If the whole world wrote a story, would it be worth reading?


Marko Sekardi, creator of BillionMindsUnited.com

Marko Sekardi

Marko Sekardi, a 23 year-old economics grad from Slovenia, has a goal: he wants to make a million dollars. It’s a goal that is no doubt shared by many 23 year-olds. Unlike many 23 year-olds however, Sekardi has no intention of working at a job in order to earn that money. Instead, he has built a website which he calls a “homepage” and is hoping to sell enough ads on this site to reach his goal so that he can fund his love of traveling.

Sekardi’s plan sounds simplistic and perhaps a bit naïve. If it were that easy to build a site that could attract a million dollars of advertising, we’d all be doing it.

If Sekardi’s ambition is realized, we will all be doing it – for him.

His site is called BillionMindsUnited and it might be the biggest experiment in crowdsourcing ever conducted.

BillionMindsUnited is deceptively simple: It’s a tool that lets everyone with a browser and internet access contribute to a story – written in English – by voting for each letter one at a time.

Sekardi is hoping that enough of the world’s netizens will find this idea so compelling that they return again and again – and in ever increasing numbers – until the site is so heavily trafficked that advertisers can’t resist the opportunity to get their messages in front of that many people.

When you arrive at the site, you are presented with the text of the story so far, which at the time this post was written consisted of:

“Chapter 1
THE END OF T”

Sekardi's site lets you see how many votes each character received.

Sekardi's site lets you see how many votes each character received.

Beneath this is a virtual keyboard which you use to submit your vote for the next character. It can be any letter of the alphabet, in lowercase or caps, numbers from 0-9 and a few punctuation marks, though frankly not enough for my liking. The hyphen character is conspicuously absent.

Given that the site launched June 24th and has only collected enough votes to establish the first 9 characters of the story, it’s far too early to tell if we’re going to be treated to the next great work of literature or something bland and poorly written. The term “designed by committee” springs instantly to mind and leaves me dubious about the chances this project has of producing a story worth reading.

If you would like to identify yourself as part of the committee, you can list yourself on the site’s Authors page, or you can remain silent and contribute your votes anonymously.

The voting mechanism isn’t explained in much detail in the site’s FAQ. It states somewhat enigmatically that:

“After a predetermined number of votes, the letter that received the most votes will be typed in, and voting for the next letter will begin. When every person on this planet votes for a letter, there will be about 300.000 letters on the homepage.”

Now I’m not great at math, but this would seem to indicate that if the world’s population (6,800,000,000 in 2009 according to a U.N. estimate) and if all of those people votes resulted in 300,000 chosen characters, each of those characters require 22,666 votes. But perhaps this represents a utopian vision for how BillionMindsUnited will work, because as of today – if the site’s published stats are correct – only 68 votes are needed to establish which character comes next.

Speaking of math that doesn’t quite add up, let’s take a look at how Sekardi is planning to charge for the advertising that will eventually make him his million dollars.

On the homepage, Sekardi has allocated two columns for advertising, one on each side of the “story”. Each column contains 800 10×10 pixel square “blocks”. Each block costs $100 to buy. You can buy as many blocks as you like, limited only by the number of available blocks. Once you buy your blocks, barring any disagreement over what you display in those blocks, they are yours for the lifespan of the site – a minimum of 10 years according to the FAQ. Here’s the problem: even if Sekardi is successful in selling 100% of the available blocks, he will only net $160,000.

Again, math isn’t my strength, but Sekardi claims to be an Economics grad. You’d think he’d have noticed this little hitch in his plans. Or maybe not. Sekardi claims that his motivation for creating BillionMindsUnited isn’t about getting rich, but primarily stems from personal curiosity and because he loves “every single atom in this universe“.

Sekardi, thanking users for their vote.

Sekardi, thanking users for their vote.

He clearly has a special fondness for the specific atoms that make up Marko Sekardi. BillionMindsUnited might be all about brining the world together to create a story, but it is also serving as an unapologetic calling card for its creator. Sekardi’s image graces nearly every page of the site, sometimes in cartoonish poses as he beckons you to take part in the voting process and later thanks you for having done so.

The result is amusing, but it leaves us asking ourselves if BillionMindsUnited is a grand experiment in social science, a get-rich quick scheme, a joke, or merely a way for an enterprising young man to get himself noticed by people who can help him achieve his desire to travel a lot and work as little as possible?

The answer, much like the story the site is encouraging us to write, is something we all get a hand in deciding.

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5 comments

  1. Vanessa

    Perhaps this book will not be the world’s top-rated literature classic and it might not even be completed in the end, but the idea definitely is original and interesting enough for the Internet world. Besides, Marko Sekardi may not have the best math skills and may be a little bit naïve. However, his website is not hurting anyone and it makes for a pretty interesting experiment.

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