Why Everything2 failed

From Jonathan's Reference Pages


Before Wikipedia took the crown as the Internet's top user-editable encyclopaedia, there was Everything2. E2 was flush with community features, was open to a broader variety of content than Wikipedia, and had support of then-popular site Slashdot. What was E2, and why did Wikipedia win?

History

I first encountered Everything2 some time in 2000 or 2001, before most Internet users had ever heard of Wikipedia. Websites that other people could edit were still a relatively new concept, and aside from appointed senior editors, users could not edit each others' writing.

This restriction may sound harsh, but it gave Everything2 a property that Wikipedia has never had. Since users are given full responsibility for their own writing, there's no enforced neutrality. You can find personal anecdotes, opinion pieces, and humour, as the author wrote it, immune to the meddling of nitpicking users. Quality control is enforced by a communal voting system rewarding interesting, not factual content.

Cream of the Cool

Everything2's solution to quality control was a roleplaying-game style experience system. Users are rewarded with "experience points" for creating content and receiving positive votes. Users received promotions based on the number of experience points earned and writeups created, with each level offering increasing power and responsibility.

At level 2, you gain the privilege of voting on other users, up to ten articles per day, for which action you too are awarded experience. Level 4 grants the ability to hand out "Cools", an award that briefly promotes the article to the front page. It's much the same model that keeps World of Warcraft running at ten million players, and it worked to create an average of around 45,000 writeups per year.

So why did it fail?

Ultimately, the drawback to Everything2 was that it was naturally subtractive. Because users couldn't edit poor quality work, a bad writeup could only be left bad or deleted. On Wikipedia, the same content would be gradually improved by successive users. It doesn't matter if a user gives up and leaves, because on Wikipedia anyone else can edit his material.

Senior E2 editors tried to combat this problem with a mass-deletion of poor quality content, a process titled "Raising the Bar". Unfortunately, this only discouraged users, who could return to the site after a hiatus to discover their material removed and hard-earned experience points deducted.

Raising the Bar improved quality overall, but did it so by oligarchy of senior editors, rather than the democratic system already in place. The real problem was that users weren't collaborating on content to improve quality of the existing material, and that's something Wikipedia had solved much better than Everything2.

Still Good

That said, Everything2 today is still home to some great content. Here's a list of some nodes that I enjoyed; your list can and should vary.


Page created: 20th October 2008. Last Updated: 25th September 2009