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9/20/2006
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Citizendium To Be Professional Wikipedia

Larry Sanger, one of the principal founders of the Wikipedia public encyclopedia project, has recently announced the establishment of a project called Citizendium. The latter is expected to be managed by authoritative experts within a field and will rely heavily on formal partnerships, which stands in sharp contrast against the Wikipedia model of being a free-for-all where content can be edited by any and all comers.

Larry Sanger, one of the principal founders of the Wikipedia public encyclopedia project, has recently announced the establishment of a project called Citizendium. The latter is expected to be managed by authoritative experts within a field and will rely heavily on formal partnerships, which stands in sharp contrast against the Wikipedia model of being a free-for-all where content can be edited by any and all comers.This is a fairly interesting development on multiple levels. For one thing, it's essentially an indictment of the open Wikipedia model, which has been the subject of legendary abuses and has seen a fair number of "edit wars" in areas that are politically and/or socially charged. Citizendium hopes to change all that by using qualified, trusted experts to make editorial decisions, and by relying on qualified providers and institutions.

But really, this just changes the nature of the underlying problem. Even experts can be susceptible to certain amounts of bias, particularly if they've been involved in the development of their subject area, and this could simply change the participants in the fight, rather than eliminate the fight altogether. Even in apolitical fields like technology standards, the author of a standard will naturally be more prone to treat it lightly than a critic of that same standard would. Meanwhile, royalties and research funding usually follows standardization, meaning there will be economic incentives for experts to play up certain topics. PhD candidates seeking research funding for an area may be eager to pump up the opportunities for their field of research, while companies with intellectual property rights may be eager to promote their own architecture over another.

The correct solution here is to have multiple experts within each field who can discuss and debate their area in professional terms, and this may yet evolve as the normal operating model.

In the meantime, however, organizations should consider joining the project in some kind of meaningful partnership role. And preferably soon. At the very least, this may help prevent overly negative content from being published. At best, getting onto the list of experts early should allow for more influence in the direction that relevant coverage areas take. Simply put, if the Citizendium project is going to be using professional experts, then you'll benefit if you don't allow your competitors to become the only voices.

This may also present another opportunity to demonstrate how IT can serve the organizational interest, particularly when it comes to nonhierarchical, Internet-based services.

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