Posted March 26, 2007 9:42 am by with 5 comments

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One of the biggest criticisms of Wikipedia – apart from the addition of nofollow links – is that anyone can add, delete or modify an entry anonymously. This often causes major headaches – vandalized entries or spam links – and is the Achilles heel of the world’s most popular online encyclopedia.

Larry Sanger was part of the original team that launched Wikipedia and he’s now behind a new rival, Citizendium, that hopes to improve on Wikipedia and bring accountability to the information listed.

“If there’s going to be a free encyclopedia, I’d like there to be a better free encyclopedia,” says Sanger, 38, who has a doctorate in philosophy and speaks slowly, as if cautiously choosing every word. “It has bothered me that I helped to get a project started, Wikipedia, that people are misusing in this way, and yet the project itself has little chance of radically improving.”

One of the ways Sanger believe Citizendium will improve on Wikipedia, is making authors and editors more accountable for their work and removing the anonymity that shields many Wikipedia entries.

“When you put everybody in a system that is flat, where everybody can say yes or no, without any sense of authority, what you get is tribalism,” Ewen says. “What has gone into the article creation is very often the result of this dysfunctional system. It presents itself with this aura of authority, whereas what goes on behind the scenes is anything but.”

Sanger’s also hoping that making contributors confirm their identity will help reduce the incidences of vandalism.

Sanger doesn’t expect Citizendium will eradicate the puerile urge to defile the product. He just will make it harder to do. Contributors must confirm their identities and submit a short biography. Sanger says he’ll allow pseudonyms in special cases, like when a volunteer’s employer prohibits outside writing. But the person’s name would be known to Citizendium.

Citizendium officially launches this week with 900 authors, 200 editors and 1100 articles. Can it really rival Wikipedia? It will be interesting to see if the site can gain any kind of momentum or audience share with a model that is more “elitist” than the open community of Wikipedia. While it will no doubt solve some of the problems of Wikipedia, it doesn’t offer the same level of freedom and open-access that Wikipedia brings to the table. There’s no doubt in my mind that, without the ability of marketers and hobbyists to contribute to Citizendium, it won’t enjoy anywhere near the growth levels of Wikipedia.


  • This has got to be better than Wikipedia. I honestly don’t know why anyone thought Wikipedia was a good idea in the first place. Imagine if the Oxford Dictionary was contributed to by anyone, regardless of qualification. In fact, it could be considered dangerous. Imagine someone researching a diesease and treatment options, and running across Wikipedia (which could happen easily as Wikipedia is showing up on more first page results on Google all the time), and getting crap information that they may take as gospel (yes, I know most experienced usesrs wouldn’t use Wikipedia as an authoritative source, but neophytes might).

  • We’ve been talking about Citizendium over at Highbrid Nation. Personally I use Wikipedia a lot and I don’t see anything knocking it off its top spot. The features that make Citizendium better may just be the features that keep it from having the same sucess as Wikpedia. There can only be one. Who will it be?

  • I think Citizendium sounds great in theory but won’t gain the momentum of Wikipedia.

    The thing that made Wikipedia grow was the fact that ANYONE could write an article. With Citizendium, they have a limited number of authors and editors so it seems to me like it will take forever for them to reach the size of Wikipedia.

    Also, how do we know that these “confirmed identities” are truly confirmed? It just seems too easy these days to “be” someone else. How many Matt Cutt profiles do we see on Myspace, MyBlogLog, LinkedIn and many other sites?

  • I am with John on this… but perhaps it is just the fact that everything I ever contributed to Wikipedia got wiped out by some runny-nosed, pimply-faced 13 year old that thinks he knows better.

    Or perhaps it has something to do with all that post-graduate study.

    In any case, I would love to see Citizendium (which incidentally I had never heard of until this post) succeed… BUT I wonder if it is likely with the chosen name. I am sure there are a lot of possible misspellings of that one.

    Might go and see if I can sign up as an author right now.

  • Hi Andy. Thanks for blogging about this.

    To the matter of Citizendium being elitist, Larry Sanger made a blog post titled “We ain’t elitist” at that your readers might find it interesting.

    On the matter of welcoming hobbyists, the project most certainly does. In fact, hobbyists of every type have their own dedicated “Hobbies Workgroup”. To date, the workgroup has 23 articles, 12 authors, and 1 editor, although those numbers are very probably deflated due to the surge of new members who may not have figured out yet how to add themselves to the group.

    As for welcoming marketeers, everyone certainly has their own reasons for volunteering their time to improve the quality of the Internet by writing Citizendium articles. Given the quite astounding number of new contributors to the project just since its beta launch, I for one think the future is looking pretty bright.