Note: this is all subject to debate, clarification, and change. Such flexibility is very important in a collaborative project in which contributors make refinements to the basic model.
Introductory and Most Important Topics
What is the Citizendium, anyway?
An expert-led, public participatory, wiki-based project to sum up human knowledge. See the [about.html About page]. For the fundamentals, see the Statement of Fundamental Policies. For another, now outdated introduction, see "Toward a New Compendium of Knowledge."
How are you progressing?
Quite nicely. Well over 1,000 contributors and well over 1,000 articles--we'd give exact numbers here, but they'd soon be out of date--and all within just a few months of existence.
What is your funding model?
The Citizendium is under the management of the Citizendium Foundation, which is a project of the Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Foundation itself is in the process of applying for 501(c)(3) non-profit status and will become independent probably in early 2008. We are a non-profit, open content project, and always will be. Due to important features of the project's design, we hope to be able to find adequate funding through multiple sources:
- In-kind donations of support and hardware from universities and companies.
- Grants from companies that want to use content from the Citizendium. (Not required by the GNU FDL, of course.)
- Sponsorships. While the Citizendium will never accept advertisements, we might accept sponsorship and post unobtrusive sponsorship statements. We know this is a sensitive issue: see [#sponsorships this question] for details.
- Donations from individuals (tax-free).
- In time, we may also develop a free content brokerage.
See also "|Funding and Related Issues."
How can I get involved?
Please join us (no, you don't have to have a Ph.D.!); second, join the project forums and contribute your thoughts to the discussion. Also, a donation at this crucial juncture would help get this venture off the ground.
Can I donate to the project, to help ensure it comes into existence?
Yes, please! We take major credit cards and your donation is tax-deductible.
If you would prefer to write a check, make your checks to "Citizendium Foundation/Tides Foundation" and write to sanger at citizendium.org for the address.
You are donating the money to Tides, legally speaking, but the money is earmarked for the Citizendium (minus Tides' very reasonable fee for their valuable administrative work).
If you donated to us last year, you may now write off the donation!
We believe there are many forces ready to converge and bring a responsible, expert-managed fork of Wikipedia into existence. As the project evolves, we believe other forces, from universities, corporations, and foundations, will step up to the plate and make sure that the project has the resources it needs. We are so committed to this project that we are, to be quite honest, deliberately taking personal risk in starting this project. If you believe in our mission, you can help defray this risk by making a donation. Please know that we will be spending any money cautiously and thoughtfully, with a careful eye to the biggest "bang for the buck."
Why is it "experimental"?
We're trying to be modest. We don't really know if this will work, any more than we really knew that Wikipedia would work when it was first launched. We think it will, we want it to, and we are planning on it. But as with all collaborative projects, it really depends, dear reader, on you--whether you will support the project with your participation.
How much will this project partake in open source hacker culture, and how much will it partake in the culture of academia?
That's another part of the experiment: we are trying to marry the two cultures. Maybe it's absurd to try, but try we will. On the one hand, we want to teach academics and other professionals to work in a strongly collaborative way and adopt the principles and ethics articulated in, for example, Eric Raymond's essays "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" and "Homesteading the Noosphere" (essays we recommend you read, if you have not yet done so). So this will be a bottom-up, collaborative, distributed wiki project. It will not be the command-and-control, bureaucratic sort of project with which many academics are familiar. Academics should be aware of that before they sign on. They won't have the sort of authority they might be used to having; they will have to, indeed, collaborate as parts of a very large and intellectually diverse community (or so we hope).
On the other hand, we want to make a special place for experts to get involved as senior members of the community. Really, this is not that different from open source software projects, because those projects have senior participants who decide what's goes into and what stays out of the code. This only means that the hacker notion of a meritocracy on the basis of visible work must be qualified--not entirely jettisoned, of course--so that people with real-world, hard-won credentials are given an appropriate sort of authority in the project. (That's visible work too, ain't it?) See "The Role of Editors" below.
Who is behind the project?
A large and growing group of people, including an Executive Committee, partly enumerated here, and a great many editors and authors hard at work on the project, who are taking responsibility in all sorts of ways. Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger is Editor-in-Chief. Jason Potkanski is the technical lead. There are many other very hard-working people involved.
Will this be Larry Sanger's personal project forever?
No. This is not a personal project, but a community project. We believe that a collaborative online community, to be healthy, must resemble a law-governed, constitutional republic--just like offline communities. So, when the charter is adopted, Larry will be fully beholden to whatever processes it defines. He might then lose his role as editor-in-chief. He's willing to take that chance in order to set up a community that is healthy, vibrant, responsible, and self-managing. In fact, Larry is committed to stepping down from the leadership of the Citizendium within two or three years at latest, to set the healthy precedent of allowing others--members of the volunteer community--to take over his role. (What really excites him, even more than encyclopedias, is Textop's Collation Project. But he's putting that on the back burner for now.)
Funding and Related Issues
Do you accept donations?
Yes. We are a project of the Tides Center and, since we are a 501(c)(3) non-profit, your donations are tax-deductible. Click here.
What do you mean in saying the Citizendium might accept sponsorships, but not advertisements?
Sponsors of the Citizendium would have the opportunity to be named in brief, unobtrusive, text-only sponsorship statements at the bottom of Citizendium pages. A statement might read something like this: "The Citizendium is made possible in part by a generous grant from XYZ Corporation." The articles on which these statements appear will be determined randomly, but the frequency of any given name would be determined by the amount of the grant. This is done in public television and radio and such sponsorships are not generally regarded as being at odds with the non-profit mission of public broadcasting.
The Citizendium community will enjoy broad oversight over the sponsorship program as well as the proceeds from it. Guidelines for sponsorship statements will be included in the community charter. We will also be writing into the project charter both that sponsors will have no editorial influence over the project, that enforceable, adequate oversight of this rule must be in place, and that no grants that make specific editorial demands will be accepted. (The precise wording of such rules remains to be worked out.)
What steps are you taking to make the Citizendium an independent nonprofit?
The Citizendium Foundation is a non-profit corporation registered (for administrative purposes) with the state of Nevada. The Foundation will very soon be applying for federal 501(c)(3) recognition as a nonprofit organization. For the rest of 2007, however, we will be a project of the Tides Center, which is itself a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We are fully committed to making the Citizendium fully independent in 2008.
How committed are the Citizendium leaders to making and keeping this a nonprofit project?
Completely. If some big corporation were to offer us a million dollars to reorganize the project as a for-profit (if that were possible somehow), we would refuse. We're not in it for the money.
Why not? (Imagine an incredulous voice.)
Because that's the only way the Citizendium can come into existence, and we want to see it come into existence. We believe that volunteers--both from academia and from the hacker world--will refuse to contribute to a Wikipedia-style knowledge project if it merely lines the pockets of profit-making enterprise. Besides, the best way to ensure freedom, independence, and neutrality of information is to make sure that the information does not depend on any particular vested interests--that the content itself is ultimately in the hands of a responsible online "republic of the mind."
Project Management and Partnership Issues
What are your needs?
As Wikipedia itself did, the Citizendium is beginning life as a grassroots, by-our-bootstraps operation, one that we wouldn't be attempting if we did not have much evidence of a strong latent demand for it. There are several areas in which we are looking for donations, equipment, and services:
- While we have received a few modest grants, and generous gifts from individuals, we definitely need more to sustain the project.
- In-kind server hosting and network support, from companies and/or universities, would be greatly appreciated. While we have some generous support from Steadfast Networks of Chicago, we would like to have servers in other locations.
- Universities and foundations might host organizational conferences. As of early 2007, this is becoming a higher priority.
Foundations, or potential partners, who can supply any of these, or if you think we have other needs, let us know!
What partnerships are you looking for?
We would love to partner with universities who can offer funding, dedicated (if only part time) technical personnel, and equipment, as well as promoting the project among faculty and students.
We are looking for meaningful, actionable partnership proposals, that is, partnership proposals that entail that either you, or we, or all of us together, actually do something that forwards the mission of the Citizendium in some essential way. We will not entertain proposals for "partnerships-in-name-only." If you are just interested in becoming a project advisor, see "Project Management and Partnership Issues."
What partnerships do you have now?
We are a project of the Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We intend to become an independent nonprofit, probably in early 2008. Steadfast Networks of Chicago is currently hosting our servers and providing our bandwidth. Steadfast has donated two servers and other items, while we are paying for three more ourselves. Some of our mailing lists are hosted at Purdue University. We have had two reasonably significant grants. Many other partnerships and support arrangements are in the discussion stage.
What volunteer positions do you anticipate?
This will become clearer in time. But the following we can say we definitely need:
- Authors, editors, and constables
- Web designers, and someone to make a great new Mediawiki skin for the Citiendium. If interested, write Larry Sanger (contact info below).
I am interested in becoming a project advisor. I have some special expertise in the sort of project you are about to start. I am not looking for employment or partnership. What should I do?
If you are interested in joining the Advisory Board of the Citizendium, then please contact Larry Sanger (address below). We will be organizing a large group of prominent, experienced thinkers to consult about the future direction of the project and to ratify the charter. An excellent first step would be to join us as a contributor, in any case.
The Role of Editors
Who will be able to become an editor, and how?
We want the editor selection process to be as simple and least open to "political control" (in the broad sense) as possible.
We will be posting a list of credentials suitable for editorship. We have not finished constructing this list yet. A Ph.D. will be neither necessary nor sufficient for editorship. As a rule of thumb, editors in traditionally "academic" fields will require the qualifications typically needed for a tenure-track academic position in the field. Editors in "professional" fields require the usual terminal degree in their field and at least three years responsible professional experience, and, in most cases, several publications as well. Editors in non-academic or "hobbyist" fields require varying other kinds of qualification. In addition, in the future, persons will be able to become editors by direct appeal to editorial workgroups--this exception should, we hope, take care of the unusual cases.
The requirement of real world credentials reflects no great love for credentials per se, but instead represents a crucially important means whereby editorship can be established independently of the internal politics and bias of decisionmakers.
This will be "Expertpedia," won't it? Experts only, right?
Not at all! As with Wikipedia, ordinary people will form the backbone of the Citizendium.
But experts will be involved and made into editors. Aren't you trying to turn the successful "bazaar"-style Wikipedia model into a failed "cathedral" style of project?
Again, no. Experts are expected to work shoulder-to-shoulder with ordinary people in this project in more or less the same bottom-up fashion that Wikipedia uses. The difference is that, when content disputes arise, whatever editors are paying attention to the article will be empowered to articulate a resolution--if the article falls in their area of specialization. Furthermore, their decisions will be enforceable. Think of editors as the village elders wandering the bazaar and occasionally dispensing advice and reining in the wayward. Their presence is merely a moderating, civilizing influence. They don't stop the bazaar from being a bazaar.
Can you really expect headstrong Wikipedia types to work under the guidance of expert types in this way?
It depends on the Wikipedian. For many, probably not. The Citizendium will not be Wikipedia. We do expect people who have respect for expertise, for knowledge hard gained, to love the opportunity to work alongside editors. Imagine yourself as a college student who had the opportunity to work alongside, and under the loose and gentle direction of, your professors. This isn't going to be a top-down, command-and-control system. It is merely a sensible community: one where the people who have made it their life's work to study certain areas are given a certain appropriate authority--without thereby converting the community into a traditional top-down academic editorial scheme.
Well, can you expect the experts to want to work "shoulder-to-shoulder" with nonexperts?
Yes, because it's already happening; that's one of our early successes, i.e., showing that expert-nonexpert collaboration can be done to great effect. Furthermore, experts will have an incentive to work in this project, because when it comes to content--i.e., what the experts really care about--they will be in charge.
How can you possibly ensure on a wiki that editors will have the carefully limited authority you want to give them?
Two ways. First, as anyone with much experience in thriving Internet communities knows, the community itself places significant peer pressures on people to follow the rules. This works for most people, and is one key reason that wikis are able to work. Second, for those not susceptible to peer pressure, there are both editorial workgroups for content-based problems, and "[essay.html#constables constables]" (the local name for the people empowered to ban troublemaking editors) for behavior-based problems.
Will editors ever be paid?
It's hard to say. The hope, of course, is that we may raise enough money to pay key members of the community to work on the project full-time. Honoraria might also become possible, but it all depends on the level of donations, sponsorship, and other revenue-generators.
What, then, can motivate editors to get involved? After all, they are professionals used to getting paid for their expertise.
The same thing that motivates experts to get involved in Wikipedia. (There is, after all, a not-insignificant number of experts involved in Wikipedia.) The idea is that this is a free resource for the entire world to use. Editors will have a desire to teach. Some people also feel a professional obligation to teach, something that is reflected by the fact that so many professional organizations have educational and outreach committees. And, after all, Wikipedia is--as, we hope, the Citizendium will become--one of first sources of information that many students and other information-seekers consult. Scholars and students alike are rightly concerned that such widely-disseminated information about their interests be correct. The idea that we have the opportunity to create a resource that is not only enormous but truly reliable as well should be very exciting to many academics. Besides, the process is fun, which is motivation for many participants at all levels of attainment.
The Justification and Prospects of the Project
How did the pilot project go? What does it say for the future of the Citizendium?
It's gone very well. In the period, we worked on over 1,000 articles, we gained over 800 authors, with over 180 of those being extremely well-qualified, expert editors. We grew from around 100 to around 500 edits per day. We have received two major donations, from the Revson Foundation and an individual, as well as many smaller donations.
In short, we're growing on every front. The future of the project, at this point, is quite bright.
You have decided not to fork Wikipedia after all, at least experimentally. Why? And does this mean you've somehow given up?
Please see blog post for an explanation. The short answer is that, while the project has been a success so far, we think we can do even better because people might be more motivated to start their own articles than they were to edit old Wikipedia articles.
We think it is a healthy sign in a cutting-edge project that there are bold course corrections.
Is this project just motivated by a personal animosity between Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales?
Not at all. This project, and forces that led to it, are much, much bigger than two quibbling personalities.
How can you possibly succeed? Wikipedia is an enormous community. How can you go head-to-head with Wikipedia, now a veritable goliath, if you have just a few people?
It would indeed be ridiculous if we were pretending to create something better than Wikipedia with just a few people. But what just a few people can do is organize a new community. There are very many people with read/write access to the Citizendium project wiki, for instance. We firmly believe that there are already very many people who love the vibrancy and basic concept of Wikipedia, but who believe it needs to be governed under more sensible rules, and with a special place for experts. We hope they will join the Citizendium effort. If there is enough interest, then we'll be able to make a go of it. Give us a few years; Wikipedia has had a rather large head start. So we'll see!
Who is joining this community?
People who support the basic project design. To mention just one group, many disaffected Wikipedians have gotten involved. Many academics have gone out of their way to try to edit Wikipedia, only essentially to be beaten back by the community. Not only are they welcome, they are being asked to form part of the editorial leadership of the Citizendium. There are also a number of people, put off by Wikipedia, who have tried to start alternatives to Wikipedia, particularly in their special disciplines. But most such efforts have not made much headway. Those people are welcome to this project as well; bear in mind that there is strength in numbers, and huge amounts of responsibility to spread around.
There are also, of course, a few people who have never tried to edit Wikipedia.
Do you have any plans to fork (or improve upon) other Wikimedia projects, such as Wiktionary?
Not at this time. We believe that most Wikimedia projects need to be completely reconceived. Citizendium may, perhaps, absorb the Text Outline Project (Textop), which Larry Sanger started in spring 2006, and on which some small progress has been made. (Larry has limited his own participation in Textop in order to get the Citizendium started; but he intends to return to it in a year or two.)
Wikipedia and the Citizendium
How does the project differ from Wikipedia?
In several significant ways: expert involvement, the requirement of logging in and real names, and more. What will not change is that the project will still be an open/free content wiki. This is covered in detail in [essay.html#editorial this section] of "Toward a New Compendium of Knowledge."
Do you want to try to "steal" people from Wikipedia and divide the community?
That is not the aim. Wikipedia has already driven off no doubt thousands of would-be contributors, and there are thousands, if not millions, of people who never would think about contributing to Wikipedia in the first place, but who might be willing to give the Citizendium a go. We want to set up, not a replacement, but an alternative to Wikipedia, a responsible constitutional republic that makes a special place for experts and invites the general public to work shoulder-to-shoulder with them.
Are you attempting to shut Wikipedia down?
No. That makes up no part of our aim. We wish instead to take the best of Wikipedia's model and use it to create something better.
Aha! So you are trying to outdo Wikipedia, aren't you?
Well, of course.
If you're not trying to shut Wikipedia down, then what relationship do you want with Wikipedia?
A mutually complementary one, in which we occupy different social niches, as it were. Those who want to work in a system committed to the maximum empowerment of amateurs should always be able to do so on Wikipedia. Those who, by contrast, want to work shoulder-to-shoulder in a bottom-up system with experts, in which the experts are able to settle content disputes, will soon have the option of doing so on the Citizendium. Furthermore, those who want the option of working anonymously and in a wild-and-woolly atmosphere in which rules are not necessarily enforced should always be able to do so on Wikipedia. Those who, by contrast, want to take personal, real-world responsibility for their efforts, and to work in a dynamic but rule-governed environment, will soon have the option of doing so on the Citizendium.
Besides, the world has had multiple encyclopedias for a long time. There's no reason why there needs to be just one free, collaborative, general encyclopedia.
You could have started this project a long time ago. Why now?
The full and frank story is very complex, and not ready to be told. Perhaps we should have done this a long time ago. But perhaps we were not fully justified in doing it until fairly recently. In particular, many of us think that Wikipedia's attempts to paper over its very public mini-scandals with minor changes have been weak. It is pretty clear to us that Wikipedia will probably never seriously attempt to solve what we, at least, regard as the central problems of the project. For further explanation, see "[essay.html Toward a New Compendium of Knowledge]."
International Prospects of the Citizendium
Will you be attempting to start versions of the Citizendium in languages other than English?
Yes, if the English language Citizendium succeeds. We have seen quite a bit of interest from people speaking all major European languages.
If Citizendia in other languages are started, will the central management of the Citizendium be fully international?
The extent to which the project is centralized at all, or instead federated or "franchised," remains to be decided. Participants must not assume that we will simply replicate the current, problematic Wikipedia model; we will be developing our relationships much more deliberately and carefully.
How will you actually get the Citizendia in other languages started?
This remains to be worked out and debated.
Contact the Project
How do I contact Citizendium staff?
We love notes of encouragement!
Please send your mail to the right address:
- Citizendium leadership: admin at citizendium.org
- Constabulary: constables at citizendium.org
- Personnel matters: see this page
- Bug reports: bugs at citizendium.org
- Larry Sanger: sanger at citizendium.org
Bear in mind that these mailboxes may be quite full, and we may not be able to answer right away!