October 16, 2006 6:45 PM PDT

Wikipedia co-founder plans 'expert' rival

One of Wikipedia's founders and closest critics is launching an alternative to the free online encyclopedia this week.

Larry Sanger, a co-founder of Wikipedia and the site's former editor-in-chief, is launching a rival site called Citizendium. It will include user registration and editorial controls to govern user-submitted articles, unlike the free-for-all submission process that reigns on Wikipedia. With "gentle" controls in place, Sanger said Citizendium will naturally weed out so-called trolls from posting obscenities or biased information.

"Wikipedia is amazing. It has grown in breadth and depth, and the articles are remarkably good given the system that is in place. I merely think that we can do better," Sanger said. "There are a number of problems with the system that can be solved, and by solving those we can end up with an even better massive encyclopedia."

Citizendium is not starting from scratch. It will be a "fork" of the open-source code of Wikipedia, meaning that it will replicate the existing database of articles and then evolve, through user participation, into a new compendium of its own.

According to its FAQ, Citizendium does not aim to harm Wikipedia.

"Are you attempting to shut Wikipedia down? No. That makes up no part of our aim. We wish instead to leverage the fantastic resource that is Wikipedia and use it to create something better," the FAQ states. "Aha! So you are trying to outdo Wikipedia, aren't you? Well, of course. Why else would we be proposing a fork?"

Wikipedia representatives did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Sanger said an invitation-only, pilot version of his soon-to-be-nonprofit site will launch this week, but wider release has yet to be determined.

Since early 2001, when Sanger helped get Wikipedia off the ground with co-founder Jimmy Wales, the service has become one of the most popular research tools on the Web and one of its fastest-growing sites, with more than 2 million articles in 229 languages. In September, Wikipedia attracted more than 33 million unique visitors, up 162 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to research firm Nielsen NetRatings.

But Wikipedia has run into some trouble in its precipitous rise to popularity. Last fall, concerns over the veracity of Wikipedia articles came to a head after it was discovered that the entry on former Robert F. Kennedy aide John Seigenthaler suggested he had been involved in the presidential candidate's assassination. And in August, comedian Stephen Colbert was banned from Wikipedia after he encouraged his television viewers to make whimsical edits to the site's articles.

While Wikipedia has moved to address some of the concerns with new technology, other encyclopedia projects have tried to fill demand for academic information. Digital Universe, for example, launched earlier this year as an expert-controlled encyclopedia project, which was also started with Sanger's help. Its first initiative, called the Encyclopedia of Earth, has 400 articles written and reviewed by volunteer environmental experts from around the world.

Sanger took a leave of absence from Digital Universe to start Citizendium--a combination of "citizen" and "compendium"--and take a different approach to the online encyclopedia. Like Wikipedia, he wants the service to evolve with public participation.

But unlike Wikipedia, Citizendium will have established volunteer editors and "constables," or administrators who enforce community rules. In essence, the service will observe a separation of church and state, with a representative republic, Sanger said.

"These so called constables will play a similar role to administrators in Wikipedia, but they will not be able to make decisions on how articles read. The editors will be responsible for making decisions about content but they will not be able to ban people," he said.

Citizendium is soliciting experts in their fields to post and oversee articles on any given subject. Another difference from Wikipedia is that Citizendium will require that members register with their real name to post to the wiki. That, Sanger said, should also discourage shenanigans.

"The idea is we will be inviting people from around the world to work together under the gentle guidance of experts," he said.

CNET News.com's Daniel Terdiman contributed to this report.

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2 comments

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Opensource = Let's reinvent the weel
Wikipedia has already prooved to be an amazing "free" source of information. So it has some issues. Well, instead of runnning away from the issues, Wikipedia should confront them and solve them. So, from Wikipedia, one of the founders figured out that they don't know how to make, "fix", Wikipedia more accurate. So instead, they fork it out as a totally different service and so, reinventing it. What a waste of resources!

Regardless of the "wording" in the sites FAQ's, it boils down to "Yes, I came up with another service wich will compete, tarnish and hopefuly destroy Wikipedia" which, fully enough I helped create.

The public will have yet another, among many, source of research. I understand the battle between Yahoo, Google and MSN, which are different profit services. But, like Wikipedia, OpenSource continuosly shoot themselves on the foot by figthing against themseleves.

OpenSource offers the perfect plataform to reinvent the weel. Although I am a supporter, I recognize their biggest downfalls: "lack of aim and collaboration"!. Since there is not much money involved in the projects and people like to do things "their" way, you will find hundreads of proyects that serve the same purpose and most of them don't lift off. Just go to <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.sourceforge.net" target="_newWindow">http://www.sourceforge.net</a> and type for instance "FTP". You find several proyect that do the same and are being developed by just a few people, many times just one person.

Here are very smart people wasting their intelligence, precious time and their small investment. They come up with proyects, that not only already exists, but some already are pretty good and well known. I understand the "do it my way" freedom, but if there is a "good" application outhere, instead of comming up with yet another way to do it, rather "join" the team of a "already" good project and make it better thus actually giving a stable app to the community and a worthy adversary to the existent "pay for" products. And they wonder why there are not enough founds or why their project is not lifting of.

Back to Wikkipedia and OpenSource:
1. Community means "working together".
2. If you want market share, do not reinvent the weel, make it run better, more efficietly.
Posted by bertmg (230 comments )
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"Exper" Rival
If you are going to compete with Wikipedia and all of its short-comings, how about starting by learning how to use a spell-checker? How embarrassing. I hope that the people you employ will be more astute.
Posted by carolina_cr (1 comment )
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