The Society for New Communications Research has done a press release about their upcoming (Dec. 5) award ceremony. We’re among the awards finalists & I am told not to say anything else.
November 30, 2007
November 29, 2007
The bottom line: our aim is quality, not quantity. We already know that “crowds” can produce massive quantities of content. Big deal. The Citizendium is about developing our massive quantities of content into works of stunning quality, over the long term. We have a better shot than anyone at doing this.
Many people have essentially asked me, “Since Wikipedia is ‘good enough,’ what is the point of the Citizendium?” The answer, of course, is that Wikipedia isn’t good enough, and given its policies, it is highly unlikely that it ever will be. More to the point, over the long haul, the Citizendium can do better.
But that’s always my reply. It now occurs to me that the underlying insight has not been emphasized enough. As I look at various encyclopedia articles — and my own writings — I am struck by how much work there is to do, to perfect them. For example, to find exactly the right reference, and place it at exactly the right place, is very difficult and time-consuming. Most people don’t spend the time needed to get it exactly right. A work is hailed as brilliant if it merely doesn’t get anything too badly wrong. Well, the great thing about the Citizendium is that we have the (growing) community and the (developing) policies that is allowing us to grow not just another encyclopedia, but a continuously improving encyclopedia. That is the brilliance of our plan.
The day we look forward to is not the day when we have millions of articles, but the day when serious professionals say, “The Citizendium articles in my area are of such stunning quality that I can’t imagine how they could be improved. They have been worked and reworked by hundreds, or thousands, of specialists, in my field. They contain, of course, no known factual errors. The coverage is complete; the tiniest details are covered in more specialized articles. The writing reflects consistently superb craftsmanship: accessible to the college student on more basic topics (without removing accuracy), and clear on more advanced topics. The citations are brilliantly chosen, always reflecting the best (original, or most authoritative) sources. They do not favor any side in any controversy, but provide full details of the debate, so that the reader can be fully informed so as to make up his or her own mind. The bibliographies and external links, fully annotated, list virtually every credible source on their topics. The other supplementary material, on subpages, is of equally high quality. In short, the only reason to change the articles (and whole clusters) now is that the field itself changes.”
An article is one thing. A magisterial article is quite another. The difference is huge and hugely important.
It’s a long road from here to there. Wikipedia is very, very far from that point, and again I doubt it will ever reach that point; if I thought they could, I wouldn’t have started CZ. We, however, have a chance!
In fact, in view of this, you might well ask yourself: what is the point of Wikipedia? It’s never going to get past a certain level of mediocrity; that’s one of the main reasons I stopped working on it a while ago. I think that, as the years go by, we are going to find more and more people asking themselves that — and coming to CZ. Because it’s not just about quantity. It’s about quality. And we have the nascent community and policies in place that actually have a chance to achieve the sort of high quality a global collaboration of scholars can achieve.
Mind you, I still think it’s all right if we start with stubs; we have to start somewhere. But we should also keep our eyes on the prize, because our substantial promise of achieving that sort of stunning quality is really what makes it all worthwhile.
November 28, 2007
A message posted to Citizendium-L and Citizendium-Editors.
This is just an announcement which I hope to follow up on in the next few months.
I feel confident that, if I focus on fundraising for the project, I can get enough to make the project independent. Especially with a baby, I think my little family would be happier with something steadier; but please don’t worry about us, we’ve got enough from various sources to live on for a half year or more, and more funds appear as if magically from various sources.
So, as much as I would like to remain wholly independent, I actually think that it might be a good idea if I try to affiliate myself personally in some way with a university.
I mention this to you in part because I want to forestall a certain worry or criticism. You might think my affiliating myself and my work with a university might be seen as affiliating the Citizendium with that institution. That is not the case. Even if I am affiliated with a university, that wouldn’t mean that CZ will be as well. As one Executive Committee member said, editors of most academic journals are affiliated at universities, but the journals themselves are independent of the university.
In addition to active interest from one Big Ten university, I have another faculty friend at major west coast university who wants me to apply for an open faculty position there. This interest from friends is what gave me the idea. The field of online knowledge communities (or allied topics) is an enormous “growth” field, poised to really take off (as I thought it would — if you examine the original announcement of CZ), and I suspect I would have no trouble getting some nice research position at a good university. Basically, I doubt I would have to do much more than I’m already doing — I’d just be doing it under the aegis of a university, perhaps at a research center.
I think that if I simply send out notes to various departments and university centers, I might be able to generate some interest. But I suspect some interested parties might already be on the CZ lists. For the sake of persons who might wish to forward this to decisionmakers, I should say what I think I could offer a university:
- I’ve been called a “thought leader” in my field — online knowledge communities, the philosophy of the Internet, collaboration. I was “chief architect” of both Wikipedia and the Citizendium, having been involved in a wide variety of other Internet projects since the mid-90s, and as an active speaker and writer. I also fully intend to start at least one more major project after Citizendium (see http://www.textop.org/). A case can be made that such organizational and editorial naturally work belongs at universities.
- I would be willing to teach one course per term (I’d prefer one per year, though — teaching always gobbles up all available time). While I have taught a wide variety of philosophy courses since 1992 (intro, ethics, logic, law, epistemology, others), probably the courses an employer would be interested in would have something to do with the philosophy, politics, or ethics of the Internet or about online knowledge communities. (In grad school my specializations were epistemology and early modern.)
- I would of course be willing to do most of my work on campus and to hold office hours, and in other respects be an active part of the university community.
- I can help direct very innovative software projects that support the project(s) I am involved in. It would be a feather in the cap of a university to be the home of open source software projects for next-generation knowledge communities.
- I would be willing to supervise a few student projects.
- I would be willing to participate in fund-raising for any research center with which I might be affiliated.
P.S. Still hard at work on the license essay (”dissertation”), 22 detailed pages and counting. I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel…dimly. The decision isn’t getting any easier as I proceed, either.
Lawrence M. Sanger, Ph.D. | http://www.larrysanger.org/
Editor-in-Chief, Citizendium | http://www.citizendium.org/
November 27, 2007
I needed a break, and a recent e-mail inspired this. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the Citizendium. No, really, it doesn’t!
Various cranks and nuts have written me over the years, just as they often write many academics. Academics usually ignore them. When I have (perhaps imprudently) written them back, I’ve discovered a certain pattern.
(1) The crank claims to have special, difficult understanding of complicated matters, something that constitutes a “discovery.” Usually, the “discovery” involves a thorough misunderstanding of some easily discredited theory, or else a complete system of thought developed out of whole cloth, but which bears little interesting relationship to anything in the history of ideas.
(2) The crank has completely irrational contempt or disrespect for the experts in the field. He (almost always it’s a he) also has contempt for traditional scholarship and methods. This is virtually invariable as a feature.
(3) The crank, ironically enough, has an obvious desire to be respected by those experts, and has no small amount of bitterness owing to the lack of notice, much less respect, experts have paid his “discovery.”
(4) Frequently, the crank also believes he has some special gift, method, or other way of knowing, which is rare, and which renders skoolin’ unnecessary or beneath him. In fact, however, he is usually prone to the simplest of errors; it’s as if he has turned off all of his self-critical faculties. See this fascinating article: “One puzzling aspect of our results is how the incompetent fail, through life experience, to learn that they are unskilled.”
(5) The crank usually has some, but not a huge amount, of higher education–might have a bachelor’s degree, but often in a field outside of his own. E.g., a philosophy crank might have have majored in physics or business 30 years ago.
(6) For whatever reason, a lot of cranks seem to be older, over 30 and often over 50 or 60. I’m not sure why this is the case. Perhaps the older you get, the harder it is to recognize your own crankishness. (Scary thought.) But there are some young ones.
I’m just a crank myself when it comes to theorizing about cranks, I suppose…
November 22, 2007
I am thankful for 4,000 CZ live articles. I am thankful for zooming from 3,200 to 4,000 (a 25% increase in article count, if not word count!) in under one month.
November 21, 2007
Just a thought, about selectivity versus completeness, that recently came to me.
Back in the antique days of paper and binding and single authors, it was practically impossible to organize anything as large as Wikipedia, or as large as the Citizendium is likely to become. What I describe as “strong collaboration,” too, was virtually impossible. As a result, secondary scholarly works of all sorts that sum up what is known about a subject were usually relatively brief and relatively selective. They left out a lot. But scholars made a virtue of necessity: they said that the ability to be properly selective, to understand what and whose views are important, was a mark of expertise. Now, this is true and I don’t mean to disagree with it. But the alleged virtue of selectivity was, in many cases, not a virtue at all; taken as a virtue, it could be (and still is sometimes) used to excuse incompleteness and bias.
Strong collaboration, by contrast, creates what is, in some ways, a brand new expository virtue: completeness. That’s the virtue of getting everything relevant about a subject down in words, and leaving nothing out (at a particular level of generality). This too requires the virtue of selectivity, because sometimes some views have had so little impact that they don’t really deserve to be included in a complete exposition of a field. But it also requires expertise in that there are many relatively obscure, but still important, papers and books and theories that are known virtually only by experts. Still, completeness is a virtue that non-experts can frequently help with, because experts are apt to overlook discredited theories that, for their lack of fashion, still deserve some mention.
But it quotes Tim Lee, whose blog post about us compares us to Wikipedia (unfavorably). Just brilliant. Um, I hate to point out the obvious, but we just got started, and it’s ridiculous to compare (negatively) a new project, even one that is guided by experts, with one that has been around for six times as long and has had orders of magnitude more activity. If anything, it’s amazing that, in spite of our extreme youth, we have managed to write as many good articles as we have. We’ve certainly done a lot better on that score than Wikipedia (or Nupedia, for that matter) did in its first year — a more meaningful comparison, if any comparison is meaningful. Anyway, Lee’s is a facile approach altogether.
Also, in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog, Brock Read also reports (not unapprovingly) some of the highlights of the progress report, but then again quotes Tim Lee, who is disappointed with the quality of our Milton Friedman article as compared to Wikipedia’s. Again, see above. We have many “stubs” and are actually more or less encouraging them now (well, we’re going to take a vote on this, but the community seems to be solidly in favor). So you should expect to see a lot of short, rough articles for some time yet. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
November 20, 2007
When people have asked me what Citizendium is, I’ve tended to say
It’s a lot like Wikipedia, except
1. We require that people edit under their real names;
2. We give verified experts some additional weight in disagreements;
3. Once articles get really good, our experts vet and approve them.
Of course, this leaves out a terrible amount of nuance, and I think we’re different enough that starting from a baseline of we’re like Wikipedia, except X, Y and Z isn’t ideal. But I think this is serviceable for a 15-second explanation. (And yeah, I’m a big believer in the rhetorical triad.)
I was reading Larry’s speech on The New Politics of Knowledge, and in introducing us to his audience, the three differences from Wikipedia he gave were
1. Real names,
3. Contributors must agree to a social contract (which we do enforce) to behave professionally.
Which made me think. I think the social contract angle is important (perhaps a more immediately meaningful concept to the hypothetical “average person” than article approval), and I might have to revise my 15-second explanation.
At any rate, it seems to me that this is really quite important. A project gets known to the outside world through these sorts of short explanations- and if a project can’t be summed up in 15 seconds or so, or at most a paragraphs-worth of text, people start to lose interest.
How do other folks explain Citizendium in 15 seconds?
November 19, 2007
I know this is going to sound weird, but I am inclined to think that the Citizendium and Wikipedia are not properly considered reference works, not according to the traditional conception. I say this not because they can’t be used as reference works, nor because they are not reliable (that’s not the issue I’m interested in here).
It’s just that, by some traditional conception of “reference work,” they don’t seem to fit the conception. A reference work aims at supplementing research work by supplying simple background definitions and facts. The traditional notion of a reference work was to supply enough information that you would need to read scholarly material in the area. But WP and CZ are aimed not just at supplying background definitions, or just summing up the basics: they aren’t constrained by such notions at all. They are actually aimed at laying out as much of the knowledge itself as possible, whether it is “background” or not. They actually extend (or in time will extend) beyond the coverage of the “companions” put out by Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press.
If this is right, then the more specialized articles of the Citizendium will not be just background information for the more serious papers. They will be contain summaries of the serious papers themselves. We’ll still be a secondary source, but unlike almost all secondary sources except literature reviews, we will be detailed to a level of the source papers themselves. And that, I’m claiming, is not the function of a reference work.
It’s a “knowledge work” itself, of a brand new sort, possible for the first time in the age of the collaborative Internet.
Suppose we grow to Wikipedian size. This is possible, however probable you think it might be.
Suppose, also, that, because we are of that size, we have the participation of a sizable portion of all the leading intellectuals of the world, in every field–and so, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of approved articles. These are all long, complete with many links, bibliography, etc., etc.–all the subpage stuff. It’s reference utopia. Far better than Wikipedia has any hope of becoming.
Here’s the question, then. If we use a license that permits commercial reuse–CC-by-sa or GFDL–then every major media company in the world could, and probably would, use CZ content. Do you favor a license that allows CBS, Fox, the New York Times, English tabloids, Chinese propaganda sheets, Yahoo!, Google, and all sorts of giant new media companies to come, to use our content? Without compensation? That’s a very interesting question, isn’t it?
What do you think?
Citizens can discuss here. Non-citizens, feel free to discuss below.