Wikipedia founder talks up new project

Contributors to a new online encyclopedia, Citizendium, will use their real names and behave professionally

Larry Sanger’s answer to his former firm, the Wikimedia Foundation, is a new online encyclopedia called Citizendium, which was launched this week. Sanger, Citizendium’s editor in chief and a co-founder of Wikipedia, talked about how the new offering differs from Wikipedia and why he decided to abandon the “ignore all rules” philosophy he championed there.

Did you create Citizendium to wipe out Wikipedia?

It is very, very unlikely that our existence will lead to Wikipedia’s demise. Wikipedia already has enormous momentum and an enormous group of people who really like the policies they have in place. As long as they stay within the law and within the guides of good ethical practice, I am all in favour of their continuing to grow and thrive.

Why did you ditch the “ignore all rules” philosophy?

I am the author of the “ignore all rules” rule on Wikipedia. Some months after I humorously proposed that, I rejected it because other people were taking it seriously. The intent behind the rule initially was that people should not worry about getting formatting right and getting every single detail of policy under their belts before they started contributing.

It’s OK if you don’t bold the subject of the article. Someone else will fix it, and you will learn simply by being corrected. That is all I meant by “ignore all rules.” I certainly didn’t mean that you can behave like a jerk and no one will care.

What will Citizendium offer that you can’t get with Wikipedia?

The world needs something in addition to Wikipedia. The world needs a better, more reliable free encyclopedia. There is little chance that Wikipedia is going to change the policies that I think are responsible for its lack of authoritativeness.

A lot of people — and I don’t mean just experts — have contributed to Wikipedia and come away with a bad taste in their mouth. The problem is their work tends to be dismissed and they are often treated disrespectfully. There really needs to be a place that is more inclusive. Wikipedia, by being open to all sorts of abusive and anonymous people, actually makes itself closed to people who don’t want to work in that kind of atmosphere.

What are some of Citizendium’s important policies and processes?

We want to have processes in place that allow us to quickly and easily rein-in bad behaviour. For example, not too long ago there was one professional contributor who took another professional contributor to task, saying that a certain article was simply bad work. One of our constables came along and erased the comment and put in a message to the effect we have a policy of professional behaviour and then linked to the policy page.

The most important other policy would be the real names policy. We require all contributors to use their own real names. I think the fact that we require people to use their real names has had a beneficial effect on the level of civility in the project, and it also increases the credibility of the results.

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