Citizendium since the slashdotting

February 9, 2007

Following on from the recent slashdotting of Citizendium, I thought it might be worth breaking down the numbers to see how they’re faring since the article ran. They appear to have weathered the ‘Slashdot effect’, which involves ten of thousands of geeks descending upon a page in a short space of time (usually bringing it to its knees in the process), but how has the publicity affected the project itself?

A little while after the Slashdot article appeared online, Larry Sanger emailed the following to the Citizendium-L mailing list:

All,

Looking over the user creation log since our Slashdotting about five hours ago, I’m happy to report that we’ve got a rather higher user bio creation rate from our new Slashdot folks than previously–perhaps one in five are actually creating bios. And they’re behaving themselves rather well so far. :-)

All we need now are some servers to handle all those Slashdotters who didn’t create accounts actually hitting the database at the same time…and we’ll launch publicly. For this we need more donations, frankly, and I’m busy trying to arrange matters with a variety of different possible sources. That’s why I’m pretty sure that by hook or crook we’ll be technically prepared for a public launch before TOO much longer.

–Larry

At that point in time, Larry was seeing a predictable surge in new accounts as people (more importantly, geeks) flocked to the website and decided to join up. Exactly how big was this surge? Well, let’s take a look (larger version here):

In fact, Larry was quite right: the 7th of February (the date of the slashdot article’s publication, server time) saw almost ten times as many new users as the site is normally used to, a surge that hasn’t quite died off yet. That’s extremely impressive, and Sanger was quite right to be excited looking at just these numbers.

However, the situation is a little more involved than that. Are these new users making improvements to the site, or are they there to vandalise it?

The next place to look is the recent changes page at Citizendium, which log all the changes made to articles as well as user account creations and blocks, and page deletions. This is what it looks like for those without access:

The last 24 hours have seen exactly 824 changes logged to this page. They break down like this:

  1. 133 edits to users’ talk pages. These include welcome messages, normal conversation and sometimes minor changes to the page layout and categorisation. These aren’t really worth worrying about.
  2. 42 user blocks. Each time a user is blocked for vandalism, it is logged to both the recent changes and IP block lists. Compare this to the first six days of February, which averaged out at seven vandal blocks per day; the 7th of February, however, saw 56 blocks. In short, the last couple of days have seen a sharp increase in vandalism at Citizendium, although it still seems to be within manageable levels.
  3. 99 new users; this compares with an average of 40 per day for the first six days of February, and over four hundred on the 7th.
  4. 76 page deletions. Comparing this with an average of four per day for the first six days this month is a little worrying, and the vast majority of these deletions appear to be vandal-related:

At the end of the day, excluding edits in the above categories and made to non-article namespaces (such as “Citizendium Pilot” pages), we’re left with just 147 edits made to articles. Let’s compare that with the last week or so (large version here):

Since a large number of recent changes were article deletions and user blocks, it’s worth looking at the number of blocks per day as well. Here they are (large version here):

The graph above shows a fairly impressive spike on the day of the slashdotting, then a day of relative silence (although 15 is still much higher than the daily average prior to 2007-02-07), and a resurgence in vandal activity over the last 24 hours. If anything, the influx of new users is having a negative net effect on the project, judging by the summaries being used for many of these blocks (full size here):

Ten out of the seventeen most recent blocks shown use the word “vandal” in the summary, three give no summary at all, and the other four are for relatively innocuous reasons (specifically, malformed usernames).

The conclusion here is that even a slashdotting couldn’t significantly increase contributions made to the website. However, as we’ve already seen, the increase in activity over the last 2-3 days has resulted in as much higher level of vandal activity; in reality, it appears that the website’s publicity has worked against it.

This contrasts rather harshly with Sanger’s comment in the email I quoted above, saying that “…they’re behaving themselves rather well so far.” Actually, most new users are either silent observers (which, given Larry’s approach to leadership, probably constitutes “good behaviour”), or actively vandalising the website. Quelle irony.

Yes, it appears that the original slashdot entry, which appears to have been the cause of much of this activity, was entitled “A Wikipedia WIthout Graffiti” — an article billing Citizendium as the vandal-free Wikipedia directly contributed to a higher rate of vandalism. Given that this increase was not coupled with an increase in positive activity, it seems that the last three days have been a noticeable step backwards for the budding Wikipedia alternative.

Update: Just a note to point out that Larry noticed the vandalism, too.

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