Sanger sticks a fork in Wikipedia

Getting too deeply into the personalities behind the formation of Wikipedia.org is not wise — much like delving into the history behind the development of RSS or podcasting (see Wikipedia entries on either for more detail, and if you’re a real glutton for punishment try reading the changelogs) — but suffice it to say that Larry Sanger played a key role in the development of the “open source” encyclopedia, along with the much more famous Jimmy Wales.

In any case, Mr. Sanger announced recently that he has decided to create his own version of Wikipedia, which he calls Citizendium. In open-source software terms, this is known as a “fork,” which is what happens when one group working on a project decides they can’t work with another group. According to Mr. Sanger, the Citizendium will begin with the complete text of what is already in Wikipedia, and then build on it.

The explicit use of experts as “editors” (non-experts are to be known as “authors”) is one of the key differences between Citizendium and Wikipedia, although how someone qualifies as an expert is not clear (that’s a problem with Jason’s idea too). Is a degree in that subject enough, or does it have to be a certain type of degree from a certain calibre of institution? Another key difference is that Citizendium will require the use of real names and email addresses, and there will be enforcers known as “constables” who can remove articles or suspend accounts.

Is any of this going to work, and if so will it make what results better or more reliable than Wikipedia? That remains to be seen. While Mr. Sanger’s proposal sounds interesting, I wonder when I read sentences like this one: “In time, an effective and fair “legal” system will be established.” How would the United States would have turned out if the Constitution had contained nothing but that single sentence under the discussion of the new republic’s legal system? Marshall Kirkpatrick has a fairly skeptical take on the new venture at TechCrunch.

I have to say I’m a little surprised that Nick “Wikipedia is dead” Carr hasn’t devoted more space to this new development. While he has posted about it, there is remarkably little about how this proves Wikipedia is flawed or that the entire community-driven knowledge model is a load of bollocks etc., etc. There’s some discussion at Slashdot (with Sanger taking part) and Nick has helpfully linked to the original email thread in which Sanger proposed turning what was then called Nupedia into a wiki back in 2001.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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