You might think that Jimmy Wales, founder of the world’s largest and most famous open-source encyclopedia, might be a fan on bitcoin and blockchain. Not so.
Wales is well known as a crypto critic. Back in 2014, Wikipedia started accepting the virtual currency, as it still does today. Bitcoin is one of many ways supporters can donate to the Wikimedia Foundation. As an open-source initiative without obvious revenues, the platform is constantly soliciting donations to cover its costs.
But Wales himself is a skeptic.
‘I have reservations about blockchain,’
he said after a recent conference.
‘It’s a super-interesting technology, but it’s clearly a bubble with a lot of mania and hype around it.’
ICOs in particular have come under Wales’ fire. Wikipedia itself will never hold an ICO and never issue a virtual currency, he says. He sees no need.
Maybe he has a point. There’s a reason that Wikipedia is the fifth most popular site on the web. And so far, its army of volunteer editors have been happy to give up their time for free to add value to the site for the benefit of all.
Legitimate and genuine kudos goes to Wales for building such a massive, open and valuable community with so little funding. But you have to wonder whether that approach is sustainable. Newer wiki-style platforms are arising, which pay contributors in crypto – Lunyr being an obvious example. If the market functions as it should, why would someone write for free when the same effort could earn them a reward? Sure, some people will do it out of public spirit. But many will want to reap the financial benefit of that work.
There is definitely room in this world for a ‘public service’ resource like Wikipedia, and the anti-fake news WikiTribute that Wales also set up. News without the distortions of financial interests is vital to free speech. But the landscape of open source platforms is shifting with the rise of blockchain, and it’s anybody’s guess whether such resources can survive in the long run.
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