News from Citizendium

News from Citizendium

Hello Wikipedia—this is Mike Johnson, casual Wikipedian,[1] and member of Citizendium's Executive Committee. Before I start talking about what's been going on at Citizendium (unofficially and with a healthy dose of personal opinion), I'd like to thank Sage Ross and Michael Snow for the invitation to write this piece for the Signpost. Once we start our own community newsletter I'll be happy to extend the same courtesy.

Citizendium at a glance

A quick primer: Citizendium is a wiki encyclopedia everyone can edit, but

If I had to summarize Citizendium into a sentence, it'd be this: Wikipedia was concerned with making a working online encyclopedia; Citizendium is concerned with making a community that, if it works, will make a really good online encyclopedia.

So, is it working? I think there are many hopeful signs. We've got 2400 articles, 31 approved articles, and over 2000 users (265 of whom are editors). What do these numbers mean? Well, nobody really knows. But I think the health of our project can also be judged by what 'meta' projects we've done or are in the process of doing (more on that later).

Our main project bottleneck has been registration, as Sage Ross briefly alludes to in his sister article. Geni from Foundation-l has a pretty good take on this: "Trying to fight off our smarter vandals without having our antivandal people tends to result in people having to make registration hard which kills the project."

Such has been a uniquely challenging ecosystem to jump into, and our participation numbers, though good, haven't been as good as they could have been due to our relatively hard registration system. As I'm writing this, though, our tech guys are implementing a semi-automated registration system based on a MediaWiki plugin, which allows users to more easily apply, and allows us to approve applications with a single click should they meet our basic identification requirements. While it still requires users to jump through a hoop before they edit (something I personally still have qualms about), I expect that an easier application system combined with quicker responses will greatly benefit our numbers, and it'll also allow us to start doing serious academic recruiting.

How good is Citizendium's content?

Sage Ross takes a look at this question, and though we appear to come out fairly well in his analysis, I'm not sure how fair it is to have either Wikipedians or Citizendians attempt to publicly critique each others' content. Andrew Keen notwithstanding, clearly both models can create good content. I'm certainly optimistic that the Citizendium model will tend to produce markedly better content than the Wikipedia model (else I wouldn't be volunteering there), and I do think our approved articles are simply great (examples: Biology, Wheat, Northwest Passage).[3][4]

Still on the issue of content, both projects have borrowed a bit of content from the other without attribution, and sorting out how to handle things (and how irritated to get) when this happens will be an ongoing process.[5][6] Generally speaking, our projects' relationship will be many things to many people, but the one which has always made the most sense to me is that we're fundamentally sister projects working toward basically the same goal, albeit with some occasional good-natured sibling rivalry (see also: David Gerard's and my positions on project rivalry and cross-criticism).

Other exciting things happening at Citizendium


I think most Wikipedians would agree that project governance really does matter. We're committed and laying the groundwork to be a new sort of 'online republic', with

It'll be interesting to see how such formal governance structures will work out. Clearly there is a nuanced hierarchy on Wikipedia (in mirrorshard's words, a "very flat official hierarchy, and [a] very steep, complex, multidimensional unofficial one". I think more formal governance has the potential to be a lot "saner", but also higher friction. We're doing what we can to prevent that, but sometimes friction can only be gauged by trial-and-error and we'll have to adjust things as we go.

Citizendium 2.0

We're taking advantage of Citizendium's editorial infrastructure to push through some interesting side-projects under the "Citizendium 2.0" title, namely,

Why should Wikipedians care about Citizendium?

I'd offer three reasons.

  1. The first is the most obvious. We're an alternative to Wikipedia, and we have a lot of good and interesting things going on. You might consider editing here. We welcome Wikipedians, and a lot of you may appreciate how we do things and what problems we don't suffer from (e.g., vandalism).
  2. The second follows the saying, 'let a thousand flowers bloom': it becomes easier to understand and improve your wiki once your sample size rises above 1.
  3. The third may not be intuitive, but I think it's very real: I suggest that Wikipedians should be deeply invested in Citizendium's success since having a viable competitor is invaluable for the long-term health of any organization. I won't make the full argument here, but it could be that if 10% of Wikipedians left and joined Citizendium, it'd be better for Wikipedia in the long run. It's just a thought—but do think about the value of having a strong competitor.

I don't want to play up the competitor angle too much, however, since I think we're ultimately on the same side: that of making more and better free content available to the world.

Notes and digressions

  1. ^ I have a lot of respect for what Wikipedia is, what it's accomplished, and what it might become (I have no idea what Wikipedia will look like in five years, but—speaking as someone who uses Wikipedia almost every day—I'll be interested to see it). And I don't want to damn Wikipedia with faint praise: Wikipedia has many bright and shining spots, and taken as a whole it's simply amazing. However, as time goes on, the core practices of the Wikipedia model may prove themselves very inefficient, quality-limiting tools for the task of making an encyclopedia that is consistently great and correct. So I see Wikipedia and Citizendium ultimately filling different niches: our philosophy to explicitly empower experts may more elegantly lend itself to producing many types of encyclopedic content, whereas Wikipedia's radically egalitarian philosophy may be particularly suited to topics outside of the traditional academy, being a uniquely powerful search engine-slash-web directory, and being a massively collaborative newsroom. Just thinking out loud here.
  2. ^ Perhaps the primary difference in 'legal' outlook between the two projects is that Citizendium is committed to weeding out cranks and trolls. Kyle Gann explains, "The problem is that Wikipedia forces its contributors to come to a consensus, and building consensus with a crank is a fool's errand. ... And a crank can single-handedly destroy an article's usefulness." Obviously excluding people from a knowledge project must be done very, very carefully (it'll only be done in clear instances of bad faith or repeatedly assertive cluelessness), but it should help with expert retention as well as user retention in general.
  3. ^ My personal theory is there'll be a quality differential between Wikipedia and Citizendium depending on the type of content: articles on inherently ambiguous topics, such as history and society, articles on controversial topics, and articles which are introductions to a topic may benefit the most from Citizendium's collaborative model of explicitly empowering expertise (e.g., those are the sorts of articles I think of as benefiting the most from a "guiding hand" and "lucid expert narration", or on the flip-side, being hurt the most by edit wars, over-compromising, and cranks).
  4. ^ I think Citizendium's workgroup structure also lends itself better to the important task of fleshing out often-disjoint content into a lucid encyclopedia. As Matt Britt notes, "I finally came to realize that Wikipedia’s attitude is not set on creating an encyclopedia by means of a freely editable wiki, but on creating a freely editable wiki and calling it an encyclopedia."
  5. ^ E.g., see this blog entry and Sage Ross's article for examples.
  6. ^ As noted in Sage Ross's article, we haven't settled on a free content license yet- essentially, we're still waiting for more community buy-in on the discussion. People know it's important in the abstract sense, but it takes a little while to realize that content licenses actually matter. The leading candidates are CC-by-sa, CC-by-nc, the GFDL, the upcoming GNU Wiki license, and various dual-licensing options.
  7. ^ I'm 26 with "just" a BA, and though I've never felt marginalized because of this while working at CZ, I do plan on pushing for explicit author representation within the CZ governance structure, perhaps within the Editorial Council or via an ombudsman system.
+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

Hi Johnsonmx,

I think it is a good idea to let someone from another encyclopdia project write an overview article about it for the Signpost. See these precursors of your article (Report from the Danish Wikipedia, Report from the Finnish Wikipedia, Report from the Japanese Wikipedia....).

However, I (and many other readers) also value the Signpost highly for its neutral, factual style. You seemed to be of the same opinion when you complained to Ragesoss that

the general tone of [his article about CZ] seems vaguely hostile towards Citizendium (in certain places unfairly so) [...] perhaps more could be done to make it NPOV?

(although the reasons given for these accusations did not sound very convincing to me, for example "struggling" seems a term that any journalist from a mainstream media source could use with good conscience to describe the current development of user and traffic numbers). What made you change your mind since then and decide to write your own article with a healthy dose of personal opinion instead?

If you look at the above examples and compare them with your own article, you will find a noticeable difference. Of course these writers also presented what they considered the successes of their project, but in a much more factual way, and didn't shy from mentioning problems. Everytime you are mentioning problems on CZ it just seems to be an attempt to put an observation "into perspective" that Ragesoss already made about the same topic.

The touchiness that CZ users have displayed on the talk page of Ragesoss' article against information that could make CZ appear in a less that favorable light, and your remark

Im not sure how fair it is to have either Wikipedians or Citizendians attempt to publicly critique each others' content

are difficult to reconcile with the fact that the very existence of Citizendium is based on publicly criticizing Wikipedia's content and community - that is what the project's founder has been doing for years in order to drive contributors and readers to CZ, he obviously still feels the need to tell the whole world self-righteously that Citizendium is expert heaven and Wikipedia expert hell. I am not saying he has always been wrong with his criticisms of Wikipedia (I used to cite his essay "Why Wikipedia must jettison its anti-elitism" quite often). But as a Wikipedian one just gets fed up with being portrayed as a professor-stabbing lemming by Sanger, especially when being an university scientist oneself and/or cooperating with them all the time on WP. Frank Schulenburg, vice chair of Wikimedia Deutschland and organizer of "Wikipedia Academy", a conference which aims at bringing scholars to (the German) Wikipedia - its second installment in August will be supported by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research - calls Sanger "astonishingly bad informed" about the realities in today's Wikipedia, which include the participation of many scientists (in a reaction to a lengthy piece by Sanger appearing in Germany's largest quality newspaper last week, a translation of his essay.)

Sanger's motives for constantly attacking WP are entirely understandable, but only if CZ grows up, becoming less dependent on the fiction of Wikipedia as The Sinking Ship and actually starting to live off its own accomplishments, can there be the kind of friendly competition that you seem to envision. I actually think that your remarks about the "sample size" and the importance of a long term competitor are quite insightful. To come back to the Signpost articles mentioned above, the sample size has always been larger than 1 for those people able to look at other language Wikipedias. (Arguments like "no, we don't want to happen here what happened at en:" or "this works very well on en:" are quite on the German Wikipedia, for example.)

One of the areas where WP could profit most from studying CZ's experiences is the approved articles system that you and Ragesoss are describing, since the Wikipedia analogon - the stable versions - is not here yet. In discussions on how to set up a "stabilizing" process for WP which produces reliable content, I am certainly going to point to the appalling failure of CZ's approval process in the case of the Complex number article, which was approved amidst much backslapping among the contributors despite containing several serious mathematical errors. One of them was found after a few days by an outside contributor (causing headaches on how to get around the approval protection quickly to fix the embarassment), the rest of the article has not been improved for nearly a quarter of a year.

The sections on "Governancy" and "Citizendium 2.0" are interesting, although I would prefer them to be written less like an advertisement. As an occasional reader, I found the power structure with its numerous different title hard to grasp; you explained at least some of the ideas behind it.

Regards, High on a tree 07:13, 31 July 2007 (UTC)[reply]

Hello High on a tree,
Thanks for the thoughts. Speaking to your first, and I think primary, concern, this was written as an invited response to Ragesoss's article (the invitation originated with Ragesoss, to his credit). I realize writing about Citizendium at Wikipedia may be a touchy topic. --Johnsonmx 09:40, 31 July 2007 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks for the reply, but of course I was aware that you had written this on the invitation of Ragesoss and the Signpost's editors, and my first sentence above should have made clear that I consider "writing about Citizendium at Wikipedia" (including the Signpoost) a good idea in principle. My concern is rather with the writing style; the Signpost is not the right place for advertising pieces. I am looking forward to the explanation what made you require an NPOV style for Ragesoss' article while explicitly rejecting it for your own. Regards, High on a tree 13:46, 31 July 2007 (UTC)[reply]
I would point you toward the talk page of Ragesoss's article- I believe the replies on that page answer your questions about this (re: being a NPOV vs opinion piece and about how I see this and Ragesoss's piece fitting in) as well as your concerns about Complex number. --Johnsonmx 16:26, 31 July 2007 (UTC)[reply]
High, with all respect, if it seems I'm giving you the run-around, it's because I saw a lot of hostility in your initial comment (not necessarily directed at me, but perhaps more at Larry Sanger and Citizendium in general) and I have no wish to get into a tit-for-tat, drawn-out flame war. If you hate the organization I'm volunteering with, most likely I'll be able to do no right in your eyes... and it's my interpretation that this is really the factor which drives your complaint. If you think it's not, and want honest dialog about substantive issues, I suggest you prove me wrong by toning down your tone and realizing there are at least partial (though arguably sufficiently complete) answers to the concerns you mention available here and here. In which case I will be happy to dialog with you. Best, --Johnsonmx 16:49, 31 July 2007 (UTC)[reply]
You mean that you consider Ragesoss' piece to be constrained by NPOV and your own text the exception? I don't think that was the plan of the WP editors. On July 20 Michael Snow wrote to Ragesoss I don't have any objection in principle to carrying a response from the other side, as this would address the balance issue with the Signpost being Wikipedia-oriented, and leave you a little more liberty to draw conclusions from your reporting. What happened instead was that Ragesoss toned down his - already quite dry and fact-based article even more, while you wrote a highly opinionated piece short on actual facts and rich in personal judgements. And please stop pointing me to discussions that I have already read (and referred to), if I had found the answers there I wouldn't have asked here. My "concerns about Complex number" have not been answered - are you going to argue that division by a complex number z is indeed geometrically equivalent to complex conjugation (up to a scaling factor), etc.?
If you hate the organization I'm volunteering with - "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye ...". You seem to have absolutely no problem with publishing lots of unsubstantiated belittling remarks about the organization I'm volunteering with (the unwashed Wikipedian masses should restrict themselves to non-academic topics like building a "search engine-slash-web directory", leaving the serious encyclopedia work to the Real Men at CZ, etc.), yet you were very quick to accuse Ragesoss and me for "hostility" because of some quite specific and fact-based criticism of CZ. I do not "hate" Citizendium (in fact, I would be happy to get an account there now and make a few edits to help repair the "Complex number" article, but the forced disclosure of real names and biographies keeps me from this, as I am sure it does many academics. And as said above, I find some of your arguments why it is in WP's interest to have CZ around quite convincing). I just think it is time to hold CZ up against its own claims, and also I think that you are doing your organization no favor in dismissing specific criticism as "hostility".
most likely I'll be able to do no right in your eyes... - obviously you have chosen to ignore several positive remarks that I made about your article. But if you can point me to the precise sentences where I have engaged in "flame war" in your opinion, I am prepared to listen and reconsider what I wrote.
Regards, High on a tree 18:48, 31 July 2007 (UTC)[reply]
I feel we have very different interpretations of what my article is. I see it as sort of a news/op-ed piece. I would note that uninvolved Signpost editor Ral315 commented that, Everything looks great; I especially like the Citizendium pieces. I also left a pre-publication note on the other Citizendium piece, soliciting feedback. I did not see any feedback from you then.
I am happy to engage in productive dialog, but I'm not seeing a productive turn in this dialog. You seem to want me to justify certain things which I feel no need to justify. I don't mean to call you out in general, or trivialize your thoughts-- but I see this headed for nothing more than being a common flame war, and I have better things to do. Once again, I'd be happy to be proven wrong. --Johnsonmx 19:04, 31 July 2007 (UTC)[reply]
At least we are agreeing that your article is differing fundamentally from the other reports from other projects which have previously appeared in the Signpost.
What you are getting here is feedback about your article. You are right that I posted it shortly after the publication, when it was too late to improve the article, but unfortunately I had been busy with other things over the weekend until Monday night (when publication was supposed to be imminent) - you had started the article on Saturday and left that note on Sunday. My apologies for that, but most authors appreciate it if somebody spends time to read what they have written, think about it and react to it - even if they can't correct the text anymore.
This might have become a productive dialog - productive in the sense that each of us would learn something from it - if you had bothered to actually talk about the issues involved, using some of your knowledge about Citizendium (and, perhaps, Wikipedia) to try and refute what I said, and back up claims in the article such as your predictions in the first footnote. Like I was pointing to numerous facts and quotes which could have been interesting to you, even if you didn't like my conclusions. However, if you don't feel like putting in this kind of work to justify your text or your project against criticism, that is entirely up to you and I don't blame you for it (perhaps you are just in the same situation as I was before, lacking the time). Just don't be surprised then if the "productive turn" doesn't happen, and don't blame me for it either.
Regards, High on a tree 03:24, 1 August 2007 (UTC)[reply]
Put simply, there are many other people with whom I can have a similar conversation about Citizendium and Wikipedia, who won't attempt to plant what I consider veiled insults every other sentence. At this point (past addressing concerns of whether my article was suitable for the Signpost, which I believe my points did quite handily, and yes, I disagree with your categorizations of my article and what I say in my article), it's simply a question of who I want to spend time discussing Citizendium with. If you had opened without guns blazing, you probably would have gotten more of my time. For what it's worth, for the future. --Johnsonmx 16:54, 1 August 2007 (UTC)[reply]
I am not eager to get "more of your time", especially now that I am becoming familiar with your style of evading factual discussion by responding with attacks and belittling remarks (which several blog commenters have also noted on you [1]).
As a Signpost reader since its inception two and a half years ago, I stand by my statement that I don't remember having read such an advertising piece before. Of course I realize now that you were not familiar with its style and just saw the marketing opportunity from your perspective as Citizendium evangelist, who has written other such CZ advertising pieces before. Which rely greatly on attacking WP - to quote yourself from your blog on your main marketing strategy:
The realities of Citizendium's situation mean that the more we publicize Wikipedia's flaws the more likely we are to succeed.
Yet if on the other hand someone is mentioning Citizendium's flaws, you are feeling hurt and complain about "hostility" (Ragesoss), "guns blazing", "veiled insults" (me), or that the opponent just wants "to produce a neat little snarky blog post" and whine "you don’t do real dialog about these issues any favors by only linking to criticisms of us" (against this blogger). One gets the impression that the people you "want to spend time discussing Citizendium with" are mainly those which agree enough with you.
Regards, High on a tree 04:49, 4 August 2007 (UTC)[reply]
High on a tree,
I feel you're all over the map: let me put this simply. I have made two points in support of my piece. You have ignored them, insulted me, and complained that I don't engage your concerns. Why should I talk to you? --Johnsonmx 05:10, 5 August 2007 (UTC)[reply]
Look- I suggest you
1. examine these pages:
which I have pointed out that directly address your concern and which you have consistently ignored (yes, if you had been more polite I'd flesh the argument out more for you, but you weren't, so I don't care to),
2. realize that you are the only one making these comments, and that you're doing so very rudely with wildly flailing ad hominem attacks, and
3. if, once you get around to considering my points, you still feel my Signpost article was a crime against humanity (or more likely, you're still in the mood for a flame war), I seriously encourage you take it up via official channels, because this conversation is over. --Johnsonmx 08:47, 5 August 2007 (UTC)[reply]

With all due respect, "High on a tree", your flamebait discourse here, only made possible behind a veil of anonymity, is a perfect, partial response to the question, "Why Citizendium?" Stephen Ewen 07:49, 1 August 2007 (UTC)[reply]

Better governance

I've never considered creating an account on Citizendium, partly because I don't wish to give out my real name, but mostly because I disagree with the elitist idea of giving additional power to "experts". However, reading this article, I think we can learn from Citizendium in one important respect; project governance. On Wikipedia, we really, really need more formal and clear governance, as I've been saying for some time. On a small wiki community, it may be effective to "ignore all rules", but on a very large one, formal governance is needed to ensure that admins and bureaucrats do not exceed their powers. So I think a separation of powers, along with term limits, are very good ideas, and should be implemented on Wikipedia. WaltonOne 14:36, 1 August 2007 (UTC)[reply]

Hi Walton One, I hear the German language version has some interesting governance things going on-- do they speak at all to your concerns? --Johnsonmx 20:20, 1 August 2007 (UTC)[reply]
You are referring to the German wikipedia? Which governance things are you thinking of?
I think most people who are familiar with the German and English Wikipedia would agree that governance on the German Wikipedia is less formal. The German Wikipedia tries to keep the number of the rules pages in the Wikipedia:... namespace low and does not classify them as policies and guidelines; "ignore all rules" is still invoked frequently. The German Wikipedia set up an ArbCom only recently, officially still as a test trial. On a scale of formality of governance, I would rank the English Wikipedia between Citizendium and the German Wikipedia. Regards, High on a tree 00:00, 4 August 2007 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks, that's interesting. --Johnsonmx 05:10, 5 August 2007 (UTC)[reply]


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0