Citizendium

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Citezendium

URL = http://www.citizendium.org/

The philosophy of the project is explained at http://citizendium.org/essay.html


Description

From a detailed article which describes in a first part, what is wrong with the Wikipedia model acording to Larry Sanger, and after describing the new ideas, concludes with an inquiry of whether it will work.

We only reproduce the second part: how will it work.

See at http://moderndragons.blogspot.com/2006/10/citizendium.html


"So what is Citizendium?

It's difficult to write about Citizendium since it doesn't yet exist in a functional form, but Sanger and others have nailed down enough details on the Citizendium webpage, mailing lists, and forums such that one can get a decent picture of what the project is about. It's set to formally launch sometime in the next few months, taking stock and establishing a community charter after 6-12 months of operation. At this early juncture, needless to say, reports of its death by over-eager bloggers have been greatly exaggerated.

In short, Citizendium is a lot like Wikipedia. It'll be a free, wiki-based encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It'll use the same wiki software as Wikipedia, the same neutrality policy, and even start out as a complete, frequently synchronized mirror of Wikipedia's content, diverging only as articles are edited.

The difference lies largely in how the communities will be structured: Wikipedia attempts to harness the latent abilities of the masses by focusing on empowering everyone to contribute and by giving the project a lot of leeway for self-organization. Citizendium, on the other hand, attempts to provide a workspace which benefits from both Wikipedia-style collaboration and academic scholarly norms by abolishing anonymity, courting the academics who are primed to 'get' wikis, and promoting a culture of deference to experts.

Eric S. Raymond famously likened the traditional way of creating software and content- Microsoft Windows and the Encyclopedia Britannica, for instance- to building a cathedral. There's a top-down central planner, closely guarded blueprints and drafts, workers contracted to implement those blueprints, a laborious quality assurance process, and so forth. The Open Source and Wikipedia model, in contrast, is more analogous to a freewheeling bazaar in that, with no central authority, order sort of emerges bottom-up from the actions and desires of the participants. People see what needs to be done, and due to the project's open design and collective ownership, can do it themselves. This open approach can create wonderful things that the cathedral model can't- like Linux and Wikipedia.

Sanger is quite specific that despite the addition of experts, Citizendium still follows the bottom-up bazaar model:


Experts will be expected to work shoulder-to-shoulder with ordinary people in this project in more or less the same bottom-up fashion that Wikipedia uses. The difference is that, when content disputes arise, whatever editors are paying attention to the article will be empowered to articulate a resolution--if the article falls in their area of specialization. Furthermore, their decisions will be enforceable. Think of editors as the village elders wandering the bazaar and occasionally dispensing advice and reining in the wayward. Their presence is merely a moderating, civilizing influence. They don't stop the bazaar from being a bazaar. ... This isn't going to be a top-down, command-and-control system. It is merely a sensible community: one where the people who have made it their life's work to study certain areas are given a certain appropriate authority--without thereby converting the community into a traditional top-down academic editorial scheme.


Dispensing with abstractions, how does Citizendium differ from Wikipedia?


Charter:

Citizendium will have a project charter; Wikipedia does not. In hindsight, Sanger believes a charter necessary to keep a community focused, to allow for project stability and "the rule of law," and to allow individuals to self-select correctly. The current plan is to decide on a charter after 6-12 months of operation.


Experts:

Citizendium will have expert editors that (in theory) are self-appointed. The plan is to allow people to announce their status as an expert editor in a certain field along with their CV and/or resume on their user page, and let the community sort out who is and isn't qualified. The organizing principle for allowing self-selection as editor is formal expertise, and although the FAQ states that "A Ph.D. will be neither necessary nor sufficient for editorship," the presence or absence of an advanced degree will probably play a very large part in the community's decision (from Sanger's comments, it appears a lack of formal credentials may prevent even an experienced and respected contributor to Citizendium from becoming an editor). Ideally policing the editor self-selection process won't become a large time sink, but if allowing self-certification doesn't work to select experts, there will be other ways.

The current plan calls for expert editors to have no more admin power than regular users; it's just assumed that the mantle of editor will carry with it sufficient authority to carry out the role of editor, and constables will deal with the scofflaws.

It's hard to precisely identify what roles expert editors will play, since so much of that will depend on how the community comes to understand the position and will doubtlessly vary between editors, but their primary roles qua editor appear to be being the go-to authority for problems and conflict, to steward the articles in their care, and to gently guide contributors and contributions. Of note, an expert is only an expert when they're dealing with things that fall under their area of expertise. Two things Sanger has expressed a particular desire to avoid are experts who possessively squat on 'their' articles and experts who attempt to act as "top-down" authorities, and presumably this intent will be written into the charter.


Constables:

There will be a corps of constables, people who have passed some sort of character and minimum-education and/or minimum-age review and are empowered to expediently ban troublemakers and enforce the charter. Ideally social norms will do most of the work of reigning in the wayward and constables will only be called in on extreme cases, but Sanger has repeatedly expressed a preference for aggressively banning troublemakers and trolls before they poison the community's atmosphere. The presence of constables is in contrast with Wikipedia's rather slow but perhaps more democratic process of banning users via arbitration committees. Sanger envisions a distinct separation between the powers of editors and constables.


Real Names:

As Sanger puts it,


There are two reasons for my support of the use of real names. First, a culture of real names will reduce (obviously, not eliminate) the amount of troublesome behavior that we see on Wikipedia. Second, and just as importantly, the use of real names underscores the importance of taking real-life, real-world responsibility for one's work. This project is to be *continuous* with the rest of the world, in a real sense, not its own little provincial world with our own identities and our own credentials.


Simplification:

Sanger feels Wikipedia tends to accrue unneeded complexity in bureaucracy and organization. There will be a significant focus on simplifying and avoiding subject categories, portals, user boxes, and wikiprojects, and minimizing the number of official roles in the community. Presumably this will also involve less focus on current events and facts from pop culture and more on the areas of knowledge which encyclopedias have traditionally been concerned with.


Article Approval:

Experts and/or copyeditors will be able to 'approve' a specific revision of an article, which people may choose to use and cite while others are hammering away at the primary, freewheeling wiki version.


Constitutional Republic (future directions):

Though this isn't apparent from Citizendium.org, Sanger has elsewhere expressed his preference for constitutional republic-style governments in online communities, and has gone on record as saying that "a collaborative community would do well to think of itself as a polity with everything that that entails: a representative legislative, a competent and fair judiciary, and an effective executive, all defined in advance by a charter." I would guess he will strongly push for a charter which includes these provisions, along with an orderly way by which to alter the charter.

All these changes add up to a different website, and a very different community than Wikipedia's. It's not a stretch to say that Wikipedia was concerned with making a working online encyclopedia; Citizendium is concerned with making a community that, if it works, will make a really good online encyclopedia.

Fundamentally, Citizendium is an experiment in collaboration. As Sanger puts it, "What the world has yet to test is the notion of experts and ordinary folks (and remember: experts working outside their areas of expertise are then "ordinary folks") working together, shoulder-to-shoulder, on a single project according to open, open source principles. That is the radical experiment I propose." (http://moderndragons.blogspot.com/2006/10/citizendium.html)

Commentary

By Clay Shirky at http://many.corante.com/archives/2006/09/18/larry_sanger_citizendium_and_the_problem_of_expertise.php


"Reading the Citizendium manifesto, two things jump out: his faith in experts as a robust and largely context-free category of people, and his belief that authority can exist largely free of expensive enforcement. Sanger wants to believe that expertise can survive just fine outside institutional frameworks, and that Wikipedia is the anomaly. It can’t, and it isn’t. ... Sanger is an incrementalist, and assumes that the current institutional framework for credentialling experts and giving them authority can largely be preserved in a process that is open and communally supported. The problem with incrementalism is that the very costs of being an institution, with the significant overhead of process, creates a U curve — it’s good to be a functioning hierarchy, and its good to be a functioning community with a core group, but most of the hybrids are less fit than either of the end points. ... The philosophical issue here is one of deference. Citizendium is intended to improve on Wikipedia by adding a mechanism for deference, but Wikipedia already has a mechanism for deference — survival of edits. ... Deference, on Citizendium will be for people, not contributions, and will rely on external credentials, a priori certification, and institutional enforcement. Deference, on Wikipedia, is for contributions, not people, and relies on behavior on Wikipedia itself, post hoc examination, and peer-review. Sanger believes that Wikipedia goes too far in its disrespect of experts; what killed Nupedia and will kill Citizendium is that they won’t go far enough." ([1]]