Mahbod Moghadam is an entrepreneur and angel investor, whose current project is Everipedia, a direct competitor to Wikipedia. “Thug Wikipedia” as it’s known to insiders in the company, was co-founded by Moghadam and Sam Kazemian, who met at UCLA in 2015. Moghadam is most widely well-known for co-Founding Rap Genius, and per his Everipedia page:
Moghadam resigned from Genius in 2014 after receiving negative media attention for writing annotations on maniacal shooter Elliot Rodger’s manifesto on his own website.
I exchanged a series of e-mails with Moghadam about his thoughts on the industry, and our most extensive back and forth focused on the dangers of groupthink on the internet. We tend to remember what people get wrong more than what they get right, but I think that’s mainly because there is more to choose from as to what we get right, and that model lends itself well to digital infrastructures. But, I think that the central flaw exposed in the ever-expanding web of social media is that the internet makes for an easy place to dog pile, and simply relying on human nature is bound to lead people in the wrong direction at some point.
For example, during the Boston Bombing, a well-intentioned Reddit thread pieced together information, and wrongly accused two innocent kids of being the bombers, and they wound up on the cover of the New York Post.
This interview had been edited for clarity and length
Now that there are a litany of fake news sites, the danger of groupthink leading to upvoting something very wrong is even bigger. How do you plan to combat the influence of fake news on Everipedia?
The site is a wiki, so there’s bound to be mistakes. But the point of a wiki is that it’s an ongoing discussion-you can see the upvotes, downvotes, and comments very easily, unlike on Wikipedia where there is a “talk” section that hardly anyone even knows how to use.
Reddit is a group-brain site too. I gotta admit, I don’t use Reddit. But, even though the Boston Bombing example that you bring up makes Reddit look very bad, I imagine that Reddit is a force to combat fake news through discussion. The big difference is that Reddit’s discussions-not unlike Facebook’s-are haphazard and chaotic. [We plan for] Everipedia to have the most sophisticated groupthink software of all time, modeled off sites like Quora, Stackoverflow, and Genius.
Everipedia is going to be the answer to fake news. All we’ve got right now Snopes.com, which is run by husband and wife Barbara and David P. Mikkelson. There are all these floater sites trying to do what Everipedia is going to do. Now imagine when we have a huge community, who will do a better job of monitoring fake news? Snopes or us?
Also, I want to say one more thing in defense of Reddit, even though I think it’s outdated and I don’t use it; you bring up an example where Reddit gave a bad result, but how often is Reddit the source of true, meaningful, and valuable news? Sometimes I feel like all of news media is based on Reddit now; or for that matter, Wikipedia. For all of its goofs, Wikipedia is legit. It is the go-to source for information. Everipedia is going to make all information as legit as Wikipedia-except the format and presentation will be way more advanced than Wikipedia. We will cast a wider net, but also give better results.
Also, everything on Everipedia has to be cited from an internet source. You can’t cite a source that is not immediately verifiable. We are putting the footnotes front-and-center, so to speak. We have zero anonymous info. You know from whom all the information on the site is coming from, including “Verified Accounts” for celebrities, academics, and journalists. Plus, everyone has an IQ score.
My example is definitely an extreme outlier, but I bring it up to highlight the common danger in all networks whose end-product relies on the collective work of their users.
The criticism you make is definitely a very valid criticism of the internet as a whole, but I think it really draws attention to why Everipedia needs to exist. It’s not like any random person can contribute to Everipedia. We closely vet everyone who joins. In some ways, we are stricter than Wikipedia since we don’t allow anonymous edits. However, unlike Wikipedia since we’re for-profit, we have a strong incentive to retain all of the “good actors” who sign up for the site, rather than scaring them away to maintain the exclusivity of our clique.
Take the example of Snopes.com, which is meant to fact-check everything on the internet. Their site is not at all sophisticated, but what they do is so badly needed that they get a ton of traffic. Our software is going to be much more sophisticated than Reddit, so we think we can do a much better job of policing the internet rather than adding on to the confusion.
Do you have a take on the wide-ranging topic that has become Twitter?
It sucks that it is happening, but it looks like Twitter is unraveling. Facebook is taking over a lot of the things that Twitter used to do best. I don’t think this is because there is anything intrinsically wrong with Twitter’s product; I think it’s because their company is not managed well and they are losing the branding war. For example, one trend that played a major role in Twitter’s rise was rappers using Twitter to communicate to fans. African-Americans were one of the earliest demographics to adopt Twitter, and it was the main way for rappers like Lil’ Wayne and Kanye West to connect with fans. Nowadays, that role is dominated by Instagram—Instagram basically won the branding war.
Sites like Twitter or Snapchat are easy to build, but they easily unravel. One second, you’re the cool platform and everyone is using you, and the next, you’re finished. Sites like Everipedia and Rap Genius seek to build massive databases. While this is a lot more work to build, what you are building is permanent. People will be Googling questions and hopefully going to Everipedia for answers for years to come, just like they’ve been using Wikipedia since 2001. [Databases] can’t just randomly lose their brand overnight, like Twitter has.
Twitter, Snopes, Snapchat, Facebook, etc. are all in what I call the “knowledge economy” that seems to expand every year. How do you see this space playing out over the next 10 years?
I think that television and the internet will soon merge. Rather than typing in web addresses, our favorite websites will eventually be channels on TV. Facebook is the best-managed internet company. I’m sure that Facebook will play a major role in shaping the architecture. I do think that Everipedia could be a crucial element to this because, if you think about it, Wikipedia is the “anchor page” for so many topics, events, and celebrities; it will be pretty crucial once everyone has a wiki page on Everipedia.
Last question, who is on your Mount Rapmore? (Mine is Tupac, A Tribe Called Quest, Dr. Dre, and Jay-Z.)
I agree with most of your choices! My only quibbles would be that [I choose] Nas over Jay Z. He’s my homie and angel investor, so I gotta point that out. Dr. Dre doesn’t write his own raps [but] I still love him. Gucci Mane is my favorite living rapper. Cam’ron has played a very important role in my life since he’s the rapper who inspired Rap Genius. (This was the first song I ever annotated). But 2Pac…Wow, 2Pac is on another level. He’s not just my favorite rapper, he is who I strive to emulate in life. He was the Messiah.
If you’re interested in learning more about Everipedia, you can sign up here: https://everipedia.com/register