Should Wikimedia Foundation host Citizendium?


The 2006 media coverage about Citizendium, the planned "academic" Wikipedia competitor and replacement has, like the site, faded from most people's memories. Largely because Citizendium uses an academic model of producing knowledge (credentialism, bureaucracy, etc.), it never gained the momentum Wikipedia did. While Citizendium has grown by about 5 or 6 thousand English articles annually (2007 - 2010), its growth has been linear compared to Wikipedia's enormous growth during the same time frame (over 400,000 more articles 2002 - 2005). Now that Larry Sanger has left the project as planned following the charter ratification, its new leadership has announced that Citizendium has "an urgent need for funds to pay for hosting our servers." There's been a discussion among Wikipedians this month over whether Wikimedia Foundation should throw the project a lifeline, especially after Sanger reported Wikimedia Foundation to the FBI for allegedly disseminating "obscene visual representations of the abuse of children." Opinion seems to be running toward helping out CZ, kind of like Mark Zuckerberg donating some cash for Diaspora. Do you consult Citizendium, and/or do you think it's worth saving?


  1. I’m a regular Wikipedia editor and I support Citizendium in principle. As successful as Wikipedia is, its core problem is credibility. On the one hand, it is the first hit on google for most topics, so it does represent in a way the sum of human knowledge (sort of, at least in the English-speaking world). What’s great about Wikipedia is also its fatal flaw, the ideal that anyone can edit it. If you’ve ever tuned in on discussions and/or edit wars, you can see how that plays out.

    Could Citizendium be absorbed into Wikipedia? First, get rid of that awful, cumbersome name. Perhaps what has been achieved in Citizendium can be added to by the best of Wikipedia, so that not only is there the vast Wikipedia pool of info, but something that is more scholarly that can be useful in academia and elsewhere. Wikipedia’s credibility and reliability will always be an issue. Citizendium’s hierarchical structure limit its growth. Combine the two into something new.

  2. I feel that everything does better if it has a competitor. In this case CZ isn’t much of one, but if allowed to continue and grow could keep Wikipedia on it’s toes with a quantity vs. quality form of competition.

  3. Umm… am I the only person who’s questioning why this graph is using two different time frames as a comparison point? This is a horribly, horribly executed graph.

    1. They didn’t start at the same time. The graph compares Wikipedia’s first four years against Citizendium’s first four years.

    2. @rhamantus: The graph, as indicated by the X axis, shows years 1 through 4 for each project. Based on actuals, English Wikipedia will have about 3,500,000 articles at the end of its 9th year. For the same period, English Citizendium will have about 45,000 using past growth as an estimate, or about 1.3% the size of Wikipedia. I made a quickie graph with the CZ growth estimate compared to WP.

    3. I totally agree about the graph being weird, I looked at the comments to see if there was any other feedback about it. When I saw it, I understood fairly quickly that it’s comparing the first four years of each, in my experience this sort of graph implies that the same four years are being compared.

  4. Andrea are you suggesting that Wikipedia has no bureaucracy? I would say it has tons of bureaucracy: rules, rules to make rules, different levels of locked articles, different levels of trusted editors, and probably some things I am not aware of.

  5. We should certainly question the portrayal of the data and how it is to be interpreted, but the point lies elsewhere, namely whether an academic resource like this is valuable. I think it is.

    I’m a PhD student and am astounded by the wealth of data (read: academic research studies) at my fingertips. It’s a vast and important resource, and an expensive one, paid for by the quite wealthy institution where I study.

    The problem is that this great data is a restricted resource, tightly embedded in the publish-or-perish academic environment. Access is limited to those who can pay. This funds the bureaucracy mentioned above in the comments. While I’m also opposed to over-management of data, a good deal of that cost goes towards expert critique of the submissions and editorial help so authors can hone their articles to be as good as they can be.

    But I do believe the academic community should get behind this resource and donate some time, or convince their publishers to allow a CC reprint on Citizendium. There should be a reliable open-source wiki for academic articles, but the current system (publish or perish) doesn’t support those forms of publication. It would be great if respected journals could allow some CC licensing to research so that it can be posted for all to see, and benefit from.

    The project should be funded, but we should keep in mind that such a resource, however useful, won’t have the popularity or scope that the Wikipedia juggernaut enjoys. Popularity doesn’t always equate with usefulness.

  6. Popularity equates with popularity.

    publish or perish doesn`t necessarily work on-line.

    Apples doesn`t compare to oranges.

    I thought I`d more to say on this, but whenever the issue of academia rolls around, I`m always brought to feeling how desperate it (they?) is in the face of a profound shift in modern culture.

    I don`t think it serves wikipedia`s best interest to fund and support an academic site like this. Citizendium has it`s merits, but not as a quick reference like wiki.

    Academia has survived as an ivory tower because they were the only game in town.

    Now google rules.

    1. Academia was never the only game in town. The general public never turned to academia, thus the ivory tower. The Wikipedia (and google) of old would be, well, an encyclopedia. General, tertiary knowledge. And that’s all Wikipedia claims to be.

      What the internet has done, actually, is to open up academia (somewhat). The most common complaint of academics is publish-or-perish and in the old days that meant working for months or years on an article that no one will ever read or have access to. Now, with electronic publishing, you have access to incredible and usually free peer-reviewed resources. Being published in an academic journal now means your work may actually be read.

  7. I do not consult it currently, but would definitely like to have information of this formula added to Wikipedia. It’s a challenge they could handle, I think.

  8. I’d love to see Citizendium, which I reference rarely, folded into Wikipedia so I could see an authoritative academic citation friendly version of an article or an up to the minute crowd sourced one and easily switch back depending on my needs at that moment.

  9. Never heard of Citizendium, actually. Must have missed any hype when it was started, but I’m sure I’ve never even heard mention of it before today…

  10. “Credentialism” still counts. Wikipedia could acquire Citizendium, or else create ways to establish surety in their own works. Wikipedia’s biggest foe is also its greatest asset, cloud input, or at least the perceived weaknesses thereof.

    Perhaps a cheaper method would be to use a professional peer review system to OK/greenlight Wikipedia articles, lifting them to a created “confirmed” tier.

  11. Borg, integrate or compete. I see this like the quotations site. Wikipedia could have a ‘papers’ portal that provides this functionality. I there isn’t a positive value in having duplicates / competing efforts.

  12. @hpavc: There *is* a value in having competing efforts: both sides are motivated to create a better product, or, in this case, a better encyclopedia. If there’s only one game in town, the players don’t really need to lift their game to attract an audience… —Thomas Larsen.

  13. @freshacconci, Andrea James, and AmyTee: Thanks for the clarification. That indeed makes more sense, but it wasn’t very clearly stated on the graph or in the explanation of the text.

  14. Just went to citizendium for the first time; random page was ‘smog’:

    it’s abundantly clear that citizendium started as an exact copy of the wikipedia article, to the point of including the same pictures. In fact, I immediately wonder if citizendium isn’t just plagiarism, but illegal plagiarism.

    The wiki article seemed to be more thoroughly edited; the citizendium layout was more dense and harder to read; the only improvement was that citizendium’s references were more extensively annotated.

    So, no. Based even on a sample of one, it is clear that citizendium is offering nothing original or valuable. Let it die.

    1. “The text of Wikipedia is copyrighted (automatically, under the Berne Convention) by Wikipedia editors and contributors and is formally licensed to the public under one or several liberal licenses.”

      So….a few sentences then citation, else illegal by copyright, what did i get wrong?

      1. Wikipedia is copyrighted under a Creative Commons ShareAlike license:

        Basically, it’s free to: “Share—to copy, distribute and transmit the work, and to Remix—to adapt the work” as long as you use the same license for any new work.

        Many of Citizendium’s articles began as Wikipedia articles and were copied word-for-word, completely legally. Some have been changed, others have not.

  15. I agree teufelsdroch. Citizendium are a bunch of try-hards. Their forum and talk pages have more original content and activity than the articles!

  16. I don’t know about ‘bureaucracy’ on Citizendium; seems to me that there are far more rules and regulations on Wikipedia. It’s an alphabet soup over there. Say anything at all and someone quotes WP:XYZ, WP:123, WP:FCVCFG and so on.

    Citizendium may look bureaucratic simply because they are laying down a full set of formal rules for the first time. Yes, their ‘Charter’ has 50+ articles, but most of them are things that are not going to trouble anyone (e.g. saying the language is English).

    And no way is that graph fair since it doesn’t compare the same years. It also ignores the fact that *no* wiki has overtaken Wikipedia in the same time. That suggests that the reason lies in Wikipedia’s open model (anyone can edit and create pages immediately) rather than anything specific to do with Citizendium’s procedures and so-called “credentialism”.

    1. The graph can’t compare the same years: Citizendium has not been around as long. The point of the graph is to show the growth for the first four years of each.

  17. Yes but it should remain semi-independent.
    As a contributor, I have not been able to dig up my login to
    bloviate with my advanced degrees supporting the deep and wide dispersal of droplets of insight.

    It is a good idea and it should not have the volume of the Wikipedia; but it should have better authority. People are getting too much mis information from the Wikipedia; no matter how well policed it is. And I update errors there regularly and with impunity.


    Dr. K (i can’t recover my password here to make my posting even more impressive as my credentials as a member here would indicate)

  18. Anon, in reply to teufelsdroch

    I just checked the CZ and WP articles on “smog”. Are you high or something? The only obvious taken from WP is a trivial sentence about the origin of the word. The scientific content of the CZ article is extensive and bears no relation to the WP stuff. So, is this anti-CZ propaganda going on? Beats me…

  19. How about citizendium becomes a “clearinghouse” and archive for refereed wikipedia articles. Then everyone could finally agree that it’s OK to use the refereed wiki articles as citations.

  20. Wow well let’s just start with the first sentence:


    Modern smog is derived primarily from precursor chemical pollutants, emitted to the atmosphere from vehicular internal combustion engines and industrial plants, that react in the atmosphere with sunlight to produce secondary chemical pollutants that also combine with the precursor emissions to form the components of what is called photochemical smog.


    Modern smog is a type of air pollution derived from vehicular emission from internal combustion engines and industrial fumes that react in the atmosphere with sunlight to form secondary pollutants that also combine with the primary emissions to form photochemical smog

    I could go on, but…really? You’re trying to tell me that’s new content? Looks to me like the citi article just put in a whole bunch of weak-kneed qualifiers.

    1. I don’t understand what your point is. Nobody here is claiming Citizendium is a great resource. I think most of us support it in theory simply because of Wikipedia’s built-in flaws. So Citizendium has a flawed entry on smog. It’s copied from Wikipedia, which is legal and which Citizendium encourages. The article also clearly has a disclaimer, at the very top, which states clearly that it is a draft and should not be cited.

  21. ……It is very intresting to me that there curretnly is no comptetion for Wikipedia…It seems that Wikipedia is the excepted way that encyclopeidc information is created and “distrubuted”….I m not so sure that a crowd sourced digal copy of an old media encyclopedia is the best fit for flowing elecrontic media of the internet……
    …..I dont think that Wikipedia begin a non profit should give them a “free” pass ….
    For ME Wikipedia and Citizendium are both dinosauers…..

  22. Wikipedia should be falling over itself to accomodate something like this. Sure Wikipedia has a hockey stick growth curve, that’s because every a-hole is figuring out that they can just fix what is wrong with an article. That comes with a heaping spoonful of every a-hole’s bias. WP needs more and more of its pages to become locked, or at least stabilized by more intensely reviewed and debated comment. Incorporating academic-quality articles would help a lot.

Comments are closed.