His intent – use the existing articles in the popular online encyclopedia and copy them under the provisions of the GNU Free Documentation License, creating a web site:
“to allow regular people a place to work under the direction of experts, and in which personal accountability–including the use of real names–is expected.”
How will it work? Sanger calls it a “progressive fork”, meaning:
“Citizendium will begin as, simply, a mirror of Wikipedia. Then people start making changes to articles in the Citizendium.”
Sound familiar? It’s similar to the process-heavy, expert-controlled Nupedia that Sanger was hired to create in March 2000. In its first year of existence, Nupedia had problems getting enough critical mass and volunteers, so Wikipedia was started by Sanger and Jimmy Wales in January 2001 to gather more editors and articles. Well Wikipedia actually became a project with a life of its own, and the wiki process wasn’t just good for gathering rough contributions. The wiki-way did an unexpectedly great job of creating usable versions in themselves. Exit Nupedia. Wikipedia was the “it” project, and Sanger left for the academic life in 2002.
Wikipedia flourished to become the top 15 web site that is today. But Sanger feels that for experts, academics and professionals out there, Wikipedia is just too chaotic and weak on process to participate in and trust. And given the vandals and trolls Wikipedia deals with every minute, he has a point. Even the Wikipedia community knows this.
At the Wikimania 2006 conference at Harvard, Wales exhorted the leading projects to turn from quantity to quality. At 1.3 million articles, the English Wikipedia should make sure entries aren’t just complete, but reliable. As a start, German Wikipedia (the 2nd largest) announced they would experiment with a “stable versions” proposal to present “nonvandalized” or “checked” versions of an article to the public, and not necessarily the last edited version. The details have yet to be worked out, and the technical implementation is not done yet.
So Citizendium comes at an interesting time but from a different angle. It strives to increase the quality of Wikipedia articles, but by explicitly giving expert editors a place of privilege.
Sanger has refined the 2000 Nupedia model which depended on qualified Ph.D. holders and a rigorous process. In the Citizendium model, he has decided to go the way of Wikipedia by forgoing strict procedures and process. But there will be no anonymous editing, and there will be two looser classes of users – editors and authors.
“[Editors] will be invited to come to the website and simply declare themselves to be editors, if they meet certain benchmark requirements–the same straight-up credentials that the offline world relies on.”
“[Editors] place a link to their CV on their user page, and declare themselves to be editors. Since this declaration must be made publicly on the wiki, and credentials must be verifiable online via links on user pages, it will be very easy for the community to spot false claims to editorship.”
Sounds good in principle, but the borderline cases will likely cause bitter debate within the community. (As these tend to happen in Wikipedia as well.)
Authors and editors will work “shoulder-to-shoulder” as in Wikipedia, according to Sanger. “Editors will not be able to direct work in a top-down fashion.”
But Citizendium editors will have some authority, something consistently frowned upon in Wikipedia:
“Generally, authors will defer to editors when editors are speaking about their areas of specialization. When authors get into a dispute, they may work out a compromise, or they may consult an editor. Editors’ decisions will be logged in a new, standard part of each article’s discussion page.”
Practically this means authors will not have final say, and:
“Editors will have the right to place articles in an “approved” category.”
This is quite different than the Wikipedia model, but it is quite clear that potentially, trolls and vandals can be neutralized quite quickly in Citizendium.
Right now, Citizendium is but a concept. A mailing list, a planning wiki and even an IRC chat room have been set up. Sanger is looking for donations, servers, technicians and programmers. Sanger feels disaffected Wikipedians and a whole class of discriminating academics will be attracted to his project. And despite a story in Slashdot about Wikipedians “not amused” by the project, there have been many well-wishers in the Wikipedia mailing lists.
After all, with a free license for both projects, any good work from Citizendium can always be reincorporated back into Wikipedia.
So 2006 appears to be the dawn of second generation peer-produced encyclopedias. While Wikipedia is tightening its model, Nupedia (via Citizendium) is loosening it.
They might just meet somewhere in the middle.
Check back for a followup post this week comparing community dynamics between Wikipedia and Citizendium.