Building a Better Wikipedia

Larry Sanger, cofounder of Wikipedia, is not satisfied with the way the enormously popular, collaborative online encyclopedia has turned out. Too many errors, too many agendas—and too few adults in charge. “Wikipedia has failed in certain ways,” says Sanger. “I want to supplement it with something better in the sense of being more reliable, and more readable.”

Enter Citizendium, a new wiki-based project led by Sanger, scheduled to launch by the end of 2006. Unlike Wikipedia, Citizendium has expert editors with final say over articles. Sanger describes his plan as “bottom-up oversight.” Articles aren’t assigned; anyone can contribute copy and ideas, but scientists, academics and other credentialed types vet entries in their areas of specialization. “People can work on what they want to work on,” says Sanger. “But they are obligated to follow decisions by editors about a given article.”

Wikipedia, he says, wastes or simply scares off a lot of talent because “people who have mastered a field have to waste time doing battle with people who just read their first book on a subject. And nobody backs up the expert because of the commitment to amateurism.” To date, he says, “well over 100 Ph.D.-level editors” are involved with Citizendium.

Another difference in the projects: Citizendium does not allow anonymous contributions. “Widespread anonymity makes Wikipedia attractive to people who want to act coarsely,” says Sanger. “This will help people take responsibility for their work, and be more careful about what they say.”

All of which should speak volumes to companies looking to collaborative technologies such as wikis for knowledge management. The key, according to Sanger, is to remember that some old-school management still needs to be applied to applications on the new frontier.

Sanger hopes the new venture will quickly climb the Google rankings upon its release and become an authoritative reference guide. The first part of that dream worked well for Wikipedia; this time around, Sanger wants the whole thing.

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