A co-founder of Wikipedia doesn't like what Wikipedia has become.
Dr. Larry Sanger has been an outspoken critic of the online encyclopedia he helped found for some time, but his latest move, joining venture-backed startup Everipedia as its chief information officer shows just how serious he is about disrupting the model.
Revealed today alongside news of Sanger's hire, Everipedia is moving the entire process of approving articles, making edits and storing information to the EOS blockchain.
According to the Everipedia team, using smart contracts to record the editing workflow and store articles stands to create a truly censorship-proof system. And by incentivizing contributors with a cryptocurrency token, the company hopes it can create a platform for more accurate information.
In interview, Sanger explained his decision to join the startup as part of what he considers the next evolution of online encyclopedias.
He told CoinDesk:
"The biggest problem with online information today is that it is centralized and controlled by a very few players, that it benefits to have the most salacious and hype-ridden information. We can do much better."
In an unpublished draft of Everipedia's white paper provided to CoinDesk, the company details how this move to blockchain might create an improved Wikipedia.
Instead of a centralized server, content would be hosted by nodes – similar to how bitcoin's ledger of transactions is held. But as has been clear throughout this year's scaling debates, many of the largest blockchains in the space would face significant challenges storing the amount of data needed for an online encyclopedia.
In an effort to steer clear of those hurdles, Everipedia explored a number of platforms to host the smart contracts that execute the logic around contributing and editing articles, including the Plasma framework designed for ethereum.
In the end, however, the startup settled on a combination of the EOS blockchain unveiled in June and the Interplanetary File System (IPFS) — a sort of decentralized server — that will be used to store the more data-heavy files including video and images.
Also using the EOS blockchain, the company plans to develop a cryptocurrency token called IQ to incentivize the creation of content. Editors and curators will then "mine" that cryptocurrency by making accurate, valuable contributions to the encyclopedia.
"Just like miners who find blocks get newly minted bitcoin, these editors who are voted to have a very good state-change proposal get newly minted tokens," said Everipedia co-founder and white paper co-author Sam Kazemian.
According to the white paper, which hasn't been formalized, 50 percent of the total 100 million "IQ" tokens will be distributed in an initial coin offering (ICO) and 30 percent will be "minted" over 100 years to pay out editors and validators for their work.
To supplement $1 million the company previously raised from Mucker Capital, an additional 20 percent of the tokens will be set aside to pay development costs.
Ground to cover
Similar to the mission of many blockchain startups, Everipedia set out to eliminate the bureaucracy the startups' founders thought allowed a relatively small number of people to be gatekeepers on Wikipedia.
The founder and CEO of Everipedia, Theodor Forselius, argues that contrary to Wikipedia's original mission to tap the wisdom of the crowd, the online encyclopedia's editorial hierarchy has resulted in a slanted view of history and a decreasing number of editors.
"Essentially, a doctor from the 1800s that gets five searches a month on Google could have a Wikipedia article," said Forselius. "But bloggers, social media stars and up-and-coming rappers that are getting hundreds of thousands of searches a month were not seen as notable enough."
Yet, Everipedia's ostensibly more democratic process hasn't always resulted in numbers or accuracy to compete with Wikipedia. For instance, whereas Wikipedia offers 43 million pages and has about 136 million active users, Everipedia only has about six million pages and 2.3 million unique users.
While there's a long way to go, Sanger believes the company can implement a blockchain solution to rival Wikipedia in as little as nine months.
"The vision that I have for the next stage of the evolution of encyclopedias is what this team is implementing," he said, adding:
"It opens up so many doors when information is truly decentralized and offered in a protocol such as blockchain."
Dr. Larry Sanger image via Everipedia