By Nate Anderson | Published: November 21, 2007 – 08:21AM CT
When we took a long look at Citizendium back in February, we noted that only eight articles had been “approved” by the site’s expert editors (anyone can contribute, but experts oversee specific articles and approve them as accurate). Today, that number has jumped to 46.
That may still seem insignificant, but Sanger points out that article creation and approval are accelerating, and he claims that Citizendium’s articles are in any case of “far better quality” than Wikipedia’s. “This, I hope you’ll agree, counts for something.”
Tim Lee, a Cato Institute scholar and frequent Ars contributor, didn’t buy the hopeful rhetoric. In a recent blog post, Lee doesn’t see Citizendium’s traffic or article creation numbers as anything impressive enough to draw in the people who are skeptical of contributing to such a project until it is clear that their effort won’t be wasted. He calls the entire project “a solution in search of a problem.”
“The question is whether there are multiple distinct niches that a single encyclopedia can’t serve simultaneously,” he tells Ars. “If multiple niches existed, you might see different encyclopedias evolving to fill each niche. But I’m having a hard time imagining what those different niches might be. A single, comprehensive encyclopedia would seem to be more useful to almost everyone than multiple, smaller encyclopedias. If that’s true, then barring major screw-ups, Wikipedia will be the dominant wiki-based encyclopedia for the foreseeable future.”
Sanger has faced these criticisms from day one but has forged ahead with the project, often taking the time to issue point-by-point rebuttals of his critics.
But money is now a pressing problem for the Citizendium project. “We have gotten by with one full-time employee (me) and $40,000,” Sanger writes in his yearly update. “But it helps that I’ve been supported via speaking and writing fees, and frankly, we do need more money.” Sanger is currently an unpaid volunteer, but is planning a fundraising effort in November and December, and he will then turn more effort to development in 2008.
But Sanger remains a believer. In January, he says, articles were created at a rate of 4.3 per day; now, more than 14 a day are being started. 2,000 people have signed up for accounts, even if most don’t actually contribute. And if he’s lucky, Citizendium is nearing a tipping point that will start to bring the masses into the fold.
“Our fundamentals are extremely solid,” Sanger writes. “There is an unfulfilled need for an expert-guided, open, free encyclopedia under responsible management. A huge number of people know about us, and they just need a little push to get involved. When enough of them do, we will reach a tipping point—our visible growth will cause an avalanche of interest among our inactive supporters, who will then be convinced that, indeed, we really are a going concern.”