Citizendium: a more civilized Wikipedia?

Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger has announced that his new knowledge sharing wiki project called Citizendium will launch at the end of this month or earlier. The defining characteristic of the site is that topic experts will have final, enforceable authority to “resolve” controversy and kick out trolls. Citizendium will be a progressive fork of Wikipedia, allowing its own community to change Wikipedia articles but also offering Wikipedia’s version of those that haven’t been edited in Citizendium. Sanger says the topic experts will function like village elders or college professors – they’ll simply make the wiki a civilized place.

I like variations on familiar models and the web 2.0 certainly isn’t set in stone; but there are a number of reasons I’m very skeptical of Citizendium.

Citizendium is not connected to Larry Sanger’s earlier work at the Digital Universe Foundation, whose press release still refers people interested in providing expertise to a similar project to an URL that ends in XXX and brings up a 404. Nor is Citizendium tied to the Sanger directed Text Outline Project, yet another very similar endeavor that Sanger now says he will come back to “in a year or two.” It is reminiscent of the predecessor of Wikipedia, Nupedia – which Sanger was the editor in chief of just like he will be for Citizendium. Nupedia allegedly flopped under the weight of its PhD requirements, software inadequacies, the superiority of the wiki model in general and Wikipedia in particular.

In other words, barring further information about Citizendium – it’s hard to take it seriously. The project does have some stuffy backing for its snoozer of a text-only web site so perhaps it will prove viable. I’m not holding my breath.

The project has not announced what its model will be for experts to gain editor status. Those criteria will be published in draft form in the next few weeks, the site says – though by that time Citizendium is apparently going to be live. The FAQ does say that a Ph.D. will be neither necessary nor sufficient for editorship.

Does Wikipedia need to be fixed? I’m not entirely convinced that it does, as the page history function makes an article (almost) impossible to destroy. The discussion tab on Wikipedia is a great place to point to your favorite version. Is that too noisy? Is it too common for people with valuable knowledge to be turned off from participating? Does the world need a Wikipedia for stick-in-the-muds? Maybe it does, but I’m not going to get too excited about it and this effort in particular seems unlikely to succeed.