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 Boxlife.tv 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).
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.