The Citizendium is different. Well, you already knew that. It’s not quite like anything out there. But what you might not realize is how it is different. You might have thought that it is different mainly because it makes a special role for experts, or because we require real names and identities. Yes, it is different for those reasons, but in those respects, it is very similar to academic projects.
The way in which our little (but growing!) project is different from almost everything out there is that it is, arguably, the first truly self-governing content community.
Or to put it more pithily: Citizendium is different because it is yours. It is owned and controlled by you, Citizens, and it always will be. That is how we have designed it and that is what our still-developing governance system will guarantee. I do not mean only that your content has a Creative Commons license. Instead, when we get the funds and size to enable our breaking free of the Tides Center, we will become a membership organization: our Citizens will be the literal legal owners and controllers of the project, the servers, the domain names, everything. We are developing an online polity.
This isn’t true of, say, YouTube. YouTube is owned and controlled by Google. It isn’t true of MySpace, which is owned and controlled by NewsCorp, or FaceBook, which has private owners.
But it also isn’t true of Wikipedia. Wikipedia is owned and controlled by the Wikimedia Foundation, management of which is largely cut off from Wikipedia contributors. This is not surprising, since Wikipedia contributors are largely anonymous and for that reason simply cannot be organized into a coherent polity. This is why most online content projects cannot become true self-governing polities: to be self-governing, we have to know who we are.
It also isn’t true of most open source software projects. Many of them are controlled by “benevolent dictators” or by what would be called “oligarchies” in the political world.
I’m not saying that these other projects (or companies) are evil or wrong because they are not pure self-governing polities. But I do think that the Citizendium is showing the world a better way, one that is more in keeping with our common democratic principles of governance, and one that, in the long run, will prove to be more robust and responsible.
I’m also not saying we are absolutely unique. But can you think of a single reasonably successful online content project that is not only open content, but also governed and owned directly by the contributors? Can you think of one the founder of which has pledged to step down as chief organizer in order to begin an orderly, rule-governed transfer of power? Can you think of one that cares about things like constitutional rule of law and separation of powers? I don’t pretend to track everything going on online, but I am hard pressed to think of one.
If you can think of any politico-philosophical allies of ours, let me know below!
(By the way, see also “No membership without ownership!“)