Citizendium Hopes to Build a Better Wikipedia

    March 26, 2007

One of the biggest criticisms of Wikipedia – apart from the addition of nofollow links – is that anyone can add, delete or modify an entry anonymously. This often causes major headaches – vandalized entries or spam links – and is the Achilles heel of the world’s most popular online encyclopedia.

Larry Sanger was part of the original team that launched Wikipedia and he’s now behind a new rival, Citizendium, that hopes to improve on Wikipedia and bring accountability to the information listed.

“If there’s going to be a free encyclopedia, I’d like there to be a better free encyclopedia,” says Sanger, 38, who has a doctorate in philosophy and speaks slowly, as if cautiously choosing every word. “It has bothered me that I helped to get a project started, Wikipedia, that people are misusing in this way, and yet the project itself has little chance of radically improving.”

One of the ways Sanger believe Citizendium will improve on Wikipedia, is making authors and editors more accountable for their work and removing the anonymity that shields many Wikipedia entries.

“When you put everybody in a system that is flat, where everybody can say yes or no, without any sense of authority, what you get is tribalism,” Ewen says. “What has gone into the article creation is very often the result of this dysfunctional system. It presents itself with this aura of authority, whereas what goes on behind the scenes is anything but.”

Sanger’s also hoping that making contributors confirm their identity will help reduce the incidences of vandalism.

Sanger doesn’t expect Citizendium will eradicate the puerile urge to defile the product. He just will make it harder to do. Contributors must confirm their identities and submit a short biography. Sanger says he’ll allow pseudonyms in special cases, like when a volunteer’s employer prohibits outside writing. But the person’s name would be known to Citizendium.

Citizendium officially launches this week with 900 authors, 200 editors and 1100 articles. Can it really rival Wikipedia? It will be interesting to see if the site can gain any kind of momentum or audience share with a model that is more “elitist” than the open community of Wikipedia. While it will no doubt solve some of the problems of Wikipedia, it doesn’t offer the same level of freedom and open-access that Wikipedia brings to the table. There’s no doubt in my mind that, without the ability of marketers and hobbyists to contribute to Citizendium, it won’t enjoy anywhere near the growth levels of Wikipedia.