A few months ago, Jason Calacanis posted a piece on Wikipedia’s Technological Obscurification: Three ways Wikipedia keeps 99% of the population from participating. Not ever having missed a chance to be provocative, he opens with an argument that
The Wikipedia is currently designed to lower participation so it is easier to manage.
Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to limit participation in Wikipedia–perhaps that’s what necessary to keep the project on track. However, I think we should be really honest about the fact that Wikipedia is not an open system–at least not open in the sense that anyone can participate. Let’s look at just three examples:
1. Wikipedia pages have become increasingly complex and Wikipedia doesn’t support a WYSIWYG editor. WYSIWYG stands for “what you see is what you get,” and that means that as you edit if you make something bold or underline you see bold or underline–just like Microsoft Word. Wikipedia doesn’t use a WYSIWYG because if they did more people could edit the pages–people without technology skills–and that would make the entire system collapse–at least according to the folks at the Wikipedia conference I attended.
For example, in this image you can see what it’s like to edit the George W. Bush page:
As you can see you need code in Wiki Markup language in order to edit this page.
2. The Wikipedia uses “Discussion pages” to reach consensus, and these pages are also coded in mediaWiki so that 99% of people can’t figure them out.
3. The Wikipeda uses IRC chat, which 99% of folks don’t know how to use, in order to discuss the inner workings of Wikipedia.
Setting aside Calacanis’s speculations on why things are the way they are, I think he has some interesting facts on his side about participation.
The second and third points are fairly specific to Wikipedia, but the first point– that people can get buried in the complexity of MediaWiki’s arcane style of editing– is spot on for us, too. There’s no question in my mind that requiring contributors to learn arcane wiki markup language (instead of having an easy option for “what you see is what you get” editing) lowers participation and makes participation less democratic. Part of Citizendium’s stated mission is to be less insular than Wikipedia, and I think a necessary part of making that happen is to make editing easier.
Now, we’re juggling plenty of tech issues and plans, and it’s easy for important things to get put on the backburner. So I guess I just want to put the question out there, for when we have more resources: how important is it for Citizendium to have a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get way to edit articles?