BLOCKCHAINIPEDIA

Wikipedia’s cofounder on how he’s creating a bigger, better rival—on the blockchain

You probably have a different perspective on Wikipedia from mine. You think of its huge size and usefulness. I don’t. As its founder, I just think we can do better.

Wikipedia represents an enormous missed opportunity. It is sloppy, incomplete, and—yes—small. While the world’s #5 website is maintained by only a few thousand engaged contributors, Facebook and Twitter number their active contributors in the billions.

I made an attempt to improve on Wikipedia in 2007 with Citizendium, which featured real names and a modest role for experts. But its reach was limited. Google tried the following year with Knol, which had writers compete to submit the top-voted article on each topic. It shut down in 2012.

For a long time, I could only say, “There must be a better way.”

Then, a couple of years ago, I hit on it: catalogue the encyclopedia articles that are already online; invite the public to rank them; and then encourage more. Why couldn’t there be a neutral “knowledge marketplace,” with articles hosted all over the internet?

What can compete with Wikipedia? All the rest of the world. If we were to build such a project, its growth would be explosive for the simple reason that it meets a perhaps unobvious but intense need, one that we all have: to discover (and report) the very best of our knowledge about any topic. Not just some knowledge, which is what Wikipedia gives us, but the best of our knowledge.

I became more passionate about this idea than any I’ve ever had, but, not being a programmer, I couldn’t build it myself. Then a friend of mine, Sam Kazemian, told me Everipedia would execute the project on a blockchain if I joined and helped them make it. I agreed enthusiastically.

Blockchainipedia

It turns out that a blockchain is the perfect tool for cataloguing the best of our knowledge. Why?

Unlike previous encyclopedia projects, the encyclopedia blockchain won’t be limited to just one community—so, not just Everipedia. You’ll contribute to it using whatever system you’re most comfortable with. The blockchain will be a decentralized network, much like the internet itself—governed by a neutral, technical protocol—and, by contributing your labor, you’ll become a co-owner of the resource.

The project will be built in three stages. To get the ball rolling, Everipedia will put its own content on this blockchain. This entails putting much of the English Wikipedia on the blockchain, since Everipedia began as a fork of Wikipedia. The project itself will be built using EOS, a blockchain technology, and the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) for hosting the content itself.

Second, we will add not only pointers to the rest of the world’s encyclopedic content but also, with permission and cooperation, some of the content itself. The blockchain won’t feature just one “France” article, but a dozen or more competing articles.

Third, the blockchain will add a system for rating articles. Just as important, we will create protocols for writers and article raters to tag themselves—and to be endorsed by others, LinkedIn-style.

Now for the ramifications: This project will change the world far more dramatically than Wikipedia did.

An open encyclopedia network built by many different users, especially a blockchain network that has a decentralized monetary value, will quickly become significantly more useful than Wikipedia.

For one thing, because humanity’s knowledge will live on the blockchain, it will live at many different nodes, around the world. It will be much more difficult to censor than Wikipedia. Totalitarian regimes, be afraid.

It will become much bigger than Wikipedia. Intelligent writers will be freed from the necessity of having to negotiate with Wikipedia’s quirky denizens. They will flock to their favorite encyclopedia project, blog, or whatever, and craft well-documented, detailed articles on even the narrowest topics, filling Wikipedia’s numerous gaps.

With millions of writers working independently, the quantity of encyclopedic information freely available online will leap upwards by orders of magnitude.

But the blockchain’s most exciting feature will not be the quantity but the quality of information available. An encyclopedia blockchain would be a neutral, decentralized knowledge marketplace, beyond any one entity’s control. A playing field that is, for the first time, level by design will be attractive to competitive writers. The world will finally be treated to the best representations of each topic that we humans can write.

“The best articles?” you scoff. “Who determines that?” you cavil. Remember, the blockchain will be a neutral protocol. It will have no overseers. We will allow people to tag themselves with their areas of expertise, affiliations, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, party affiliation, ideology, philosophy, etc. We’ll be able to say what the best statement of knowledge is, according to each group.

“According to each group? What about neutrality?” you object. We combine the ratings of diverse groups of people to approximate neutrality.

In time, we’ll have be able to compare different “top articles” according to every major viewpoint on the planet. And since the resource will be open, competing apps will be able to feature neutral articles, or whatever bias they wish—or allow the user to choose.

That might make it easier for the biased to indoctrinate the ignorant. But side-by-side comparisons of excellent statements of different viewpoints will dramatically improve knowledge and education. We will learn more about what others believe, and why. That’s a good thing. Our knowledge will be strengthened.

And the top-rated articles will be kept up-to-date, because in a fierce global competition, articles that are not updated will quickly drop in the rankings.

Philosophers often speak expansively of “the conversation of mankind.” The internet’s version of this is a shouted, half-heard argument in a crowded bar. This cacophony is about to be resolved with more clarity than ever before.

Or, to change the metaphor, we are about to map the world’s dialectical landscape. Competing claims will be located. The best evidence on all sides will be drawn in detail. Every item of interest will be marked down. And no part of the map will ever be erased or hidden.

How could the world possibly stay the same? How could such a detailed chart of our best guesses fail to improve us?

You can follow Larry on Twitter. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.
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