English Wikipedia participation peaked ten years ago and is down about 20,000 active users a month from its high point. Three big factors often get cited: deletionism, poor mobile editing options, and a lost spirit of inclusiveness. Everipedia wants to address all three with the latest attempt at an encyclopedia of everything. I spoke with co-founder Sam Kazemian about the project, which often pops up as a top search result for college-related news and people. Can they crack the code of next-gen participation?
When I wrote about Wikipedia’s deletion of "Chickenhead," I opined that a component of bias led to its deletion. The song is a Dirty South anthem that features underground legend Project Pat and La Chat, a notable female rapper in that subgenre. Wikipedia editors meticulously detail locomotive engines and software programs, while topics like fashion and female scientists get short shrift. However, even a lot of young white nerdy guys who form Wikipedia’s base have been driven from the project by deletionists, who search and destroy anything too detailed or obscure, respectively labeled “fancruft” and “non-notable” in Wikipedia lingo.
Unlike Wikipedia, Everipedia has an extensive entry on Chickenhead, including gifs from the music video and links to many sources which confer its notability. In Wikipedia jargon, the opposite of deletionism is inclusionism, and there’s an inclusionist spirit to Everipedia. I joined under the name DeletionistsKillWikis to give it a test run and found it to be much more user-friendly, especially on a mobile device.
When they say it’s OK to include everything, they mean it. Shortly after my article on the deletion of hemovanadin, Everipedia user DaveLiebowitz enhanced Everipedia's version of Wikipedia’s article on me (called a “fork” in Wikispeak) with some gifs and links. Dave also has an Everipedia entry and even created an article titled Dave's Sriracha Shirt, about his favorite shirt emblazoned with Huy Fong Foods' Sriracha bottle:
Sriracha is a curious obsession on Everipedia. Others have written about their Sriracha onesies:
While this would immediately be deemed unworthy on Wikipedia and deleted, these articles reflect the fun Everipedia is trying to inject back into collaborative editing.
It’s been a few months since I last checked in. One aspect of the fun is the gamification of editing, where editors get IQ points for edits. I stopped at 73 IQ because I thought that was funny next to my name. Everipedia's Chickenhead page is still up, but it hasn’t had much activity since I did a little test drive. Still, it's vastly better than Wikpedia's deleted page.
Hip-hop culture has a large presence on Everipedia, reflecting its college-age users and their interests. That is also reflected in the interest of their co-founder and guiding spirit Mahbod Moghadam, who got involved after leaving the Rap Genius project he co-founded, bringing in angel investors like Theodor Forselius. Moghadam told me in an email, "I think that just like Genius, Everipedia is transforming the Internet. Sam, our CEO, is the most talented person I've ever met - he is the next Zuck!!" So I reached out to Kazemian for some background on the site he co-founded in 2015.
Above: Kazemian, Forselius, Moghadam
BB: What are Everipedia’s five most-viewed pages?
Kazemian: The most viewed page of all time is Cardi B, from Love and Hip Hop. The 2nd-most viewed is her partner Mariah Lynn. I think it is interesting that our two most-viewed pages are women of color, says something perhaps about Wikipedia’s bias. The 3rd most-viewed page is also a powerful woman, newscaster Lisa Boothe. 4th is Iranian powerlifter Sajad Gharibi. Jeremy Meeks is the 5th most-viewed page, also a person of color.
BB: That’s interesting, because none of those women or people of color have their own articles on Wikipedia. How does Everipedia distinguish its content and approach from fan-powered sites like Rap Genius or Wikia, which has a Hip-Hop database?
Kazemian: Rap Genius is a major source of inspiration for Everipedia. Wikia, like Wikipedia, uses really old software that was built in 2001. Meanwhile there are all these new, modern crowd-knowledge sites like Rap Genius, Quora and StackOverflow, but nobody ever tried to attack the original beast - a wiki of everything - with the new, modern tools. That is what Everipedia aims to do.
BB: Wikipedia’s visual editor was released to poor reviews. Wikis live and die by their active user base. What are you doing to attract and retain users that's different from competitors?
Kazemian: It doesn’t take that many to do a lot of work. We can give all kinds of incentives that Wikipedia can’t match. For one thing, since we’re for-profit, we can eventually hire a lot more of our most dedicated users as community managers. Users also get “IQ points” which are a testament to what they’ve made on the sites. Celebrities can get “Verified Accounts” with a blue checkmark, which means they can use their wiki to interact with fans. We have about 20 college students who are designated “Campus Reps”.
BB: What can you tell me about your typical editor, and what trends have you seen in editing patterns?
Kazemian: Our editors are actually extremely diverse which is very cool and promising. Unlike Wikipedia which has a large gender gap and diversity issue where more than 80% of the power users are white males, we have an extremely diverse group of users of all ages, genders, and ethnicities getting involved very early on in the project. The reason this is exciting is that they will all create a more vibrant atmosphere and community for continued, sustainable growth early on in Everipedia’s life.BB: A lot of online encyclopedias have come and gone. How do you plan to avoid the fate of restrictive models like Citizendium or radical inclusionist models like Deletionpedia and Everything2, which have have worked with varying degrees of success?
Kazemian: All of the examples you bring up minus Everything2 use the same outdated MediaWiki software that Wikipedia designed in 2001. The first, and most important, step in distinguishing ourselves from others is to really build our platform from the ground up using modern tooling, features expected in 2017, and sleek software that makes sense for the task at hand. One of the internal questions we like to ask is: “If Apple were trying to make Wikipedia today, how would it look and function?”
BB: I first came across Everipedia because users were constructing articles about whatever internet drama or viral news item was blowing up that day, often about people or events Wikipedia would consider non-notable. In that sense, your site competes with Heavy.
Kazemian: Sort of, but in a more general way, our site has no competitors either, we try to have information on anything that an editor would find interesting enough to make a page for. This wiki-news model is actually something that has been tried before but only we have gotten the right mix of Wikipedia and news to really get it off the ground. We think it’s not only the software but also the talented editors we have that have made it such a success. Recently Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia cofounder, announced that he is making a similar website as Everipedia called Wikitribune, which is a Wiki-based news site. He might have gotten the idea from Everipedia’s recent successful model of news plus encyclopedia plus unique wiki software.
BB: One article I read was a summary of a 4chan investigation on the identity of anti-Trump protester Eric Clanton. Some of the information was disputed, and the article stated he committed crimes before he had been charged. What steps are you taking to protect living people from defamation?
Kazemian: We actually have many steps in place to prevent uncited and unfounded accusations. Unlike Wikipedia, we allow the community to up and downvote each citation and when one gets enough downvotes it automatically disappears. We also do not allow anyone to do any original research or original reporting on the platform - everything must have some kind of citation which is then put to the scrutiny and consensus of the community.
BB: It still seems that there's potential for misuse. How would you deal with an article about or referring to someone who doesn't want to be covered?
Kazemian: Our policy is that as long as the citations used for an article are reliable and true, we do not remove the page under any circumstance. The standard is based on community consensus. Should the citations be removed from the web or reliability of their information come into serious question, we will remove any and all related information. We don’t see ourselves as making any specific claims or breaking any stories, we simply restate and centralize public sources of information.
BB: Have you had to delete any articles yet? Is so, can you describe them?
Kazemian: If an article is not cited, we delete it. That is the rule. Most of the occasions this has happened so far have been with really unsophisticated users who just totally didn’t get what’s going on.
BB: Have you had to ban any users, and if so, why?
Kazemian: Our vetting system is pretty robust so we catch vandals immediately. We have had to ban several dozen vandals, but none of done any meaningful damage, the community usually catches them in 5 minutes. Before the vetting system was implemented, we had one rascal who did some damage - but he’s this dude who is actually our friend, he was just being annoying.
BB: Is there a limit to what is worthy of a page?
Kazemian: Anything that you can cite! If it exists elsewhere on the Internet, then it is a valid topic on Everipedia. All that matters to us is that Everipedia is never the primary source (unless you are a celebrity with a Verified Account, in which case you are allowed to “self-cite” about topics where you have firsthand knowledge).
Time will tell with Everipedia, but shaking up the status quo is what always leads to advances in knowledge. At the very least, let's hope it prompts Wikipedia to take a harder look at its ongoing issues of including more diversity in both its articles and editors. The two go hand in hand.