Sunday, July 22, 2007

Citizendium or Wikipedia?

A few weeks ago I applied to be an editor on Citizendium, a new wiki project intended to be a more accurate and reputable Wikipedia. Citizendium does not allow anonymous postings, and they put new articles under a review process. My application was accepted a few weeks later, and a user account was created for me along with a user page listing my brief CV.

I decided to warm up with an article on digital preservation, a topic which I feel qualified to write about. Rather than start from scratch, I imported the Wikipedia article on digital preservation. Although Citizendium frowns upon importing articles from Wikipedia, I had previously written a large portion of the Wikipedia article, so I didn't feel too bad about doing it. I cleaned up the article by focusing the definition, cleaning up the references, and removing the numerous external links.

I didn't spend a whole lot of time editing the article because I got to thinking... can Citizendium really compete with Wikipedia? Larry Sanger (Citizendium's founder and co-founder of Wikipedia) seems to think so. Although I agree that Citizendium's policies in theory would result in more reputable articles, I don't think Citizendium can possibly scale to Wikipedia's size. First, there are a number of people who want to make a minor contribution to a Wikipedia article, a slight correction or clarification, for example. And since they don't have to register, the barrier to entry is sufficiently low enough for them to contribute.

Second, there are a number of people who, for whatever reason, want to remain anonymous or known by some alias. They are not likely to sign on with Citizendium and convey to the world why they are qualified to write about XYZ.

Third, if someone wants to make a contribution to an article on a particular subject, now they have to decide do they make the contribution just on Wikipedia, or on Citizendium, or both? Do they monitor both sites for changes to an article that is important to them? If a Citizendium article is actually better than the Wikipedia article, what is stopping Wikipedia from just importing the entire Citizendium article?

Forth, choosing the name "Citizendium" was a poor choice. It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

I really do hope Citizendium takes off, but I think its going to take a very, very long time before they have anything near the number of articles that Wikipedia has to offer. In the meantime, I would much rather put my efforts into something I know is going to rank high in search results and gets far more page views. I'll be watching Google to see if my Citizendium article will ever beat out Wikipedia's (currently ranked number 8) in the search results for "digital preservation". If it ever does, I'll defect to Citizendium.