A conversation with Dr. Larry Sanger

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SingularityNET
Published in
5 min readJun 19, 2019

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On knowledge marketplaces, decentralized curation and ecosystems to incentivize the discovery and dissemination of knowledge

Introduction

If we combine all the Wikipedias, there will be 27 billion words, written in 293 languages, spread across over 40 million articles.

By crowdsourcing knowledge and offering it for free over the internet, there is little doubt that Wikipedia has provided immense value to humanity. The project, unlike many others, successfully tapped into the open source spirit of the Web 1.0 and survived the onslaught of the walled gardens that sprung up as the web evolved. As the world’s most frequented encyclopedia in humanity’s history, it has achieved enviable success in its mission to democratize knowledge.

So why is Larry Sanger, the co-founder of Wikipedia, one of its harshest critics?

What is his vision for a Wikipedia 2.0?

And what has it got to do with the blockchain?

In the latest episode of the AGI Podcast, we asked Larry Sanger all of those questions — and more — for a fascinating and insightful conversation on knowledge marketplaces, decentralized curation, and finding the best of our knowledge.

The Quest for Neutrality

“The only reason why they don’t make it better is that they believe that there isn’t a startup on the horizon that can go head to head with Wikipedia. And why would they think there is? Who could pose a threat to Wikipedia?”

In early 2002, barely a year after co-founding Wikipedia, Larry Sanger set off to create a platform that was more comprehensive, open, and neutral than his previous creation.

His first attempt took the form of Citizendium, a citizens compendium. Then came the “Greater Wiki,” which aimed to rate and rank all of the world’s encyclopedia articles. Both projects failed to take off.

What Dr. Sanger wanted to create was an encyclopedia that offered something more than a record of crowdsourced knowledge — one that allowed for different interpretations of events, and was not beholden to a predominantly western, liberal narrative or restricted by archaic rules and narrow definitions.

A single database of all the encyclopedia articles of the world, created and rated by people from all walks of life, with multiple articles on the same topic.

By letting anyone rate and submit competing versions of articles they didn’t like, he wanted to present a comparison of the best articles according to every significant viewpoint of the world. His vision for such an encyclopedia was based on his belief that a “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.”

In late 2017, after realizing that the type of encyclopedia he wanted to create was only possible using blockchain technology, Larry Sanger signed on to become the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Everipedia.

The Blockchain Encyclopedia

“What I look forward to is a knowledge marketplace, so that people are incentivized to contribute what they know.”

Founded in 2014, Everipedia — the first-ever blockchain-based encyclopedia and the largest free encyclopedia to ever exist — plans to take on Wikipedia with the vision of Larry Sanger and the innovations of blockchain technology.

To ensure that a diverse range of opinions is presented and that no individual opinion is considered to be uncontroversially true, Everipedia will allow for competing articles. Members of the public will be able to rate any article, and the rating data will be fair and open. Participation in the Everipedia network will not be regulated by one dominant community; rather, multiple communities will be encouraged to publish their content. Users will be able to volunteer information about themselves, and the network users and organizations will be able to rate each other’s expertise. Organizations will be able to identify which users are their members, allowing for the content to be filtered based on the perspective of various groups.

The details of Everipedia’s designs make it abundantly clear how Mr. Sanger has impacted the project. However, the Everipedia network could not have allowed for such radical openness, uncensorable content, democratic participation, and inclusiveness, without its reliance on the blockchain. The most exciting value add of blockchain to Everipedia, of course, is the tokenization of its network.

As an open-source crowdsourcing platform, Wikipedia has benefited from the labor of thousands of individuals — and nearly all of these individuals have not received any financial compensation for their work.

Everipedia users are rewarded with IQ — the network’s native crypto token — when they create content or get approved edits. By allowing its users to participate in the economic benefits of the network, Everipedia incentivizes its users to continue to add value and have a stake in its success.

In short, Everipedia seeks to tokenize knowledge.

A Never Ending Quest?

On May 14th, 2019, China expanded its ban on Wikipedia by blocking all foreign language versions of it. While some parts of the world seek to control the flow of information, a majority of the world is experiencing the ills of too much of it. In this post-truth hyperconnected world, in which algorithms are feeding us the information we’re most inclined toward, substantive knowledge that goes against our assumptions has become less attractive.

The promise of an uncensorable encyclopedia that aims at being neutral and inclusive, that will aggregate, rate, and rank all the world’s encyclopedia articles, which has extremely high-quality articles on nearly every topic in every field, and one that will reward the volunteers that contribute to it — is undoubtedly attractive and deserves our attention.

Larry Sanger’s quest to create communities which come together to improve the world’s knowledge has come a long way from the Web 1.0 of the ’90s, but he feels blockchain is creating a resurgence of the collaborative spirit that dominated the early internet. While the project that he co-founded has undeniably provided immense value by democratizing knowledge, Mr. Sanger has been on a mission to create a better version of it for the past 17 years.

Will Larry Sanger be able to create a better version of Wikipedia? Will the tokenization of knowledge prove to be the key in its democratization? Is it even possible to create a genuinely neutral crowdsourced encyclopedia?

The new phase in Larry Sanger’s quest to dethrone Wikipedia has already started in the form of Everipedia, let’s see how it unfolds.

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