Citizendium pilot launched

November 3, 2006

I’m a bit late on this, but it’s topical.

In case you didn’t already know, the pilot of Citizendium is now online for all the see — assuming you only want to see the Main Page and nothing else. The 100 or so current contributors seem to be hard at work on the new project, and with any luck we’ll be speaking to Larry Sanger about the launch in the next episode of Wikipedia Weekly.

I have to say that I really hope this project goes well, because I see an interesting future if Citizendium gets off the ground. The structure of the project could be a very useful extension, if you will, to Wikipedia: the fact that it’s an entirely separate project could help to free it from many of the problems exhibited by its predecessor. Obviously it will have problems of its own, but I’d like to see them complementing each other, both through competition and collaboration.

How does this work, in my mind’s eye?

Well, let’s look at the way each project is set up. Wikipedia and Citizendium both release their content under the GNU Free Documentation License, which explicitly allows other projects to copy that content and use it elsewhere — an enormous number of articles at answers.com, for instance, such as my pet Wikipedia article on that wonderful distraction that is the personal computer game, are reproduced verbatim under the terms of the license.

Now, since Wikipedia moved so strongly away from the rigid, 7-step process of approval that was a major part of Nupedia’s failure, it inherits quality problems that are very difficult to deal with. Citizendium, on the other hand, uses a rigid quality control system, combined with experts in their fields to produce accurate content that can be shared elsewhere. Can you see where I’m going with this?

I’d love to see a successful Citizendium, because I believe it would allow information to flow constantly between the two projects, being developed first at one and then passed to the other for improvement, and vice versa. Over time, I dare say that the new fork could become a de facto approval process for Wikipedia’s own articles, improving them without being limited by the restrictions of the current system.

And that can only be a good thing.

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