Citizendium Blog

September 22, 2010

Citizendium Charter Ratified

Filed under: Founder, Governance, Project growth — Larry Sanger @ 11:10 pm


[The following is a mail I sent to Citizendium-L earlier this evening.  UPDATE: title fixed, thanks Tom. ;-) ]


Congratulations, everyone!


I agree that the Charter has been ratified; I hereby ratify it.


This has been a long time in coming, and I am happy it is finished.  I am proud that the Citizendium has continued to grow in the time, now about a year and a half, since I was actively involved.


I apologize for being so uninvolved in this whole process, but frankly, I have felt that it is not my place to get involved much, after pledging at the outset that I would step down after 2-3 years as head of CZ.  Every time I have gotten involved since the spring of 2009, my pledge has lurked in the back of my mind (and frequently in the front of it), which has sapped my motivation for trying to impose my will on anything that might be going on.  To be sure, I’ve made a few of my wishes known, but the project and the charter drafting process has continued on almost entirely independently of me, I’m sincerely happy to say.


Per Article 52 of the charter (, this email ends my term of office.  I believe it is now up to persons other than me to put the next relevant articles, 53 and 54, into effect.  I would like to thank the committee for honoring my service in getting CZ started with their Article 52.


CZ is unlike many online communities.  We have adopted a charter that defines the community as a division of power, and with different bodies capable of proposing and making innovations.  Many important terms are limited, as I think they should be, and the most powerful positions are elected.  In short, we now officially have an online constitutional republic, just as I have wanted.  I hope that you all will support the nascent system and help to build it into something self-sustaining and flourishing.  I still believe in this project, and I think that the time may well come when we begin to grow more quickly.  Our traffic has been steadily growing, and I’ve observed new people continuing to get involved.  So, quite contrary to hopeful, mean-spirited reports of our impending demise, we’ve actually shown our resilience, despite my own lack of involvement the last 18 months or so.


I wish you the best of luck.  I will try to assist the transition as I can.  To that end, let me point a few things out and make a few recommendations:


·         I remain a Citizen.  I am still strongly aligned with and in support of our goals, and I will continue to speak out on our behalf if offered a chance.  I will not attempt to speak for CZ, however; any questions from the press that come my way that seem to be questions about the current state of the project, pending decisions, and future strategies, I will refer to CZ’s current management.


·         There are any number of changes that might be made that could really kick things up a notch in this project.  We have many cards we have not played.  When you think about operations and strategy, think creatively first, then critically.  Different design, different branding; new associations; new stated goals; new initiatives, perhaps shared with partners; new sources of content and participants; maybe paring back of needless and not-very-helpful help pages; initiation of important new software projects; etc.  I hope that the new management committee will show leadership in considering and, more importantly, deciding and executing such initiatives.


·         Please bear in mind that the funds available to pay for the Citizendium servers are running low.  I think I can arrange for a significant cash infusion to cover any short-term shortfall, but you should be thinking about how to keep the servers paid for.  I think this could be a prime opportunity to move the hosting to a lower-cost service, as well as developing a relationship with an entity that can receive donations and make payments on our behalf—perhaps a university, academic press, or nonprofit.  Of course, you are free to continue on with the Tides Center.  In any event I would encourage you to make sure to have the relationship with the entity in clear writing, making it perfectly clear that CZ’s decisions will be independent and constrained only by the decisions of Citizens and the Charter, and law.


·         I hope the community will use the opportunity of a new charter to make other needed positive changes.  I believe there needs to be a settled and regular way to identify and resolve disputes.  The Charter describes the outline of a method but I believe it needs to be elaborated.  There are people whose involvement in the project is a significant net negative, for example because they are ideologues who brazenly refuse to write neutrally, because they repeatedly violate standards of professionalism, or because they are cranks who have no respect whatsoever of the proper standards of evidence and scholarship.  The project will bleed able and much-needed contributors if they must deal with people who should not be involved.  Of course, it can be difficult to determine the line between overzealous rules-enforcement and perfect openness to any sort of behavior.  But I think that this needs to be done, and it will help that it’s done independently of me—in the past, when I had to get rid of people, they were frequently able to make it personal.  I hope a process involving several people, following fair rules in an open manner, will not be so easy to attack.  I just hope, of course, that the process also remains relatively efficient (i.e., not too complex and bureaucratic) while also being open and fair.


·         One area in which I am disappointed with the charter—I never expected it to be perfect—is the lack of any requirement that articles be family-friendly (or, choose the term that is least offensive to your political sensibilities).  There is some seriously twisted stuff on Wikipedia that has no business in a resource calling itself an “encyclopedia.”  I hope CZ will never host such stuff—or, to the extent it does, at least properly labels and places it behind appropriate disclaimers.  But generally, I hope that you will maintain standards of appropriateness for school use similar to that used in other resources written for adults and at about the college level, such as Britannica and The New York Times.  School kids are among the those who stand to benefit most from CZ, and I’d like to make sure that they’re well served.


I’m willing to offer other advice if asked, but I expect to do so largely behind the scenes, one-on-one, because I do not want to impose improper influence on what should be a democratic process.


On a personal note, I’ve been greatly distracted lately by new developments in new projects (a major new set of WatchKnow features, and an upcoming associated program to teach children to read) as well as baby #2 due in just a few weeks.  I’m also in transition on WatchKnow, which is also gaining a wonderful, able new CEO, freeing me up to develop the reading project full time.  I’m frankly glad to be developing and executing brand new ideas, which is probably my forte.  But this is not an excuse–I am sorry that I have not answered all the emails that people have sent.


Again, congratulations to everyone!



Larry Sanger


Lawrence M. Sanger, Ph.D. |

Executive Director, WatchKnow |

Founding Editor-in-Chief, Citizendium | |


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