CZ:History Workgroup/Recruitment Letter

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Dear colleagues,

We're starting an expert-led alternative to Wikipedia. We feel this is badly needed. And we want your help!

Many people have a love-hate relationship with Wikipedia. On the one hand, they love the free availability of huge amounts of information. On the other hand, they hate its amateurish quality.

So, over the past few years we've seen many calls by experts to descend upon Wikipedia and whip articles in a certain area into shape. History is an example of such an area. But when experts do that, though, they tend to get beaten back by an anarchical and somewhat insular Wikipedia community.

Other groups have proposed, and started, competing expert-led wiki encyclopedias, with very limited success. It's quite hard to start a successful wiki. There is a serious hurdle to clear: critical mass. If people don't see enough other people working on the wiki, they don't have an incentive to work on it themselves.

Enter the very person who conceived of Wikipedia and got it off the ground in its first year, a Ph.D. philosopher named Larry Sanger. Basically, Larry said: "Enough is enough. We can do better than this."

So the co-founder of Wikipedia is leading the construction of a newer, more mature, expert-led, but still dynamic wiki encyclopedia project, called the Citizendium (sit-ih-ZEN-dee-um), or "the Citizens' Compendium."

It will combine robust public participation with gentle expert guidance and more carefully enforced standards. It has begun life as a fully independent branch (a "fork") of Wikipedia. That means you can edit--or replace--all of those articles you hated on Wikipedia. But we expect it to take on a life of its own and, perhaps, to become the flagship of a new set of responsibly-managed free knowledge projects.

But will it achieve critical mass? There is already excellent evidence that it will. [Elaborate with more recent statistics.]

And that's all without reaching out to mailing lists and professional associations. Most academics haven't heard about the Citizendium yet. We think that when they do, many of them will become strong supporters.

We are in the process of organizing discipline-specific editorial groups devoted to organizing Citizendium's work. We hope you will join us soon in the History group.

In the meanwhile, if you'd like to sign up to join the project--as an editor *or* a rank-and-file author--then please apply here:

Let's show the world what is possible when strong collaboration is gently led by real experts. More importantly, if there are large quantities of information about history available online, let's make sure it's of high quality.

Dana Lutenegger
Author, History Workgroup