Creating a blockchain-based alternative to Wikipedia to create a ‘knowledge economy’
“Wikipedia unintentionally traps the knowledge capital it generates within its own platform when its content could be used to create a thriving knowledge economy. Additionally, one clear shortcoming Wikipedia has demonstrated is its inability to capture any of the monetary and intrinsic value of content that its platform and community has created, as evidenced by bi-annual donation banner campaigns. In this regard, there is room to dramatically upend the status quo by creating an open, distributed knowledge base with technology that properly tracks the value creation of the community and returns this value back to the creators, curators, and developers of the platform.” – ‘A Peer-to-Peer Encyclopedia Network’ (August 2018), published on Everipedia’s GitHub account
Over the past few decades, our anywhere, anytime access to vast volumes of digital knowledge has dramatically changed how people live, learn, work and communicate. But despite its many benefits, information on the world wide web also comes with a cost measured not in our money but in a loss of control over our personal data.
“The current business model for many websites offers free content in exchange for personal data,” Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist who invented the World Wide Web, wrote on his creation’s 28th birthday. “Many of us agree to this – albeit often by accepting long and confusing terms and conditions documents – but fundamentally we do not mind some information being collected in exchange for free services. But, we’re missing a trick. As our data is then held in proprietary silos, out of sight to us, we lose out on the benefits we could realise if we had direct control over this data, and chose when and with whom to share it. What’s more, we often do not have any way of feeding back to companies what data we’d rather not share – especially with third parties – the T&Cs are all or nothing.”
The result, writes philosopher and politician Roberto Mangabeira Unger in a recent book, is that today’s knowledge economy works better for the few than for the many. It “holds the promise of changing, to our benefit, some of the most deep-seated and universal regularities of economic life and of dramatically enhancing productivity and growth,” Unger writes. “Its effects, however, have so far proved modest. Instead of spreading widely, it has remained restricted to vanguards of production, employing few workers. Entrepreneurial and technological elites control it. A handful of large global firms have reaped the lion’s share of the profits that it has yielded.”
One possible solution, Unger continues, would be to move away from today’s “winner-take-all” model that gives a single owner power over intellectual property created by many people and organisations, and to create independent systems enabling all contributors to hold proportionate stakes in their creations.
“The degree and duration of the right that stakeholders would enjoy to exclude from free access to their innovation and to charge for its use would be a matter of judgment in the design of each such special-purpose entity,” Unger writes. “The relative sizes of their stakes would depend on their respective contributions. The criteria for circumscribing all their stakes would include the relative novelty of the invention and the extent to which it resulted from their insight and initiative rather than from the general level of scientific, technological, and technical advance in a particular area of production.”
Blockchain technology would seem like one logical framework for such a solution. And that’s essentially the vision behind Everipedia: a global encyclopedia that’s not a non-profit, like Wikipedia, but that’s supported by a digital token system that rewards participants based on their useful contributions.
Everipedia began in 2014, when two friends – Theodor Forselius and Sam Kazemian – outlined their idea for a more modern version of Wikipedia, building the first version in Kazemian’s dorm room at UCLA. Later additions to the Everipedia co-founding team include Travis Moore, Mahbod Maghadam – who had recently been fired from the annotation app company Genius he had helped establish – George Beall and Christian Deciga.
In 2017, Everipedia brought on Larry Sanger as its new CIO. A former co-founder of Wikipedia, Sanger had become a critic of that organisation after leaving in 2002.
The EOSIO-based Everipedia went live in August 2018. It’s powered by IQ tokens that give holders governance and voting rights in the Everipedia project; those tokens are also used to reward people who create, manage or edit articles on Everipedia’s network.
By December 2018, Everipedia had announced plans to release a new interface “aimed at significantly improving the user experience and ripening the platform for mass market adoption”. It also said it would be expanding into new languages from its current offerings in English, Korean, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish.
As of early April 2019, Everipedia had more than 4.5 billion IQ tokens in circulation, with a market cap of almost $15.5m, according to CoinMarketCap.
In a 2017 interview with Boing Boing, Kazemian said the goal in creating Everipedia was to develop “a wiki of everything” built from the ground up with modern tools and features, rather than with the “really old” software used by Wikipedia. Everipedia also aimed to distinguish itself from its older competitor by allowing entries on everything, from obscure topics to artists and performers across every genre to other subjects deemed “non-notable” by Wikipedia.
Everipedia wasn’t envisioned as a blockchain project from the start, but took a turn in that direction after Bitcoin Foundation chairman Brock Pierce told Moghadam the company should consider an ICO (initial coin offering) for fundraising.
“For Kazemian, it was a eureka moment,” Engadget noted in a recent feature. “Turning Everipedia into its own cryptocurrency, or ‘token,’ would accomplish things Wikipedia never could. Users would own their own IQ... Decentralisation ensured that Everipedia’s fork of Wikipedia would be accessible in censorious countries like Russia and China.”
“The goal of the ecosystem is to democratise the traditional encyclopedia model and economically align the incentives of the value creators and value extractors,” the company said in its launch announcement. “This model aims to make feasible a fully-autonomous encyclopedia without the need for advertisements or donations. Additionally, the decentralised nature of how the articles are stored using blockchain technology also essentially makes the network un-censorable.”
Before adopting a blockchain model, Everipedia had expanded on the content forked off of Wikipedia, claiming to have many more articles than its competitor. However, critics observed many of Everipedia’s own contributions covered sensational topics ripped from the headlines that “seem engineered to capitalise on trending search terms”.
With Everipedia’s blockchain reboot in 2018, a new system for editing powered by IQ tokens went into effect. Under this incarnation, some critics say, the encyclopedia project takes a back seat to the monetisation enabled by IQ tokens.
“Everipedia is not going to revolutionise the world of knowledge production,” writes David Gerard, author of “Attack of the 50-Foot Blockchain”. “It will not escape its previous reputation as a less bigoted and profanity-laden Encyclopedia Dramatica through the power of weird blockchain economics, even with a famous ex-Wikipedia name attached. The token is unlikely to go to the moon, though at least it’s traded on an exchange that you – or Everipedia – might be able to get actual money out of.”
Today’s digital information era hasn’t killed off print books, as some had predicted. But no one buys sets of hardbound encyclopedias anymore. And digitisation has undoubtedly caused considerable harm to the traditional media industry – newspapers in particular – as well as contributed to a profusion of misinformation, disinformation and “fake news”. So there’s no question there are opportunities for new models of creating, sharing and fact-checking information. It’s just not certain at this point what form those new models might take.
“The typical model we see regarding online media today are one of two models, an ad-based model like Facebook or a donation-based model like Wikipedia,” Kazemian recently told Forbes. “Having an entire application run on cryptocurrency increases the value of the tokens as more users participate, which permits funding development, infrastructure, security and content contribution. This creates a new model for self-sustainability.”