Wikipedia vs. Citizendium

Larry Sanger announced his organization's intention to create a "progressive fork" of Wikipedia, with a different community/moderation model. Instead of just letting everyone create and edit pages, there will be a new class of citizens called "experts" who get final say. The rest of us are demoted to "unwashed masses".

From Larry Sanger's essay "Toward a New Compendium of Knowledge":

According to one source, there are over one billion (a thousand million) people on the Internet. That means there must be tens of millions of intellectuals online--I mean educated, thinking people who read about science or ideas regularly. Tens of millions of intellectuals can work together, if they so choose.

This was taken right from the first paragaph. The "one source" isn't mentioned, so it's not verifiable. He could be pulling this stat out of thin air. Even Wikipedia wouldn't allow this.

So, by his math, the Citizendium is a project for the top 1-10% of the online population. Definitely not open to everyone - the contributions of the other "uneducated, unthinking" 900 million people aren't wanted. To me, this just smacks of authoritarianism - a compendium of knowledge by oligarchy. Which is cool, if you're one of the oligarchs. But a little oppressive for everyone else.

I've got a problem with the approach. Sure, Wikipedia isn't perfect. But it's open. If you don't like how something works, there is an existing (and vibrant) community in place. Working within the existing frameworks to create a better Wikipedia would be far better than splitting the tribe and moving to a new camp.

My problems with Citizendium are:

  1. Who defines "expert"? What is "expert" to one person/group may not be to another. This is a somewhat arbitrary definition - if not arbitrary, then at least relative. Case in point - Stephen Downes being flagged as "unremarkable" in Wikipedia. What would the process be like to have that rectified if only "experts" are the gatekeepers of our shared knowledge?
  2. Forking the Wikipedia (and the community). Instead of everyone just working on the One True Wikipedia, you'll have to choose. You're either with us or against us.
  3. Downplaying the importance of the "wild west" Wikipedia. The major reason Wikipedia has been as successful and relevant as it has been, is directly due to the fact that anyone can edit anything. No approval required. No login required.
  4. Implied authoritarian structure. Experts. Moderators. Approval processes. Anti-Wikipedian measures. The power of these tools is that they put the power into the hands of the people. All of the people. No exceptions. No preferrential treatment.

I know I'll be sticking with Wikipedia (and the other various Wikimedia ventures) because of their openness. I really wish/hope that the effort being expended on the new Citizendium project would be redirected into the Wikipedia, rather than against it.

Update: Of course. Clay Shirky says it better.

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