My short bio: I’m co-founder of Wikipedia and founder/CEO of Infobitt.com, which I want you all to check out and join! I started many other sites. In reverse order: ReadingBear.org, WatchKnowLearn.org, Citizendium.org, Textop.org (this is just an idea, but a cool one), helped with EOEarth.org, Nupedia, and Sanger’s Review of Y2K News Reports. I also have a Ph.D. in philosophy and my wife and I homeschool my two wonderful little boys.
My Proof: This tweet: https://twitter.com/lsanger/status/544639354920898561
I’m wondering if you could give us all uninformed lazies a little information on what Infobitt is and what made you create it?
“How we can organize the news (short version)” was written for you! (There’s a longer version too.)
Here’s an excerpt:
It is human to want to know what’s going on. Perhaps billions of people follow the news every day in one form or another.
This is why there are endless streams of news flooding the media landscape, more than ever before. Many of us would like to stay on top of the spreading pool of news. But the flood is getting deeper and wider.
That’s why we skim various news sources, apps, our friends’ feeds, blogs, etc. We resign ourselves to not knowing many details; for that, we must read many articles in full. Only devoted newshounds have time for that.
Beyond the sheer quantity of news, we must navigate redundant news, click bait, sensationalism, and on and on. The news has become noisy and confusing. There’s a sea of it, and it’s uncharted.
The facts about an ongoing story are often spread across many different sources, from the New York Times down to a humble blog. Nobody organizes the facts. No media outlet has the motive or the ability to come to grips with everything.
But we do—billions of us have that motive, and if we are organized in the right way, we’ll have the ability. What if we pooled our efforts on the news in the way we did on Wikipedia?
Here’s the Infobitt model. We grab different facts from different news sources, summarize them in sentences which link back to those sources. We each drag-and-drop the facts into our preferred order, and the system calculates the sense of the community. The result is a bitt.
That’s not all. There’s a stream of new bitts arriving in the system. We put bitts in order of importance by drag-and-drop as well. We’ve made a new way to collaborate on collecting the news.
We want this done for every article about every story. And we want it constantly updated. After all, it’s 2014.
Only a giant, international, online community could make this happen. This is citizen journalism re-envisioned to include an enormous distributed editorial function. It’s ambitious, but we can do it.
It just sounds like what reddit ALREADY IS. some crazy event happens, someone posts about it on reddit and gets it upvoted. If enough people disagree, it gets downvoted. Sir, you just made a /r/worldnews clone. That’s exactly what you described.
Nope. Infobitt collects news about the same story from multiple sources, finds unique facts, summarizes each in a sentence (=”facts”), and then ranks the facts in order of importance. The collection of facts is a bitt. Then we rank the bitts in order of importance (think predicted historical impact).
It’s just not the same at all.
What steps will the company take to keep Infobitt neutral and unbiased?
(1) Articulate and elaborate a neutrality policy. (I was the originator of Wikipedia’s neutrality policy, via Nupedia, and I plumped for its adoption against much resistance.)
(2) We’re democratic. Extreme views will tend to be ranked down.
(3) If we’re flooded with people from one point of view, we’ll actively recruit people from opposing points of view, to make sure we have a balanced community. In a democracy, a balanced community will mean a balanced vote.
(4) There are technical things we can do too.
My concern is that, like Wikipedia, the huge amount of policies will make the site overly bureaucratic. Are you establishing some sort of “ignore all rules” guideline?
It’s called democracy. It’s like jury nullification: I can write all the rules and policies you like, but if you write or vote contrary to them, and people go your way, I’m not going to stand in the way.
Listen, one of the awesome features of Infobitt is that, because pieces of content are one sentence long, it becomes possible to simply ask the community which of competing sentences should be displayed, and what order they should be in. This completely sidesteps the interminable edit warring of Wikipedia.
I absolutely hate Wikipedia’s boneheaded amounts and types of policies. I do think quite a few policies are needed for an encyclopedia. But at a certain point, policies started looking like rhetorical weapons more than helpful guidelines.
I’m the author of the “ignore all rules” rule. I later repudiated it, only because people were misinterpreting the intent, supposing it to mean that we endorsed anarchy. That wasn’t the point. The point was to use common sense and don’t let bureaucratic thinking get in your way. Unfortunately, it did. Now there are (quite ironically) long, bureaucratic-sounding explanations of what “ignore all rules” means…ugh.
Before getting Wiki launched and running, did you expect it to become as essential to the internet users as it is now?
Expect? Well, I was sensible enough to know that, probably, it would fail. So when it started taking off, I (like Jimbo and everyone participating) was very excited. I’m capable of dreaming up lots of stuff so I’m sure I dreamed of spectacular success. Did I expect it, though? No.
Wikipedia has a systemic moderation bias problem. How are you going to prevent this on highly debated subjects?
Because the unit of content in Infobitt is the fact, which is at most 200 characters, we’ll be able to share out moderation responsibilities to basically everyone, who will be able to come to relatively quick decisions since the content being judged is so short. So, instead of biased judges (moderators), you’ll face a jury of your peers.
I’m very much looking forward to the end of edit-warring and wheel-warring.
How will Infobitt be different than Wikimedia’s WikiNews, or a news aggregate like reddit? Why is it better?
Infobitt is different from WikiNews, and most similar citizen journalism websites, because WikiNews basically involves amateurs attempting to write news stories. As a result the work ends up unimportant, old, poorly sourced, and/or not well written (writing very well is difficult). Journalists are paid money because they have rare skills.
Infobitt does not feature amateurs doing what journalists do. It features amateurs summarizing facts gathered and carefully expressed by (one hopes) slightly more careful and better-trained professionals.
It’s very different from Reddit because Reddit features a single source per story and, typically, just a headline. The headlines are ranked by counting simple up or down votes. By contrast, (1) we collect many facts per story, (2) from multiple sources, (3) expressed in full sentences, and (4) we rank the facts (and whole collections of facts, called bitts) by dragging and dropping them into a rank, rather than up- and down-vote. So, we’re very different there.
What are your thoughts on Jimmy Wales downplaying your role as founder of Wikipedia?
No comment about Jimmy Wales first calling me co-founder then downplaying my role. I and others have said all I need to on that subject.
Why do we have to “join”?
The only reason you have to join to see the site is that we fear the consequences of too much traffic all at once. We need to test each new level of traffic and fix bugs associated with the site at that level of traffic. The code is pretty complex and still beta (prone to bugs).
But then in the future you won’t have to join? If there is one thing I loath in this universe it’s makng an account every where I go so companies can profile me to death.
The reason you have to make an account is so we aren’t constantly slammed with traffic that our system can’t handle yet…kind of like what is happening at this exact moment thanks to Reddit. Maybe I should have given this AMA more thought. 😉
Considering the nature of an immediate, breaking ‘news story,’ and the flow of subsequent updates, what do you see as the visual/appearance format for Infobitt?
We need to do a visual redesign, clearly. I’m going to get advice on visual design (as opposed to functional design) from somebody who knows what the hell he/she is talking about. I have no interesting opinions about the visual appearance of websites.
I would think that news would need to be a lot more rigorously sourced to stand up to proper journalism standards. How will Infobitt make sure that these standards are met?
We break the news into single-sentence statements, called “facts,” and each fact has to have a source. In a feature we’ve tested out, and which we’ll add pretty soon, you’ll be able to submit an alternate statement of a fact if you think someone else has got it wrong; the community then will vote on whose version of the fact is best. How’s that sound?
If you had a chance to do everything again, what would you change, if anything?
If I could do everything with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, human life would not be what it is now. Presumably I would try to contact my wife as soon as we were both 18 or something. I would start projects that have worked earlier, as soon as they became technically feasible, and I would completely skip projects that didn’t work. Etc., etc. It’s not a terribly meaningful question, if you think about it.
Do you see Infobitt growing to the same scale as Wikipedia?
Yes. Wikipedia fills a universal need, or desire, for quick answers.
Similarly, Infobitt will fill a universal need, or desire, to get caught up with the news very fast. We’ll make it possible to get caught up five times as fast as you could before. You’ll be rushing to Infobitt to include the latest news in the way you now do on Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit. We’ll also finally give the long tail of citizen journalism a route whereby it can make it onto the front page of a hard news site.
Do you see any similarities between infobitt and wiki that are key to understand for it’s growth?
Yes, I’ve gleaned any number of lessons from my Wikipedia days. The content has to be open content, so it will be. It’s important, if you’re creating a shared resource, that rules be stated clearly and that they be very gently enforced. My job description in these early days of Infobitt includes “recruiter” and “cheerleader,” just as was the case in Wikipedia’s early days. I could go on!
What prompted you and your cofounder in creating Wiki? Any interesting story behind it?
The best source on that question is right here. Sorry I can’t elaborate more now, but I’ve told the story many many times and it is in many sources.
Are you going to cover only the news stories which is relevant to each reader? If not, then why do you claim you’ll be a fast and efficient run down of the news?
To save time. Wikipedia creates encyclopedia articles, and encyclopedia articles should be narratives (sort of, anyway) that describe the topic in general terms. This usually involves arranging facts not according to importance but according to subtopic and according to how they fit in with a narrative.
On Infobitt, we’re saving you time (and will do so more as we grow) by prising out all the unique facts about a story from various sources and putting them in rank order of importance. This way you don’t have to scan an encyclopedia article–or a traditional news article–to glean the most important things that you didn’t already know.
How do you defend the open source platform against the “anyone can go in and edit false information” argument?
As on Wikipedia, with many eyeballs, all errors are shallow. This is even more so the case on Infobitt because every single sentence has a source, and it’s easy to click through to the source to see if it says what Infobitt says it says. And as we move forward we’ll give people incentives to do just that.
What is the policy regarding editing articles to include spoilers for movies or TV shows?
No policy on that yet. No entertainment industry involvement yet.
Personally, I think Wikipedia’s policy (I don’t know if they’ve changed it yet) of including spoilers without alerting readers to the fact that spoilers are coming up is truly boneheaded.
How would you handle a situation if more countries adopt the new Spanish laws of requiring payment towards news sites from aggravates pulling their information?
Have those laws really gone into effect? I thought maybe not.
Anyway, that’s a good question. I’m inclined to think we would simply have a Spanish edition hosted on U.S. or European (not Spanish) servers. But I don’t know. I’d have to consult with legal experts.
How do you plan to keep Infobitt free of ads?
We don’t. It’s going to have ads; it will be for-profit. I’ve worked on a long series of non-profit and educational projects. I know how it goes. The reason Infobitt is non-profit that the software doesn’t exist yet, and raising the money to support this sort of project is very difficult. Making it a for-profit ensures that it will exist and be well-supported!
Why do you think there haven’t been more variations on the Wikipedia model?
Citizendium would have been a quite successful variation on the Wikipedia model if Wikipedia itself hadn’t existed and gobbled up all the mindshare.
Wikipedia is itself a variation on the original wiki model, you know.
Basically, inventing stuff that works is hard.
Will Infobitt be sort of an archive of information like Wikipedia or will it be a good source for breaking news and current events?
Both, but it is a source for breaking news and current events, mainly. In other words, you can already use it to quickly find the history of news stories. It’s not complete because we haven’t covered all important stories, but we have covered a lot. As we grow and expand the value of the site as a news archive will grow, making it possible to catch up with an ongoing story more easily.
Why haven’t wikis adopted the equivalent of “stable releases” in software?
Because people didn’t take my advice. I don’t know why. Citizendium.org is a wiki and it did adopt the equivalent of “stable releases.” It would have worked awesomely, except that we couldn’t beat the 800-pound gorilla that was Wikipedia.
How are you going to go about confirming what’s happening/making sure what goes up is reliable? I imagine to some extent you’re going to have to balance speed/ease of updating as opposed to confirming, how are you going to go about it?
We haven’t added all the features we need to do this yet. Right now the system is very plain. But the plan is that contributors will be able to submit competing versions of facts, and the community will be able to rank the various versions, and discuss their merits. In addition, each fact is linked to a source; so we’ll compare our facts with the sources and we’ll also be in a good position to compare sources as well.
How can you possible say that what the community finds important is in any way related to what I, as a reader find important?
There obviously isn’t unanimous agreement on what is important, or on the definition or standards of importance. But if you simply ask everyone to vote on what they think will have the greatest historical impact, or what should inform their votes, etc., then you’ll get some useful agreement and patterns. I think “wisdom of crowds” effects will work in our case. In fact, I think we’ve already seen that happen. I’m not claiming that the result is objectively the most important; that would be silly. I’m just saying that it would be very interesting and useful as a news source.
Will there be an android app?
Yes, absolutely. But we had to start with a website because that’s the only feasible place where content could be created for the site, according to our content-creation model.
How do you plan to differentiate yourself from other news aggregators apps/sites like Circa or NYT Now?
They just summarize a relatively limited number of facts from a relatively limited number of stories. If we have a Wikipedia-sized community, we can aggregate facts from all across the web, not just from professional journalists but from the long tail of citizen journalism too. We can organize all the stories and the facts that make them up into a beautifully-ranked resource. This will enable you to catch up with not just a selection of the news, but a carefully and exhaustively (across all media) curated selection of the news, and you’ll be able to go into great depth, Wikipedia levels of depth, if you want to. And if the model proves attractive for specialized news topics then we’ll be able to give the same treatment to things like news about bitcoin, about your favorite sports team, or about your hometown.
How is your search function organized, and (or), optimized?
Our search function is pretty minimalistic at this point. It’s just text matching at this point. We need to develop it still. It’s a beta! We have a lot to do!
Are you hiring?
I’m building a team. 🙂
How do you feel about people calling your website lies? We can’t use Wikipedia in my school because the teachers think its lies. What do you say to that?
Well, I don’t know. It’s not all lies, of course; mostly it’s facts. Surely people wouldn’t use it if that weren’t the case, and if they constantly turned up facts.
The trouble with teachers is that they are just ordinary adults, and all too often they aren’t particularly intelligent adults, either. But they speak from a position of authority and therefore their students take what they have to say very seriously. So, look, unless you have some very good reason to take what your teacher says on some mere matter of opinion very seriously, accord it no more respect than you would any random comment on the Internet.
You can’t use Wikipedia in your school because they want you to do your own research, and from sources that are edited by professionals. Nothing wrong with that. They can’t stop you from using Wikipedia at home; just be sure to use the footnotes (and actually read the sources the footnotes point to, because Wikipedians don’t always get what the footnotes say correctly).