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The Failure of Citizendium

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 December 2011

Remembering Citizendium

A few days ago I read Steve Wheeler’s post on Content as Curriculum? having being alerted to it by Larry Sanger’s post on An example of educational anti-intellectualism to which Steve provided a riposte in which Steve argued the need to Play the ball, not the man.

From the blog posts I learnt that Larry Sanger is a co-founder of Wikipedia and, as described on his blog is the “‘Founding Editor-in-Chief’ of the Citizendium, the Citizens’ Compendium: a wiki encyclopedia project that is expert-guided, public participatory, and real-names-only”.

I have to admit that I had forgotten about Citizendium but the little spat caused me to revisit the Web site. While searching I came across a discussion entitled Why did Citizendium fail? and yes, it does seem that this “endeavor to achieve the highest standards of writing, reliability, and comprehensiveness through a unique collaboration between Authors and Editors” has failed. But although we often talk about success criteria, it can be more difficult to identify failures. How then, can we describe Citizendium as a failure?

Experiences With Citizendium

A few years ago I signed up for a Citizendium account. In order to register you need to provide your real name and include “a CV or resume … as well as some links to Web material that tends to support the claims made in the CV, such as conference proceedings, or a departmental home page. Both of these additional requirements may be fulfilled by a CV that is hosted on an official work Web page“.

I registered as I felt that if Citizendium became successful being an author could provide a valuable dissemination channel for those areas in which I have expertise. In particular I had an interest in helping to manage the Web accessibility entry in Citizendium. However I found that I did not have the time – or inclination – to edit this article. Looking at the article today it seems that the “page was last modified 09:25, 10 January 2008” and “has been accessed 221 times“. It is perhaps good news that the page has been viewed so little as it is not only very out-of-date but is also poorly written. It also seems that there have been no content added to the Talk, Related Articles, Bibliography or External Links pages or the also no entries

In comparison we can find that the Web Accessibility entry in Wikipedia has been edited 575 times by 277 users. There were also 10,911 views in November 2011.

Discussion

Perhaps there may be those who could argue that Citizendium isn’t a failure, but has a valuable role to play in a particular niche area which is not being addressed by Wikipedia. But how can this argument be made when Citizendium’s aim to “endeavor to achieve the highest standards of writing, reliability, and comprehensiveness through a unique collaboration between Authors and Editors” results in entries such as this one on Silverlight vs Flash:

With the rocket development of Internet, the techniques used for building web pages is improving all the time, which not only brings people more information but new experience of surfing on the Internet. Many techniques have been applied to enrich the web page these years, from totally the plaintext in early 90′s, first to web page with pictures and then that with embedded sounds. Later, Sun Microsystems proposed Java Applet, which was popular for not long time until being conquered by Adobe Flash.

Back in March 2008 the Citizendium FAQ asked the question:

How can you possibly succeed? Wikipedia is an enormous community. How can you go head-to-head with Wikipedia, now a veritable goliath?

The solid interest and growth of our project demonstrates that there are many people who love the vibrancy and basic concept of Wikipedia, but who believe it needs to be governed under more sensible rules, and with a special place for experts. We hope they will join the Citizendium effort. We obviously have a long way to go, but we just started. Give us a few years; Wikipedia has had a rather large head start.

Three and a half years later it seems clear that in the battle between the online encyclopedia “governed under more sensible rules, and with a special place for experts” has been unable to compete with the “vibrancy and basic concept of Wikipedia“.

I’m pleased that Steve Wheeler’s link to Larry Sanger’s blog post helped me to remember my initial curiosity regarding the more managed approach to gathering experts’ knowledge provided by Citizendium and demonstrated the failings in such an approach. Let’s continue making Wikipedia even better is my call for 2012.

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