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

And who is going to settle these policies?

My idea now – and I am very much open to debate –, is that there are going to be some public mailing lists – actually, there are already half a dozen mailing lists –, and anyone who is interested can contribute to the discussion on those mailing lists. Those discussion will be crucial to determine policies. I take it as my job as editor-in-chief of Citizendium to articulate the consensus.

In addition to that, we will set up an advisory board of some of the leading thinkers on relevant topics – open source software development, open access publishing –, and some subject area experts who are technically inclined. After quite a bit of debate and hopefully, some face-to-face meetings, we will have a constitutional convention. We will actually sit down, after many issues have been debated, put on finishing touches, and ratify a community charter.

This is something which I think has never been done in quite this way. But that's the way the meatspace world works, and that is considered only just and right in meatspace. So why shouldn't it be the just and right way online?

That would be the major question of constitutional experts to your project: More important than the rules themselves is the process that determines how new rules will be set up and who will decide in the end. So will this process of formulating a constitution itself be democratic and open, as the UN has tried with the so-called "multi-stakeholder approach" at the World Summit for the Information Society, for instance?

Generally speaking, I totally agree with that openness, and as anyone who is familiar with the history of Wikipedia knows, I followed this advice and expectation – perhaps to my fault – in the development of Wikipedia. But the process has to get started somehow, right? It's important to begin with some definite concept around which many people can rally, so that a self-selecting community can form itself. You can't just say: "I am going to do a fork of Wikipedia", and then let everyone who is attracted to that single idea try to hash out as to what the fork should look like – that's simply to vague.

That's why I have articulated a number of other policies that essentially define the project. Then I ask the people who like this set, or most of this set of policies: "Come help me, taking this as a starting point, work out something that the largest number of people who generally like this proposal can agree to." There has to be some articulation of the parameters of the project in advance, or you will never get a community started in the first place.

What should drive people to change from Wikipedia to the Citizendium, or to join the Citizendium while they didn't join Wikipedia?

Again, I would refer to the main differences between the projects, because those would explain the motivations for people to join one project rather than the other. I think that most people would prefer to work side-by-side with begnin, non-controlling experts on articles about topics that they care about. Everything get's a little better if you have a senior on your side, gently giving advice about the process. That is, I think, much more attractive to everyone than just working in a free-for-all, where people who have made it their life purpose to study a subject are treated the same as everyone else, even when they are writing about that subject.

Another reason that people might be attracted to the Citizendium is that the Wikipedia community has become very difficult for some to work in. It requires a certain kind of person to really go head to head with the administrators and regular contributors to Wikipedia, who can be quite difficult in various ways.

The hope is that if we require people to log in with their real names and agree to a common charter – a social contract –, and if there are people who are respected as enforcers of this agreement, the result is going to be a socially more pleasant place to work. That's the hope. And obviously, we need to work together on actually defining the parameters of what will make this community pleasant and productive.

I don't think that it is pleasant at all to have administrators breathing down your neck all the time. That is not what I propose. In fact, it seems to me that that happens on Wikipedia quite a bit. The "constables" – I am explicitly proposing a new name for that role – will be instructed to act as hands-off as possible. But once they get involved, they have the authority to act swiftly.

Interview: Sebastian Deterding

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