After early months of interest and glory — peaking in a spike in mailing list traffic that was moderated for being too active — Citizendium’s growth
all but shut down levelled off and has declined steadily since 2008. Now it is looking for a long-term home.
I have mixed feelings about Citizendium. I was excited about it in 2006 — at first blush, it offers a serious alternative for expert editors who want to contribute to free knowledge but feel unappreciated or unwelcome at Wikipedia. And in general, compatibly-licensed alternatives to Wikipedia are a very good thing – the whole point of using free licenses is to encourage reuse. But to succeed on the scale of its original dreams, Citizendium must overcome its insularity and make good on its core promise of quality. Not unlike Wikipedia, it is currently known as much for its humorous highlights as for its best work. And it faces the same problems with difficult and misguided editors — some who have quite solid credentials — only with a much smaller community to handle that workload.
I still hope for a proliferation of cousin projects, all competing to find the best way to spur collaboration around free knowledge. There is so much to explore in the way of how to create welcoming communities for different audiences of writers and creators. Community atmosphere, and a limitation in the types of knowledge that can be easily shared, are among Wikipedia’s major bottlenecks. It is welcoming to a narrow[ing?] audience, and if this does not change it may face its own dramatic slowdown in participation – more joyful models are welcome. (My recent favorite, in style, tools, and atmosphere: fotopedia.)
The questions that inspire Citizendium remain: How can we expand collaborative production of educational works to topics that require rare expertise in a field? How can we verify new works as quickly as they are produced, and how much does this speed depend on the commonality of the knowledge involved?
Verification processes are time-consuming, as the slow but steady output of Nupedia, CZ, and even Veropedia show. Since 2006, CZ has produced roughly 150 verified articles (almost triple Nupedia’s output and, well, 150 more than Wikipedia’s own). The featured article and peer review processes on various language Wikipedias are likewise nororiously slow.
CZ and others try to accomplish this by raising the bar for personal credentials of contributors, and increasing the personal responsibility of a group of meta-editors for the quality of work in a topic. Some common dilemmas:
Verifying expertise is difficult without it.
Experts face demand on their time from many projects.
Past expertise is no guarantee of future quality of work.
Professional reputation can be tied to a particular theory.
And a dilemma special to Wikipedia’s commitment to NPOV: experts often have strong opinions about which theories are right and wrong in their fields. How can they contribute in peace to a discussion whose end result will not take a position on which is right?
- One barrier to participation is the qualification expected of reviewers. We could learn much from how Law Reviews are published, I expect, since the field of Law is unique in depending on its students, still pursuing their degrees, to oversee and produce the most distinguished reviewed publications in the field.
- Another is the inflexibility of a “yes/no” review system. Less permanent and reversible ways to validate information can be based on guidelines for fine-grained citation and annotation, and a visible place for review and analysis of a text linked prominently from it. Moreover a review process that formally places works on a spectrum of completion and verification can offer more useful and detailed information than a stamp of approval.
These ideas draw on work by the current assessment process used widely on the French and English Wikipedias. I would be interested to hear thoughts from people familiar with law reviews and other large-scale review processes, or with the CZ verification process or that of other educational wikis.
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