CZ Talk:Election July-August 2013/Referenda/4

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Previous open registration system

Many years ago, in the project's infancy, we actually had something like this: for a brief period, anyone could register an account and immediately get started. I say "brief" because within a short space of time, the wiki was bombarded with vandalism, including a lengthy series of very nasty edits directed at individual project members. The experiment was shut down and we've required verified real names ever since. Because of that experience, I think I could only support this if we had flagged revisions on every page, checked by reviewers whose identities had been verified. ('Flagged revisions' is a setting where an edit is held in a queue, invisible to general readers, until someone else comes along and approves it.) That requires some technical set-up that would probably not materialise. John Stephenson 15:31, 16 July 2013 (UTC)

You are absolutely right that there will be negatives if this referendum passes. However, there will also be negatives if it doesn't pass, and I feel that the community as a whole will need to decide which set of negatives it wants to choose. When I wrote this, I didn't feel that it was going to pass unanimously; my purpose was to initiate such a decision. Right now, CZ has the exact opposite problem: It has no vandalism, but it also has absolutely no new members. Without new members, the community, already very decreased in size, will continue to shrink and eventually die. CZ is a lot different now than it was in 2006; back then, it was newsworthy and so attracted a lot of people, both helpful and unhelpful. Having some sort of process to weed out the unhelpful people may have made sense then. Now, however, we don't have the volunteers to do that (and finding another person to do it is merely a stopgap measure until that person leaves). With CZ being off the radar now, I don't think that it will be a magnet for vandals (also, the flip side of that coin is, that if vandals can register easily, people who notice vandalism can register easily and fix it). Other wikis with similar activity levels to CZ are not overwhelmed with vandalism. Others may disagree with my assessment, but, regardless, this is an issue that I think needs to be considered. Cheers, James Yolkowski 16:39, 16 July 2013 (UTC)
P.S. If others have other proposals that would be somewhat of a middle ground between what we have now and this one, it would be interesting to see them. Cheers, James Yolkowski 16:40, 16 July 2013 (UTC)
I think it's better to reform and simplify the applications system. An additional concern for me is all those people who registered accounts under their real, verified names who thought they were entering a relatively safe environment: if you wish, the only way people can contact you is via the public Talk page using their real name. Opening the whole thing up might therefore be a mistake. As for other projects: Knowino was released under a similar idea, a knowledge project with unverified real names. Have a look at how that's going. John Stephenson 10:53, 17 July 2013 (UTC)
Will people who have already registered will appreciate this change or not? Maybe they will. Perhaps they will appreciate having more people to work with. The best way to decide whether existing users want this change is to have a referendum about it where all of them can vote. If they like the change, it'll pass. If not, it won't.
I think that discussing Knowino is a non sequitur. The reason that Citizendium has a small amount of activity and Knowino is dormant is because Citizendium had a huge amount of momentum from 2006–07 that hasn't been completely spent, while Knowino never had much to begin with. Regardless, it seems clear to me that our momentum, while not completely spent, is very close to being spent. It would take very few people deciding that their time or money is better spent elsewhere for the project to collapse. I feel that something needs to change. Maybe not this change specifically, but we need to start doing something differently before the project meets Knowino's fate. In the absence of any other proposals, I'm making this one.
BTW, I appreciate that you cleaned out the new user backlog yesterday. Cheers, James Yolkowski 14:18, 17 July 2013 (UTC)
No problem. I actually started doing that before I saw you had created this referendum, having recently been given sysop rights. So not an attempt on my part to undermine your proposal. John Stephenson 13:46, 21 July 2013 (UTC)
Yes, James, something needs to change, but not something likely ruinously retrogressive. First changes first, to build a more attractive edifice: simplified governance, reduced hosting costs so administrators can spend less time fundraising and more time making Citizendium an attractive place to share their knowledge, a mechanism for signed articles as locked citable articles, etc. I agree with John Stephenson that we need to simplify the registration process, and greatly so. And we need an outreach process. We most certainly do not need an open registration process. If you wanted to assert that Larry Sanger did only one thing right in founding Citizendium, you'd have to say it was establishing a verifiable real names policy. This Managing Editor considers it sacrosanct (see Charter Preamble and Article). We do not want to cut off the head of the Charter. Anthony.Sebastian 19:55, 17 July 2013 (UTC)
I'll reply to both your comment below and this one in one place.
I think that you are making two assumptions that at best are unsubstantiated:
  • First, that this amendment would take the teeth out of the real names policy or anything in the charter. Nowhere in the charter does it say, "people's names must be verified before they can log into Citizendium." Facebook and Google+ have a real names policy, but they don't require users to have their names pre-verified. Rather, if there are doubts accounts may be suspended or validation requested. I merely propose a similar real names policy for CZ, entirely consistent with everything in the charter, which, like any other charter violation, can be enforced if anyone signs up using anything other than their real names.
  • Second, that people currently use their real names on CZ because of the fact that pre-verification is required. People do use their real names and CZ does have pre-verification, but correlation does not imply causation. Rather, editors use their real name because, otherwise, how could EPAs or the EC validate applicants? As for authors (and editors too), they use their real names because they choose to. It's relatively easy to game the system that's in place here (reams have been written on this on the forums in the past, I won't repeat these), so if people aren't gaming the system, then they must not particularly want to. The above motivations will exist regardless of whether we have pre-verification of accounts, so people will continue to use their real names.
I would really like there to be reasonably competitive alternatives to Wikipedia such as Citizendium. I would like Citizendium to succeed, but, and I'll be brutally honest here, by any objective measure Citizendium is not currently succeeding. In order for Citizendium to be more successful, we need more users, which means that we need to be more welcoming to new users. The current approach, regardless of whether it is streamlined or not, is not welcoming to new users. Any other ideas to attract new users to the project will be made much, much more difficult with things the way they are. It only makes sense to decrease the amount of bureaucracy while the number of users is low, and increase it if necessary as the number of users increases. Cheers, James Yolkowski 01:37, 22 July 2013 (UTC)

Bad idea

I also don't think this referendum is the best solution and invites, as per John's reminiscences of CZ's past, vandalism. If the problem is that there is no one to approve the creation of new accounts, then this power should be vested in the Managing Editor or the (soon-to-be) CZ Council. Russell D. Jones 15:59, 16 July 2013 (UTC)

Managing Editor cannot support this proposed referendum

I cannot recommend that the Citizenry support this proposal. It purports to provide for a step forward by taking an almost certainly disastrous step backward, opening a Pandora's box of evils well-known to wiki communities.

We need to increase our membership with contributors whose real names are verifiable. That will require creating solutions to several problems. We will do that. We have the creative minds who will do that.

The verifiable real names policy is a foundational pillar of Citizendium, critical to enable teachers to endorse us for their students, for example. We do not solve problems by forsaking our principles. Anthony.Sebastian 21:40, 16 July 2013 (UTC)

Managing Editor rejects this referendum

Formal rejection of CZ:Election July-August 2013/Referenda/4,

As authorized by section “1. f)” of this Management Council motion, the Managing Editor “may reject a referendum proposal according to his own judgement if…in the case of a non-Charter referendum, it would produce conditions likely to violate the current Charter.”

Based on that specific authorization, as Citizendium Managing Editor, I reject User:James Yolkowski’s proposed referendum, CZ:Election July-August 2013/Referenda/4, which would permit account creation without approval, i.e., would permit persons to apply for and be given membership under a real name that might be a fake, fraudulent, or bogus real-name-appearing name. Accordingly, I direct the Election Committee to exclude the aforementioned referendum from the ballot.

My reasoning

My primary reason for rejecting this referendum is that it would produce conditions likely to violate the current Charter. Specifically, I refer to the Charter's Preamble, Article 2, Article 38.3, and Article 40.4.

The second sentence of the Charter Preamble reads: "It [Citizendium] is built online by volunteers who contribute under their real names and agree to this social covenant centered around trust." Obviously, the Citizendium cannot know that its volunteers are contributing under their real names unless those names had been verified. Therefore, a referendum that does not require verification of the applicants submitted real name may be likely to produce conditions that violate the Preamble of the Charter.

Article 2 reads: "Citizenship shall be open to anyone who fulfills the basic conditions for participation as defined by the Management Council—including registering according to the real names policy—and agrees to abide by this Charter." Again, clearly Citizendium requires "real names”, and therefore verified real names.

Article 38.3 reads: “Constables shall have power to block citizens' access to the Citizendium.” The referendum might readily interfere with the constables’ power to block access to the Citizendium because an applicant who is blocked can easily reapply under a real-name-looking fake or bogus real name.

The same point can be made with respect to Article 40.4, which reads in part: "The Editorial Council and the Management Council may impose sanctions that result in blocking a citizen's access to Citizendium, removing or altering content, or terminating the citizen." The power to block a citizens access to Citizendium becomes ineffectual if that citizen can gain re-access to Citizendium under a new real-name-looking fake or bogus name.

Therefore, in my judgment, this referendum is likely to produce conditions that violate the Charter.


Open Registration effectively eviscerates Citizendium's banning policies, because anyone banned could come back under a real-name-looking fake name. That renders Article 38.3, discussed above, ineffective because there would be no practical means to enforce blocks. Having to verify your name makes it difficult to set up a sockpuppet.

Open registration also provides an opportunity for harassment, including by banned members. It leaves people vulnerable who have already signed up with a verified real name and who thought they were signing up to a closed environment: it is possible for any user to disable the "Email this user" function so that they can only be contacted publicly on the main wiki by other users under their verified real names, or privately by a small number of Citizendium staff.