This post was linked by the New York Times online business section.
It’s been a pretty big news story: for a few days, editing of Wikipedia was effectively blocked throughout much of the U.K., because Wikipedia had, and still has, an uncensored reproduction of the Scorpions’ album cover for Virgin Killer. This shows a completely naked pre-pubescent girl in a sexually suggestive pose.
Does it bother you that Wikipedia reproduces an image that is, arguably, child pornography? It does me. Now, I think the Internet ought to be safe for porn, but not child porn. It was Jimmy Wales’ Bomis.com, after all, that den of
soft-core porn “glamour photography” (the Jimbo-approved euphemism), that paid my paychecks when I was starting Nupedia and Wikipedia. (I often used to say that Wikipedia was built using good fertilizer.) But I don’t think that a general encyclopedia, used by millions of school kids (at least at home) should host sexually suggestive pictures of naked pre-pubescent girls. That ought to be obvious to Wikipedians, and the fact that it’s not is yet more evidence that not all is well in Wikipedia-land.
Perhaps it’s time to remind the world that there is a wonderful new, and growing, alternative: Citizendium (CZ). If you’re reading this on the CZ blog, you no doubt know that we are another free wiki encyclopedia project, but started by a co-founder of Wikipedia, yours truly. (But I’m writing it so you can forward it to family, friends, and colleagues who don’t know about CZ.) A lot of people don’t know what we’re here for and they have bought all sorts of misinformation about us. Let’s fix that, shall we?
Let me sum up the case for CZ. We are still around, we’re still growing, and we’re steadily becoming a viable alternative to Wikipedia. We are small, but vigorous. We have no vandalism. We have grown steadily over the one-and-a-half years since our public launch, and we’ll be breaking 10,000 articles in the next few months. I won’t bore you (again) with the reasons, but I think that there will come a tipping point for us, after which a lot more people will know about us and swell our ranks. And they should! We aren’t going away, and even at the current rate, we’re going to have hundreds of thousands of articles in the long run. We’re non-profit, Creative Commons, community-managed, and we’re open to everyone who is willing to use their real names and identities. We’re a remarkably pleasant and well-behaved community, and I think we do great work. We have pioneered a new model, a public-expert hybrid community; we’ve shown that it is not just viable, it is in many ways a clearly superior model for the organization of an open, online knowledge community.
And, of course, the cover of Virgin Killer will never appear on the pages of CZ.
Now, if you are harrumphing (rather ridiculously, I might add, but that’s just me I suppose) that of course the cover of Virgin Killer should not be “censored,” and that Wikipedia is better than CZ insofar as it doesn’t feature such “censorship,” then let me point something out. Let me point out the wonderful, delicious fact that you can stick with Wikipedia. The two projects naturally attract delightfully complementary groups of people. The people who want to hide behind pseudonyms, who want to play governance games in order to push their biases, and who want to prove their maturity and enlightenment by putting up pictures of naked little girls, can stick with Wikipedia. I’ll be delighted if they do. But I think that in the long run, you’ll see that a lot more people will want to contribute under the more sensible CZ system.
Time will tell, but you know, I was right about the viability of the Wikipedia model long before it was popular or even known to almost everyone reading this post. And I have a strong and well-justified belief in the viability of the CZ model, a belief that is well-informed by my experience actually developing the Wikipedia model, many other online projects, and thinking deeply about online knowledge communities.
We’ll be hosting a big Citizendium Open House in January, as a way to boost this great project to the next level and welcome a lot of new people who might be curious about the project. Be on the lookout for announcements here and elsewhere.