Forum Talk:Management/Archive 2
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Has the project failed?
Statement (Copied from the talk page of User:Peter Schmitt)
Considering the state of CZ (number of active citizens) it should be clear that this is not the time for elections and referenda on formal issues or introducing new positions (Editor in Chief). Those who bravely keep the site running should admit that the project has failed, and that there is only one task left to complete: To close CZ in an orderly way and to find a permanent place where the complete database (including history, forum, etc.) will be kept accessible (possibly the internet archive, www.archive.org).
Maybe there should be a place (a group or forum) where the fate of CZ can be discussed, the reasons for its failure can be analyzed, and ideas can be put forward how to realize successfully an alternative to WP.
Some points for such a discussion:
- There is a need for a public domain encyclopedia certified by expert editors.
- WP needs competition -- a monopole is never good.
- One of the errors of CZ (though that may not have been clear from the beginning) was that it is not enough to add a few rules to the mechanics of WP. CZ was and is meant to work essentially like WP. Thus the result will either be very similar to WP, or (as it happened with CZ) the stronger project will dominate and eventually eliminate the weaker copy.
- Assuming for the sake of argument that CZ has failed, doesn't it make sense to determine why before deciding whether closing down is the appropriate response?
- I seem to remember there is a Google group for discussion of CZ, intended to replace the old non-Citizens' forum. Of course you have to be a member of Google to join the group, but that's free, isn't it?
- I agree with your first 2 bulleted points. Wikipedia has actually been declining since 2007, but there still isn't a serious general competitor (as distinct from specialist ones). I've been working to improve would-be competitors like this while leaving WP to its own devices for some time now.
- On your 3rd point, have you got any more drastic changes in particular to suggest? Peter Jackson (talk) 08:48, 7 June 2016 (UTC)
- I would not be so hasty to seek to close CZ. WP has also been suffering too. Have a read of these recent articles , , . Perhaps there are some important lessons here for CZ. Firstly, DO NOT try and emulate, imitate or be a mirror of WP. If WP has problems, you will suffer the same. Second, be different, be distinctive, be what the internet wants. I guess that means we need to take a different strategy and appeal to users of mobile devices and smart phones. In other words make articles short, and concise and useable in the modern world. We must not abandon the goal of being more definitive and accurate than WP, but CZ must have relevancy. If the EiC's role does just that single thing ... make CZ relevant, then it will make the election/referenda worthwhile. Alan Horton (talk) 09:39, 7 June 2016 (UTC)
- Reading the response from Jimmy Wales about the decline in traffic from Google to WP he says that he is not concerned and wants to improve the length and quality of articles. This goes against the "trend" for people to want "instant information" to their smart phones. So there's the "niche" for CZ ... articles written specifically for today's always on the go, always connected to the internet, phones surgically attached type of audience. Alan Horton (talk) 10:31, 7 June 2016 (UTC)
- "short" is certainly not the way to go for an encyclopedia that wants to be taken seriously; however, the introductin to an article should serve as a summary that provides the basic information for the impatient user.
- Concerning your link to WikiSage: This new project addresses two of the weak points that CZ has inherited from WP (neutrality and "original" research) but -- at least at first glance -- is still too much a clone of WP, with some similarity to CZ. Peter Schmitt (talk) 18:57, 17 June 2016 (UTC)
- On WP the intro is indeed supposed to do exactly as you recommend. (In practice, people often edit it independently of the main body of the article.) I suspect the great majority of WP's readers read the intro only, and maybe some bit(s) of the article they're particularly interested in.
- Here, though, there's a different policy: the intro is supposed to say what's important about the topic, not summarize it.
- Maybe you'd like to elaborate how you see NPOV and NOR as weak points on WP and here.
- Our neutrality policy isn't much different from theirs; in fact it's adapted from an earlier version of theirs. There are certainly problems over there in actually applying it. There's no one with authority to adjudicate, and the dispute resolution process isn't really fit for purpose on controversial topics. Here, the theory was that Editors would adjudicate, but in most cases, if there were a dispute, there wouldn't be a suitably qualified Editor available, so the Council (or ME) would be left to adjudicate.
- Our attitude to original research is more flexible. I was looking at their policy recently, and see it's extremely strict. With rare exceptions, anything not explicitly stated in reliable sources mustn't be stated, or even suggested, in WP articles. For example, if you find 2 sources that apparently contradict each other, but the later one doesn't actually say the earlier one is wrong, and you can't find a 3rd that says they contradict each other, then you're not supposed to say "According to ... However, according to ...", because use of the word "However" suggests disagreement. (PS Needless to say, this policy is often ignored.)
- WikiSage is (deliberately or not) a sort of hybrid of Wikipedia, Citizendium and Wikinfo methods:
- (from CZ) if an expert is available, they control the main article;
- (from WP) otherwise the main article is decided democratically;
- (from WI) in either case, anyone dissatisfied with the main article can attach to it a subpage giving their own POV.
- Peter Jackson (talk) 09:47, 18 June 2016 (UTC)
ad (1)+(2) Both is possible, of course. I do not think that there is an explicit CZ policy on that. On the other hand, WP articles often contain much too much details which hide the important information. This material would better fit into extra articles (or subpages)
ad (3)+(4) That is a difficult issue. Facts have to be correct, of course. And I think that "objectivity" is a better term for the position tha an encyclopedia should take. However, there are many fields where strict neutral (or objective) articles lack useful and interesting information (religion, history, reviews of works of art, contested theories, ...).
ad (5) It makes no sense to exclude primary sources (often the best available!) and to insist on sources for every remark. An encyclopedia is not the place to publish new results, but why should an article not -- by bringing together material -- bring new insights?
ad (6) All three rely on the "wisdom of the crowd". This works well for building lists and collecting details. It does not work so well for writing good articles. But this is another story ... ;-)
- To try to fix ideas, I've just had a look at the WP neutrality policy. It boils down to 3 points:
- clearly and accurately distinguish between facts and opinions
- avoid biased language
- give different POVs due weight corresponding to their prominence in "reliable sources".
- Peter Jackson (talk) 09:52, 25 June 2016 (UTC)
- CZ policy doesn't seem much different. Print encyclopaedias, on the other hand, don't seem to feel bound by such principles.
- Maybe you could clarify your own ideas in relation to this. Peter Jackson (talk) 09:59, 25 June 2016 (UTC)
- "However, there are many fields where strict neutral (or objective) articles lack useful and interesting information (religion, history, reviews of works of art, contested theories, ...)." There's already provision for expert signed subpages exempt from neutrality, isn't there? I'm not sure it's ever actually been used, though. Peter Jackson (talk) 08:52, 28 June 2016 (UTC)
Why close CZ?
When CZ was started it was a project with an interesting concept and as such attracted some attentation. However, it did not really get off and never came near to its (far too) ambitious goals. On the contrary, it soon began to decline and never recovered in spite of all the efforts made to save it. In the meantime it should be clear that CZ does not work as intended. Something is wrong (mechanics, rules), and it would require major changes and huge efforts to relaunch the project with some chances of success. However, a person with the means and the energy to achieve this (is there such a person?) would be better off to start a *new* project from the scratch that does not suffer from the (now) bad reputation of CZ, and that does not need to be completely reformed.
(When CZ is completely archived -- the whole database and all additional material -- then it could, if desired, be revived any time.)
- I can only repeat what I said before: it seems reasonable to me to try to understand what the problem(s) is/are before deciding what to do about it. Peter Jackson (talk) 09:49, 25 June 2016 (UTC)
- Dear Citizens, since I am not a native English speaker I have never contributed to CZ, waiting for it to take off to the next phase of opening up for other languages. Every now and then I visited CZ to see how it's doing. I am visiting it today, again, and my heart is bleeding when I see that you are actually discussing shutting the whole enterprise down.
- Please let me tell you that I believe that indeed there is a space for a new encyclopedia, other than Wikipedia. A lot has changed since WP inception - we now have all the online courses, forums such as StackOverflow, open access books and illegal sites such as LibraryGenesis and Sci-Hub. And yet all this becomes more scattered and chaotic with every minute. There has always been a need to organise our knowledge. And anyone can try working on her own - but we will do it on our small private web sites, our small free publications, just adding to disorganisation. The alternative is that people could work under one name, be it CZ or some other name.
- My friend who works in marketing says that it's always easier to improve an already existing brand than creating a new one.
- I would be very sorry to see CZ getting closed. I understand how bad it feels when there is no success. I would wish that CZ gravitates towards Larousse encyclopedias, or develops into collections such as Oxford Manuals. Oxford Manuals are great, but too long to read the whole thing when you just want to get the basic idea who eg Spinoza was. It's very nice that there are very specialised articles here on very specific topics, but what is really necessary is to write short books and essays on general subjects, such as History of Europe, Mathematics, Western Philosophy, Nutrition etc.
- The expectation was that CZ would just miraculously and spontanously become what WP is today, but since the human base is different in this project, it requires more marketing, more direct encouragement, more promotion. I got here because of the book by Andrew Keen. Otherwise I have never heard of CZ. Why do we assume others would?
- Thank you for your support, Piotr. (And please feel free to edit in English!) It's also worth reminding ourselves of those non-members who read our site, link to us, 'like' us on social media, retweet us, and so on. CZ does get used to a modest degree despite the lack of much promotion over the last few years. As for shutting down: this volunteer project costs us about a hundred bucks a month to run, and there are ways to reduce that still further. Why would we want to stop? Even if it's eternally a hobby site for a few enthusiasts, that's better than nothing at all, and we can gradually reform and expand over time. It needs very few people to keep the site ticking over. Also, other than democratic processes, we have two important policies that distinguish us from the competition: verified real names and Editor oversight. There is no reason to throw those away. I think there is a place for CZ as an active source of free knowledge, rather than just as a static archive. John Stephenson (talk) 19:42, 26 June 2016 (UTC)
- I fully agree with you, Piotr. And, yes, of course, John, there is nothing to say against "a hobby site for a few enthusiasts". But as such it will never achieve what we want it to be (and what it was founded for). A few years ago -- CZ was already developing rather moderately, only -- I still had hopes, but in spite of some efforts made it did not improve. CZ would need, as you said, Piotr, intensive marketing to recover, and some radical changes. Unlike you, I think that it would be far easier to found a new site (with the same objective), but I may be wrong. Peter Schmitt (talk) 23:48, 26 June 2016 (UTC)
- Regardless of whether it's a better idea to continue with CZ or to start a new site, I think a good first step would be for CZ's leaders to admit that, as originally conceived, CZ has failed and is highly unlikely ever to meet its original goals. There's nothing wrong with CZ being a hobby site for a few enthusiasts; however, its original goals can get in the way. To take one example, our governance structure is appropriate for a site with 500 regular contributors, not 10. I think that admitting that the original goals are unattainable is the first step to a better CZ. James Yolkowski (talk) 02:34, 27 June 2016 (UTC)
For what it's worth: When I first looked at CZ I was looking at the article on Civil Society, which I found was infinitely better than the equivalent one on Wikipedia. It was informative, well-organised, and clearly authoritative, whereas Wikipedia's was the usual jumble, and uninformative at that. However, if I had happened to look at some of the other articles here, I would not have continued to use the website. Anyone who first came across some of the inept or half-started articles we have here would not get a good impression. I know it is no use proposing a remedy, because I have learnt that even if it is agreed, nothing will actually happen — and that, I think, probably applies to the idea of a new start. I suppose I just remain one of the hobbyists that James Yolkowski refers to (but, I hope, of a reasonable standard.) --Martin Wyatt (talk) 19:07, 27 June 2016 (UTC)
- While I agree with James' observation about the failure of the original idea, I don't necessarily agree with the demand to formally or officially recognising it. What would it change? Everyone sees it, the statistics speak about it loudly. The qovernance and procedures are blown out of proportion, that's true. A motion about the failure just seems like perpetuating the beaurocratic impossibilism.
- Moreover, CZ played its important role at a certan moment, and drew attention of many people to the problems that Wikipedia obviously had and maybe changed it for better. Certain articles were copied to Wikipedia. That's all together a bit better than calling CZ a complete failure.
- I have been an active editor of Wikipedia for over 10 years now. Its growth has slowed down significantly over the last years, number of editors plummeted for a couple of reasons, but mainly:
- 1) the gerenal feeling is that Everything is already in Wikipedia,
- 2) NONE of my friends know that you actually can edit Wikipedia or how to do it (because it's more complicated than handling your Facebook account?),
- 3) it is extremely difficult to improve style of long and poorly written articles because that requires a lot of dramatical changes that would be recognised as vandalism.
- With your permission - I would reiterate that whether CZ keeps its name or starts anew, it should focus on creating well written summaries/guides to specific topics. Once you have a couple of useful, well written, reviewed essays and handbooks (compendium is a part of CZ name!), people would come for their sake, and around that there could emerge small encyclopedic articles supplementing the main text. On-line publication has many adventages over aforementioned printed, static Oxford or Routledge Handbooks. My vision also includes: freely accessible peer reviewd articles and book reviews and "virtual conferences" with submitted papers and recorded video presentations. That, of course, changes the nature of CZ. It would demand a different way of working, especially editorial work and lots of PR+marketing to make CZ brand prestigious.
- The argument for sticking to Citizendium name, most importantly, is that the Internet is a place of ephemeral beings - CZ's history is long enough to be valuable just for the fact that it has been arount for so long. Changing the profile of activity does not mean that the original goal has to be changed. There is a vast base of registered editors that we can try to go back to. There is the technical base and paying contributors that have kept CZ running. There is the interesting legacy of dispute between Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. Starting from absolutely zero is much much harder. On the top that all, you have no idea how many more people like me are just around the corner, lurking, hoping, remembering, being upset about WP and waiting for something else. Piotr Łukasz (talk) 21:05, 27 June 2016 (UTC)
Why didn't it work?
(1) WP fork. CZ was started as a fork of WP. This turned out as a mistake. Attempts to remedy this by deleting many articles were not completely successfull. Traces of articles inherited from WP are still present -- and they are not to WP's advantage. (Remark. Trying to reform WP might lead to similar problems.) Peter Schmitt (talk) 23:22, 27 June 2016 (UTC)
- I joined precisely because it was a fork, and many others did too. When it was de-forked, it instantly killed us as a viable encyclopedia. A third way might have been to copy over articles that Wikipedians have rated 'good', or articles on priority topics, to at least plug gaps. Anything from WP can always be cleaned up or replaced. John Stephenson (talk) 12:15, 28 June 2016 (UTC)
- It was (and is) a mistake to expect that a reliable encyclopedia of high quality can be created "by copying and improving", and that it will grow (almost as) quickly (as WP). Excellent or good articles have to be written from scratch. Quantity is easier to collect than quality can be generated. One has to allow (arbitrarily large) gaps rather than present mediocre (or even worse) material on a site that promises quality. Peter Schmitt (talk) 23:43, 28 June 2016 (UTC)
(2) WP mechanics. Except for the additions of real names, editors, and constables, the rules and mechanics of WP were copied. Everyone can edit every article anytime, even "approved" articles are meant to be constantly improved by anybody. As WP shows, such articles usually grow into huge collections of facts (hopefully, correct ones) but not into good articles. The idea that articles are written by the "wisdom of the crowd" and approved by experts did not work as hoped (imagined). Good articles are written by experts who have a concept and know how to organize the material and what to include (and what not). The article Civil Society (mentioned above by Martin) is a good example: It has only one (main) author. Peter Schmitt (talk) 23:54, 27 June 2016 (UTC)
- "even "approved" articles are meant to be constantly improved by anybody": that wasn't originally so. Approved articles were frozen. At some point, not too long ago, it was decided, by referendum I think, to relegate the approved articles to subpage status, with the main article, as you say, subject to change by anybody. I opposed that change as I think it demotes the authority of Editors, which is a major part of the site's identity.
- "Good articles are written by experts who have a concept and know how to organize the material and what to include (and what not)." There's already a site for that, Scholarpedia, which I think you contribute to. In theory, if we had WP's personnel, we could improve on that, because I can say from my own studies that scholars are often unaware of each other's work, except perhaps in a very narrow specialization. In theory, a vast army of volunteers could search the international scholarly literature more completely and remedy that. Peter Jackson (talk) 08:49, 28 June 2016 (UTC)
- Now, to address the actual question heading this section. I don't think this should be looked at in isolation: it's not just CZ that's been declining. WP has too. Participation now is about half the peak level in 2007. It seems to me, in fact, that there's no prospect of WP's achieving its aim. It's succeeded in creating an enormous and exponentially growing curate's egg. It's logistically impossible for a decreasing number of editors to maintain, let alone improve, an increasing number of articles. Just recently someone carried out a survey of a selection of random articles and found that an average of 70% was unsourced (). You could add to that unknown proportions of cases where the source
- isn't reliable
- doesn't say what the article says it says
- is out of date
- represents one POV and is contradicted by other RSs
- All these things happen quite a lot. WP's requirement for "consensus" makes it extremely hard to make any serious changes. I can't see them sorting out their problems themselves, and WMF aren't likely to intervene unless serious competition forces them to. Peter Jackson (talk) 09:05, 28 June 2016 (UTC)
(3) Design. CZ design (i.e. colours, position of the links, cathegories etc.) closely resembles that of WP. This creates the effect in the user that she expects it to be Wikipedia (that is to say: comprehensive, "complete"). When she sees that there's less content here, she thinks: "this is some stupid clone of WP. Take me home!". proposed solution: present only the citable articles, re-design the home page so it looks less like a wiki, focus on compendium articles, review what kind of expertise our current editors have, create a publishing plan/pipeline. Get rid of dead links (like the blog...) Piotr Łukasz (talk) 10:03, 28 June 2016 (UTC)
- But if you cut down what's publicly viewable to citable articles only, that makes it less likely that people will find us or want to edit what they find. Often people join because they've seen an undeveloped article or a gap that they want to edit. Also, we used to have a different MediaWiki skin, but it's no longer compatible with the software and people complained about the design anyway. John Stephenson (talk) 12:15, 28 June 2016 (UTC)
(4) Community building. People left CZ. But also the good question is - why CZ left the people. proposed solution: there needs to be a lot of focus on talking to authors and encouraging them to seriously devote their time to write, help them in the process, encourage them, and give them gratification - they participate in a great project! if you write for us, that's an honour. There's plenty of graduates who apply for PhD, they need publications. There's plenty of seminar papers out there. There are student conferences. There are scientist who wait very long to be published. There are tons of PhDs that never get published. We should reach out to them all, they most often have a chapter with reviewing the current state of research in their respective fields, those are ready made articles. Piotr Łukasz (talk) 10:03, 28 June 2016 (UTC)
- A few years ago I started an outreach programme on my own initiative. I contacted lots of inactive Editors and invited them back. A few people returned, made a handful of edits and disappeared. Mostly, it reminded people that they had one more public bio out there: they came and edited that, then left. We have to give people an incentive to stick around, other than just knowing that their work will be public somewhere. Revolving-door membership is typical for wikis and is only sustainable on Wikipedia because of their vast number of editors. John Stephenson (talk) 12:15, 28 June 2016 (UTC)
(5) Bureaucracy. The focus on processes has dominated CZ culture in a bad way. What was ment to be CZ's virtue turned to be its original sin. Because the editorial procedures were exactly what was ment to differenciate CZ from WP, all the other things are the same. The energy has been lost on governance instead of on content creation. proposed solution: Since there are so few contributors at the moment there needs to be more strong leadership/dictatorship. Discussing everything in detail is ineffective for the decision making process. We should be united by vision, divide tasks and delegate, set goals, periodically review what was done and achieved. If the feeling is that CZ is dead, make the decision by the end of next month, clean up, shut down and get all aboard on a new boat. In order to change anything you have to make changes, otherwise you're in the same place. And if the decision is to stay with CZ, draft the new vision by the end of the next month and execute. If we are unable do that by the end of July, it means it's not worth our effort. Piotr Łukasz (talk) 10:03, 28 June 2016 (UTC)
On governance and proposing changes
I think it is important to avoid confusing previous governance with the current system we have. Years ago, people who are mostly no longer around proposed rather elaborate governance structures because they thought they were preparing for a time when CZ would explode in popularity. We have spent the last several years hacking that back to something more appropriate. To summarise: there are four elected positions (one vacant as of 1st July), one active sysop/administrator (me), one Treasurer, and two Technical Staff members. That's not a bloated governance structure. There's a lot of out-of-date commentary about 'bureaucracy' out there.
Ask yourself the following:
- When was the last time I was told couldn't do something on CZ because of a rule?
- When was the last time an official managerial or content decision went against me?
- When was the last time my comments were suppressed by an official?
- When was the last time my work was vandalised?
Actually, CZ is an environment where people can just potter away at what they enjoy editing. That's a problem, but several previous attempts to prioritise important subjects ('Top Articles', 'Core Articles'...) have failed.
Initially, CZ was a very busy project. Its membership declined not because of fundamental flaws in its model but because of a series of personality clashes and poor managerial decisions. We spent years with the consequences of allowing cranks to get a foothold, even though once democracy was introduced, the first thing the community did was vote to get rid of the structure that had allowed the pseudoscience. Today, most of us are pretty skeptical. But the damage was done.
As Martin has referred to, it is easy to propose far-reaching changes to the project if you don't intend to get involved. I find it puzzling that calls for a new approach often ignore the most obvious way to begin long-term change on Citizendium: participating in our annual elections. We should have been having this debate a month ago.
As of 1st July there won't be a Managing Editor in place, but thanks to contingency plans we previously came together and approved, the Council can appoint someone for a period of one year. If you want change and you're an Editor, ask them to consider you. If you're not an Editor, find one who you can persuade of your ideas and back them strongly to put themselves forward.
Otherwise, in the absence of any agreement over what to do next, we will by default continue as a wiki. Our focus may narrow over the next years. The first steps are getting the wiki working properly and possibly cutting costs. I know that the Tech Staff have been looking into this. We also need to address making the site more user-friendly. (WYSIWYG editing, anyone?) After that, we could look at a relaunch. John Stephenson (talk) 12:15, 28 June 2016 (UTC)