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> Why did Citizendium fail?
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Peter Damian
post Sun 10th April 2011, 1:53pm
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One of the worst things Sanger did was to start Citizendium. It failed, and Wikipedians now have a wonderful argument to add to their armoury. It failed, because of the policy on attracting experts. Ergo, crowdsourcing is the only way to build a comprehensive and reliable reference work.

Here are some reasons I think Citizendium failed:

1. There was only ever room for one Internet encyclopedia, for Google and 'network effect' reasons.

2. Experts have a limited attraction for any such project as this. I remember Larry claiming that when he advertised on the philosophy lists, philosophers would come flocking in. They didn't. I was working with one other philosopher (aka Mel Ititis on Wikipedia) at Citizendium. He left due to some petty dispute with Sanger, and I left not wanting to be the only philosopher.

3. Sanger was unspeakably rude to many of the participants.

4. After he realised that it would be hard to attract experts, the bars were lowered and all sorts of strange pondlife registered.

Just my thoughts. Or am I wrong? Is crowdsourcing the only real way to create a comprehensive and reliable reference work?
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Jon Awbrey
post Sun 10th April 2011, 2:42pm
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For answers to that, you might well review the ample observations and analyses that I posted here while Citizendium was still a live issue.

The gist of it is that there was room for only one Wikipea in the Wikipod, and Citizendium, as constrained by Sanger's myopic vision, was far too much like the Wikipea that he co-planted.

Jon Awbrey
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Eva Destruction
post Sun 10th April 2011, 5:05pm
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QUOTE(Jon Awbrey @ Sun 10th April 2011, 3:42pm) *

For answers to that, you might well review the ample observations and analyses that I posted here while Citizendium was still a live issue.

The gist of it is that there was room for only one Wikipea in the Wikipod, and Citizendium, as constrained by Sanger's myopic vision, was far too much like the Wikipea that he co-planted.

Jon Awbrey

Plus, it (1) had a ridiculous name, and (2) was so clearly of poorer quality than even the worst of Wikipedia that even Jimbo's worst enemies couldn't defend it. Don't underestimate the impact of branding and perception.
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Theanima
post Sun 10th April 2011, 6:48pm
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QUOTE(Eva Destruction @ Sun 10th April 2011, 5:05pm) *

Plus, it had a ridiculous name...

And "Wikipedia" is not ridiculous...
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Milton Roe
post Sun 10th April 2011, 6:55pm
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QUOTE(Theanima @ Sun 10th April 2011, 11:48am) *

QUOTE(Eva Destruction @ Sun 10th April 2011, 5:05pm) *

Plus, it had a ridiculous name...

And "Wikipedia" is not ridiculous...

Not AS ridiculous, since "-pedia" is a nice bound morpheme like "-orama" which is understood by anybody no matter how funny or unfamiliar the concatenated front end of it.

This word coinorama experience is brought to you by Milton Roe's pedantopedia. smile.gif
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Casliber
post Mon 11th April 2011, 11:47am
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In this wonderful age of economic rationalism, the staffing of many institutions for research in botany, zoology etc. museums, zoos, has been well and truly gutted, and the folks who still have paid work are overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to do.

Hence any project relying on experts would be doomed to fail by their lack of free time. It strikes me as naive not to have considered this.

I speak of one who's had to nag and beg experts to write for laypeople in the past.

furthermore, many experts are not overly enthusiastic to write on their work topic in their free time...too much like...work really.
Cas
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chrisoff
post Mon 11th April 2011, 3:52pm
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Agree completely with Casliber.

Plus experts get tired of arguing with editors that don't know the subject and are entering misinformation, with good faith, of course! Editors who think they are "intelligent" but are laymen are able to get their way because they are sophisticated in manipulating Wikipedia's many mechanisms for "winning" and stifling dissent.

Most experts aren't willing to get so deeply into the Wikipedia community to build up tag teams, master obscure policies and guidelines, learn wikispeak etc.

This post has been edited by chrisoff: Mon 11th April 2011, 3:53pm
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Milton Roe
post Mon 11th April 2011, 5:31pm
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QUOTE(Casliber @ Mon 11th April 2011, 4:47am) *

I speak of one who's had to nag and beg experts to write for laypeople in the past.

furthermore, many experts are not overly enthusiastic to write on their work topic in their free time...too much like...work really.
Cas

The solution to this is to sometimes have experts who have expository talent write on topics which are related to their specialty. Specialties in science these days are narrow these days anyway-- so narrow that it takes a page to explain to a layman even approximately what the work is about. (And 10 years of writing very nearly the same paper to make it from grad student to principal investigator status for grant purposes!) However, any scientist will have a penumbra of related knowledge about which they can speak with some authority (certainly more than the average joe), and since they don't often get to write about this stuff professionally, you can sometimes catch them there.

For example, I'm not a physicist, but as a topic of interest of mine I know enough about it to teach it at the high school or lower division university level, and have sometime edited WP articles on physics. I've had a few email exchanges with one of the leading popular science teachers in the country, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who (incidently) turns out to be personally accessable and also a sweet guy, despite the demands his public role make upon him. He encouraged me to write for The American Journal of Physics, which is a pedogogical journal aimed at teaching physics to physics students, in a way that serves as an example for physics teachers. And I think I may try that.

It happens sometimes that relative outsiders can present topics with a fresh approach, since insiders have been "inside" for so long, that they forget how much their audience doesn't know, and how their audience looks at the world. A teacher must start from where the student IS, or else you can't get any traction at all. And figuring out how to engage a misperception and change it into a pearl of understanding in minimal space and time, is a real art. Just because you're an expert, doesn't mean you can do that.

Of course, just this is supposed to be what "normal schools" teach teachers to do, but I am sure that the core of it cannot really be taught, any more than creative writing or any fine art. You can teach technique only. The process of abstraction of the meat of a subject, ordering topics logically and by importance, and then presentation with attention to audience, with compelling examples, metaphors, and good storytelling, is a form of intellectual and creative endevor. As with any art, if the person you're teaching to teach doesn't have that kind of intelligence or innate talent, you're never going to get very far with them. As in athletics, really good teachers are first born with the talent, THEN finished and "made."

My general example here is that über-hack Isaac Asimov, the great explainer of science for my generation. Asimov wasn't an expert-- he had a Ph.D. in biochemistry but had never done any significant biochem research, and never pretended to be a full scientist (defined as somebody who has once done reasonably original research first at the feet of a master, THEN on your own at the terrifying boundaries of understanding where there's no answer in the back of the book, and you work without a net under you). And yet Asimov succeeded because he started writing as a science fiction writer. He had an exceedingly clear and pleasant style, a totally logical mind, and most essentially a feel for good storytelling which served him in his "non-fiction" capacity, more than even he realized. Finding Asimovs in this world is not easy. These days one mostly finds them doing something else, since they have no ecological niche left (the free internet, lack of micropayments, and the school text system having destroyed it). So good luck, Casliber-- your task is perhaps harder than you know.
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powercorrupts
post Tue 12th April 2011, 11:53pm
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QUOTE(Eva Destruction @ Sun 10th April 2011, 6:05pm) *

QUOTE(Jon Awbrey @ Sun 10th April 2011, 3:42pm) *

For answers to that, you might well review the ample observations and analyses that I posted here while Citizendium was still a live issue.

The gist of it is that there was room for only one Wikipea in the Wikipod, and Citizendium, as constrained by Sanger's myopic vision, was far too much like the Wikipea that he co-planted.

Jon Awbrey

Plus, it (1) had a ridiculous name, and (2) was so clearly of poorer quality than even the worst of Wikipedia that even Jimbo's worst enemies couldn't defend it. Don't underestimate the impact of branding and perception.


A Wikipedia-like online 'multipedia' was always going to happen (it's why I so object to the Cult of Wales) - and it's singularity is part of what it is, alas. It's because of Wales that it can't adapt into anything particularly good. He simply doesn't want it to be anything particularly good: it just doesn't need to be to satisfy what it represents for him: a cash cow, a golden thrown, and a platform to all kinds adventures. Modern gents are nothing if not careerists. And why have an army of men when you can have an army of mugs?

I don't know about poorer than the worst of Wikipedia (!), but with 'accepted' articles as bad as some of the Citizendium ones I read, all the other reasons for CZ's failure are kind of, er, academic.

I found that many (if that word applies on CZ) of the participants were a bunch of fruity egos article-hopping aimlessly around, and often being rude to newbies, esp if they were from the from the Devil's nest. Larry either never had his heart in it, or he lost it pretty damn quick. Not long ago he asked for money on their behalf, and it really got my goat (a bit rude maybe, but wtf?). His last idea was this (another WR link) - which I think proves that he too sees Wikipedia as the central and singular place, which of course it is.

You just can't create an encyclopedia entirely based on citing for heaven's sake: to be done properly you need a special language designed for collaborative editing. Nothing else is possible, however many peas you shoot and corns you pop on WP. You are all the world's hidden nutters. What fucking idiots go on about democracy (please forget the Western caps) being some kind of 'enemy' of the Project - democracy is always and entirely what you do with it and make of it. Both WP and CZ are a magnet for madmen: the challenge is to reverse the polarity.

This post has been edited by powercorrupts: Wed 13th April 2011, 12:00am
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Casliber
post Wed 13th April 2011, 12:10pm
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Actually, six editors edited today...seems a bit busier recently....
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Kelly Martin
post Wed 13th April 2011, 2:17pm
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QUOTE(Casliber @ Mon 11th April 2011, 6:47am) *
furthermore, many experts are not overly enthusiastic to write on their work topic in their free time...too much like...work really.
Hammer, meet nail. This is the gist of it.

I do write articles from time to time in my area of expertise... as advertising material, posted on my blog, my company website, or on topical discussion forums. Such articles are, of course, deliberately incomplete, because I want to leave the reader with the impression that I know what I'm talking about, but at the same time not give away so much information that people who read them and who have a need for the rest of the information will actually pay me to get it. If I write a full and complete article, the reader won't need my services, and I don't get anything for the exchange.

Wikipedia wants experts to give away for free what they already know is worth money, in some cases a great deal of money, and that's not a good deal for the expert. Citizendium offered the same bargain, and thus also got few takers. And Citizendium is not even remotely comparable to Wikipedia as a self-publication venue. It doesn't have anywhere near the reach.
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Jon Awbrey
post Wed 13th April 2011, 2:34pm
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Way back when, I tried to sell Larry Sanger on the idea that researchers and scholars would freely support a site that actually served them in their research and scholarship.

He didn't get it …

Jon dry.gif
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Larry Sanger
post Wed 13th April 2011, 3:23pm
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QUOTE(Peter Damian @ Sun 10th April 2011, 9:53am) *

One of the worst things Sanger did was to start Citizendium. It failed, and Wikipedians now have a wonderful argument to add to their armoury. It failed, because of the policy on attracting experts. Ergo, crowdsourcing is the only way to build a comprehensive and reliable reference work.

Here are some reasons I think Citizendium failed:

1. There was only ever room for one Internet encyclopedia, for Google and 'network effect' reasons.

2. Experts have a limited attraction for any such project as this. I remember Larry claiming that when he advertised on the philosophy lists, philosophers would come flocking in. They didn't. I was working with one other philosopher (aka Mel Ititis on Wikipedia) at Citizendium. He left due to some petty dispute with Sanger, and I left not wanting to be the only philosopher.

3. Sanger was unspeakably rude to many of the participants.

4. After he realised that it would be hard to attract experts, the bars were lowered and all sorts of strange pondlife registered.

Just my thoughts. Or am I wrong? Is crowdsourcing the only real way to create a comprehensive and reliable reference work?

Well, Citizendium has not "failed." While it isn't thriving as much as I'd hoped, it's still going, and you do the work of the people who are still at work on it an injustice by saying so. Remember, they are trying to benefit the world with their work; by saying "it has failed," when it manifestly has not, is extremely uncharitable to them.

I don't have time or patience to engage in a dialogue about this everyone--I probably won't even dare look at this page after writing this--but I don't want a bunch of ignorant slagging to go on without the slightest response. So, point-by-point to Peter Damian:

1. We've had to compete with Wikipedia for participants, and that's been hard. True enough. If you want the simplest, most accurate single explanation of CZ's failure to grow as hoped, it would be that we were never able to gain critical mass in the face of Wikipedia, the 800-pound gorilla. That could still change, though.

2. Citizendium, contrary to popular belief, was never an "experts-only" project, and it's been obviously not, to anyone adequately acquainted with the project. And I have said so repeatedly, since the beginning of the project: it was designed from the very start as a public-expert partnership. If you'll read the original essays I posted about the project, before it even existed, you'll see this point made. And I never claimed that experts would come flocking in; of course I hoped so, but I always said that I was skeptical that the idea would work, because most new ideas don't work. If you don't believe me when I say this, well, again, look at the original essays and discussion about the project. It's all still there. By the way, I can't say I remember working with a Peter Damian on CZ. That must not be your real name. I do remember Jon Awbrey, though...

3. I don't think I was very rude to many participants, and if I was to a few, it was not without provocation and first enduring far worse. Let's leave it at that. I think some people who have never been at the head of projects like this don't realize the extreme difficulties that are involved when dealing with self-righteous narcissists who are not playing by the rules (whatever the rules are).

4. The bars were never lowered, except in your imagination or faulty memory. If anything, they were raised (I'm sorry to admit). Originally, we allowed anybody to come into the project as long as they registered with what looked like a real name and posted a very lightweight bio. After we started having to deal with motivated, systematic, automated, daily account-creation vandalism/attacks, with great reluctance I agreed to set up a system of approving account creation.

CZ is a crowdsourcing project. The fact that I have to explain this, write things like "Myths and Facts" (http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/CZ:Myths_and_Facts), and generally correct all sorts of misconceptions (even now), convinces me of this: if there is widespread bias against a project (as there certainly was, philosophically, against CZ), then people will say whatever the hell they want to about it, as if they were stating fact. Others will believe these errors and elaborate them. The project will find it nearly impossible to get out from under the weight of the misinformation. This, I'm afraid, has happened to CZ, in spades.

There's another difficulty that few people talk about: the number of regular educated people, with no appreciable expertise in anything, who feel comfortable working under even the gentle guidance of experts does not appear to be very high. There are some, to be sure. But a lot more people naturally resent experts (which goes a long way to explaining Wikipedia's popularity). This is probably best chalked up to the common human vice of envy. Moreover, the number of experts, defined in any even slightly stringent way, is small, and the number of experts who feel comfortable working on articles in their areas of expertise alongside the general lay public is even smaller. Smaller still is the number of such experts who are willing to work without pay.

All that said, I wouldn't give up on CZ, and am not giving up on it, though my attentions are now devoted to a brand new project (a free tool for teaching kids to read). Another thing that most people who haven't started many projects don't realize is just how subject to the winds of chance these projects can be. A small change in policy, or a new relationship or group of participants, can prove to have profound consequences. CZ's new management could try out many different things, and one of them might prove to be what is needed to turn the project around. I wish them all the best, and you should, too. CZ remains a very worthwhile experiment, and I'm not at all sorry that I started it.
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Jon Awbrey
post Wed 13th April 2011, 4:00pm
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Proving once again that Denial is not just a river in Egypt …

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powercorrupts
post Wed 13th April 2011, 5:25pm
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He still sees Citizendium in terms of having to "compete" for editors with Wikipedia. Could this be genuine schizophrenia, or is he just a total inept?

Hardly any of the CZ-targeted professionals (and academics especially) actually edit Wikipedia, and if they do they are usually straight back out like a shot. And the typical people who do edit it are hardly the best people in the world for the job, to say the least(!) On top of this there is the fact that CZ actively chose to look down on people who wished to edit both encyclopedias. Did you want those particular people or not? Some of the best of them would obviously have been useful to get things properly started (being a pool of experienced wiki-users), but they are hardly the only potential editors out there! On top of that, how many people disaffected with Wikipedia passed by CZ and barely took a second look as it was so generally poor? CZ failed to attract and interest new or experienced people, whether it was even noticed or not.

In short, CZ was well placed to ride on the back of Wikipedia and share the 'market' as a slightly different type of encyclopedia (it was never going to supplant it) - which is how 'competition' is actually works - but it TOTALLY FAILED IN EVERY WAY, ENTIRELY DUE TO ITSELF, AND NO OTHER REASON!

You are not a businessman Larry, you really aren't. And saying we are being 'uncharitable' towards them kind of shows that too. As for accusing part-time critics of painting CZ black, and claiming the 'unfairness' was and will be keeping it down, you really are floating near the pyramids I'm afraid. And claiming people have a kind of universal 'envy' of experts, while optimistically claiming that 'these kind of projects' are subject to the 'winds of change'? Why are people in your positions always so mad? It's a terrible thing.

This post has been edited by powercorrupts: Wed 13th April 2011, 5:29pm
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thekohser
post Wed 13th April 2011, 6:30pm
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I asked Larry in 2006 whether I might come on board Citizendium and contribute a mix of paid and voluntarily generated content about various businesses and commercially-relevant topics. This was his response:

QUOTE
I'm sorry to say this, because I don't want to think that you're doing anything the slightest bit dishonorable or dishonest, but particularly at this early stage, I want to avoid persons in authority having even the slightest appearance of a conflict of interest. I will have to think further about whether I specifically want to encourage commercially-sponsored behavior that affects the shape of a completely noncommercial, allegedly neutral product. I don't know quite what to think, to be honest.


I think his push back was a big mistake, but I don't hold a particular grudge about it. I just can't imagine a free, volunteer encyclopedia project turning away a willing editor who can string coherent sentences together, just because some of the content could have been initiated by a small research and writing fee, and would be open to further editing, anyway.

I wonder if the response would have been different if he had vetted the idea with the "community" there. I wonder what the response would be now (not that there's a viable market for the offer now).

This post has been edited by thekohser: Wed 13th April 2011, 6:32pm
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post Wed 13th April 2011, 6:44pm
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Are there any plans to absorb CZ into Wikia?
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Cock-up-over-conspiracy
post Wed 13th April 2011, 7:59pm
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Give it a new look and re-market it as "The Wikipedia without all the Porn" ... "The Wikipedia as it was meant".

Don't be proud, just rip off all the Wikipedia's content, and then set about cutting out all the filth, stupidity, most of the admin stuff and talk page content ... add flagged revisions ... and then set about copy editing the rest of it into good shape. You may well attract the people you need.

Then go into Google's offices and demand equality, in essence call upon your rights/credibility as co-founder.

Lay it on them ... what do their shareholders want to deliver at the top of the results, an encyclopedia with filth or without it?

It needs a new name though ... both will need more soon to attract people soon and Mediawiki software ain't it.

As an aside, would it not be possible to create one of those "online worlds" around the idea of "the sum of all human knowledge"? You know, where you actually go into rooms, sit with people to work on topics, see viewer looking in etc? (Adding a dating element to it).

There probably are a whole heap of people who want to spend their time on something more than shoot'em ups and Facebook. Something more 3D.

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chrisoff
post Wed 13th April 2011, 11:28pm
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Well, wikipedia is trying to become all academic, forging "ties" with academic institutions and enlisting "academic" input.
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Milton Roe
post Thu 14th April 2011, 1:22am
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QUOTE(chrisoff @ Wed 13th April 2011, 4:28pm) *

Well, wikipedia is trying to become all academic, forging "ties" with academic institutions and enlisting "academic" input.

Which they would do what with?

The first time they told some prof that subject-matter expertise in editors wasn't required, nor even particularly well-regarded on WP, they would (and do) get this answer from academia: "So-- what do you think you need ME for?"

One of the more interesting transcluded page tags on WP, is one you get from putting {{expert}} at the top an article.

This results in a tag at the top of an article that says:

This article needs attention from an expert on the subject. See the talk page for details. Consider associating this request with a WikiProject.

Which never fails to tempt me to go to the TALK page and ask:

"Umm, your article says you need an 'expert.' What is it you want an expert to do for you that you can't do for yourselves? Plus, exactly how would you know you had an expert when you got one, anyway?" tongue.gif

Of course, there are areas of academia which claim that just about every discipline is made up of "social text" so that it can (in theory) be dissected by postmodern leftist criticism without need of appeal to authority, science, logic, or even peer review. See Sokal affair. I wonder what would happen if people who believe in that academic reality wind up on Wikipedia where these precepts are actually taken literally. I suppose they would not last long before they leave the WP Game to go back to Academic Gamesmanship where the pay is better.

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