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Sanger forks Wikipedia

September 16, 2006

The man who invented Wikipedia now wants to bury it. Larry Sanger, the controversial online encyclopedia's cofounder and leading apostate, announced yesterday, at a conference in Berlin, that he is spearheading the launch of a competitor to Wikipedia called The Citizendium. Sanger describes it as "an experimental new wiki project that combines public participation with gentle expert guidance."

The Citizendium will begin as a "fork" of Wikipedia, taking all of Wikipedia's current articles and then editing them under a new model that differs substantially from the model used by what Sanger calls the "arguably dysfunctional" Wikipedia community. "First," says Sanger, in explaining the primary differences, "the project will invite experts to serve as editors, who will be able to make content decisions in their areas of specialization, but otherwise working shoulder-to-shoulder with ordinary authors. Second, the project will require that contributors be logged in under their own real names, and work according to a community charter. Third, the project will halt and actually reverse some of the 'feature creep' that has developed in Wikipedia."

UPDATE: The project is being discussed at Slashdot, with Sanger chiming in.

UPDATE: Wikipedia is a mirror, if a warped one, and whether noble or merely quixotic Sanger's project is stirring some interesting reactions. At Techcrunch, Marshall Kirkpatrick scoffs at the plan: "Does the world need a Wikipedia for stick-in-the-muds?” W.A. Gerrard, of StrayPackets, fires back: "If an attempt to craft a wiki that strives for accuracy, even via a flawed model, is considered something for 'stick-in-the-muds,' then it’s apparent that many of Wikipedia’s supporters value the dynamics of its community more than the credibility of the product they deliver."


Huh. A few days ago I argued that Hoiberg had mopped the floor with Wales, intellectually, in the WSJ interview -- but that unless Britannica really got its act together, Wikipedia, which has no other ideological commitment other than its own success, would *become* Britannica and take the day. How nice to see a third way, at just the right time in history to attack the Wikipedia brand.


Posted by: Thomas Lord at September 17, 2006 03:19 AM

Just a guess what Larry Sanger will announce in a few years. See my small cartoon.


Posted by: Oliver Widder [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 17, 2006 06:48 AM

Trying to execute the full vision, that was wikipedia, was really like trying to boil an ocean.


"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

Is better translated,

"Even the longest journey must begin where you stand."

This is like Clayton Christensen's comments, you need to focus on the circumstances that people are in, the jobs they are trying to get done. That is what disruptive innovation really means. Basically, what I tried to argue here:


This notion, that wikipedia is a replacement for real encyclopedias, that blogs are replacements for journalism, and so on. These are all about setting goals too high. The barrier is too high. The only way web concepts can work, is if they aim for a new kind of customer - a customer who wasn't in the market for encyclopedias, journalism etc before. It shouldn't be about replacing traditional structures per se.

But the whole online community has gotten carried away, with this idea of a total revolution. Which is a pity really. Janor Lanier was correct, the rise of wikipedia has in fact, been too fast.

Posted by: Brian O'Hanlon at September 17, 2006 07:02 AM

From the responses on slahdot.org I get the impression that chances aren't that bad for Larry Sanger's project. Hacker types (as well as "promising" academics in their early thirties) seem to have always hated over-eager newbies messing around with "their babies", whether it's code or a research project...

My special tip: watch out what happens to the German/French language fork... could turn into a declaration of independence

Good luck, Larry!

Posted by: ??? at September 17, 2006 03:26 PM

Finally!! a fork in the road of the Wikipedia delusion.

Wales wanted to put up "The sum of all human knowledge"? Gimme a break.

Norm Potter

Posted by: Norm Potter at September 17, 2006 07:13 PM

PS: I hear Encarta is planning to turn itself into a controlled wiki.

Posted by: Norm Potter at September 17, 2006 07:17 PM

So Nick, why are you merely reporting the facts on this story, rather than offering your own opinions as you have done so often in the past on Wikipedia? Are you afraid to hitch your wagon to Citizendium, even though it is pretty much What Nick Carr Wishes Wikipedia Would Be? Get off the fence already.

Posted by: Paul Montgomery at September 17, 2006 11:57 PM

With multiple "wikipedia's", Google will be happy there is a need for the Search middle man after all.

And what does all this mean in terms of copyright law? Can someone fork Citizendium too?

Posted by: Filip Verhaeghe at September 18, 2006 07:40 AM

By the way guys, here is another guilt edged example of how the barrier can be set too high. The idea to replace traditional education material, with some higher brow technological substitute.


It happened in newspapers too, when they went online. They tried to suppose, that newspaper readers would entirely forsake the paper version, and read everything online instead. This is not how it happens at all. Christensen observed, that companies with traditional newspapers, framed online newspapers as a threat rather than as an opportunity. As a consequence, they aim the new format at their old customers, instead of ceasing an opportunity, to aim their services at an entirely new set of customers.

It is the same with wikipedia I feel, you need to find a disruptive foothold first. An alternative set of users, not the existing set of encyclopedia users.

Posted by: Brian O'Hanlon at September 18, 2006 04:17 PM

Brian O'Hanlon wrote "The only way web concepts can work, is if they aim for a new kind of customer - a customer who wasn't in the market for encyclopedias, journalism etc before."

Who might that be? Slack jawed yokels?

Posted by: Chris_B [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 19, 2006 10:09 PM

LOL! Fair enough, see your point.

Posted by: Brian O'Hanlon at September 23, 2006 08:59 AM

"Who might that be? Slack jawed yokels?"

I'm no slack jawed yokel, but i've never brought an encyclopedia either.

Pardon the intrusion and the slightly of topic comment but the major problems with web concepts is the user focus Brian O'Hanlon is right on the money here to much focus on the Traditional users and subscribers. The other problem is in numbers every new concept aims at Google and MySpace, not every project should be an everyman project, find the social group and aim clearly at that. You do not need 112,000,000 to be a sucess get your advertising/profit and user models right and the business should be fine.

I'm looking forward to seeing the project and hope it will be a sucess, though i'm sure its model will cause a lot of disputes between differing and rival theories after all even professionals can bickker and fight like 5 year olds

Posted by: cardboardcutout [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 13, 2006 10:12 AM

Sanger did fork Wikipedia in 2006 as an pilot project, but discarded the articles in January 2007. They kept around many of the policies and guidelines. See Sanger's Essay.

Posted by: SallyF [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 18, 2007 02:18 AM

Oh, you document this yourself in your January 2007 column "Citizendium dumps Wikipedia".

Posted by: SallyF [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 18, 2007 02:20 AM

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