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.
On the one hand, people might well be at least a little more motivated to get involved because of the carrot of seeing their name on an article page. On the other hand, by requiring a minimum of five contributors, and allowing someone to be listed for writing just two sentences, we deliberately remove any distinctions among the various contributors to a given article. So, I hope, having the contributors listed in this form will not lead to a sense of defensive ownership, competitiveness, as well as un-bold timidity (to a greater degree than already exists, anyway).
Well, due to the demand from some quarters, and after many months and many conversations, I have put the latter proposal, in the form of a two month pilot project, before the Citizendium Editorial Council. The next step is a silent comment period. Then a Council debate. Should be highly innerestin’.
Immediately prior to this, we used our new proposals system to do one final general debate about the proposal. The page is extremely long!
Candidly, it is worrying to me that some of our Citizens are gunning aggressively for the “full enchilada,” as the Encyclopedia of Earth and Scholarpedia have it — not robustly collaborative projects, those — that is, they want the full apparatus of “lead authors” and “contributing authors,” and people listed according to how much they have contributed, and listed even if there is only one contributor to an article. As I have repeatedly said, and as they have almost as often pooh-pooh’ed, such a proposal could actually kill the collaborative engine that runs the project, or greatly slow it down, with activity “silo’d” into individuals and groups who jealously defend their authorship credentials and who do not want to share byline credit with people whom they do not respect. But suffice it to say that I very much doubt that we will “go whole hog” that way before doing a more modest test such as I propose.
The interesting question really will be whether this increases our attractiveness to potential new contributors (and gets old ones more excited). The pilot project should give us a good idea.