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CZ:Myths and Facts
From Citizendium, the Citizens' Compendium
We enjoy considerable goodwill from many people. But the Citizendium is also misunderstood. This page is devoted to correcting many errors about us.
Myth: we're experts-only.
- Fact: we love experts—we admit it. And we want more of them. And we want your knowledge too, even if you aren't an expert in anything. Everyone has something to contribute; everyone has some area of special strength. You do not need to be a credentialed professor to contribute what you know.
Myth: we're a top-down project, with expert editors giving orders to underlings.
- No, we're very much bottom-up. If you join, you work on whatever articles you want to work on, whenever you want to. We are a radically collaborative project. This means we share ownership and work together; nobody "owns" articles or "gives orders". We aren't the first to use this method; it gained currency online with the open source software movement. Eric S. Raymond, a theorist of that movement, compared communities that create free software collaboratively to "bazaars," as opposed to the old-fashioned "cathedral" model where everyone has a specific role and function, and orders are given from the top. (See "The Cathedral and the Bazaar." We, too, are a bazaar. We have merely added "village elders" wandering the bazaar. Their presence does not convert the project into a cathedral; it only helps make the bazaar a little less anarchical and unreliable.
Myth: edits appear on the Citizendium only if they have been approved by editors.
- No. Once you're signed up, you can immediately change any article (or, for approved articles, any article draft—example). Editors are not standing over your shoulder. Another author is as likely to critique and edit your work as an editor. It's like we said. This is a wiki—a real, bottom-up wiki.
- See The Editor Role.
Myth: we're Serious. Writing here is no fun
- This is a work in progress, and we have fun! Yes, we have some highly educated people here, who write wonderful prose as if it is no effort. But we have no problem with you making a rough start on any topic. We are permanently under construction. You do not have to be painfully careful, as if you might break something and people will start screaming at you if you do. We want everybody to be bold. And it's fine to start a relatively short article, just a paragraph or two (we call these "stubs").
Myth: privacy will be violated, as our bios will be accessible from Google!
- Fact: biographies are not indexed by Google (or any other search engine that respects the "noindex" tag).
- We feel that the advantages of real names outweigh the small sacrifice of allowing our work-in-progress to be viewed publicly. Using real names makes people behave more civilly; it also makes our articles more credible, since readers know that there are people willing to put their names behind them.
Myth: as this is an academic project, we are not open to articles about pop culture.
- Nonsense; see Led Zeppelin and Metal Gear Solid. We are a hybrid academic/public project. We reject both the idea that knowledge belongs exclusively in the academy, and the idea that that the academy has no special role to play. We think the most productive and reliable system involves the marriage of expertise with public interests and knowledge.
Myth: since this is an academic project, our articles will have an academic bias.
- Our neutrality policy requires that our articles feature the full range of opinion on a subject, including opinion outside the mainstream of expert opinion. The important thing is that all opinion be properly labelled and attributed.
Myth: there is no point to the Citizendium, because Wikipedia exists.
- Fact: Wikipedia has uneven quality, and is off-putting to most experts. We believe that, in the end, more people will be comfortable with the CZ model. The world can use more than one "go to" source for free reference information.
- See Why Citizendium?
Myth: most Citizendium articles are copied from Wikipedia.
No; copying material from other sources, such as Wikipedia, is allowed under certain conditions, but most of our articles are original. Most articles sourced from Wikipedia are not counted in our CZ Live article count (currently 16,566). We encourage people to start over, to give the public "added value", or at least work to improve imported material quickly.
Some other facts
- Though we are an open wiki, we have no vandalism and little if any "trolling."
- Our well-developed articles feature subpages (here's a list), which cover many other kinds of reference information.
- CZ articles are intended to be coherent narratives, not random grab-bags of facts.
- The person who led Wikipedia in its first year, and designed many of its fundamental policies, is also the founder of Citizendium.
- It is easy to get a quick start. In our sign-up procedure, we don't ask that much information about you. Someone will review your account request, and let you into the system typically within 24 hours. Once you've signed up, it is easy to start a new article.
- Editorial policy decisions are settled by an elected Editorial Council
- We are managed by an elected Management Council
- We have an elected Ombudsman to help resolve disputes
- We have an elected Managing Editor with the power to make swift decisions
- We are a non-profit, civic project that uses Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike as the license for our content, and our Citizens are essentially co-owners of the project.
Why all the myths about CZ?
There are probably two reasons.
First, this is a genuinely innovative project. The expert-public hybrid model and several other innovations are new. But most people are not able to take such novel things on board easily; to them, we are like a traditional academic project, or like Wikipedia. In short, most people naturally think in terms of stereotypes, and so we have been stereotyped. This means only that we need to educate people—which this page attempts to do.
Second, a lot of Web 2.0 advocates, whose favorite online platforms are websites like Wikipedia and YouTube, are opposed to our basic policies (i.e. they are opposed, on egalitarian principles, to the notion of expert guidance). So they dislike the idea that we ask people to take real-world responsibility for their contributions and that we make even a low-key "gentle guidance" role for experts. We hope that a more nuanced understanding of what we are up to will eventually emerge anyway.
See also: Why Citizendium?