape in the years to come. More specifically, in the context of our ongoing work on the Canadian HSS Commons, we are interested in exploring how digital knowledge commons might leverage blockchain and Web3 developments to better respond to the evolving needs of research communities at the national level.

Web3 can be understood, in part, as a vision for the next generation of the internet that enables users more control over their data and internet experience by employing relatively new digital infrastructures and technologies (Stark 2018). It is characterized by decentralization, co-operation, and widespread engagement and is framed as an alternative to the Web 2.0 version of the internet that is dominated by for-profit companies (Ethereum 2022). Fuchs et al. describe Web3 as "a system of online collaboration that enables the formation of virtual communities, co-operative knowledge, and co-operative labour" (2010, 57). They stress that the development of the internet in this way is dependent on the active participation of citizens "to create co-operative systems that transcend domination" (Fuchs et al. 2010, 57). The Web3 movement acknowledges that for individuals to have control over their data and user experience, they must be involved in the development of the systems that are meant to protect them.

Many see blockchain technology as important for the transition to Web3 since it makes decentralization possible by rewiring the back-end of the internet (Voshmgir 2019). Amid this excitement about blockchain, however, co-founder of cryptocurrency company Ethereum Josh Stark argues that "the root cause of the issues we face with the internet today [is] often ignored" (2018). Blockchain was built on the foundation of peer-to-peer (P2P) networks (Voshmgir 2019). It aims to address problems of centralization and data privacy by distributing computations across a cryptographically secure decentralized network, effectively protecting data from prying eyes and exploitation by profit-motivated entities. Blockchain is perhaps most well-known for facilitating, handling, and keeping records of transactions for Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies, but it can be used for a wide array of other things, such as file storage, messaging, social networks, and video and music streaming (Galuba and Girdzijauskas 2009). Hughes et al. describe blockchain as a "distributed peer to peer ledger comprising [...] an ordered set of connected and replicated blocks of data" (2019, 114). As with most P2P networks, in a blockchain network, users are connected to each other rather than a centralized server—but there is an added level of security. Blockchains are encrypted to ensure that no single entity can manipulate that data. Participants in the network verify transactions by solving a mathematical problem using their computing power in a process called hashing. When enough of the participants or "nodes" in the network agree on a solution, the block—which may contain money, data, or messages—is added to the blockchain, and the blockchain is updated for all nodes of the network (Mamoria 2017b). This process is designed to ensure that no single entity controls the whole network and that no entity can independently modify the blockchain, making it unchangeable; it also eliminates the need for third parties such as banks to facilitate transactions (Mamoria 2017b).

The possibility of Web3 and blockchain for future evolutions of the Canadian HSS Commons leaves us much to consider. On the one hand, increased data security and potential for anonymity could help digital knowledge commons recreate—or even improve upon—the kinds of blind peer-review processes that researchers and journals currently rely on. On the other, increased data security through mechanisms that can facilitate greater anonymity online raises a host of related questions about how anonymity could negatively impact governance and pose issues regarding harassment and authenticity.4 Meanwhile, many features on the Commons rely on users not being anonymous. For instance, self-identification is an important part of profile-building, which is itself a crucial aspect of networking, and authorship is integral to knowledge mobilization via the Commons’s repository—as well as ensuring that researchers are appropriately recognized and cited for their work. Further, both Web3 and blockchain are enveloped in a broader discourse of decentralization that may be antithetical to the idea—developed variously by scholars such as David Bollier (2006), Matthew Gold (2011), Kathleen Fitzpatrick (2015), and Erin R. Glass (2018)—of the Commons as a centralized hub for connection and collaboration.

As suggested above, a decentralized approach to digital research infrastructure has notable implications regarding governance. For example, blockchain technology runs on the processing power of the network and requires that all members of the community are invested in the project. Many blockchain technologies have a built-in financial incentive for spending the required computing resources on voting and hashing for the blockchain network (Mamoria 2017b; Rozas et al. 2021). When the nodes in blockchains that use cryptocurrency process data, there is a minuscule possibility that they will find cryptocurrency in the block, adding a financial incentive to running computations on the blockchain. To increase the odds of finding these blocks, many people pool their resources and split the reward evenly based on effort. Without this financial incentive, there is little motivation for individuals to spend computing resources on blockchain networks. Having a cryptocurrency connected to the blockchain network comes with a host of problems, not least of all governance-related ones (Roubini 2018; Barabas, Narula, and Zuckerman 2017). For instance, if 51% of the nodes in the chain are controlled by bad actors, it could be re-written in their favour (Mamoria 2017a). This means that the success of blockchain as a tool for decentralization depends on how connected the parties are in the blockchain network (Mamoria 2017a). Meanwhile, governance models for blockchain do not necessarily result in fair and equal representation of the interests of all parties in the network (Rozas et al. 2021). There are many conversations about how to overcome some of the issues associated with blockchain technologies, such as smart contracts.5 Even so, many of these proposed solutions come with implications for governance and participation that contradict the root intentions of the digital research commons as a shared resource that people can participate in and contribute to equally, protected against financially driven interests that give rise to privatization (Winter et al. 2020).

The Canadian HSS Commons is dedicated to fostering communities of care within a not-for-profit ecosystem of scholarly communication and resources.6 It is embedded in institutional systems that are often an instrumental part of knowledge creation, allowing the Commons to be a part of the national infrastructure in Canada, responsive to the most up-to-date policies and legal frameworks while simultaneously informing developments in these areas. Meanwhile, we will ensure the platform remains free of commercial interests and that knowledge is circulated back into the communities that produce and rely on it. It is important for the Commons to be open and accessible; so far, current projects built upon Web3 and blockchain infrastructure are still vulnerable to privatization, and their models do not sufficiently support the attentive and reciprocal relationships across offline communities that are foundational to the Canadian HSS Commons.


Adoption of Web3 and blockchain frameworks and principles should be a process that involves thoughtful consideration of issues such as identification, governance, and the financial implications of managing digital research infrastructure. In the case of the Canadian HSS Commons, such adoption would need to involve careful, community-informed decisions about how best to maintain our responsibility and accountability to Canadian HSS Commons members and partners as we continue to build trust and facilitate the publication and mobilization of research through our ongoing and collaborative adaptation of the open source HUBzero platform. Our current model of consultation and community-building through in-person and virtual events, partnerships, and the sharing of ideas has helped us to build the Commons as a space that fosters collaborative engagement. We will continue to monitor this emerging technology. If, in the future, Web3 and blockchain can accommodate our goals and values, we will consider integrating aspects of these technologies into the platform. We are hopeful, for instance, that we could draw from them to amplify certain functionality and forms of participation on the Commons, such as peer review and publishing. Recognizing that Web3 and blockchain come with the risk of corruption and the spectre of profit incentives, we would want to pay careful attention to how they play out in other settings so as not to develop the infrastructure in a way that could undermine the overall mission of the Canadian HSS Commons.

As more and more people join the Canadian HSS Commons, we will continue to look for ways to improve the navigation, functionality, and overall user experience. As we share the Commons with new communities, we will also continue to explore how it can better support larger projects and teams. As the Commons grows, we are considering scalability and sustainability and are excited by the range of models and technologies that are available—potentially including Web3 and blockchain. As always, we remain committed to finding ways to support the growth of the Commons that best suit the needs of our community.


Barabas, Chelsea, Neha Narula, and Ethan Zuckerman. 2017. “Defending Internet Freedom through Decentralization: Back to the Future?” The Center for Civic Media & The Digital Currency Initiative MIT Media Lab.

Bollier, David. 2006. “The Growth of the Commons Paradigm.” In Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice, edited by Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom, 27–40. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Ethereum. 2022. “Web2 vs Web3.” Ethereum.Org. March 23, 2022.

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. 2015. “Academia, not Edu.” Really, We’re Helping To Build This . . . Business: The Files. Liquid Books. Last modified April 8, 2016.

———. 2021. “Community, Safety, and Trust.” Platypus: The Blog of the Humanities Commons Team. Last modified January 21, 2021.

Fuchs, Christian, Wolfgang Hofkirchner, Matthias Schafranek, Celina Raffl, Marisol Sandoval, and Robert Bichler. 2010. “Theoretical Foundations of the Web: Cognition, Communication, and Co-Operation. Towards an Understanding of Web 1.0, 2.0, 3.0.” Future Internet 2 (1): 41–59.

Galuba, Wojciech, and Sarunas Girdzijauskas. 2009. “Overlay Network.” In Encyclopedia of Database Systems, edited by Ling Liu and M. Tamer Özsu. Boston: Springer.

Glass, Erin R. 2018. “Engaging the Knowledge Commons: Setting Up Virtual Participatory Spaces for Academic Collaboration and Community.” In Digital Humanities, Libraries, and Partnerships: A Critical Examination of Labor, Networks, and Community, edited by Robin Kear and Kate Joranson, 100–115. Cambridge: Chandos.

Gold, Matthew. 2011. “Beyond Friending: BuddyPress and the Social, Networked, Open-Source Classroom.” CUNY Academic Works. Publications and Research, CUNY Graduate Center.

Hughes, Laurie, Yogesh K. Dwivedi, Santosh K. Misra, Nripendra P. Rana, Vishnupriya Raghavan, and Viswanadh Akella. 2019. “Blockchain Research, Practice and Policy: Applications, Benefits, Limitations, Emerging Research Themes and Research Agenda.” International Journal of Information Management 49 (December): 114–129.

Jensen, Alyssa Arbuckle, Caroline Winter, Talya Jesperson, and Ray Siemens. Forthcoming. “Fostering Digital Communities of Care: Safety, Security, and Trust in the Canadian Humanities and Social Sciences Commons.” Interdisciplinary Digital Engagement in Arts & Humanities.

Jensen, Graham, Caroline Winter, Alyssa Arbuckle, Luis Meneses, and Ray Siemens. 2021. “Reimagining the Digital Research Commons for the Canadian HSS Community.” Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities, online, May 30-June 3.

Ladak, Nizar. 2022. Keynote. Compute Canada Federation HSS Series 2022, February 22, 2022.

Mamoria, Mohit. 2017a. “Who Owns the Blockchain?” Medium, June 26, 2017.

———. 2017b. “WTF Is The Blockchain?” Hackernoon, June 28, 2017.

Roubini, Nouriel. 2018. “Blockchain Isn’t about Democracy and Decentralisation – It’s about Greed.” The Guardian, October 15, 2018.

Rozas, David, Antonio Tenorio-Fornés, Silvia Díaz-Molina, and Samer Hassan. 2021. “When Ostrom Meets Blockchain: Exploring the Potentials of Blockchain for Commons Governance.” SAGE Open 11 (1): 1–14.

Stark, Josh. 2018. “Making Sense of Web 3.” Medium, June 21, 2018.

Voshmgir, Shermin. 2019. Token Economy: How Blockchains and Smart Contracts Revolutionize the Economy. Berlin: Token Kitchen.

Winter, Caroline, Tyler Fontenot, Luis Meneses, Alyssa Arbuckle, Ray Siemens, and the ETCL and INKE Research Groups. 2020. “Foundations for the Canadian Humanities and Social Sciences Commons: Exploring the Possibilities of Digital Research Communities.” Pop! Public. Open. Participatory, no. 2.

  1. See For more about the significance of the Canadian HSS Commons being hosted on Canadian web servers in relation to Canadian copyright laws and provisions, see Jensen et al. (2021). 

  2. For more about the Canadian HSS Commons and its significance in relation to the broader intellectual history of knowledge commons, see Winter et al. (2020). 

  3. See, for example, Winter et al. (2020), Jensen et al. (2021), and Jensen et al. (forthcoming). 

  4. For more about issues of anonymity for creating a safe and secure digital community, see Fitzpatrick (2021) and Jensen et al. (forthcoming). 

  5. A smart contract is a set of computer codes that includes rules and conditions agreed to by all involved parties and which runs on top of a blockchain. They function similarly to paper-based agreements, but arguably add more functionality and efficiency by streamlining agreements and eliminating the need for third parties (Hughes et al. 2019). 

  6. For more on how the Canadian HSS Commons is working to build trust, increase safety and security, and foster digital communities of care within and beyond academic institutions, see Jensen et al. (forthcoming).