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Ushahidi research tool announced, Citizendium five years on: success or failure?, and Wikimedia DC officially recognised

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By Mono, Tom Morris, and Tilman Bayer

WikiSweeper research project announced

Ushahidi, a non-profit information mapping software organization, has announced its intention to develop a wiki research tool built for Wikipedians editing breaking-news articles. The project was announced by the company and the Wikimedia Foundation on their respective blogs. In the past, Wikipedia has proved to be a valuable tool for disseminating breaking news (see this week's "Popular pages" report for specific examples); according to the Wikimedia Foundation, the site helps consumers of news to "understand and filter the news by curating and summarizing it as quickly and as accurately as possible."

Ushahidi intends to analyze how Wikipedians gather and distill information and create a tool based on their existing data-gathering software, WikiSweeper (or simply Sweeper for short). Most Wikipedians have their own verification techniques, but the tool would present a stream and identify accurate and relevant information, even including non-English sources where applicable. The project was born from a meeting between the Wikimedia Foundation's Erik Möller and Jon Gosier, a former director of Ushahidi.

Citizendium, half a decade later

Active editors at Citizendium, 2007–11

Last week marked the fifth anniversary of the first public announcement of Citizendium, the free volunteer-written online encyclopedia project founded by Larry Sanger (known for his role in starting Wikipedia until 2002). In his September 15, 2006 essay (corresponding to a talk at the Wizards of OS conference in Berlin), Sanger emphasized that he had "always been an enormous fan of Wikipedia, and I still am", but then listed numerous "serious and endemic problems" of Wikipedia which had motivated a fork of the project's processes and articles (the latter plan was changed soon after the actual start of the Citizendium wiki in 2007). As evident from Sanger's remarks and the Signpost coverage at the time, Citizendium was intended as a project that "aims to rival Wikipedia", though its fortunes have been mixed. For example, a July 2007 analysis in The Signpost (2008 followup) already declared that Citizendium "has not reached a critical mass of participation" (a conclusion questioned in the same Signpost edition by a member of Citizendium's executive committee, which invited Wikipedians to join the project and stated that "we're ultimately on the same side: that of making more and better free content available to the world." Wikipedians too have taken non-competitive perspectives on Citizendium, e.g. porting some of its content to Wikipedia, analyzing the lessons it might offer for Wikipedia, or even arguing that the Wikimedia Foundation should support it when Citizendium found itself in financial troubles last year). Perhaps surprisingly, some of the most scathing criticism of the project comes not from egalitarian Wikipedians, but originates from the perspective of scientific scepticism, as evidenced by the extensive Article on Citizendium at RationalWiki (which is currently cited on Citizendium's article about itself).

Before founding Citizendium, Sanger had worked for the Digital Universe project, which had likewise required users to state their real names, and given a special role to authenticated experts. After the start of Citizendium, Sanger took up work for, another freely accessible website with user-contributed content (a database of links to free educational videos), founded around 2006 and publicly launched (as WatchKnow) in 2008. (A Wikipedia article about the site has been started recently, and on its talk page, Sanger has posted corrections and supplied more information about the project's history.)

On the occasion of the five-year anniversary, regular Signpost writer Tom Morris (formerly an active author at Citizendium and a former member of Citizendium's editorial council) interviewed Daniel Mietchen, the managing editor of Citizendium. Daniel is also the Wikimedian in Residence for Open Science (Signpost coverage), and a member of the Wikimedia Foundation's Research Committee.

Five years on, what do you think Citizendium has achieved?

Daniel: Larry's original proposal to add a special role for experts did not find a lot of support, and so one way to look at the history of Citizendium is that it has continued to stimulate the discussion on how experts and the public could collaborate in a wiki environment. In a wiki landscape ranging from sites with next to no role for experts (e.g. Wikipedia) to others which are expert only (e.g. Scholarpedia), Citizendium provides an important landmark.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about Citizendium?

Daniel: There is actually a a whole list of these, though it could use an update. The most important ones, probably, are that Citizendium is often perceived as being expert-only and too academic in terms of topics covered. There are actually rather few experts participating, and many of the articles being worked on are about non-academic topics.
Another one is that it is supposed to be an antipode to Wikipedia. As long as both projects use CC-BY-SA, they effectively collaborate, and the purpose of having several such platforms is then to provide participants with a choice in terms of the environment they prefer for contributing. Citizendium strives to make the editing experience pleasant for all contributors, while giving special weight to expert opinion.

Critics of Citizendium say that the bureaucracy got too heavy, too early. The effect of this has been to make the editing process more political, with otherwise active article writers becoming elected bureaucrats and a lot of political power games. Do you agree with this assessment?

Daniel: Like any other international web platform, Citizendium has a number of interfaces to the offline world – technical, legal and financial. Some sort of bureaucracy is thus inevitable, and the Citizendium Charter is meant to deal with these matters. However, given the rather small user base that we have, the more we engage in such regulatory affairs, the more this distracts from the main purpose of the project, which is "to collect, structure, and cultivate knowledge and to render it conveniently accessible to the public for free."
(See also Signpost coverage: "Citizendium adopts charter, Larry Sanger's leading role ends")

Do you think Citizendium's financial woes are going to be resolved any time soon?

Daniel: I hope so, and any constructive contributions to this are welcome. One way to tackle that could be to try to integrate Citizendium more tightly with the wider Open education community.

One thing we have both stressed is the importance of contextualization of knowledge. Citizendium did this by embracing subpages (with articles being just one part of an "article cluster"). Wikimedia seems to spread the potential contextualization between different projects with the 'Gallery' subpage being Commons, while the 'Related Articles' subpage being handled by 'Outline' pages and categories. Do you think Citizendium has a better model here?

Daniel: There are multiple ways to contextualize knowledge on MediaWiki – and categories, subpages and namespaces can all play a role in this, as can spreading this functionality across installations. In terms of Related Articles, I indeed prefer the Citizendium approach, though it could benefit from automation, e.g. by way of integration with Semantic MediaWiki. I like the way in which Commons serves as a hub (also beyond Wikimedia, by way of InstantCommons), and would like to see something similar for other wiki components, like templates, references or even user profiles and preferences.

I was talking to a PhD student the other day who told me they don't trust anything that is said in Wikipedia about academic topics, but they do frequently use the references and bibliography section. Both Citizendium and the fork of Citizendium, Knowino, have Bibliography subpages and Citizendium also has an External Links subpage, which allows editors to develop an annotated bibliography of both scholarly and web resources. English Wikipedia does have some bibliography pages (Bibliography of New York, Evelyn Waugh bibliography). Do you think developing bibliographic resources could be something Wikimedia could try or might this be something only specialist academic wikis end up doing?

Daniel: A wiki-based project in which every potential resource has its own wiki page (e.g. On the Origin of Species) that would provide information on the resource (e.g. its metadata, versioning information, public and expert perception) would be great. Open Library goes in this direction. I think Wikimedia could play a role in such a project, and a number of proposals revolving around this are being discussed. I also think that early coordination with scholarly – and librarian – communities is important for such a project to succeed, and there may even be a role for some reference managers.
There is a related workshop foreseen for the upcoming WikiSym, focusing on literature about wikis.

What do you think Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects can learn from Citizendium's successes and failures?

Daniel: There have been quite a few courses in the Eduzendium scheme that provide support – as have similar initiatives at Wikimedia – to the idea that improving encyclopedic content is actually quite compatible with doing coursework, so using wikis in educational settings may be a promising avenue.
Other insights that can be drawn from Citizendium are less newsworthy on the web – that real names foster a more friendly atmosphere and that community engagement works best if priorities, governance principles and communication channels are being developed in a transparent manner and applied coherently –, or within expert communities, that there are few incentives to contribute to anything for which experts do not receive credit.

If we were betting, would you put €50 on Citizendium being around in five years time?

Daniel: I don't like bets, but it will be around in one way or the other, as it is available under an open license. Perhaps there is even a way to turn it into one of several community-focused frontends for a wider distributed wiki architecture.

In brief

The Week Ahead
Submit upcoming events to be published at our suggestions page.
The logo of the Wikimedia DC chapter which was officially recognised this week
Librarians attending a Wikipedia Overview Session as part of the Bangalore Wiki Academy
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Discuss this story

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Another story about Citizendium? - Burpelson AFB 12:31, 20 September 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Yes, and one where we cite Ciizendium citing Rationalwiki writing about Citizendium... Rich Farmbrough, 13:38, 20 September 2011 (UTC).[reply]
Hmm? That's only the ninth mention of Citizendium this year in The Signpost, and (I would say) the fourth story to give it more than a mere mention-in-passing; the last one of those was two months ago. - Jarry1250 [Weasel? Discuss.] 16:02, 20 September 2011 (UTC)[reply]
I thought it was a great story. I've wondered about Citizendium before, and now most of my questions have been answered. Their decline seems to be an exaggerated version of our own. - Peregrine Fisher (talk) 04:12, 21 September 2011 (UTC)[reply]
"Wikipedians too have taken non-competitive perspectives on Citizendium, e.g. porting some of its content to Wikipedia" On the contrary, I've always thought of WP:CZPORT as a competitive initiative. --Cybercobra (talk) 23:08, 25 September 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Citizendium publishing discussion

Do you find articles on Citizendium worthy of inclusion in the Singpost?

  • I do. I think they're interesting, and I think Citizendium is an important project: at the very least, it's one that lessons on how to manage large websites and foster communities can be learned from. As such, I hope that the Signpost will continue to report on it. (talk) 12:23, 21 September 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • [No.] Sven Manguard Wha? 10:01, 21 September 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • Most aren't. This one was, but only because it was Citizendium's 5th anniversary. Let's see how many issues of the Signpost we can go without another mention. -- llywrch (talk) 17:01, 21 September 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • The post needs content, so if someone is willing to write about something WP related, then it's a good thing. - Peregrine Fisher (talk) 00:12, 22 September 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • One article every two months seems entirely appropriate to me. Citizendium is both interesting as a competitor and as an ally in the core mission of free information dissemination. - Jarry1250 [Weasel? Discuss.] 11:24, 22 September 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • I'd like to encourage ongoing coverage of Citizendium. It has many of our aims and its good to be informed of the wider environment in which Wikipedia exists. --bodnotbod (talk) 13:24, 18 October 2011 (UTC)[reply]

  • An obituary for Mr. Lemiszki appears at [1]. My condolences to his family. Carrite (talk) 21:31, 21 September 2011 (UTC)[reply]


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