Larry Sanger is co-founder of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia— one of the most visited websites on the globe. I recently sat down with him to talk about his latest project: a new online encyclopedia called Everipedia. It was started over a year ago with a $30 million dollar venture capital investment. I started by asking Sanger why he split from Wikipedia and his one time partner Jimmy Wales.
Larry Sanger: The Wikipedia community had become flooded, not flooded, but it had become dominated, I think, by people who were bad actors or at least difficult for reasonable people to deal with, essentially.
Sharyl: You're saying some of these volunteer editors were problematic?
Larry Sanger: Yes, of course. Yes. Also, Jimmy Wales refused to do anything about it. And I also wanted some sort of low key role to be made for experts. I wanted like professors and research scientists and so forth, to be recognized as such officially in the project. Not necessarily be given some huge top down authority, but some sort of recognition. But that did not go over well with the community. And so, basically I washed my hands off the project entirely.
Sharyl: What do you think are the flaws of Wikipedia today?
Larry Sanger: Well, there's layers of flaws, basically. You're expected to come to a consensus if you have a dispute with someone, but sometimes a consensus is not in the offing. You can't agree on a solution. And so, basically, what ends up happening is, the people with the most clout in the system end up getting their point of view expressed as the consensus, even though it is no such thing.
Sharyl: When they're talking about maybe an issue in dispute, how they want a page to read, it gets nasty in there.
Larry Sanger: It does. It does. And I think it selects for people who are less emotional, more reptilian, and generally, more narcissistic, basically. People who are able to play a certain kind of game in pure words.
Sharyl: Let's say people are used to the Wikipedia format, and they visit Everipedia for the first time. What will they see that's different and what will be different about that?
Larry Sanger: The design is completely modern. It looks like a site that has been designed in 2019 rather than 2003. It's a lot easier to use, looks better on your phone. You can collect articles very conveniently. You can chat with people a lot more easily in the same way that you would on any social network. You can follow people. You can follow topics, you can follow articles, and all of these things are just like 100% easier than on Wikipedia.
Larry Sanger: Another way in which Wikipedia can be improved is simply by creating new incentives for people to participate in. Essentially, to make it very simple, when you write a new article, if it is accepted into the system, you are paid. You actually mine tokens that didn't exist before.
Sharyl: Do those have a cash value?
Larry Sanger: They do, yeah. Right now it's like a third of a cent per token, but there's a lot of tokens.
Sharyl: Do you expect that people, the average consumer of this information will view it as maybe more fair and reliable than Wikipedia has come to be known as, on average? Or is that not the goal?
Larry Sanger: I don't know. I would hope so, but we'll see. I'm not going to make any ambitious claims along those lines. The fact that it is nicely designed is going to speak in our favor, but I don't think people are idiots. They will wait to see the data. And I think it's going to take time. It's going to take a number of years before our content is significantly different from Wikipedia's. Although I should say, we have added a million articles or so on top of the Wikipedia articles.
Sharyl: Such as?
Larry Sanger: I have an article about my left thumb.
Larry Sanger: I do.
Sharyl: What's special about your left thumb? Or is that the point?
Larry Sanger: Absolutely nothing. Well, I broke it in high school. But no, the reason is, I wanted to demonstrate that it's an important point we take very seriously that the topic is unrestricted on Everipedia. That changes the nature of the beast for the better, I think.
Sanger is announcing a new step he’s starting an independent foundation with the goal of decentralizing online encyclopedias so they can be freely shared in a decentralized, neutral, and uncensored fashion.