Wikipedia Founder Larry Sanger Talks About Blockchaining Wikipedia

Nuno Teodoro

One of the co-founders of Wikipedia, Larry Sanger, has shared his plans and insights on blockchain-based encyclopedias.

He shared his thoughts during an exclusive for that took place yesterday (Nov 26) at the Delta Summit.


Larry Sanger is pioneering the first ever encyclopedia built on the blockchain, the Everipedia project. According to the official website, the Everipedia IQ blockchain will bring a new paradigm shift and ”disrupt the old centralized internet knowledge encyclopedia model similar to Wikipedia”.

Through the use of a distributed ledger, there will be new financial incentives for content creators. The network will also be decentralized, censorship resistant, and democratic (each IQ token holder can vote on important network decisions).

The Interview

Q: How do you use blockchain to verify information and sources on an encyclopedia?

Larry Sanger: A combination of methods. First of all, Everipedia started out as a fork of Wikipedia and it remains a wiki. Wikis are essentially self-policing. It doesn't mean they are perfect, mistakes do creep in. But I think they creep in in every source. I think that in the long run, as we move in the second phase of the everipedia network, we will have a rating system for all the encyclopedia articles in the world. This, in short, will create a global competition to represent the best of what we know on each topic. The best articles will have to be extremely well sourced and written in order to win the competition.

I think the main reason that people have not started a global rating system for content is that nobody really trusts google or any other single source to be responsible with such important data. If there is going to be any global system to rate content, in this case encyclopedia articles, the information has to be managed responsibly and there has to be a neutral internet protocol. The best way to guarantee that is to put it on a blockchain, then the rules that govern how the ratings work and how they are used and so forth are all transparent, creating a level playing field for everyone.

Q: Just to clarify, when mentioning a neutral internet protocol are we talking about an independent system that verifies information?

LS: I don’t think the important editorial decisions should be made on the blockchain. Each different frontend will decide what it wants to do with rating data. Everipedia is likely to use some sort of a weighted average of article ratings. We haven’t really decided. It isn’t going to be entirely up to me to decide. The management of the network is spread out, decisions are made by 51% of the IQ token holders. They will keep the whole system honest and responsible.

Q: What can IQ token holders decide on?

LS: They can decided things like whether an edit or new article is accepted, or how many tokens are mined per day. We are still testing exactly what the parameters are. We are actually in the process of creating the first smart contract vote. We will be voting on the smart contract that will govern the operation of the network. That’s kind of exciting. Ultimately we will have a constitution, an agreement among all of the users, that will be encoded on smart contracts.

Q: Constitution sounds very official. Are you treating this almost like a country?

LS: That’s how I think about online communities actually. If it's going to be truly decentralized and democratic, and I think those two things go hand-in-hand, then there has to be rules that govern how the whole is organized. Now when it comes to something like Bitcoin, for example, there’s no real decisions to be made. It is relatively simple. But when it comes to an encyclopedia network, there are so many huge and important editorial decisions to be made, or avoid making, that its extremely important that there be ground rules.

Q: How is it different? Before we had the internet where anyone could post anything they wanted. I remember encyclopedia books. What’s wrong with that system?

LS: The main problem with that system is that it was small and slow. When you see Encyclopedia Britannica on the shelf it is an impressive thing. But compared with all of the information that is included in Wikipedia, which is a small sliver of all encyclopedic information that lives online, it is just a tiny amount. And also, if you were to write and manage the content of topics and information using the traditional service it would just be incredibly expensive and time consuming. It would take 100 years to write instead of 15.

Q: If I’m a token holder, how much time do I need to spend per day to contribute to Everipedia?

LS: It depends on what kind of token holder you want to be. You can buy IQ in the exchange and never even look at Everipedia website. We certainly hope that isn’t what you’re going to do (laughs). If you want to be a responsible token holder you would, at least, be on hand for the important votes.

Q: You have had numerous ventures in the Encyclopedia business. What is it that drives to verify and gather all of this information?

LS: That is a good question. It is difficult to answer it briefly. I have a PhD in philosophy, my specialization is theory of knowledge. I’ve been thinking about the standards of knowledge, skepticism, and about the systematic representation of knowledge. I love deductive systems a lot and a well constructed encyclopedia in a certain way represents a semantic hierarchy. It is really, really interesting to me. I think knowledge is one of the most important things in the world, greatly undervalued by many educators today. It is totally ironic.

Q: What do you mean knowledge is undervalued?

LS: I think that perhaps it is worse in the United States. One hears a lot of talk about this from educators. Some educators state that facts don’t matter, as we don’t really need to teach knowledge. They say that we need to teach how to learn, “students need to learn how to learn”.  That’s the catchphrase. And there needs to be more practical knowledge. Know-how and not knowledge-that, to make the distinction between declarative knowledge and the procedural knowledge that philosophers and psychologists like to talk about.

Educators are all into procedural knowledge and how to learn. If learning how to learn is supposed to be a valued thing worth teaching, it has to be because having learned things is actually valuable.

Insolar Project: An Initiative of Experienced Ethereum, Hyperledger Fabric Developers

Dr. Lesley Czuma, the Head of Communications and Partnerships at Insolar, an organization focused on developing an enterprise-grade, blockchain platform for “enabling seamless interactions between companies”, has argued that modern businesses are still in need of a full-featured software product which would allow them to build DLT-enabled applications.

Distributed Ledger Tech (DLT) Can Be Transformative If It Can Serve Enterprise Needs

Czuma, who earned her Ph.D. in Political Science and Economics from the Free University of Berlin, told CryptoGlobe that Insolar is “dedicated to maximizing the potential and widespread use of blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), because we believe that it has huge potential to transform society and the economy, if it is optimized to serve enterprise needs as we are.”

She explained that Insolar does not build on other platforms, as they have built their own “to fill a gap in the current market.”She further noted:

We interviewed more than one hundred C-suite executives to determine their expectations on DLT. The result was that no existing offer is sufficient for the needs of business, so we decided to create our own platform.

Improving Upon Features Found in HLF, Ethereum, Corda

Czuma, a former Senior Business Consultant at Shanghai-based Xinshi Advertising Ltd., added: 

“[Insolar’s project] combines the learnings from all the key players already out there – and [aims to] top them in features and performance. Thus includes HyperLedger Fabric (HLF), Ethereum (ETH), and Corda. Our engineers are in the unique position to do this – we have [a fairly] large and experienced blockchain development team. Our main architects have worked on all of the three aforementioned projects.”

She continued: “To promote widespread use of our blockchain tech, our code is open-source on Github. We invite developers, both private individuals and companies, to contribute to our open-source code and also to build on our platform. What’s more, we make it easy to do so by using the most popular enterprise programming languages – Golang and Java.

Our platform is designed to be interoperable with others, which maximizes its reach because existing applications will be able to be used on top of it and their performance improved. It will also be possible to run native contracts on Insolar. Initial plans include running Hyperledger Fabric chaincode, as well as Go or Java-based contracts on the Insolar virtual machine.

Since it is also compatible with legacy IT, it breaks vendor lock. The platform has a layered architecture which makes it particularly developer friendly. You can build applications on the business layer without knowledge of blockchain. Insolar does not require expensive upfront investments in IT labor and infrastructure to deploy; it can be run on the cloud, securely and scalably. In fact, Insolar can even be used without running your own node.

Anyone can get involved and be part of our ecosystem. We invite you to be proactive. We are preparing tech documentation which will facilitate building applications on the Insolar platform and can be requested from us directly. The Insolar Tech Paper is available online.

The progress of the open-source project can be tracked on Github, in the Insolar Announcements and the Insolar Blog.”

Public Versus Private Blockchains, Which Is Better?

When questioned about whether public (permissionless) blockchains are better than private ones, Czuma noted:

“We need both, because business requires that flexibility. The good news is, Insolar enables us to have both. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of public/ private blockchains.

On the one hand, blockchain is praised exactly for its public nature as a guarantor of “instant trust” between trustless parties, and this is crucial while the number of stakeholders involved in interactions between businesses is rapidly growing. However, the immutability of protocols, decentralized, secure records, and transparency can still be guaranteed even if networks are not entirely public.

At the same time, business involves many transactions which require privacy – such as client and financial data and regulatory data restrictions. Insolar offers hybrid permissioned networks based on its open-access public blockchain platform, which also enables proprietary, private transactions.

How that works? We use domain governance, which you can read about in detail here.

Basically, on Insolar, everything is a “smart contract” and ruled by domains. Open and closed blockchain ledgers are merged at the infrastructure level so that public and private transactions can be supported. But there is a key difference between our solution and what private blockchain protocols typically offer:

We do not isolate private domains from each other or from other networks. A private domain owner is able to assign one or more nodes in a domain as a proxy node, so all external communication is handled through it. Proxy nodes work like a gateway between a private domain and the public net.

Domain policy is applied before smart contracts are executed and domain policy determines the data privacy settings for the nodes that run the smart contracts. Another example of domain policy concerns cybersecurity and data encryption. Since different countries have different encryption standards, the domain owner is free to set cryptography standards that are compliant with their local regulators.

Policies can differ with regard to the rules for changing the domain itself, access from/to other domains, validation rules for logic (e.g. consensus, number of voters), mutability of code (is it possible for the code to change and what is the procedure to do so), mutability of history – e.g. to implement the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or legal action via authorization requirements defined by the domain – and applicability of custom cryptography schemes.

Obviously, blockchain networks provide more value when more participants are able to join, and the flexibility which Insolar’s hybrid networks, system interoperability and legacy IT compatibility offer can maximize the potential to join the network and thus dramatically hasten enterprise blockchain adoption."

Main Use Cases For Blockchain Technology

Responding to a question about what she considers to be the five main use cases for blockchain technology, Czuma said:

“First of all, let me say that we have two main products.

1) The Insolar platform: It is designed to be interoperable with other platforms, so existing solutions can be adapted to run on it and their performance improved. Alternatively, developers can build their own solutions on top of it.

2) Business use case solutions: These are the solutions which we build on top of the platform that solve pain points to optimize particular processes.

Regarding these use case solutions, I would name the following five based on their impact and potential to transform business by solving major challenges, saving costs, and creating new opportunities.

1. Supply Chain:

This case is cross industry and involves complex processes, multiple stakeholders, and diverse regulatory jurisdictions. Typically, essential information that is mutually needed is siloed. As such, supply chain operations is prone to mistakes which can cost businesses their very existence.

Just think of food security and instances of product contamination and recall. Quality and inventory control, payments, delivery, tracking goods for authenticity, and cross-border customs compliance are some of the elements that it covers. DLT solutions can simplify and streamline supply chain to automate processes like payments, make information transparent to all the relevant parties in real time, and even give consumers’ access to details on product production and content.

The features unique to Insolar like domain governance and hybrid networks can ensure compliance to customs requirements while selectively securing sensitive data. Besides saving costs for business, the solution can radically improve the well being of end consumers – think of e.g. validating pharmaceuticals and the maintenance of fleets, including vehicles and planes.

2. Collaborative Agreement Management:

Insolar has a revolutionary tool which translates legal contracts into code-based smart contracts, allowing for radical process simplification and overhead reduction via system integration. Expensive legal mistakes are prevented by ensuring compliance to current legislation (linked to a regulation database).

Contract requirements are tracked and automatically executed, so that fulfillment is guaranteed, and agreements are current. A contract lifecycle dashboard and contract relation tree with links to amendments, subcontracts, and execution results gives full status transparency. Finally, a secured contract repository provides a single source of the truth. This instrument is a much-needed improvement for practically any business.

3. TES – Transactive Energy Platform

The Insolar TES enables the use and storage of renewable energy on a needs basis through a prosumer scheme which employs electric vehicle (EV) charging. Overall, the system strengthens utilities and ensures their key future role by increasing grid resilience and efficiency though smart-demand mechanisms involving (enterprise) microgrids.

Energy can be more effectively distributed and used in peak demand times. This is great news for fighting climate change, and also for increasing the available renewable energy supply. As economies grow, energy demand is increasing, even while we need to curb CO2 production. The TES contributes to solving both challenges. For this solution, Insolar has been named by the World Energy Council (UNO) as one of the top 100 most innovative companies worldwide promoting the transition to sustainable energy.

4. Commodity Trading:

Typically, negotiations and trading are conducted via telephone or email with limited transparency. Important data is fragmented and resides in unstructured documents. Centralized infrastructure does not provide for a viable solution, because delegating trust to one of the stakeholders comes at a risk to the others.

A blockchain-based trade management platform decreases labor-intensive paper document exchange, enhances transparency and reduces business network complexity throughout the entire transaction lifecycle. While the focus is on commodity buyers and sellers, other parties, such as banks and regulators, can get access to the required documents and data.

Since our network is hybrid and domain governed, data sharing can be done selectively and security ensured. Consider how important this is if the commodity which is being traded is, for instance, uranium.

5. Trade Promotion:

Promo management is a resource-intensive, manual set of operations whereby data is gathered upon request. Moreover, data about promotions is entered and managed separately by each stakeholder. A blockchain-based trade promo management system integrates all parties involved within a single ecosystem. It brings all operations under one platform, captured by a shared ledger. The platform streamlines the entire trade promo process from negotiation to execution to payment.”

Will Bitcoin Become A Globally Accepted Currency?

When asked about whether she sees cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin (BTC), becoming a more widely adopted medium-of-exchange (MoE) in the foreseeable future, Czuma said:

“Overall, I would answer with a careful “yes” but add that several things need to happen before it is viable as a widespread MoE – notably, legislation, and it is daunting to predict a timeline for this.

No global regulator exists at the moment, and in the majority of countries, cryptocurrency is not considered to be legal tender. This is one of the reasons why its use and adoption are limited. At the same time, there are widespread concerns among regulators about the risks associated with the use of cryptocurrency, which include tax evasion, terrorism, money laundering and other illegal activities.

There is also discussion that the lack of regulation of the sphere enables the manipulation of supposed trading volumes on exchanges, which in turn promotes wild speculation and is purported to be one of the reasons behind the recent market decline.

In fact, the market valuations of crypto are extreme and erratic – just consider that the price of Bitcoin climbed to 20,000 USD and then fell to below USD 3,500. There is also concern that regulation is needed to protect consumers and investors, and we have all heard of the spectacular instances of hacks such as the theft of $530 million worth of digital currency in Japan.

At the same time, crypto has grown impressively – the total market capitalization of assets currently comprises USD 115 billion, and since the first ICOs, these have cumulatively gathered over 20 billion USD. Considering these volumes, there is some concern that cryptocurrencies could affect overall financial stability.

However, this is currently unlikely, as the combined market value of cryptocurrencies amounts to less than 0.15% of global GDP. Nonetheless, there is no question that market regulation is necessary and on the global agenda. Not only is the majority of governments planning to initiate legislation on crypto, major international oversight organizations such as the IMF have also called for it.

Of course, once crypto is regulated, it loses some of its current appeal, such as not being traceable to individuals. On the other hand, considerable new advantages will appear -- for instance, once global regulation and consensus on it as a MoE is secured, crypto can save international business vast amounts of money and increase economic stability and worldwide trade by e.g. making currency exchange obsolete."

Insolar Project to Go Live in Autumn

Responding to a question about the current state of development of the Insolar project and what are the main things that are part of the project’s roadmap, Czuma stated:

“The Insolar platform will go live in autumn. In the meantime, decentralized applications (dApps) can already be built on it. Our development team has achieved and will continue to add unique key features that set us apart.

Insolar’s core features will comprise:

1. Support of simultaneous public and private networks and multi zone security.

This enables compliance with domain governance rules and global regulations such as GDPR. Domain owners are able to set different levels of security. This feature promotes mainstreaming and wide-spread use of the Insolar network by enterprise clients.

2. Upgradable smart contracts

Insolar contracts are separated from the platform code. This means that the contract owner can switch between code versions, so that the contract automatically updates to new rules and the users are notified about the change.

3, Support for transactions longer than one block

Enterprises require longer and more complex transactions. Unlike any other blockchains, where validation is done by all nodes in the same time -- on Insolar, every smart contract is executed by a single node, and then validated by other nodes. This allows to execute large and long transactions.

Other relevant features which Insolar offers as part of its unique platform profile include: 

4. Dynamic consensus that changes the number of validators based on the value of the transaction. Fewer validators are required for low value transactions (which reduces costs) and more validators for high value transactions (which reduces risks). Businesses can plan their transactions cost-efficiently and securely.

5. Interoperability: We will allow HL Fabric chaincode to run on the Insolar platform. That will help those enterprise clients who are already experimenting with blockchain to smoothly migrate to the Insolar Platform. 

As already noted, Insolar is also compatible with enterprise legacy IT systems. This feature maximizes the number of enterprises that can easily join our ecosystem and use our platform.

6. Unlimited, linear scalability — on Insolar, as more hardware joins the network, throughput grows. Note that this is unique and highly valuable, since with classical blockchain tech, the opposite is the case, and the more nodes join the network, the slower it becomes.

To sum up, everything that Insolar does is directed at adding value for business. We are [striving to enhance] DLT beyond its original crypto context to serve the specific needs of enterprise. We offer solutions to the main pain points that businesses face. We do all of this based on an open-source platform and services which are directed at making DLT use widespread and mainstream to maximize its benefit.“