In a few weeks, a small group and I will be announcing a major new educational project, free and non-profit, with very significant funding from a retired businessman. We will be meeting in New York City early next month, talking to some potential advisers and funders. I am sorry to have to be so vague. For now, suffice it to say that everyone will benefit, but school children most of all — and the effort will answer the petition I mentioned earlier, which I hope you will sign if you have not done so already. That’s why I want to mention this, even without any detail: there are philanthropists who will get behind that sort of project. I know, because I have met one; his generosity inspired that petition in the first place. I also had to let out a little of the excitement! The idea is a corker!
March 25, 2008
March 24, 2008
If you agree with this appeal, please sign this petition of support!
This is a public appeal to philanthropists who are supporting the education of children. The author (Dr. Larry Sanger) is co-founder of Wikipedia and editor-in-chief of the new Citizendium. Originally posted March 22, rewritten March 24. This petition was featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education blog, the Chronicle of Philanthropy blog, and elsewhere.
Dear Philanthropist,We (the undersigned) have a simple, deeply powerful suggestion: “liberate” the best educational content. Buy or commission truly excellent content, aimed at school children (K-12). Then post it online for free. Let children reap the rewards of your generosity forever. Just think:
- Free, top-grade textbooks about everything, free to everyone online
- Free, in-depth, expert-designed educational software
- Free, high-quality educational videos
Just imagine the possibilities of good this would do for the whole world.
Isn’t this already happening? No. Most educational content you find for free online lacks either detail or high quality. But we want the best for our children: for that, we still must and do pay. There is not much truly excellent free educational content online.
Why not? We do not know. Perhaps because those who create and support educational content generally view the Internet either as a dangerous competitor or as an adolescent free-for-all. Perhaps. But also think of the Internet as an amazingly efficient and cheap distribution mechanism. You (philanthropists) can single-handedly use it to provide curricula to the entire world, for free. You choose the type of content, the subject, the grade level, the authors, everything. You need not ask anyone’s permission. If you spend the money, content will appear online — and millions of children will benefit. It is up to you!
Let us put this in perspective. Back in 1960, if a billionaire wanted to give the best possible textbook to every child in the world, that would have been too costly even for the richest billionaire. But no longer. Even those with small fortunes can provide a textbook (etc.) to everyone with Internet access–hundreds of millions of children. Philanthropists, you could do this.
You have been spending millions of dollars annually to improve education, but we believe you have largely ignored this key opportunity. Sometimes the simplest ways are the best. If you want to answer, “But the problems with U.S. schools do not have to do with our textbooks or content,” we might agree with you. Perhaps it has to do with teachers being low-paid, or parents not being involved, or something else. We do not offer an answer to that.
But this opportunity is “low-hanging fruit.” High-quality, free content undeniably and directly benefits the world, the entire world, through the magic of the Internet. Educational content gives knowledge to children. Why not pay for it? What is stopping you? After all, it is not only collective “Web 2.0″ efforts that can liberate content. You have a fantastic mechanism for distributing free curricula to virtually every school child in the U.S., and the whole world can benefit, to boot. Why not use it?
Regards and deep thanks in advance,
P.S. Follow-ups to the petition will be posted both on this blog and the mailing list SharedKnowing. Sign up to that mailing list if you want to be sure to receive info about how this petition fares.
March 22, 2008
Lunchtime speech at the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology 13th Annual Symposium: Altered Identities, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 13, 2008.
Let me say up front, for the benefit of privacy advocates, that I agree entirely that it is possible to have an interesting discussion and productive collaborative effort among anonymous contributors, and I support the right to anonymity online, as a general rule. But, as I’m going to argue, such a right need not entail a right to be anonymous in every community online. After all, surely people also have the right to participate in communities in which real-world identities are required of all participants-that is, they have a right to join voluntary organizations in which everyone knows who everyone else really is. There are actually quite a few such communities online, although they tend to be academic communities.
Before I introduce my thesis, I want to distinguish two claims regarding
anonymity: first, there is the claim that personal information should be available to the administrators of a website, but not necessarily publicly; and second, there’s the claim that real names should appear publicly on one’s contributions. I will be arguing for the latter claim, that real names should appear publicly.
But actually, I would like to put my thesis not in terms of how real names should appear, but instead in terms of what online communities are justified in requiring. Specifically in online knowledge communities-that is, Internet groups that are working to create publicly-accessible compendia of knowledge-organizers are justified in requiring that contributors use their own names, not pseudonyms. I maintain that if you want to log in and contribute to the world’s knowledge as part of an open, community project, it’s very reasonable to require that you use your real name. I don’t want, right now, to make the more dramatic claim that we should require real names in online knowledge communities-I am saying merely that it is justified or warranted to do so.
Many Internet types would not give even this modest thesis a serious hearing. Most people who spend any time in online communities regard anonymity, or pseudonymity, as a right with very few exceptions. To these people, my love of real names makes me anathema. It is extremely unhip of me to suggest that people be required to use their real names in any online community. But since I have never been or aspired to be hip, that’s no great loss to me.
What I want to do in this talk is first to introduce the notion of an Internet knowledge community, and discuss how different types handle anonymity as a matter of policy. Then I will address some of the main arguments in favor of online anonymity. Finally, I will offer two arguments that it is justified to require real names for membership in online knowledge communities.
March 21, 2008
Want to get started, but don’t know how?
Well, don’t panic!
If you’re new to Citizendium, we’d love you to dive “write” in, whether you’re an author or an editor. We don’t want you to be discouraged, but you may imagine we have extremely high standards. Certainly we aim for high quality, but we also want participation to be easy and as fun as possible. We know that Rome wasn’t built in a day.
What is the first thing you should do after you join? While you can do whatever you like (it’s a wiki!), we recommend two things:
- Start an article. How? Pick a topic. Then think of a good title for an encyclopedia article about that topic. Then go to Start Article, handily linked on your left–and do it the Easy Way™! Just write a paragraph or two introducing the topic neutrally, beginning with a definition of the concept, or a description of what a thing is notable for. We don’t mind very short articles, as long as they have a couple of sentences. They’ll be expanded later, trust us. Then…
- Edit someone else’s article. How? Find an article on a topic you are interested in or know a lot about. You can use the search box, or navigate alphabetically, or enter via “top articles” or workgroups. When you’ve found an article you want to edit, press the “edit” tab. Add a few sentences. It’s OK. They just have to be a reasonably helpful addition. They don’t have to be absolutely brilliant. Brilliance happens later.
Are you still worried? Seriously, there is no need for that. Let’s cover some main worries.
The new CZ skin is up! (It is now set to default.) So, when you go to the wiki you’ll see a brand new look. This helps to distinguish us from That Other Website.
You won’t see the new skin, however, if you fiddled with your skin preferences, i.e., with this page. If so, and you aren’t using the new skin, you can go to the above URL, click on the “skin” tab, and then select “Pinkwich5″ and click Save. Then you should see the default skin, or in other words, what all new (and un-logged in) people are now seeing.
Thanks hugely to Derek Harkness for coding this up and doing a lot of debugging. It might still have a few bugs. If so, we’ve been using this page of Derek’s to report them. Thanks also to Greg Sabino Mullane for uploading it and doing other techie stuff.
March 9, 2008
As anyone very familiar with Wikipedia and other wikis knows, no authors are credited on most wiki encyclopedia article pages. The Citizendium, however, uses real names; they are found in the article histories, though, not on the article pages themselves. So we are in a position to give people “byline” credit and real-world recognition for their contributions, where Wikipedia and many other typical Web 2.0 projects are not. As a result, for quite some time, there has been a movement among some Citizens — how many and how representative, I dare not say — to give a full rundown about who has done for each article.
I believe there is serious danger lurking here: to honor people in different amounts based on how much they have worked on an article would have the general tendency to lead to authorship disputes, which would be a huge drain on both time and smooth social relations. More importantly, however, I think it would tend to make the project less robustly collaborative: it would encourage a culture of credit, where we now have the typical culture of strong collaboration that is associated closely with wikis. In other words, identifying people as “the lead author” or “the lead authors” of an article would tend to make them guard “their” article more closely, and tend to make others more wary and more likely to ask “permission” to contribute.
I am, however, always game to try new things, as long as they are in a form that I think won’t lead to total disaster. So I produced a version of the general idea of contributor lists where, among other things, (1) there must be five contributors on the contributor list, if any them is to be credited in the contributor list; (2) they are to be listed in alphabetical order and otherwise not specially singled out for how much work they have done on the article; (3) they are listed under the heading “Contributors” and a message just below their names reads, “CZ is an open collaboration. Please join these people in developing this article!”; and (4) one may get contributor credit for writing just two substantive sentences.
March 6, 2008
Thanks very much to ECT News/LinuxInsider for this interview, in which I got the opportunity to explain what makes the Citizendium different (probably nothing new for most readers of this blog), but also to explain (and mostly praise) many other online encyclopedia projects. One project I neglected to mention was the nascent Encyclopedia of the Cosmos, edited by my former Digital Universe colleague, Dr. Bernard Haisch, and built on the model of the Encyclopedia of Earth that I helped engineer — though both differ significantly from CZ. Unless plans have changed, both are intended to be the first components of a Digital Universe Encyclopedia.
March 3, 2008
An entry on a user-generated online encyclopedia, Citizendium, says these roads were designated as stravenues by the developers of the subdivisions.
That’s a start!
I’d like to point out that this is an unusual sort of topic. I believe that, while we should encourage people to write on core topics, we should nevertheless remain open to a very wide assortment of topics. Translation: I am an unrepentant inclusionist.