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CZ:FAQ

From Citizendium, the Citizens' Compendium

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Contents

Introductory topics

What is Citizendium, anyway?

Citizendium is a wiki encyclopedia project aiming to create the world's finest free encyclopedia (and general reference) source, one that is reliable as well as comprehensive. To achieve this, we are inviting the public to help create content, but we also have a "gentle guiding" role for experts. Our contributors use their real names, and the whole project is largely vandalism-free and friendly—but also productive and growing!

What is Citizendium trying to achieve?

Quality
Our goal is to capture the full range of humanity's various understandings and knowledge of reality. We also expect our approved articles to be, in the long run, as authoritative, error-free, and well-written as encyclopedia articles are expected to be. We believe that an indispensable means to this end is the involvement of many levels of experts who will not only write, but also help guide and, ultimately, approve many of our articles—so far, they have done so for 0 articles.

Quantity
We have already added 16,794 articles but aim over time to increase this massively. This is not the traditional goal of paper-and-print encyclopedias, which have typically sought to offer only mainstream views of the most important aspects of a few important topics. Cheap disk space and bandwidth, and the potential of participation by ultimately millions of people, means that we can capture humanity's understanding of reality with far more nuance and detail. Quantity, alone, is useless, however, without the trust that comes with high quality, reliable content.

A new sort of online community
We welcome experts as well as the general public; we will be built not by top-down orders but as and where contributors wish to work; and we will be organized as a genuine republic of letters governed by a rule of law. There will be no "dictators," but a regularly changing group of people tasked to manage a public trust in conformity with a relatively stable code of rules.

Why is another online encyclopedia necessary?

See also: CZ:Why Citizendium?
The world needs a trustworthy free encyclopedia. We aim to create that by providing a responsibly governed global community where real-named contributors work under expert guidance and all are accountable.

How are you progressing?

Quite nicely, with 16,794 articles to read or improve. At the same time, thousands of messages have been exchanged on our forums and mailing lists.

This is an "Expertpedia," isn't it? Experts only, right?

No. Non-experts play an essential role in this project, alongside experts. Our essential feature is not expertise, but responsibility. We want to give the world a new model of how to build responsible new "online constitutional republics" that are self-owned, self-managed, and devoted to serious purposes. The fact that there is a modest role for experts in this project is only one aspect of our commitment to responsibility.
If you are looking for a peer-reviewed specialists' encyclopedia, you may wish to read Scholarpedia.

How do I join?

Fill out a short form--we ask for a name, e-mail address, short bio, and (private!) information about how to confirm your identity--then you'll be asked to confirm your e-mail address. When that's done, a community manager, called a constable can approve you and then read about how to get started.

How do I get started?

Again, it's pretty easy. Do you have some knowledge you'd like to express? About--well--almost anything? Then search for an article about it. If we don't have an article about it, then start one. Don't worry about getting all the formatting right, and certainly don't bother adding the {{subpages}} template! Just use "the easy way" you'll see here, and start. Writing for Citizendium is about as easy as writing an e-mail. See Getting Started, and for a short page that contains all the basic getting-started info, read our Quick Start!


The justification and prospects of the project

Why real names?

There are at least three reasons. First, it improves the credibility of the output: people can see who contributed some content, and whether they appear to know anything about the subject. Second, by making people take real-world personal responsibility for their contributions, it becomes possible to enforce rules. When problem contributors can make up a new pseudonym as soon as they get out of line, this makes it in principle impossible to enforce rules effectively. But if you can enforce rules effectively, you can do the work of a project a lot more efficiently. Third, people do tend to behave themselves better when their identities are known and their behavior is out in the open, and good behavior is crucial to a smoothly running knowledge community.
We take no official stance on the common practice of anonymity online, as a rule. We assume that most of our contributors are in favor of it. But the Citizendium is a special sort of project: the arguments for real names in a serious "knowledge project" are much stronger than in other contexts.

Why make a special role for experts?

Experts are needed to play meaningful roles because only they can be counted on to recognize when some content represents the latest expert knowledge. Amateurs and dilettantes are sometimes perfectly capable of creating excellent and reliable material on many subjects, especially if they're good writers and researchers; but they are inconsistent in doing so, and they generally lack the expert's ability to judge when some content actually represents the latest expert opinion on a subject. It seems obvious that the intelligent use of experts in a collaborative project can help to improve the quality of the output. For further discussion of the editor role, look at see the FAQ section below and in The Editor Role.

Why think it is important for people to agree to a Statement of Fundamental Policies? Why enforce a policy of professionalism in behavior?

Anyone who has spent a lot of time working in online communities is familiar with certain types of problematic characters and certain patterns of bad behavior. Governance of online communities is very hard. But what makes it hard is that such communities are generally volunteer communities of equals, and in such communities, it is hard to get buy-in from participants for resting some decisionmaking authority in anyone's hands. This may be a problem about the Internet's thoroughgoing egalitarianism. This is why it is so important that online communities adopt constitutions which institute sensible, representative governance--as it were, just as real, offline communities do. See our Statement of Fundamental Policies. Beyond that, they should require their members to sign onto the rules explicitly, and then give the members a key stake in the governance of the project. We believe that giving members an active stake in governance gets them personally invested, and great things can result. See our proposals system.
A bedrock principle of Citizendium is professional behavior: while you need not actually be a "professional" to participate, you are still expected to behave like one. Offline communities have effective social pressures to keep impolite, insulting, and inflammatory conversation to a minimum: frowns, uncomfortable silences, social ostracism. Online communities cannot use these same mechanisms, and so they need something different. Some of the longest-lasting, most interesting, and best-behaved Internet discussion groups feature "moderation"--that is, a referee can tap someone on the shoulder if he is getting out of line, and may eject him from the conversation if necessary. While articles or talk pages are wide open to edit, Citizendium constables are empowered to remove comments that are disrespectful. See Professionalism.

But don't the above points really mean the project is some sort of top-down, "fascistic" or at least old-fashioned sort of system?

No. One glance at our recent changes log makes it clear that the project operates as much as a "bazaar" as any other wiki or open source software project. People contribute as they want, when they want; they are going off in a thousand different directions at once. And, like other open projects, out of this chaos, order emerges. Work does not proceed only after someone orders it. Work can begin as soon as a person signs up.
In fact, our system is a decided improvement over similar systems, made in full knowledge of the virtues of those systems.

What exactly is the point of the project, when Wikipedia is so huge and of at least reasonably good quality?

If we can do better than Wikipedia--or more positively, if we can pioneer a truly effective way to gather knowledge--then shouldn't we? See "Why Citizendium?" where this valid question is discussed at length.

How can you possibly succeed? Wikipedia is an enormous community. How can you go head-to-head with Wikipedia, now a veritable goliath?

The solid interest and growth of our project demonstrates that there are many people who love the vibrancy and basic concept of Wikipedia, but who believe it needs to be governed under more sensible rules, and with a special place for experts. We hope they will join the Citizendium effort. We obviously have a long way to go, but we just started. Give us a few years; Wikipedia has had a rather large head start.

You began as a fork of Wikipedia, and then decided not to fork after all, but start most of your articles over from scratch. Why?

The short answer is people appear to be more motivated to start their own articles than they were to edit old Wikipedia articles; the prospect of starting over and simply doing better is more attractive to more people than trying to clean up Wikipedia. Please see this blog post for further explanation.

Are you going to run out of money and have to close this site?

So far, the project has benefited from a number of financial donations from various people, and we hope it will continue to until the project secures more stable funding. You can keep track of the situation via the monthly financial report.

People tell me that this project has failed. Has it?

Citizendium has been around since 2006 and has always had a pool of regular contributors and enough funds to keep going. It is a volunteer project where a lot of knowledgeable people give up their time to provide a free resource, so inevitably there are peaks and troughs in how active the site is. While it is true that activity on the site has declined since its inception, it is also true that the number of articles, including expert-approved ones, slowly but surely keeps going up. We also think that, while it is great to see a busy site, we should be encouraging quality as well as quantity, such as by including a role for experts and promoting organized editing by university students. It is very tempting for commentators to write Citizendium off, especially when its name isn't well-known; however, it is still here, growing, and host to people who enjoy writing for it and would like to welcome you, too.

The project's people and culture

How similar is this project to open source hacker culture, and how similar to the culture of academia?

This is a part of our experiment: we are trying to marry the two cultures. So far, it seems to be working pretty well. On the one hand, we want to teach academics and other professionals to work in a strongly collaborative way and adopt the principles and ethics articulated in, for example, Eric Raymond's essays "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" and "Homesteading the Noosphere" (essays we recommend you read, if you have not yet done so). So this will be a bottom-up, collaborative, distributed wiki project. It is not the command-and-control, bureaucratic sort of project with which many academics are familiar. On the other hand, we want to make a special place for experts to get involved as senior members of the community. Really, this is not that different from open source software projects, because those projects have senior participants who decide what's goes into and what stays out of the code. This only means that the hacker notion of a meritocracy on the basis of visible work must be qualified--not entirely jettisoned, of course--so that people with real-world, hard-won credentials are given an appropriate sort of authority in the project. (That's visible work too.) See "The Role of Editors" below.

Who is joining this community?

Generally, people who support the basic project design--and there's a lot of them from various walks of life. It's not just "experts," and it's not just "the usual online mob." Think of it as a highly potent blend--something really unusual, new, different--because it really is. Many academics and other highly knowledgeable people have gone out of their way to try to edit Wikipedia, only essentially to be beaten back by the community. Not only are they welcome, they are asked to form part of the editorial leadership of the Citizendium. Many disaffected Wikipedians have gotten involved. There are also a lot of students, and young professionals, who simply appreciate a more mature, sensible community. There are even some people who are being seriously introduced to wikis for the very first time by the Citizendium.

How can I find out more about your contributors?

All of our authors and editors use their real names. No cute aliases or menacing pseudonyms are allowed! You can find out about most authors on their User Pages. Typing User:FirstName LastName in the Find box at the upper left of every page will usually not take you there. After the unsuccessful search, go to the bottom of the page and click the box for User: pages, then search again.

Who is behind the project?

If you want to understand the Citizendium properly, you have to understand that it is part of a relatively new and largely misunderstood phenomenon: it is a self-selecting online community. For that reason, the most important members, the bedrock of the project, are not some editorial board, but instead the rank-and-file volunteer authors and editors who work on the project regularly. In this way, it is more like a place or a community than a publishing project. That said, we do have some formal governance apparatus, including a directly-elected Council and a Constabulary (site moderators). There are other people with various responsibilities as well. Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger is Founding Editor-in-Chief, but the the title carries no responsibilities. The Managing Editor is Anthony Sebastian.
For a further introduction to the community and how it operates, see Community Overview.

In many open source communities, there are "benevolent dictators for life." Is that Larry Sanger's role here?

No. We believe that a collaborative online community, to be healthy, must resemble a law-governed, constitutional republic--just like offline communities. So, when the Citizendium Charter was adopted in 2010, Larry lost his role as Editor-in-Chief in order to set up a community that is healthy, vibrant, responsible, and self-managing. His current title, Founding Editor-in-Chief, carries no formal powers or responsibilities. In fact, from the beginning of the project, Larry was committed to stepping down from the leadership of the Citizendium in 2009 or 2010 at the latest, to set the healthy precedent of allowing others--members of the volunteer community--to take over his role according to a rule-governed, regular transfer of leadership.

Funding and related issues

Can I donate to the project, to help ensure it comes into existence?

Yes, please! Server rentals, bandwidth, and basic personnel are all ongoing costs. So we need your help to sustain this important work through donations. We accept major credit cards.

Will the Citizendium accept advertisements?

No.

How committed are the Citizendium leaders to making and keeping this a non-profit project?

Completely.


Will I be paid for my contributions?

No. All of our contributions are donated by the contributors. As a nonprofit, all volunteer project, all contributions are covered by the Creative Commons-Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license

Will someone else profit from my contributions?

We are a nonprofit project, in order to ensure maximum participation and the independence of our information.
We make our content available for anyone to use, reuse and redistribute (provided they properly credit us as the source of the information) and hope that this opens the door for others to benefit from the project.

The role of editors

What is the difference between Authors and Editors?

An author is anyone who contributes to the project, while editors are people that gently guide the process in areas where they have subject matter expertise.

What do your expert "editors" do here?

Editors work shoulder-to-shoulder with non-experts in this project. Editors have two functions in the system. First, they can approve articles. Second, when content disputes arise, editors are empowered to articulate a resolution--if the article falls in their areas of specialization. Think of editors as the village elders wandering the bazaar and occasionally dispensing advice and reining in the wayward. Their presence is merely a moderating, civilizing influence. They don't stop the "bazaar" from being a bazaar. You can learn more about this here.

I don't see myself as an expert. Can I still participate?

Most of our contributors are "authors," not editors, and the majority do not have terminal academic degrees. We're a public project guided by experts. But there are many levels of expertise, and even more levels of knowledgeable participation. To get involved, register as an author. You can also contribute your thoughts to the project forums and receive important announcements by joining Citizendium-L. Editor applicants additionally provide a CV and proof of bona fides, although many get involved as authors right away. For more information on editor applications, again, see our registration page.

Who can become an editor, and how?

As a rule of thumb, editors in traditionally "academic" fields will require the qualifications typically needed for a tenure-track academic position in the field. Editors in "professional" fields require the usual terminal degree in their field and at least three years responsible professional experience, and, in most cases, several publications as well. Editors in non-academic, non-professional fields require varying other kinds of qualification, and can become "specialty editors." In addition, in the future, persons will be able to become editors by direct appeal to editorial workgroups--this exception should, we hope, take care of the unusual cases.
The requirement of real world credentials reflects no great love for credentials per se, but instead represents a crucially important means whereby editorship can be established independently of the internal politics and bias of decision-makers. For more information, see The Editor Role.

Can you really expect headstrong Wikipedia types to work under the guidance of expert types in this way?

It depends on the Wikipedian. The Citizendium will not be Wikipedia. We do expect people who have respect for expertise, for knowledge hard gained, to love the opportunity to work alongside editors. Imagine yourself as a college student who had the opportunity to work alongside, and under the loose and gentle direction of, your professors. This isn't going to be a top-down, command-and-control system. It is merely a sensible community: one where the people who have made it their life's work to study certain areas are given a certain appropriate authority--without thereby converting the community into a traditional top-down academic editorial scheme. For more, see Introduction to CZ for Wikipedians.

How can you possibly ensure on a wiki that editors will have the carefully limited authority you want to give them?

Two ways. First, as anyone with much experience in thriving Internet communities knows, the community itself places significant peer pressures on people to follow the rules. This works for most people, and is one key reason that wikis are able to work. Second, for those not susceptible to peer pressure, there is a Dispute Resolution system (still under some development) for content-based problems, and "constables" (the local name for the people empowered to ban troublemaking editors) for behavior-based problems.

Are editors paid?

No.

What, then, can motivate editors to get involved?

The idea is that this is a free resource for the entire world to use. Editors will have a desire to teach. Some people also feel a professional obligation to teach, something that is reflected by the fact that so many professional organizations have educational and outreach committees. Also, scholars and students alike are rightly concerned that widely-disseminated information about their interests be correct. For more, see Why Citizendium?

Wikipedia and the Citizendium

How does the project differ from Wikipedia?

In several significant ways: expert involvement, the requirement of logging in and real names, and more. What will not change is that the project will still be an open/free content wiki.

International Prospects of the Citizendium

See also: CZ:International

I live outside the U.S. and my native language isn't English. Is there a role for me?

While we have launched only in the English language, this is a digital and international project, with active participants from all around the world. There is no central office. If the English language project appears to work well, we will launch in a number of other languages.

Will you be attempting to start versions of the Citizendium in languages other than English?

Yes, if the English language Citizendium succeeds.

If Citizendia in other languages are started, will the central management of the Citizendium be fully international?

The extent to which the project is centralized at all, or instead federated or "franchised," remains to be decided. Participants must not assume that we will simply replicate the current, problematic Wikipedia model; we will be developing our relationships much more deliberately and carefully.

How will you actually get the Citizendia in other languages started?

This remains to be worked out and debated. We've started listing potential contributors in other languages.

Contact

How do I contact Citizendium staff?

Please see Contact.

Where can I find out more?

Our help system
Questions and answers to help you find the information you need

From the HOME page you can get started, get technical help, see our policies, and explore our organization in detail.

Larry Sanger is the author of the writings listed below, unless otherwise noted. Others are welcome to submit essays in a similar vein.

Other essays:


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