By Ken Fisher | Published: September 19, 2006 – 09:18AM CT
Citizendium will begin life as a “progressive fork” of Wikipedia, taking all of its launch content from the “infamous” online encyclopedia. Yet the project will distance itself from Wikipedia to focus on becoming “the flagship of a new set of responsibly-managed free knowledge projects.” There’s no ifs about it: Citzendium is being created to “outdo” Wikipedia.
How? The big difference between Citizendium and Wikipedia will be the presence of “experts” on Citizendium who will have the final say in editing disputes. Just who are the experts, though? The plan is for the site’s operators to post the ideal “credentials” of an editor, and then contributors themselves will decide if they fit the bill. In other words, one essentially appoints oneself to the position of expert. An editor must publish their own credentials online, and these credentials must be verifiable. I’m sorry Mbutu Ngangi, but you can’t be an editor just because you say you have millions of dollars in Laos and five doctorates.
What happens if even the expert editors can’t solve a problem? If things get unruly, Citizendium will also feature “constables” who will have the power to ban troublemakers. The project’s homepage reminds you, however, that “those who want the option of working anonymously and in a wild-and-woolly atmosphere in which rules are not necessarily enforced should always be able to do so on Wikipedia.”
Starting from not-scratch
Citizendium will indeed begin life as a full mirror of Wikipedia, and may carry Wikipedia content throughout its tenure. Citizendium will continue to refresh its articles with updates from Wikipedia, with one major exception: articles that have been modified at Citizendium will not be updated. There are plans for editing tools that will allow Citizendium users to track and see changes on the Wikipedia version of an article, but the general idea is to take Citizendium articles in a new direction with the help of experts, where experts are needed.
The irony is that both sites will both share the GFDL license, which means that there’s nothing to stop Wikipedia editors from copying the best of Citizendium. For his part, Sanger seems fixated on the idea of making a welcoming place for experts to contribute, and it is his view that Wikipedia isn’t that place. Nevertheless, the work of these comforted experts may end up right back at Wikipedia. It is truly hard to predict how the “experts” will react, for while many people are willing to talk about “experts” and “academics” as though they were a monolithic culture, they’re just everyday people, and there are more than a few contributing to Wikipedia already.
To begin, Citizendium will launch in English, but the project is open to forking off into other language if it appears worthwhile.