Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Citizendium – the Next Wikipedia

Larry Sanger, the cofounder of Wikipedia.org has decided to attempt to fix some of the plagues that Wikipedia faces like errors, juvenile vandalism and the sometimes incomprehensibly arcane contribution. Sanger who has a doctorate in philosophy is beginning a new user contributed encyclopedia online much like Wikipedia called Citizendium.org, but with this difference, Citizendium's volunteer contributors will be expected to provide their real names and experts in given fields will be asked to check articles for accuracy.

Now this goes against the primary mantra of Wikipedia that "anyone can edit" and the egalitarianism that has made it into the colossal giant that it is. MIT reports that in just six years, Wikipedia has mushroomed into one of the Web's most astonishing successes, with 1.7 million articles in English alone.

But one of the strengths of Wikipedia has also been one of its weaknesses. Stephen Ewen, an adult-education instructor in Jupiter, Fla., who gave up on 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. This kind of Hegelian synthesis works well on some issues, but not on others.

Some popular issues, have such volume of interest that the nuances and extremes slowly work itself out, much like the free market. Others however, have less interest, and are more susceptible to being hijacked by extremist and special interest groups. Thus, an editor, though not perfect, may be that force of correction, again similar those measures and tweaks we apply to market failures. But the editors themselves have to be in the dialogue, and themselves subject to editing and correction to avoid the single viewpoint paradigm that caused the other encyclopedias to loose out to Wikipedia.

I suspect in time, both of these projects will be successful, both offering a slightly different approach that will be useful under different circumstances.

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