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Citizendium

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Citizendium home page in July 2016.

The Citizendium (si-tih-ZEN-dee-um, "a citizens' compendium") is a wiki-based free encyclopedia project founded by Larry Sanger, who also co-founded Wikipedia. It allows users to write and edit articles on many subjects, as long as they register and edit under their real, verified name. The project reserves a role for recognized experts, who can approve articles as being of citable quality, but expertise is not required to join. Citizendium has a policy document which sets out its members' rights and responsibilities.

The project aims to improve on the Wikipedia model by providing reliable and high-quality content,[1] and its content was first envisioned as a complete "fork" of the English Wikipedia. However, the project abandoned that idea prior its public launch to focus its own original articles, though it allows material from other wikis to be used with attribution. Citizendium's own articles are released under a Creative Commons license that allows acknowledged duplication.

Citizendium was introduced as a "beta" (in development) project on March 25, 2007. After project members voted for a new Charter in September 2010, the "beta" tag was dropped in 2011. The project currently has 16,938 articles in varying stages of development, of which 160 are approved.[2]

Structure

The Citizendium is run according to a set of policies. The community itself, through consensus and discussion, is responsible for shaping the content of articles, as well as funding, appointments, and other administrative matters. Members may be elected or appointed to represent the project, make interim decisions and mediate disputes.

Members of the project are called "Citizens". They are further divided into "Authors", who are regular project members, and "Editors", who are recognized experts with the power to approve versions of articles and take content-related decisions in their subject fields. All Editors are also Authors, in that they can contribute as non-experts to any other articles.

Other roles include: the technical staff, who maintain the software and servers of the wiki; the Moderator Group, which monitors behavior and maintains order in discussions; and the Treasurer, who administers the project's finances. Other positions may be created as necessary, such as a temporary Election Committee to run ballots. All Citizens are entitled to one vote in any election.

Origin of Citizendium

Larry Sanger announcing the Citizendium on September 15, 2006, at the Wizards of OS 4 conference, Berlin.

Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, former Editor-in-Chief of Nupedia, and consultant to other web-encyclopedia projects such as the Encyclopedia of Earth, announced the concept for Citizendium on September 15, 2006 at Berlin's Wizards of OS 4 conference. The project moved on to a pilot phase in October, and formally launched on March 25, 2007.

Like Wikipedia, Citizendium is a project to prepare an encyclopedia through the collaborative writing approach known as 'wiki'.[3]

Fundamental principles

Citizendium was founded on the following organizational principles that, for the most part, distinguish it from Wikipedia. These principles are maintained by the project's policies, which superseded the previous Charter in November 2016. The Charter in turn replaced the original 'Statement of Fundamental Policies' in 2010.

The policy document comprises the only binding set of rules on the project; previous rules have the status of guidance only.

Open collaboration

Citizendium is similar to Wikipedia in that it is an open wiki: the public is invited to participate and edit most pages. Anonymous edits are not allowed, but in principle members can edit most pages.

Real names

Citizendium requires that all contributors edit under their real name, as this is thought to reduced vandalism, encourage a civil atmosphere, and help readers to judge how accurate an article may be. Any applicant must not only declare that the name they have submitted is their own, but must submit evidence that verifies this. Common verification methods include use of a non-free e-mail address, such as one used at an educational institution or company, or the submission of scanned identity documents such as a driver's license (information other than the applicant's name may be blacked out). Minors are asked to provide less personal information, while applicants seeking to become Editors are required to provide more extensive evidence of their qualifications or experience. All contributors must also maintain a public biography about themselves, to give readers some idea of the knowledge or abilities the Citizen has brought to their edits.

Sanger has stated that real names, in contrast to the pseudonyms common on Wikipedia, add to the credibility and accuracy of Citizendium articles.

Expert contribution

On Wikipedia and other projects, and "editor" is any user who can edit pages. On Citizendium, however, an "Editor" is a recognised expert in one or more fields. Editors are also "Authors", i.e. regular contributors to the project, but they may be able to make final decisions on content in their field of expertise, and may also approve versions of articles as "citable", i.e. of reasonably good quality.

Founding Editor-in-Chief Larry Sanger promoted the shift to expertise, saying: "people who know a great deal about a subject, who are recognized by various societal mechanisms for that knowledge, can add a great of value to Web 2.0 projects, if they are given special roles that recognize their expertise."[4] Using a metaphor from Eric S. Raymond's story about The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Sanger suggested that we "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."[5]

Citable articles

An Editor may declare a version of an article essentially complete and of reasonably good quality. A copy of this approved version is made available, locked to further editing, on a subpage of the main article. The article itself remains freely editable and can later be re-approved and replace the citable version.

Article inclusion policy

Citizendium has no equivalent of a "notability" policy, so articles on subjects which many readers might consider obscure are accepted. Instead, the project has an article inclusion policy which sets out the reasons under which a page may be deleted or archived on content grounds. These grounds include: significant weaknesses in the material; lack of importance to the project; little chance of the material being improved due to lack of interest.

Project goals

Citizendium home page in May 2009.

Neutrality

Citizendium adopted a Neutrality Policy[6] that was based on an early version of Wikipedia's neutrality policy (circa December 2001), which had been drafted by Sanger. As of November 2016, the neutrality policy is bound by point (6) of the policy document:

  • 6) Citizendium articles shall be as neutral, comprehensive, accurate and comprehensible as possible while respecting the balance of scientific evidence.

The Citizendium policy was previously subject to the Charter, which remains as guidance:

  • Article 4: The Citizendium community shall recognize the special role that experts play in defining content standards in their relevant fields and in guiding content development towards reliability and quality.
  • Article 18: The Citizendium shall welcome contributions in all fields of knowledge.
  • Article 19: All articles shall treat their subjects comprehensively, neutrally, and objectively to the greatest degree possible in a well-written narrative, complementing text with other suitable material and media.
  • Article 23: The Citizendium shall remain free of advocacy, advertisement and sensationalism.

Responsibility

Responsibility covers a broad scope within this project. Not only do members have responsibilities to the project and its contributors, but they also are responsible for the content they produce. The project has created policy that determines it will maximize attribution, either to an author or a source.

Additionally, the Citizendium guidelines propose that Editors and Authors alike have a responsibility to the public at large. It is the duty of all contributors to ensure that information on an article can be attributed to fact, and does not contain any questionable or unauthorized/copyrighted material, unless that required permission has been specifically granted for the use of the project.

There is also the great importance of projecting reliable information: if Citizendium articles are not accurate then the project cannot be credible. The goal is to create a "better free encyclopedia", and its users and content should aim to fulfill that.

Should there be any incident of irresponsibility or abject behavior or content, Citizendium has processes and policies in place that are able to deal with these in the most professional manner available, and those should be exercised first to prevent user conflict and infighting.

Governance

The policy document provides two binding rules on governance as of November 2016:

  • 8) The Citizendium community or its representatives shall decide its own governance structure and who shall be responsible for administrative, financial, legal, content, behavioural and technical matters.
  • 9) No Citizendium member shall be denied a fair, unbiased appeal process against a decision made against them on administrative, legal, or technical matters.

The Citizendium Charter provided rules for the governance of the project within its community, but these have the status of guidance only as of November 2016. Examples include:

  • Article 2: All persons who apply for a Citizendium account shall do so under their real name and according to other criteria that may be established by the Citizendium Council. Application process shall be defined by the Citizendium Council. Participants in Citizendium agree to abide by this charter and other terms of participation as established by the Citizendium Council.
  • Article 4: The Citizendium community shall recognize the special role that experts play in defining content standards in their relevant fields and in guiding content development towards reliability and quality.
  • Article 5: Citizens shall act responsibly and in a civil manner: derogatory or offensive language or behavior will not be tolerated...
  • Article 11: Citizens should expect Officers and Editors to be fair and impartial. Biased Officers and Editors shall recuse themselves from their official positions in any dispute resolution process.
  • Article 14: Editors are Citizens whose expertise in some field of knowledge is recognized and formally acknowledged by the community. Official recognition of expertise — obtained through education or experience — and its scope shall be based on guidelines established by the Citizendium Council.

The combination of these guidelines result in a project that, while still existing as an "open system", must have attribution, accuracy, and the unbridled freedom for subject matter experts to be a part of the project.

Governance changes

Originally, executive decisions were the responsibility of the then-Editor-in-Chief, Larry Sanger, who also founded the project. Governance subsequently became a matter for the first Editorial Council, which in turn was replaced by separate Management and Editorial Councils established through the ratification of the Charter. These were merged into a single Citizendium Council in 2013. The role of Ombudsman, originally empowered by the Charter to mediate disputes, was abolished in 2014 and its duties merged with those of the Managing Editor. Over time, the number of elected positions has fallen, from 33 in the original Editorial Council, to 14 through the first version of the Charter, and 4 as of July 2014. As of November 2016, there are no elected positions.

In November 2016, Citizendium voters unanimously decided to establish a new policy document and reduced both the Charter and other rules to the status of guidance only.

Until July 2016, the Moderator Group was known as the 'Constabulary' and its members as 'Constables'. The group was renamed in a referendum that year.

Licensing

All original Citizendium content is available under the Creative Commons-Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. This license means that they may be altered and freely redistributed as long as the work is properly attributed and shared under the same or a similar license.

Composers of text, images, and artwork in Citizendium are free to republish it elsewhere as they wish, because as authors they keep their own copyright. As Founding Editor-in-Chief Larry Sanger explains, "The Citizendium has not declared that individuals are, by contributing content, thereby transferring or in any way sharing their copyright with the Citizendium Foundation."[7]

Reception

On November 1st, 2007, Citizendium officially turned one-year old. To celebrate its birthday, Sanger produced a press release that presented a narrative snapshot of the current state of the project, in terms of its progress and to debunk some myths about its status. Also, a Slashdot post was made to mark the occasion.

Among web sites with the highest traffic, as of July 2016 Citizendium was ranked around 72,000 by Ranking.com, a drop since mid-May 2011 from an earlier level of about 10,000-12,000. According to Alexa, Citizendium's main audience demographic is mainly male and with a college education.

Criticism

Objections to the Citizendium have been raised by journalists, bloggers and members of other wikis, particularly some Wikipedians. One early criticism focused on the wiki's guidance role for experts: the Citizendium cannot succeed because there is no such thing as an expert outside those institutions that specifically certify an individual as an expert; who is an "expert" depends on context.[8]

A common complaint is that the fledgeling Citizendium is too small to compete with bigger websites;[9] The strength of this argument would be diluted as the Citizendium gathered a larger contributor base over time and produced more articles.

Footnotes

  1. The Citizendium's Statement of Fundamental Policies. Accessed September 6, 2007.
  2. List of and links to Citable Articles.
  3. Correspondence on the Etymology of Wiki (November 2003). Retrieved on 09-05-2007.
  4. Sanger (2006) Why Make Room for Experts in Web 2.0 Keynote delivered at SDForum, San Jose, California, Oct. 24, 2006, retrieved from http://www.citizendium.org/roomforexperts.html on May 7, 2007.
  5. Sanger (2006) The Citizendium FAQ, retrieved from http://www.citizendium.org/faq.html#editors on May 7, 2007.
  6. Neutrality Policy (09-05-2007). Retrieved on 09-05-2007.
  7. Sanger, Larry (December 2007). An explanation of the Citizendium license. Citizendium. Retrieved on 28 November 2013.
  8. Many2Many: 'Larry Sanger, Citizendium and the Problem of Expertise'. Blog post by Clay Shirky, September 18 2006.
  9. For example, see dot.life: 'Will Wikipedia always win?'. BBC blog post by Rory Cellan-Jones, March 31 2008.