I did an interview with ECT News earlier today, and inter alia they suggested that the Citizendium had more of a command-and-control system than Wikipedia, and asked for my reaction. It occurred to me, then, that anyone who actually contributes to CZ knows that this is wrong and unfair: as I tell anyone who cares to listen, we’re a robustly bottom-up wiki. Our authors and editors really do work shoulder-to-shoulder in a friendly atmosphere. I then considered whether the opposite might be more correct: does Wikipedia have more of a command-and-control system than the Citizendium?
Yes, Virginia. Wikipedia has more of a command-and-control system than CZ. You didn’t know that? Well, it’s true.
Before you scoff, put your prejudices and what you think you know aside, and consider. How hard is it to get your edits on Wikipedia to “stick”? If you edit any even slightly popular article, how many self-appointed Defenders of the Wiki will be standing over your shoulder, citing policy at you and telling you you’re doing it all wrong? If you get into a dispute or encounter some other problem, how quickly will an “administrator” arrive to “lay down the law”?
Yeeeeaaah. That’s right. Hmm.
By contrast, on the Citizendium, it’s extremely easy to get your edits to stick. There are zillions of topics that are still wide open, or that need great expansion. We genuinely love it when new people get involved; we won’t shoo you off. And how many self-appointed ”managers” will your work have? If you’re lucky, a few. But, at this point, it’s more likely you’ll have one or none. If you like to work largely free of the typical Wikipedia busybodies and know-it-alls, you’ll find CZ much more congenial. And how quickly will editors or constables “lay down the law”? Well, you can get away with a lot on CZ, I’m afraid. That’s because people behave themselves so well most of the time that we are genuinely surprised when someone needs to be reined in.
Sure I’m a little biased, but I really love the CZ community! (Group hug!)
I can virtually see you skeptics shaking your heads. You want to ask: if I go to add to an article, how often will editors show up and undo my work, or tell me that I’m doing it all wrong? Well, sure, that happens. But, as far as I can tell, not very often. Our editors generally go out of their way to treat everyone collegially. This is one of the great discoveries of CZ: you plop experts down in an open wiki community, and even give them some modest authority, and guess what? They’re nice. They do not wield their authority the way Wikipedia administrators wield theirs. For that matter, our constables don’t wield their authority the way Wikipedia administrators wield theirs. They’re wonderful!
Now, I know that our wiki is open, bottom-up, and largely free of “command-and-control” in part because we’re still much smaller than Wikipedia. Yes, that’s obvious. Yes, I know that growth has a way of making governance harder. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are for now much freer and less constrained than Wikipedia is. You know what? If you sign up, you can still edit our front page. It’s not protected. And we at least still have a chance to retain the more open, freer, more congenial nature of our “small town” community as we grow; it’s too late for Wikipedia, which has become largely a “big city” mobocracy, one that I for one find more oppressive than liberating.
Sure — in time, we on CZ will have far more collaborators than we might always want, for our own individual work. We too will start complaining that too many cooks spoil the broth. However that is, and however we solve that problem when we are so fortunate as to have it, I also think that we can avoid having this lively community devolve into a rude, controlling mobocracy. CZ’s differences make all the difference. We use real names, which makes people more responsible and polite. We require that people treat each other professionally — and greatly cuts down on rudeness, just as moderating a mailing list often has the same effect. We separate different kinds of authority, with different groups having only limited powers, and no person being able to serve on more than one of the high-level groups in authority (Executive Committee, Editorial Council, Constabulary). This means that nobody is in a position to lord it over others with impunity. We actually require that people agree to our fundamental policies as a condition of their participation, which means that many of the most disruptive people, whose silly antics cause Wikipedia administrators to react like Nazis, aren’t involved. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve learned something from Wikipedia’s governance mistakes.
If you have been skeptical of CZ, maybe it’s time to give us a second look.