Pilot Project for the Citizendium to Launch This Week
MOUNT HERMON, California – October 17, 2006 – A major new encyclopedia project will soon attempt to unseat Wikipedia as the go-to destination for general information online. Like Wikipedia, the Citizendium (sit-ih-ZEN-dee-um), or "the Citizen’s Compendium," will be a wiki project open to public collaboration. But, unlike Wikipedia, the community will be guided by expert editors, and contributors will be expected to use their own names, not anonymous pseudonyms.
The initiative is being spearheaded by Wikipedia’s co-founder, Larry Sanger, who, after leaving the well-known wiki project, became one of its more vocal critics. Sanger first announced the effort on September 15 at the Wizards of OS conference in Berlin. Sanger, who holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Ohio State University, has taken a leave of absence from the Digital Universe Foundation in order to lead the new project.
This week, the fledgling Citizendium Foundation will launch a six-week pilot project open to potential contributors by invitation (see http://www.citizendium.org/cfa.html).
"Not only enormous and free, but reliable"
"Wikipedia has accomplished great things, but the world can do even better," said Sanger. "By engaging expert editors, eliminating anonymous contribution, and launching a more mature community under a new charter, a much broader and more influential group of people and institutions will be able to improve upon Wikipedia’s extremely useful, but often uneven work. The result will be not only enormous and free, but reliable."
Gareth Leng, Professor of Experimental Physiology of the University of Edinburgh, has agreed to serve as one such Citizendium editor. Professor Leng said, "Public understanding of science needs scientists to help to explain, clearly and objectively, what science can do and what it can’t, its weaknesses as well as its strengths, its failures as well as its promise. At the Citizendium, our role will not be to tell readers what opinions they should hold, but to give them the means to decide, rationally, for themselves."
The Citizendium will begin by "mirroring" Wikipedia’s content, which its license, the GNU Free Documentation License, permits. Contributors will then be able to edit articles under the new system. The eventual goal will be to either improve or replace all Wikipedia-sourced content. The Citizendium’s expert editors will also be able to bless versions of articles as "approved," but without freezing further article development on the wiki. Participants hope a giant body of trustworthy free content will result.
Organizational work ramping up quickly
The Citizendium is ramping up organizational work quickly and a number of people have already put in many hours on the project. Since its initial announcement, the project has added over 340 members to its main e-mail discussion list, where discussions have focused on what policies the new project should follow. There is also an active Web-based forum and a planning wiki.
The pilot project will be invitation-only. Invitations can be applied for on the website (see http://www.citizendium.org/cfa.html). During this time, editors, community managers called "constables," as well as rank-and-file authors will together develop the rules of the project. They will also actually get to work editing and creating new articles.
For the pilot project, Steadfast Networks of Chicago is providing a server and bandwidth free of charge. Three experienced system administrators, including Peter Hitchmough of the U.K. and Greg Sabino Mullane and Jason Potkanski of the U.S., are leading the Citizendium’s technical efforts. The Chief Constable for the project is Ruth Ifcher, who played early, key roles in the Citizendium’s predecessors, Nupedia and Wikipedia. The project mailing lists are being hosted by Purdue University, and the main mailing list moderator is Australian Phil Wardle.
Project leaders have launched a contributor recruitment drive to attract college students and professors, research scientists, independent scholars, and people who simply like to read books. Already, partly as a result of early news coverage of the Citizendium on Slashdot.org, the Guardian, and in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, dozens of well-qualified people have already applied to become editors. One of these is Jaime Nubiola, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Navarra (Spain). "I was involved in Nupedia years ago," Nubiola said, "and I am excited now to take part in the Citizendium."
The project will also be reaching out to professional and academic organizations. "Such organizations usually have an educational mission, with which we will be uniquely positioned to help," said Sanger. "So we want to make a special place for representatives of these organizations in our editorial workgroups. We hope they’ll respond positively to our solicitations, which we’ll be sending out soon."
After initial work, the project will be opened up to public view, and to contribution by anyone who supplies his or her real name, a working e-mail address, and a statement of commitment to the Citizendium’s "social contract," or basic policies.
A new Citizendium Foundation looks to the future
The Citizendium Foundation has started the process of applying for 501(c)(3) status. The organization has received a firm commitment for a significant seed grant from a foundation, as well as small personal donations. Finally, discussions are under way with a major computer manufacturer about the possibility of project support.
The project will launch initially in the English language. There is some interest in similar Wikipedia branches in other languages, so some may be launched next year. Project participants are also interested in pooling their resources for related projects in the future.