Eine leuchtende grüne Ampel neben einer roten, die mit dem Wort 'GO' beschriftet ist.

8.1.2007 | Von:
Larry Sanger

Next Wikipedia, take a right

Wikipedia, Citizendium, and the politics of knowledge: An interview with Larry Sanger

Mr. Sanger, here on "Wizards of OS 4" you have announced the launch of the project "Citizendium". What is it?

The "Citizendium" is "The Citizen's Compendium". In time, it will hopefully become worthy of the name "encyclopedia". To begin with, we'll be calling it an "experimental workspace", and it will be a fork of the Wikipedia, that means, a copy of all articles in Wikipedia, that allows to edit them in a new wiki.

As people make edits to the articles of the Citizendium, those articles are not refreshed from the Wikipedia, whereas the other articles, which are yet untouched, will be regularly refreshed with the newest versions from Wikipedia. So it is a progressive fork, a gradual fork in that way.

You are the co-founder of Wikipedia, which is seen as one of the great success stories of the "Web 2.0" and collaborative peer production on the internet. What is your reason to start a fork?

On www.citizendium.org, I have an essay that lists a number of points – I could just read the bullet points: First, the community does not enforce its own rules effectively or consistently. Secondly, widespread anonymity attracts people who merely want to cause trouble – in other words, the troll problem. Thirdly, many complain that the leaders of the Wikipedia community have become insular, wherefore it is increasingly difficult for people who are not already part of the community to get fully on board. And lastly, this arguably dysfunctional community is extremely off-putting to some of the potentially most valuable contributors, namely, academics.

What will be the main differences to Wikipedia?

The most important differences between my proposed project – because right now, the wiki doesn't even exist yet – and Wikipedia are: First, there will be a new role in the system, that of "editors", who will be credentialed experts who have a few rights in the system that ordinary authors do not have. These experts will still be asked to work right alongside the other authors, not to control their work in a top-down fashion. But what they will be able to do is to make decisions about content disputes and then articulate those decisions on a "discussion page". They will also be able to designate articles as approved or not. All of this is going to be done in the same radically uncontrolled, bottom-up way that Wikipedia itself has done.

For example, editors will designate themselves as "editors", there will be no committee required to approve someone as an editor. Instead, if someone has the required credentials, they will simply go to the website to their user page, state them, link to evidence online and then declare themselves to be an editor, for which there is not technical support needed outside the software that already runs Wikipedia. The change in that regard is a social change, not a technical one. It really doesn't change the core operation of the Wiki – what makes Wikipedia work – at all.

The second big difference is the adoption of a community charta, and the explicit expectation that people who are involved in the community support the charta. They become "good citizens" in a new online polity. So there will be a fair and open process whereby project rules will be enforced. There shouldn't be too many rules, because the proliferation of rules is confusing to people and they start ignoring rules. And in general, people work best without any rules. But what rules there are, need to be taken seriously.

One of the problems that I had with Wikipedia is that it's rules in many cases aren't taken seriously. When I say this, I know that a lot of people are going to think that I am for "order" and "control" and "rules" and so forth – that isn't the case. I am the co-founder of Wikipedia, think about that. I am for a lightly controlled chaos, to a certain extent. That's what makes Wikipedia and open collaboration work.

The reason why I insist that people take the accepted rules of a project seriously is that these rules define the project. If you want to engage in the project of building a neutral encyclopaedia, for instance, then you have to take neutrality seriously. Otherwise, you are not engaging in the project you agreed to help out in the first place.

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