Wednesday, April 11, 2007

An alternative to Wikipedia: Citizendium

There was a fascinating article in last Sunday's Register-Guard newspaper, about an alternative to Wikipedia, created by Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger. Here are some excerpts from the article By Brian Bergstein:

Wikipedia, with names

[...] Sanger recently took the wraps off a Wikipedia alternative, Citizendium. His goal is to capture Wikipedia's bustle but this time, avoid the vandalism and inconsistency that are its pitfalls.

Like Wikipedia, Citizendium is a nonprofit, devoid of ads and free to read and edit. Unlike Wikipedia, Citizendium's volunteer contributors are expected to provide their real names. Experts in given fields are asked to check articles for accuracy.

''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.''


Stephen Ewen, an adult-education instructor in Jupiter, Fla., who quit contributing to Wikipedia and plans to work on Citizendium, believes the quality of Wikipedia entries often degrades over time because someone inevitably comes along to express a counterproductive viewpoint.

Contributors are free to hash out such changes on the discussion pages that accompany every article. But Ewen believes that Wikipedia's anonymity reduces the accountability that stimulates healthy exchanges. To some dissidents, Wikipedia seems an inscrutable world unto itself - not unlike the devotion-inspiring virtual environs of role-playing games.

''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.'' [...]

(bold emphasis mine) I like Wikipedia and use it a lot. Yet I share some of the concerns brought up in this article. Because the information on Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, I've been reluctant to use it as an exclusive source. There are stories of abuse, about uninformed people editing information incorrectly to advance agendas of their own.

Citizendium would seem to take steps to avoid this, by avoiding anonymity and acknowledging authoritative sources for verification. The project is still in beta stage, while they build up their articles and data base. The article has more about that, as well as counter arguments from Wikipedia's de facto leader, Jimmy Wales. It makes for interesting reading.

I think with the two sites competing, there will be more striving for accuracy, and thus we will all win. Welcome, Citizendium!

Related Link:

Collectivism, the internet and the "hive"


Anonymous said...

Come on over and give it a try, Chas!

Chas said...

Thanks Stephen, I will. I've already had a quick look, but I will start trying it out too. It looks like a very promising project.