Citizendium Blog

January 1, 2013

2013: A Make-or-Break Year for Citizendium?

Filed under: Managing Editor — Tags: , — Anthony Sebastian @ 5:56 pm

Possibly.  In that case, let’s work together to make it a “Make-Year”.

Why should we?  Because at core we want to build a free, online source of a broad spectrum of knowledge that provides readers with trustworthy information written engagingly, coherently, and most importantly, written informatively, by people who choose to reveal their identity and who write not because they want to say something but because they have something to say.

Why do we want to do that?  Because no free online general encyclopedia exactly meets that description, not fee-based Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Online, not Wikipedia, with its enormous number of anonymous writers.

And because we want to contribute to the education of those whose un-lost curiosity seeks education.

And because we knowledge workers need such a place to work, a need driven by the need to share with others what knowledge we have or can acquire by satisfying our own curiosity, by the need to excel, by the need to belong to a like-minded community.

Does anyone have something to add?

September 4, 2012

Finances and Collaborators

Filed under: Authors, Funding — Anthony Sebastian @ 6:05 pm

Guest blogger: Hayford Peirce, Citizendium Treasurer

I’ve been the Treasurer of Citizendium (CZ) for the last six months or so. As such, I am happy to report that Anthony Sebastian’s recent fund-raising drive was quite successful — we raised enough to ensure our continuing operations at least through January of next year.

And I’m confident that donations will continue to come in, although possibly in much smaller quantities and in more erratic fashion. Personally, I think that the future of CZ’s finances will probably enable us to continue indefinitely, even if occasionally we do get a little near the knuckle on a month to month basis….

More important to me, though, is the lack of authors and Editors. Right now there are only a small number of truly dedicated souls who continue to contribute new material on a regular basis, along with a scattering of others who jump in from time to time. What is lacking, and holding back our growth, I think, is the total lack of the collaboration that we originally had.

Even though we might have argued with some authors, at least they were present — and actively participating!

When I started at Wikipedia years ago, I was able to originate many dozens of articles mostly in the tennis and genre-fiction fields — it was infuriating to have imbeciles come in and destroy a lot of content, but it was also exhilarating to have like-minded people come in and add worthwhile additional material and to constructively rewrite what I had begun. And that sense of collaboration, of course, was what then led me to Citizendium, as I’m sure it was the case with most of the other early Citizens.

Now, however, my energy seems to have flagged. Without the participation of *anyone* else, it is very hard for me to find the strength of character to go to the recent Tony Trabert article that I brought in from Wikipedia, for example, and completely rewrite it as I think it *should* be written. I’ve redone the first paragraph, yes, but as for the rest…. It’s like dropping a feather down a well and waiting to hear a sound….

If I *knew* what could be done to change the situation, I would certainly make it public — as it is, however, I don’t know….

August 2, 2012

Sense of Purpose

Filed under: Managing Editor — Anthony Sebastian @ 5:24 pm

According to Nobel Laureate, Robert William Fogel, we must have a sense of purpose in order to enjoy a life feeling fulfilled (see Citizendium article, The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism).

Fogel ranks sense of purpose first among a long list of non-material resources required for leading a rich life in terms of quality. To have a sense of purpose means that you have “something that one sets before himself as an object to be attained : an end or aim to be kept in view in any plan, measure, exertion, or operation”, and that you know that you have it (see ‘sense’ and ‘purpose’ in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com).

Because many of Citizendium’s volunteer authors write regularly and with enthusiasm, voluntarily and without byline-type credit#, I can only surmise that their doing so fulfills some inner need they have. It seems to me, after over five years with Citizendium, that their need falls into the broad category of pedagogy, sharing their knowledge with others, giving enrichment to the lives of others, a type of charity.

What they seem to get for themselves: the enrichment that comes with having a sense of purpose.

If all that seems a bit idealist, but not certainly so, try your own hand at sharing your knowledge through writing in Citizendium. You could also try doing it in some other free online wiki encyclopedia, like Wikipedia. Or try two or three and see which environment accords best with your sense of purpose.

—–
# Citizendium does not include bylines with article titles, but every entry+save you make will appear on the ‘History’ page of the article with your registered name.

July 25, 2012

Things I like about Citizendium - #2

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Anthony Sebastian @ 10:35 pm

One of the nice things I like about writing or editing for Citizendium is the availability of ‘subpages’, complementary pages attached to the Main Article.  The subpages give you the opportunity to extend the content of the Main Article without unduly interrupting the narrative flow of the article.

See: en.citizendium.org/wiki/CZ:Subpages

A ‘Bibliography’ subpage lets you extend the references to the in-text citations of the Main Article with a list of annotated further reading items—books, articles, etc. Your annotation of a book, say, could take form of a mini book report, or a discussion of how the book relates to the issues discussed in the Main Article.

A ‘Related Articles’ subpage lets you list, and link to, articles in Citizendium that relate to the topic of the Main Article.  It integrates the topics of the encyclopedia that widen the scope of the Main Article.

An ‘External Links’ subpage lets you list and link to Webpages related to the topic. You can arrange them by category, and annotate.

A ‘Talk’ subpage is a page for authors and Editors to discuss the contents and composition of the Main Article and its other subpages, including questions, suggestions, and critiques.

Those four subpage types are generated by default when the Main Article is inaugurated and are reached for viewing and editing by clicking on tabs in a horizontal menu bar just under the title of the Main Article.

It should not be difficult to appreciate how those default subpages extend the Main Article’s value without disrupting it narrative flow or rendering it unduly long.  But Citizendium does not stop there.  It offers the author a wide variety of optional subpage types to employ for special purposes related to the topic of the Main Article.

Guess what the optional subpage ‘Filmography’ would add to the topic of an appropriate Main Article.  Or a ‘Timelines’ subpage, or ‘Videos’, or ‘Tutorials’, or ‘Addendum’, or ‘Advanced’.

So, as an author or collaborative group of authors, your Main Article takes the form of what Citizendium calls a “cluster”. The cluster renders the topic multidimensional, and gives the reader a multidimensional learning experience.

Neat!

July 15, 2012

Benefits of volunteering time to the Citizendium community

Filed under: Authors, Developers, Editors, Experts, Founder, Funding, Governance, Managing Editor — Anthony Sebastian @ 5:30 pm

All of the registered members of our Citizendium community undoubtedly have some idea of why they volunteer their time helping each other develop our encyclopedia.  In addition to any rational idea we might have for volunteering our time, we all must also have a feeling that comes with it, an emotional reason, perhaps one we find difficult to articulate.

If you were to ask Cassie Mogilner, Zoe Chance and Michael Norton, psychological experimental scientists at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the Yale School of Management and the Harvard Business School, respectively, they might tell you this:

“Many people these days feel a sense of “time famine”—never having enough minutes and hours to do everything. We all know that our objective amount of time can’t be increased (there are only 24 hours in a day), but [our] new study suggests that volunteering our limited time—giving it away—may actually increase our sense of unhurried leisure.”

Their thinking is that by giving away time, as in volunteering, you stimulate your feelings of being competent and efficient, accompanying which time seems to stretch out in your mind. You gain time, subjectively, by giving time.

Since we all live in our subjectivity, I’ll go for that kind of “time affluence”.

Get rich in time, join Citizendium, those of you reading this who haven’t already gotten such riches.

See:

PRESS RELEASE: Anna Mikulak
Association for Psychological Science

July 10, 2012

Things I like about Citizendium - #1

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anthony Sebastian @ 10:35 am

One of the nice things I like about Citizendium is learning the identities and backgrounds of the people with whom I’m collaborating with during the course of developing an article.  Because all of our authors have registered with their real names, and have provided a short biography of themselves, I never have the feeling that I’m working with strangers wearing masks, hiding their identities for reasons unknown. They are real people. Soon you get to know them as colleagues with their particular talents and passions.

I find it difficult to imagine how I could develop a sense of community, of common goals, with a group of anonymous entities. Yes, ‘entities’, machines, say, ghosts of some kind.

Collaborative writing inevitably takes on a social aspect, warming the project, a little family, usually happy, and if not, always uniquely so.  What a lonely cyberworld it would otherwise be.

July 4, 2012

Citizendium and Independence Day 2012

Filed under: Managing Editor, Recruitment — Anthony Sebastian @ 10:38 pm

As Independence Day shows dimming twilight outside my office window, I find myself thinking rather of ‘dependence’, how Citizendium’s contribution to the organization and dissemination of knowledge online depends on our volunteers, our authors, Editors, administrators, and support staff — volunteers with spirit and capability.  I declare our dependence on each other, we band of citizens.

Providing, free, “knowledge with the highest standards of writing, reliability, and comprehensiveness” takes effort and time, collaborative effort and dedicated time by dedicated people.

I say it’s okay to have fun while we go about it. “[A]nyone who has knowledge, broad or narrow, about any subject “can join this service-oriented fun-filled project-party.

September 22, 2010

Citizendium Charter Ratified

Filed under: Founder, Governance, Project growth — Larry Sanger @ 11:10 pm

 

[The following is a mail I sent to Citizendium-L earlier this evening.  UPDATE: title fixed, thanks Tom. ;-) ]

 

Congratulations, everyone!

 

I agree that the Charter has been ratified; I hereby ratify it.

 

This has been a long time in coming, and I am happy it is finished.  I am proud that the Citizendium has continued to grow in the time, now about a year and a half, since I was actively involved.

 

I apologize for being so uninvolved in this whole process, but frankly, I have felt that it is not my place to get involved much, after pledging at the outset that I would step down after 2-3 years as head of CZ.  Every time I have gotten involved since the spring of 2009, my pledge has lurked in the back of my mind (and frequently in the front of it), which has sapped my motivation for trying to impose my will on anything that might be going on.  To be sure, I’ve made a few of my wishes known, but the project and the charter drafting process has continued on almost entirely independently of me, I’m sincerely happy to say.

 

Per Article 52 of the charter (http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/CZ:Charter_drafting), this email ends my term of office.  I believe it is now up to persons other than me to put the next relevant articles, 53 and 54, into effect.  I would like to thank the committee for honoring my service in getting CZ started with their Article 52.

 

CZ is unlike many online communities.  We have adopted a charter that defines the community as a division of power, and with different bodies capable of proposing and making innovations.  Many important terms are limited, as I think they should be, and the most powerful positions are elected.  In short, we now officially have an online constitutional republic, just as I have wanted.  I hope that you all will support the nascent system and help to build it into something self-sustaining and flourishing.  I still believe in this project, and I think that the time may well come when we begin to grow more quickly.  Our traffic has been steadily growing, and I’ve observed new people continuing to get involved.  So, quite contrary to hopeful, mean-spirited reports of our impending demise, we’ve actually shown our resilience, despite my own lack of involvement the last 18 months or so.

                                                                                                                                                   

I wish you the best of luck.  I will try to assist the transition as I can.  To that end, let me point a few things out and make a few recommendations:

 

·         I remain a Citizen.  I am still strongly aligned with and in support of our goals, and I will continue to speak out on our behalf if offered a chance.  I will not attempt to speak for CZ, however; any questions from the press that come my way that seem to be questions about the current state of the project, pending decisions, and future strategies, I will refer to CZ’s current management.

 

·         There are any number of changes that might be made that could really kick things up a notch in this project.  We have many cards we have not played.  When you think about operations and strategy, think creatively first, then critically.  Different design, different branding; new associations; new stated goals; new initiatives, perhaps shared with partners; new sources of content and participants; maybe paring back of needless and not-very-helpful help pages; initiation of important new software projects; etc.  I hope that the new management committee will show leadership in considering and, more importantly, deciding and executing such initiatives.

 

·         Please bear in mind that the funds available to pay for the Citizendium servers are running low.  I think I can arrange for a significant cash infusion to cover any short-term shortfall, but you should be thinking about how to keep the servers paid for.  I think this could be a prime opportunity to move the hosting to a lower-cost service, as well as developing a relationship with an entity that can receive donations and make payments on our behalf—perhaps a university, academic press, or nonprofit.  Of course, you are free to continue on with the Tides Center.  In any event I would encourage you to make sure to have the relationship with the entity in clear writing, making it perfectly clear that CZ’s decisions will be independent and constrained only by the decisions of Citizens and the Charter, and law.

 

·         I hope the community will use the opportunity of a new charter to make other needed positive changes.  I believe there needs to be a settled and regular way to identify and resolve disputes.  The Charter describes the outline of a method but I believe it needs to be elaborated.  There are people whose involvement in the project is a significant net negative, for example because they are ideologues who brazenly refuse to write neutrally, because they repeatedly violate standards of professionalism, or because they are cranks who have no respect whatsoever of the proper standards of evidence and scholarship.  The project will bleed able and much-needed contributors if they must deal with people who should not be involved.  Of course, it can be difficult to determine the line between overzealous rules-enforcement and perfect openness to any sort of behavior.  But I think that this needs to be done, and it will help that it’s done independently of me—in the past, when I had to get rid of people, they were frequently able to make it personal.  I hope a process involving several people, following fair rules in an open manner, will not be so easy to attack.  I just hope, of course, that the process also remains relatively efficient (i.e., not too complex and bureaucratic) while also being open and fair.

 

·         One area in which I am disappointed with the charter—I never expected it to be perfect—is the lack of any requirement that articles be family-friendly (or, choose the term that is least offensive to your political sensibilities).  There is some seriously twisted stuff on Wikipedia that has no business in a resource calling itself an “encyclopedia.”  I hope CZ will never host such stuff—or, to the extent it does, at least properly labels and places it behind appropriate disclaimers.  But generally, I hope that you will maintain standards of appropriateness for school use similar to that used in other resources written for adults and at about the college level, such as Britannica and The New York Times.  School kids are among the those who stand to benefit most from CZ, and I’d like to make sure that they’re well served.

 

I’m willing to offer other advice if asked, but I expect to do so largely behind the scenes, one-on-one, because I do not want to impose improper influence on what should be a democratic process.

 

On a personal note, I’ve been greatly distracted lately by new developments in new projects (a major new set of WatchKnow features, and an upcoming associated program to teach children to read) as well as baby #2 due in just a few weeks.  I’m also in transition on WatchKnow, which is also gaining a wonderful, able new CEO, freeing me up to develop the reading project full time.  I’m frankly glad to be developing and executing brand new ideas, which is probably my forte.  But this is not an excuse–I am sorry that I have not answered all the emails that people have sent.

 

Again, congratulations to everyone!

 

Regards,

Larry Sanger

 

Lawrence M. Sanger, Ph.D. | http://www.larrysanger.org/

Executive Director, WatchKnow | http://www.watchknow.org/

Founding Editor-in-Chief, Citizendium | http://www.citizendium.org/

sanger@citizendium.org | sanger@watchknow.org

 

This e-mail and any files transmitted with it are confidential and intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed. If you have received this e-mail in error, please notify the sender. Disseminating, distributing, or copying this e-mail are prohibited without the express authorization of the sender.

April 11, 2010

Reply to Slashdot about my report to the FBI

Filed under: Uncategorized — Larry Sanger @ 11:43 pm

On April 7, I posted the text of a report I made to the FBI to the EDTECH mailing list, in which I stated that, in my opinion, the Wikimedia Foundation may knowingly have posted “child pornography,” by which I meant “obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children.”  In short, the Wikimedia Commons “Category:Pedophilia” page hosted images with realistic and disturbing drawings of child molestation.  The Register reported on this and it snowballed from there.  Among other venues, it was discussed on Slashdot, where I posted a reply which I put in my personal web space.

I think CZ isn’t an appropriate place to discuss this, so I’ve disabled comments from this post.

January 8, 2010

New (2010) Edge.org question: how the Internet is changing the way you think

Filed under: Internet, Press & blogs, Theory — Larry Sanger @ 11:56 am

“How Has The Internet Changed The Way You Think?”  A zillion famous scientists and other luminaries have given answers.  Here is mine.

THE UN-FOCUSING, DE-LIBERATING EFFECTS OF JOINING THE HIVE MIND

The instant availability of an ocean of information has been an epoch-making boon to humanity. But has the resulting information overload also deeply changed how we think? Has it changed the nature of the self? Has it even — as some have suggested — radically altered the relationship of the individual and society? These are important philosophical questions, but vague and slippery, and I hope to clarify them.

The Internet is changing how we think, it is suggested. But how is it, precisely? One central feature of the “new mind” is that it is spread too thin. But what does that mean?

In functional terms, being spread too thin means we have too many Websites to visit, we get too many messages, and too much is “happening” online and in other media that we feel compelled take on board. Many of us lack effective strategies for organizing our time in the face of this onslaught. This makes us constantly distracted and unfocused, and less able to perform heavy intellectual tasks. Among other things, or so some have confessed, we cannot focus long enough to read whole books. We feel unmoored and we flow along helplessly wherever the fast-moving digital flood carries us.

We do? Well — some of us do, evidently.

Some observers speak of “where we are going,” or of how “our minds” are being changed by information overload, apparently despite ourselves. Their discussions make erstwhile free agents mere subjects of powerful new forces, and the only question is where those forces are taking us. I don’t share the assumption here. When I read the title of Nick Carr’s essay, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” I immediately thought, “Speak for yourself.” It seems to me that in discussions like Carr’s, it is assumed that intellectual control has already been ceded — but that strikes me as being a cause, not a symptom, of the problem Carr bemoans. After all, the exercise of freedom requires focus and attention, and the ur-event of the will is precisely focus itself. Carr unwittingly confessed for too many of us a moral failing, a vice; the old name for it is intemperance. (In the older, broader sense, contrasted with sophrosyne, moderation or self-control.) And, as with so much of vice, we want to blame it on anything but ourselves.

Is it really true that we no longer have any choice but to be intemperate in how we spend our time, in the face of the temptations and shrill demands of networked digital media? New media are not that powerful. We still retain free will, which is the ability to focus, deliberate, and act on the results of our own deliberations. If we want to spend hours reading books, we still possess that freedom. Only philosophical argument could establish that information overload has deprived us of our agency. The claim at root is philosophical, not empirical.

My interlocutors might cleverly reply that we now, in the age of Facebook and Wikipedia, do still deliberate, but collectively. In other words, for example, we vote stuff up or down on Digg, del.icio.us, and Slashdot, and then we might feel ourselves obligated — if we’re participating as true believers — to pay special attention to the top-voted items. Similarly, we attempt to reach “consensus” on Wikipedia, and — again, if participating as true believers — endorse the end result as credible. To the extent that our time is thus directed by social networks, engaged in collective deliberation, then we are subjugated to a “collective will,” something like Rousseau’s notion of a general will. To the extent that we plug in, we become merely another part of the network. That, anyway, is how I would reconstruct the collectivist-determinist position that is opposed to my own individualist-libertarian one.

But we obviously have the freedom not to participate in such networks. And we have the freedom to consume the output of such networks selectively, and holding our noses — to participate, we needn’t be true believers. So it is very hard for me to take the “woe is us, we’re growing stupid and collectivized like sheep” narrative seriously. If you feel yourself growing ovine, bleat for yourself.

I get the sense that many writers on these issues aren’t much bothered by the un-focusing, de-liberating effects of joining the Hive Mind. Don Tapscott has suggested that the instant availability of information means we don’t have to “memorize” anything anymore — just consult Google and Wikipedia, the brains of the Hive Mind. Clay Shirky seems to believe that in the future we will be enculturated not by reading dusty old books but in something like online fora, plugged into the ephemera of a group mind, as it were. But surely, if we were to act as either of these college teachers recommend, we’d become a bunch of ignoramuses. Indeed, perhaps that’s what social networks are turning too many kids into, as Mark Bauerlein argues cogently in The Dumbest Generation. (For the record, I’ve started homeschooling my own little boy.)

The issues here are much older than the Internet. They echo the debate between progressivism and traditionalism found in philosophy of education: should children be educated primarily so as fit in well in society, or should the focus be on training minds for critical thinking and filling them with knowledge? For many decades before the advent of the Internet, educational progressivists have insisted that, in our rapidly changing world, knowing mere facts is not what is important, because knowledge quickly becomes outdated; rather, being able to collaborate and solve problems together is what is important. Social networks have reinforced this ideology, by seeming to make knowledge and judgment collective functions. But the progressivist position on the importance of learning facts and training individual judgment withers under scrutiny, and, pace Tapscott and Shirky, events of the last decade have not made it more durable.

In sum, there are two basic issues here. Do we have any choice about ceding control of the self to an increasingly compelling “Hive Mind”? Yes. And should we cede such control, or instead strive, temperately, to develop our own minds very well and direct our own attention carefully? The answer, I think, is obvious.

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