At the time of this writing, the opening sentence of Larry Sanger’s Everipedia entry is pretty close to his Wikipedia entry. It describes him as “an American Internet project developer … best known as co-founder of Wikipedia.” By the time you read this, however, it may well mention a new, more salient fact—that Sanger recently became the Chief Information Officer of Everipedia itself, a site that seeks to become a better version of the online encyclopedia than the one he founded back in 2001. To do that, Sanger’s new employer is trying something that no other player in the space has done: moving to a blockchain.
Oh, blockchain, that decentralized “global ledger” that provides the framework for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (as well as a thousand explainer videos, and seemingly a thousand startups’ business plans). Blockchain already stands to make medical patient data easier to move and improve food safety; now, Everipedia’s founders hope, it will allow for a more powerful, accountable encyclopedia.
Here’s how it’ll work. Everipedia already uses a points system where creating articles and approved edits amasses “IQ.” In January, when the site moves over to a blockchain, Everipedia will convert IQ scores to a token-based currency, giving all existing editors an allotment proportionate to their IQ—and giving them a real, financial stake in Everipedia. From then on, creating and curating articles will allow users to earn tokens, which act as virtual shares of the platform. To prevent bad actors from trying to cash in with ill-founded or deliberately false articles and edits, Everipedia will force users to put up a token of their own in order to submit. If their work is accepted, they get their token back, plus a little bit for their contribution; if not, they lose their token. The assumption is that other users, motivated by the desire to maintain the site’s value, will actively seek to prevent such efforts.
The benefits of the move, according to Theodor Foselius, Everipedia’s co-founder and CEO, are many. For one, it allows active users to be more than just volunteers. “In places where Wikipedia has the most active user bases, like India, all these people edit for free,” he says. “The ability to be a stakeholder in the encyclopedia they edit and get real monetary value back, it’s really exciting to me.”