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Wikipedia co-founder plans 'expert' spinoff
the source | October 17, 2006 at 03:47 amby
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One of Wikipedia's closest critics and founders is launching an alternative to the free online encyclopedia this week.
Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, says he will launch a spinoff of the free site, called Citizendium. It will include user registration and editorial controls to govern user-submitted articles, unlike the free-for-all submission process that reigns on Wikipedia. With "gentle" controls in place, Sanger says Citizendium will naturally weed out so-called trolls from posting obscenities or biased information.
"Wikipedia is amazing. It has grown in breadth and depth, and the articles are remarkably good given the system that is in place. I merely think that we can do better," Sanger said. "There are a number of problems with the system that can be solved, and by solving those we can end up with an even better massive encyclopedia."
Sanger said an invitation-only, pilot version of his nonprofit site will launch this week, but wider release has yet to be determined.
Since early 2001, when Sanger helped get Wikipedia off the ground with co-founder Jimmy Wales, the service has become one of the most popular research tools on the Web and one of its fastest-growing sites, with more than 2 million articles in 229 nationalities. In September, the site attracted more than 33 million unique visitors, up 162 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to research firm Nielsen NetRatings.
But Wikipedia has run into some trouble in its precipitous rise to popularity. Last fall, concerns over the veracity of Wikipedia articles came to a head after it was discovered that the entry on former Robert F. Kennedy aide John Seigenthaler suggested he had been involved in the presidential candidate's assassination. And in August, comedian Stephen Colbert was banned from Wikipedia after he encouraged his television viewers to make meaningless edits to the site's articles.
While Wikipedia has moved to address some of the concerns with new technology, other encyclopedia projects have tried to fill demand for academic information. Digital Universe, for example, launched earlier this year as an expert-controlled encyclopedia project, which was also started with Sanger's help. Its first initiative, called the Encyclopedia of Earth, has 400 articles written and reviewed by volunteer environmental experts from around the world.
Sanger took a leave of absence from Digital Universe to start Citizendium and take a different approach to the online encyclopedia. Like Wikipedia, he wants the service to evolve with public participation--it will be a "fork" of the open-source code of Wikipedia, meaning that it will replicate its existing database of articles and then evolve, through user participation, into a new compendium of its own.
But unlike Wikipedia, Citizendium will have established volunteer editors and "constables," or administrators who enforce community rules. In essence, the service will observe a separation of church and state, with a representative republic, Sanger said.
"These so called constables will play a similar role to administrators in Wikipedia, but they will not be able to make decisions on how articles read. The editors will be responsible for making decisions about content but they will not be able to ban people," he said.
Citizendium is soliciting experts in their fields to post and oversee articles on any given subject. Another difference from Wikipedia is that Citizendium will require that members register with their real name to post to the wiki. That, Sanger said, should also discourage shenanigans.
"The idea is we will be inviting people from around the world to work together under the gentle guidance of experts," he said.
Wikipedia representatives did not immediately respond to request for comment.