JP Rangaswami, aka the blogger “confused of calcutta,” has written an entertaining evaluation of the Citizendium. Though I know he says it in humility, I must ungraciously agree with him: he really is confused.
But let me address him directly. JP, you say:
I must be Confused. …
Imagine someone coming to you and saying “You know what? We’re going to solve your spam problem for you. What we’re going to do, we’re going to set up this small committee that looks into every e-mail you get, and we’re only going to send you the ones we think are OK. Oh, and by the way, don’t worry about who’s going to be on this committee and how they get there. After all, we know best.”
I know one thing. I’m a lot more worried about The Cult of The Expert than I am about The Cult Of The Amateur.
We’ve had the Cult Of The Expert for centuries now. And we’ve seen how and why it breaks down, why it fails. Small groups of experts can be “gamed”, often without realising it. Experts can be bought, often just for the price of a little ego-stroking. Experts don’t like admitting they’re wrong. The worst kind of groupthink is when a bunch of experts get together. Experts have more to lose, like their status. Which is why they fight so hard to retain it.
JP, you take a very simplistic assumption — that the Citizendium is just another top-down, elitist project — and you dress it up to sound hip. I wouldn’t know about the hipness, that’s something I’ve obviously never aspired to, but as to the assumption, well, it’s just completely wrong.
“Citizendium,” the name, is formed from “Citizens’ Compendium.” That’s our identity. We ain’t elitist. At present, we have around 2000 authors drawn from the general public, and some 200 expert editors. Editors are not infrequently challenged on their views. It is, after all, a wiki. We are soon going to set up a dispute resolution body; it will be staffed in part by non-expert authors. Editors are the village elders wandering the bazaar; they aren’t attempting to redesign their cathedral to look a little more like a bazaar.
So, basically, you, and not a few other people, have got the Citizendium all wrong. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this is intentional, actually. You, and others with your reaction to CZ, see that we have made a role for experts. This, of course, is completely outrageous. It’s so wrong, in fact, that it really doesn’t matter that we are a wiki; it doesn’t matter that it’s an open, public project; it doesn’t matter that editors and authors really do work shoulder-to-shoulder. If we deviate from the party line — radical epistemic egalitarianism — then we are Elitists, pure and simple. And therefore the enemy.
I’m asking you to stretch your world of possibilities a little. If your mind is not completely closed to the possibility, you will see that it is not simply contradictory to have a merely guiding role for experts in Web 2.0 projects. There is a middle way; it’s not necessarily old-fashioned elitism vs. radical egalitarianism. Unlike Andrew Keen, I am an advocate for that middle way. If you’re interested, I’ve written something of a manifesto for this view.
And by the way: I agree with you that diagnosing the exact problem about search is hard. Simply having experts choose the winners and losers isn’t the answer. But ignoring expert opinion entirely is silly, too.