Larry Sanger discusses Citizendium launch

November 9, 2006

The latest episode of Wikipedia Weekly has finally been released, featuring an interview with both the German Wikipedia user Poupou and the founder of Citizendium, Larry Sanger. In the interview with Sanger, we discussed the recent release of the pilot version of Citizendium, which at the time comprised of just a couple of hundred contributors, a rapidly expanding number that had doubled from just a few days before.

From the interview:

This is one thing that I don’t think Wikipedians quite realise yet. If Citizendium takes off, we practically guarantee the long-term survival of Wikipedia itself…

–Larry Sanger

The above, I think, is a very interesting point. If Citizendium is successful when released to the public — which seems very likely, with the extraordinary press coverage it has received — it’ll benefit from both the wealth of content already available from Wikipedia under the GNU FDL license, and the relative ease of improving that content, rather than create it anew.

This, and other fundamental differences between the projects, would allow Citizendium to build up high quality versions of many Wikipedia articles in a relatively short space of time, and would become a tempting resource for readers. Once this point is reached, Wikipedia itself would certainly start to reference the improved versions of its own content, and the links to the “originals” required under the GNU FDL would promote both projects from each other.

I imagine what a lot of people will do, is they will go look at the Citizendium article, and they say “okay, that’s very nice, let’s see what those people over at wikipedia have to say now,” and get their take.

–Larry Sanger

While I think Sanger’s thought on this are the wrong way around — initially, at least, the links at Wikipedia will be the ones that drive people to Citizendium — I’m very confident about Citizendium’s prospects. From what I’ve seen of the project, and from our conversation last week, Citizendium appears to have fixed many of the problems that plague Wikipedia.

  • The project’s requirements for new articles will be much, much lower. Whereas Wikipedia requires that articles demonstrate their notability — perhaps in contradiction of the concept that Wikipedia is not a paper encyclopedia — so users may find it much easier to introduce new material. Citizendium could become the open, welcoming website that Wikipedia should be. From the interview:

The point is not to determine who is notable enough to be in the encyclopedia, because there’s all kinds of things that aren’t notable to anybody but a handful of people, but there are still articles about them. It doesn’t have to do with notability, it has to do with maintainability. In other words, if some information can be reliably maintained… then there’s no reason why we can’t have it.

— Larry Sanger

  • The post of “Admin” at Wikipedia has now been split into two different roles: Constables that settle disputes over behaviour, and Editors that settle content disputes. The mixed role of administrators at Wikipedia — which involves page protection, vandal-fighting, deletion and meting out punishment depending on the user’s personal preferences — would be much more rigidly defined and, I think, potentially more efficient.
  • Citizendium begins at an advantage. With a wealth of content available from Day One, a registration system that promises to prevent vandalism very effectively, and on the task of article improvement necessarily before it, the project not only has a much smaller job to do, but automatically gains from it — “Wikipedia Plus” is the image I have in mind. If they can make a significant difference to the articles they have by the time of their public release, they have a massive headstart.

So all that remains is for the new contributors to the site to get to work, and hopefully produce something wonderful. Even if Citizendium fails for one reason or another, we still gain some insights into how Wikipedia itself could be improved, and it certainly does need some improvement.

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One Response to “Larry Sanger discusses Citizendium launch”

  1. Kali Tal Says:

    For another perspective on Citizendium and on Larry Sanger’s policies, please visit http://www.kalital.com, where there is a lively discussion taking place about Sanger’s policy of excluding Ethnic and Gender studies from the Citizendium category system.

    Despite its claim to Enlightenment principles and neutrality, Sanger has clear political biases which are expressed in his stated policies about Citizendium. Ethnic studies and Gender studies scholars have been repeatedly challenged by Sanger to prove that their disciplines have worth, and they are subject to a level of scrutiny not visited upon scholars in disciplines Sanger considers to be legitimate.

    As a result, an entry like “African American Literature” is subject to political manipulation: African Americanist scholars who attempted to engage in revision of the original Wikipedia article were challenged on such basic notions as the existence of an “African diaspora”.

    In the field of African American studies, the fact of the African diaspora is well-established, though the nature of that diaspora is subject to lively debate. Sanger’s declaration that the scholars who represent majority opinion in the field are “biased” or “political” is suspect, especially when the claim of bias is visited primarily on disciplines in which women and people of color make up the majority of scholars. The biases of scholars in fields that are made up of a majority of white, male scholars are emphatically not a concern to Sanger.

    You are welcome to stop by my blog and read a lengthier analysis of the problem, along with the substantive comments that have been posted.


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