Anyone reading this have any experience with Citizendium? At the Minds and Societies summer institute today I went to a talk by Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger on Citizendium, which aspires to be “the world’s most trusted encyclopedia and knowledge base”. Citizendium is Sanger’s alternative to Wikipedia, the outcome of his unsuccessful arm-wrestle to reform Wikipedia from within. Citizendium chiefly distinguishes itself from Wikipedia by two features: its privileging of editorial expertise (over the pandemonic egalitarianism of WP) and the removal of anonymous authorship. While they sound like relatively small and sensible changes to the structure that Wikipedia has, from the presentation, question period, lunch, and other conversation I got the distinct impression that Citizendium is likely to be significantly more stodgy and less fun than Wikipedia, even if it also contains fewer whacko and misleading articles. It may become Eliteopedia or Boringopedia if the governing council doesn’t loosen or liven up a little, but it’s likely to remain Radicallyincompletopedia for more than a while: it bats at around 7000 articles now, very few of which have been approved by the knowledgable editors that Citizendium prides itself on using, in contrast to Wikipedia, which prides itself on being the encyclopedia that Homer Simpson contributes to (and which also has around 2.5 million articles … just in English, and not all by Homer).

Sanger said that Citizendium editors should have the sort of qualification that either a reviewer for an academic journal should have, or that someone entering a tenure-track job should have, and while he conceded that there would be exceptions, that these are exceptions, rather than the norm, seemed to be to be likely to limit the likely success of Citizendium in the long run, even though it can, in various ways, piggy-back on the success of Wikipedia. But few people predicted that Wikipedia would be the success, popular and otherwise, that it has been, and Citizendium has already surprised many people simply by continuing to exist for more than 12 months.

I don’t doubt there’s room for both Wikipedia and Citizendium–hey, virtual space is a big place, after all. And I also think that Wikipedia has dug itself into at least a darkish hole in letting top-notch content get wiped a little too often. But I wasn’t as wowed by the presentation of Citizendium as I thought I might be, given my antecedent sympathies. I may just be more prepared to put up with less than perfect content for the playful anarchy that makes Wikipedia what it is.


4 thoughts on “Citizendium

  1. Pingback: What’s Hot at What Sorts: take three! « What Sorts of People

  2. As an early and very strongly committed contributor to Citizendium — I had over 3,500 edits on the site — I have to say it is moribund. Though Wikipedia has its problems, its coverage is enormous, and it would take a decade or more at its present rate of growth for Citizendium to come close. A good idea that just didn’t draw enough support, Citizendium may be a model for the future, but the site itself is largely useless.

    Back at the start, the idea was to fork Wikipedia, and improve it. This would have taken a very large effort, but it would have been worth it — now, standing by itself with 8,000 entries of varying quality on random subjects, it has little value. Furthermore, Larry Sanger, though he certainly has some street cred as Wikipedia’s co-founder, was (in my personal opinion) a bit of a despot in a teapot — once he attracted experts, he quibbled and micromanaged them to the point that many of us left in a huff (and, as Groucho might say, the rest left in a “minute and a huff”)

    Despite all this, I do think that CZ, as we called it, has had some good influences — the new Google Knol has clearly taken some lessons from it — and it’s part of the larger spirit of collaborative editing which I think still has a few tricks to teach us!

  3. Thanks for the rap, profrap! As for me, I have advanced now to treating Dickipedia ( as my ultimate knowledge source for all things at least biographical. I figured I’d just generalize from there to round out the missing bits. It’s certainly helped me a lot in trying to make sense of that crazy thing Down South they have there called “the US election”.

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