Saturday, 3 November 2007

One year of Citizendium

Citizendium has turned one year old (at least, it's been one year since its initial pilot release) and the Citizendium community is looking back on what they have done so far, and looking forward to what they aim to achieve in the next year and beyond.

Citizendium founder Larry Sanger has posted a "one year on" status update on the project. In it he addresses some "myths" about the project, many of which relate to its expert-led content generation model, and many of which focus on the number of articles that the project has produced so far. Sanger is particularly strident about rejecting the suggestion that Citizendium is just another Nupedia, and that Citizendium is a poor competitor with Wikipedia.

While it's true that Citizendium's model does differ from that of Nupedia, one key similarity is that is the role of experts to have the final say in approving articles. Sanger is keen to point out that Citizendium has more than 3,200 "live" articles, but a "live" article can be started by anyone, and includes articles imported from Wikipedia to which at least three "significant" changes have been made.

Given the expert-led content generation process by which it seeks to differentiate itself, the real measure of Citizendium has to be its output of "approved" articles, the ones which have been approved and locked off by the experts. After a year Citizendium has only 39 approved articles, a little more than the 24 approved articles which Nupedia generated through its existence.

One of the key issues facing Citizendium has been its rate of contributor growth. Sanger predicts that eventually the project will reach that critical mass whereupon it begins to experience rapidly accelerating, even exponential growth in contributors as awareness of Citizendium spreads. But that's not looking likely at the moment: while user activity is up, overall user numbers have been fairly constant for some time now, suggesting that while the users who are there are getting more and more involved, the project is not attracting many new editors.

I think that if Citizendium is to succeed it needs to communicate a clearer identity to the public at large. I suspect that the common perception of Citizendium is that it is merely an expert-run competitor to Wikipedia, and the truth of this aside, the comparison between the two projects seems to be something of a chip on the shoulder of at least part of the community at Citizendium. Consider the recent call for essays on which licence Citizendium should be using for its content; this essay opposes using the GFDL "both for its own sake and because Wikipedia uses it", and Mike Johnson references the debate within the community as to whether or not Citizendium's content should be compatible with Wikipedia. Go see the "Citizendium and Wikipedia" board on their forums for an idea of what I'm talking about.

Maybe Citizendium should look to differentiate itself in more ways than simply having experts at the top of the editorial food chain. Topic selection and content style are obvious areas (see also this discussion), but there are many other aspects of content policy which on Wikipedia have been influenced strongly by the fact that the content generation model is open and not formally reviewed; analysis and synthesis, for example, which are not permitted on Wikipedia, are ideally suited to a collaborative model which also includes expert oversight.

There is promise in the idea of Citizendium, but after seeing the results of one year of existence, I am not convinced that the predicted "coming explosion of growth" is inevitable.


Kpjas said...

Veropedia looks quite promising for people who frown on Wikipedia's unstability and shaky credibility so it might make Citizendium's growth and eventual success even more unlikely.

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