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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Wikipedia’s Co-Founder (Video)

German video blog Elektrischer Reporter interviewed Larry Sanger [WMV], the co-founder of Wikipedia, who after parting with the project is now one of its critics... launching a competitive, progressive fork called Citizendium* (with one of the differences being that you need to sign in using your real name and that it’s all made a bit easier for experts).

Elektrischer Reporter and this video by Handelsblatt and Mario Sixtus are published under a Creative Commons license.

*I think it’s bad to see the energy of creating an all-encompassing encyclopedia being split into separate streams (a reason why I never bothered to set up a Google-related Wiki here – already covers Google), and at the same time, I think it’s great that Wikipedia gets competition... monopolies have a tendency to turn inefficient.

Update – Roger Browne comments:

Unlike Jimmy, Larry never really “got” the essence of why Wikipedia works as well as it does.

In this video, he understates the failure of Nupedia. In over three years, only 24 articles were ever approved. There are only a small number of PhDs who have time to donate to a project such as Nupedia.

Larry Sanger rejected my own application to work on Nupedia, because I don’t have a PhD. However, I was planning to write about a few small areas in which I have specialist knowledge – and I know my limitations and won’t go beyond them. It doesn’t need a PhD for that. Multiply that by a hundred thousand other potential authors who don’t have PhDs and you are losing a lot of talent.

Give Larry a chance to have a position like “Senior Editor for Policy and Governance” (as he does at Encyclopedia of Earth) and he’s in his element. Allow him to require everyone to be forced to use an “expert taxonomy” and he’ll be satisfied. There’s nothing wrong with that of course – but it won’t lead to a prospering encyclopedia produced by a thriving community.

It’s the “cathedral versus the bazaar” all over again. If you want user-generated-content, the cathedral model doesn’t work very well. It didn’t work for Nupedia, it hasn’t really worked for Encylcopedia of Earth, and it won’t work for Citizendium.

There’s one difference with Citizendium. It’s starting with Wikipedia content! So for a while it will look like there is a lot of substance behind it. But, over time, it will inevitably lag behind Wikipedia. The process behind Citizendium just introduces too much friction.

Wikipedia is written by a bunch of people, many of whom are idiots. But, on the average, each contribution is more likely to slightly increase the overall quality of Wikipedia than to decrease that quality. Multiply that tiny improvement by billions of edits and Wikipedia is the emergent result. Citizendium, by being elitist, just doesn’t have enough talent to tap. The web doesn’t work that way.


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