One of the most exciting headlines for equity crowdfunding recently, was the story of Everipedia raising $30M and bringing on co-founder of Wikipedia Larry Sanger as Chief Information Officer. From where I stand, the future of our information highway is likely to flow through this blockchain powered version of Wikipedia by correcting for the flaws of its predecessor.
I recently sat down with Larry Sanger to better understand why he believes in this equity crowdfunding backed and blockchain powered version of Wikipedia as the future of knowledge. It is thought leaders and visionaries like he that will drive the next generation of innovation….
CL: Larry from Wikipedia, to Digital Universe Foundation, to Citizendium and now Everipedia you have always made it your mission to provide information solutions for all people to be able to learn online. Why is this mission so important to you?
LS: It actually goes back to my adolescence when I saw people around me making various bad choices and I thought about why they made the bad choices. I knew they had accepted false beliefs about what is cool, and what makes you cool.
I ended up with the strong belief that I have never been able to shake, which is that having false beliefs can spell disaster for people in all sorts of ways. On the other side of this, I have come to think that having true beliefs especially about philosophical matters, and value and knowledge are just extremely important.
That led me to become a philosopher and I wanted to become a professor of philosophy, but that doesn’t explain why I ended up pursuing knowledge collection projects online. I think what attracts me to these projects is it has always struck me since even before Wikipedia that the internet offers all sorts of fantastic opportunities for people to come together to build new things that can change the world.
In particular for academics and intellectuals to court their knowledge it just seemed like low hanging fruit to me and it still does. I don’t think we’ve even come close to the best models to organize people to do that.
CL: When you originally were building Wikipedia what was you vision for the organization?
LS: I was hired by Jimmy Wales to start Nupedia, the predecessor to Wikipedia. The basic assignment given to me was to create a system that is modeled after open sourced software systems and some open content projects like the Open Directory Project. The assumption that I brought to the project was we didn’t just want an enormous encyclopedia, we wanted one that was extremely reliable. Jimmy Wales and I agreed on that, and the first version we had involved 7 steps to ensure certainty of output, but this also slowed down output.
The original vision for Wikipedia was to build an engine of content production and Nupedia would be the editorial screen or filter for the output of Wikipedia, but Nupedia was lost so the initial goal was abandoned. Basically, as Wikipedia grew the goals and how we conceived of what could be done with it also changed. The biggest change was once Nupedia was defunct, I wanted to create some sort of approval mechanism for Wikipedia so that ultimately Wikipedia itself would have the important features of size and quality.
I eventually left Wikipedia in 2003 and began to think about my own vision of what is possible and how to get everyone in the world to come together to create an encyclopedia. If you think Wikipedia gets 100s of millions of page views per month, and yet the number of active contributors to Wikipedia is at last count something like 12,000. That is really not very many.
CL: What is your evolved view of the type of online encyclopedia that is needed and how does Everipedia help you achieve this?
LS: About three years ago I began thinking that the real solution is for a worldwide knowledge project collected in encyclopedia form, that doesn’t just engage 12,000 people but rather millions of people. With Wikipedia the vast majority of people are just reading, they aren’t contributing. But what if were possible to have more interaction and millions of contributors? That is the idea that gets me excited.
The other piece of the puzzle and this is the core of the idea, I think what we need to do is abandon the idea of a single community like Wikipedia that is centralized and try to manage the knowledge collection process. Instead we need an internet protocol to make it possible for people to contribute without being a part of any one community.
Imagine having thousands of sources for articles, competing articles on every topic ranked by how quality the content is considered by the community, with an ability to sort and rank articles on any topic based on your own views. The goal then is to create a platform that everyone can participate in on their own terms that represents all different points of view that has not 6 million articles in English but billions of articles on every topic under the sun. That ultimately represents the very best we can do through competition. That has never existed and this idea only really coalesced for me recently
CL: What kind of work are you doing at Everipedia to make this vision a reality?
LS: Right now I am doing a lot of theorizing about the project, asking a lot of questions and figuring out what needs to be done to make this happen. What the Everipedia team has done is to create a white paper that lays out phase 1 of the project, which is really about getting Everipedia content itself, which is huge.
I’m also in talks with publishers to determine what the rules are for the protocols. We want this to be an open and decentralized protocol, so it isn’t just about Everipedia, but it is also about all kinds of publishers and individuals contributing to this resource.
CL: Everipedia is hosted on the blockchain and is airdropping tokens. What is your view of the blockchain era and the idea of utility tokens?
LS: Well I think in general the blockchain will revolutionize all kinds of industries. For years many of us who were involved in open source software and content thought that P2P production was something important, but no one had operationalized it in a way that made it possible to go mainstream because there just isn’t much money in it for everyone.
Blockchain makes it possible for the P2P networks to be monetized and to become the basis for new industries. If you know economic theory of the libertarian, this is really appealing because it holds the promise of freeing us to act as autonomous individuals with many benefits flowing from that.
As far as the utility tokens, Everipedia tokens won’t just be a vehicle for investment. When you create an article you will unlock tokens that no one had previously so it’s a natural incentive. In addition having the tokens will give you the right to help with decisions about the project and will actually give you co-ownership of the network. There will be no concept of ownership of the network. This makes the possibility of operationalizing the P2P model possible because we now have a way to offer economic incentive.
CL: In the age of “FAKE NEWS,” do you think the Everipedia rating mechanism has the power to prevent it?
LS: I do think this is possible if we can marry ratings to a wide variety of people who can be tagged and confirmed as having various credentials and other identity features. That is part of the beauty of the idea, which is we can let anyone write articles and the best will rise to the top. And we will have different ways for people to skim the cream from the top. For instance, if you just want the expert view on a topic then we just need to create a system where experts are fairly identified within the network and you can look at their votes and you will have the best peer review system for an encyclopedia that anyone has ever come up with.
This doesn’t mean fake news won’t be in system but no one will care. The open internet protocol world is one where no one cares if people write falsehoods as long as people don’t see them too much.
Building strong teams in the early days of big ideas is key to the long term success and viability of a startup. Bolstering the team with one of the visionaries that saw the need for an information revolution back in the days of Wikipedia is a major step in the right direction.
Larry, is a truly unique and brilliant individual. A half hour with him will leave you looking at the world differently. For those that invested in Everipedia while it was live on WeFunder, I’d say your investment is in good hands.
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About: Chris Lustrino
A Boston College Eagle for life, on a mission to democratize startup investing for all people at KingsCrowd, with a passion for Fintech, investing, social impact, doing well and doing good, and an avid runner, cyclist and writer.