By Nate Anderson | Published: January 12, 2007 – 11:43AM CT
We’ve talked before about Larry Sanger’s Citizendium, a fork of Wikipedia that aims to bring peer review and expert oversight to articles. The project will be open to public participation sometime this spring, but Citizendium has been making quiet progress behind the scenes. Since launching on September 15, 2006, Citizendium has lined up more than 100 editors and hundreds of authors who have already embarked on overhauling Wikipedia articles. When the project opens to the public, anyone will be able to contribute, but an expert editor will make the decision about whether the change should be included in the article.
Given the fact that the project is based on the same open license that covers Wikipedia content, we noted earlier that Wikipedia can simply grab all the good stuff from Citizendium and incorporate it into their project—which seems only fair after Citizendium copied the entire Wikipedia database. Will such a move create a sheet of ice on which Citizendium will lose its traction? Or will the project recruit and retain its own community of writers and editors?
A different approach comes from Scholarpedia. Like Citizendium, this will be an open library of peer-reviewed content guided by expert editors (called “curators”), most with a PhD. It’s also based on the software that runs Wikipedia, making it look much like that project. But Scholarpedia has its own grand ambitions—it wants to build its expert encyclopedia from the ground up.
The project is headed by Eugene Izhikevich, a senior fellow at The Neurosciences Institute in California. Izhikevich is a mathematician by training, earning his degree in Moscow and then doing PhD work at Michigan State; the project will start by covering only areas in which he has some knowledge. At first, Scholarpedia will deal only with computational neuroscience, dynamical systems, and computational intelligence, all of which will grow into broader categories if there’s enough interest. Scholarpedia currently has less than one hundred articles, all of them about such specialized topics as “Bayesian Ying Yang Learning,” “Bogdanov-Takens Bifurcation,” and (my personal favorite) “Bubbling Transition.”
While expert peer review is a system that has functioned well in the academy for decades, attempts to bring the process to the wide-open web have faced problems. Nature set up an open peer review system for scientific papers submitted to the journal, but failed to attract much interest. Whether wide-ranging projects like Citizendium or more narrowly-focused ones like Scholarpedia can attract more interest from both experts and the public remains to be seen.
In other wiki-related new, Wikileaks is looking for a different sort of expert, one with secret documents, internal e-mails, or blurry corporate faxes. The site wants to be a clearinghouse of leaked information and will offer anonymous access to posters, but it’s still in the beta stages (in fact, its existence was revealed last week, far earlier than the site operators wanted). The site’s primary targets are “oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East,” but they take material from anywhere.