in Futurist, Geezer, Meddling, MT.Net, Musings, X-Geek

How I almost invented Wikipedia

Wikipedia Logo

Wikipedia Logo

I sold one of my domain names this month, I had that domain longer than I’ve had kids, registering it on 17 January 2000. Two months ago the domain became old enough to drive.

I remember just where I was when I decided to register the domain. I was in my entrepreneurial phase at the time, working with some extremely talented friends at NeTraverse and while I was on a business trip to Austin I dreamed up what I thought would be an innovative website.

I was a regular reader of the Slashdot (which was recently sold) nerd news website back then and was intrigued by its “karma” system of ranking posts. I wanted to apply this karma ranking to the people in the news, giving users the ability to rank what someone in the news says based on that person’s known credibility.

It was inspired by President Bill Clinton’s time in office. The Office of the President carries a lot of built-in credibility, for instance, so right away you’re going to listen to what the President says. But what if the President is caught lying (i.e., “I did not have sexual relations…”)? That should make one skeptical of whatever that President says, knocking down his or her karma score.

When TWA Flight 800 inexplicably blew up upon leaving Manhattan, the President’s statements now had to be weighed against the laws of physics, the statements of over one hundred witnesses, and collected evidence. Who wins when the President goes up against the laws of physics? Physics wins. Or at least physics should win, because if it’s wrong then our basic understanding of reality goes with it, but many people still fall for the “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes” line. My mythical Reliable Sources site would’ve given physics, being scientifically proven over thousands of years, a nearly unassailable karma score compared to a known lying President.

The site would’ve given news junkies like me a way of ranking people’s truthfulness, and encouraged others to provide evidence of that truthfulness so that everyone could work with the same evidence.

Sadly, though, I am not a website developer and never decided to focus on making this happen. The domain name sat unused since its registration until earlier this year when I began to get very eager inquiries to buy the domain from a domain broker. I considered ignoring him but he persisted until I had to concede that I was never going to do anything with the domain myself.

Once the deal went through I learned that the buyer was Time Warner, picking up the domain to use for its weekly media-critic show by the same name. I was not surprised that Time Warner was interested as I have known about the show for a long time. I’m actually surprised they didn’t approach me sooner as I might have sold it to them 10 years ago, but somehow no one asked until just now. I’m happy they will do something with it as I like the concept behind the show, though the media judging the media isn’t exactly what I would call subjective.

So I bid farewell to the domain, though maybe the idea behind it is still worth pursuing. I suppose that part of my idea has been implemented in a different way by Wikipedia with its peer-reviewed articles and insistence on citations. Had I been more motivated sixteen years ago, I might have invented Wikipedia a year before Jimmy Wales did.