Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy birthday Citizendium

Citizendium, the encyclopedic wiki project that aims to curb what it sees as some of the excesses and problems with Wikipedia, has reached its first birthday.

Founder Larry Sanger's idea (he also co-founded Wikipedia) is to create a more civilized, if I may use a word that inherently has some biases but is useful here, version of Wikipedia, trying to use the wisdom of the crowd but cut down on the vandalism, manipulation and incorrect information by requiring real names from those posting and reviews by editors with expertise (I'm going to resist calling them "expert editors" because that, it seems to me, goes a level even higher and may be confounding the discussion).

As often happens, there's been a "them vs. them" meme to some of what has been written -- the Cult of the Expert vs. the Cult of the Amateur. It's unfortunate, because reality is so much more complicated than that. As someone observed in one of the many posts I've read, we still don't have a good model for understanding all the dynamics of crowds, and especially the dynamic of how individual commitment transforms to crowd-based outcomes, good and bad.

I'd recommend two very good blog posts, each with a set of comments you should also read. One, by JP Rangaswami ,explores this tension between expert vs. amateur and tends to come down on the side of the amateur. The response on the Citizendium blog is just as thought-provoking.

From the journalist's perspective, this should be yet another reminder that there is no one "truth" and no one resource that can deliver it. Citizendium is one more resource that bears consulting -- not infallible, but a good one and a useful cross-check on Wikipedia, if nothing else.

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