Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has quietly launched a rival to Facebook and Twitter that he hopes will combat “clickbait” and misleading headlines. WT:Social, his new social-networking site, allows users to share links to articles and discuss them in a Facebook-style news feed. Topics range from politics and technology to heavy metal and beekeeping. While the company is completely separate to Wikipedia, Mr Wales is borrowing the online encyclopedia’s business model. WT:Social will rely on donations from a small subset of users to allow the network to operate without the advertising that he blames for encouraging the wrong kind of engagement on social media. “The business model of social media companies, of pure advertising, is problematic,” Mr Wales said. “It turns out the huge winner is low-quality content.” While Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms ensure that the posts with the most comments or likes rise to the top, WT:Social puts the newest links first. However, WT:Social hopes to add an “upvote” button that will allow users to recommend quality stories.
Since launching last month, WT:Social is approaching 50,000 users, according to Mr Wales, doubling in the past week alone. Still, that is far short of Facebook’s audience of more than 2bn. “Obviously the ambition is not 50,000 or 500,000 but 50m and 500m,” Mr Wales said.
More than 200 people have donated to support the site, he said, pointing to the success of subscriptions at Netflix, Spotify and the New York Times as evidence that a new generation of consumers are prepared to pay for “meaningful” content online. WT:Social is also operating a wait-list for new users, which donors can pay to skip.