Wikipedia:We aren't Citizendium

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The good people at Citizendium have posted a comparison between the projects. We will here focus on the more interesting ideas, and respond to the criticism that we consider relevant and constructive.

Major differences[edit]

Expert editors[edit]

Citizendium relies on a number of expert editors who by submitting their CVs and list of publications will prove that they are experts in a given field. These editors make larger editorial judgements, have final say on content disputes, and approve stable versions. Authors are other contributors, who should work side-by-side with the experts to produce the encyclopaedia. The idea is interesting, and addresses the problem of experts being treated as equals with the ignorant. Time will tell how it works out. Potentially, two things might make it less attractive:

  • If I'm an expert editor, why not write for, e.g., the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy—what's the benefit in Citizendium?
  • If I'm a regular contributor who doesn't get a say in serious content issues, why should I bother with copy-editing?

One may hope that mutual respect will allow a fruitful co-operation between expert and amateur. The question is whether giving some editors extra privileges will discourage such co-operation.

There's an additional point, though: there are experts working on Wikipedia. See, for example, Wikipedia:Wikipedians by Erdős number and WikiProject Russian History. Admittedly, most of them don't use their real names and some of those claimed degrees may not be real; Wikipedia has no mechanism to verify them. However, many other editors on Wikipedia would fix any unfit changes, regardless of true or feigned expertise. In contrast, every editor on Citizendium must provide concrete proof of their credentials before becoming editors.

Division of power[edit]

The Citizendium power structure is that Constables and both Editors and Authors are divided: Constables only oversee behaviour and "adherence to basic policies", while Editors oversee content. In addition, Constables cannot judge on behaviour in articles where they have acted in any way as either an editor or authors. While we only have admins, these are also not allowed to exercise their admin powers on articles where they are involved in a content dispute. Furthermore, the absence of a division on Wikipedia does not necessarily mean that we concentrate more power in a single individual's hands: our admins largely correspond to Citizendium Constables only, whereas the privileges granted to Editors on Citizendium have no equivalent on Wikipedia at all.

Stable versions[edit]

The way stable versions work on Citizendium is that the expert editors approve various versions and the latest approved version is displayed to the reader. When one tries to edit the page or discuss it, one is redirected to the draft version. The implementation seems actually very nice, and there is no reason why Wikipedia could not use a similar system. We could either elect editors or use a similar process to the Featured Article process. The question of stable versions has been discussed for a long time; the German Wikipedia will be the first to try it (see German version details). Somewhat related are the projects that attempt to release Wikipedia on CD.

Citizendium does not review the quality of its articles in the same fashion as Wikipedia's Featured Article process, but has an article approval process of its own. Instead of an open discussion of an article's merits by a large group of individuals, articles may instead be approved by a single Editor who had not contributed significantly to the article; alternatively, a group of Editors may agree to approve an article together, even if one or more of them had contributed to it heavily. Any other Editor with expertise in the field may veto the approval of an article; disputes on article approval are to be handled by the relevant Workgroup.

In addition, they are compared to an alternative set of guidelines. Once an article has been approved, the current version is protected and a draft created. Only this draft may be edited until it is ready to replace the current approved version, at which point the latter is updated.

A reliable source[edit]

Many of the changes at Citizendium are attempts to correct perceived flaws in the design and public image of Wikipedia that have led to problems with Wikipedia's acceptance as a valid and trustworthy resource. A number of academics have criticized Wikipedia for its perceived failure as a reliable source. Wikipedia prides itself on being "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit," and there is no requirement that a contributor know anything about the topic before editing an article. Many Wikipedia editors do not have degrees or other credentials generally recognized in academia.[1] The use of Wikipedia is not accepted in many schools and universities in writing a formal paper. Some educational institutions have blocked Wikipedia in the past while others have limited its use to only a pointer to external sources.[2] University of Maryland professor of physics Robert L. Park characterized Wikipedia in 2007 as a target for "purveyors of pseudoscience."[3]

This perception is backed up by Wikipedia's own admission:

Wikis, including Wikipedia and other wikis sponsored by the Wikimedia Foundation are not regarded as reliable sources.[4]

Regarding Wikipedia's oft-cited problems, Sanger wrote that "this arguably dysfunctional community is extremely off-putting to … academics" and as such appears "committed to amateurism."

There is no reason why Wikipedia could not make it a goal to produce articles that are considered stable and reliable sources by everyone. But could that happen without first revolutionizing its policies?

Differences in policy[edit]

Policy decisions by representatives[edit]

On Citizendium, anyone may propose policies which are then debated and refined on their forums. If support seems evident, the policy is then voted on by representatives. Some claim that representation is a less chaotic way of forming policy, while others prefer the somewhat democratic process of consensus as a way of setting policy. On Wikipedia, the process of voting is a last resort: see Wikipedia:Voting is evil.

Citing sources[edit]

Since Citizendium uses expert Editors, they don't rely on citations to resolve content disputes or to prove the accuracy of a claim; citations are added only to help the reader. In contrast, it is a basic principle of Wikipedia that any challenged material needs to be sourced to stay, sometimes leading to citations being added just to appease other editors. This expresses a very significant difference of philosophy in editorial issues: whereas Citizendium relies on internal sources, i.e. on the personal authority and knowledge of an "elite" category of users, Wikipedia relies on external sources, provided in accordance with impersonal rules that are equal for everybody. It remains to be seen whether the Citizendium approach to these issues will prove to be more productive, motivating or appealing.

Furthermore, Wikipedians' use of citations to settle disputes is connected to the fact that Wikipedia often relies on a dynamic balance of powers to approximate optimal content: the improvement of accuracy and neutrality is achieved through the constant struggle of conflicting viewpoints. While an individual user is far from always as perfect as to endeavour to ensure neutrality above everything else, users with opposite viewpoints will tend to control each other by attacking any edit that conflicts with their views and violates policy at the same time. Thus, the system does not absolutely rely on the benevolence of individual users endowed with authority, but rather on the interaction between users that are not necessarily perfect, but operate within the bounds of a social contract of sorts.

Obviously, this pluralistic and dialectical principle is itself imperfect and produces variable results: articles are often unbalanced, because success in editorial conflicts depends on other factors than just policy. For example, representatives of a certain view may be absent, too few, with insufficient spare time, less experienced, or otherwise unable to operate as successfully as their opponents. These factors may be reduced with time through further improvement of Wikipedia's policy-enforcing mechanisms, but it is doubtful whether they can ever be eliminated completely. However, it is not at all clear that having a single author or a couple of authors for each article, as in traditional encyclopedias, results in more balanced content. And again, only time will tell whether the Citizendium approach, which also restricts the struggle of viewpoints, can lead to greater accuracy and neutrality and more productive collaboration.


Article inclusion at Citizendium is a matter of maintainability as opposed to our notability criteria. This is an interesting point: the question "can we maintain a high quality encyclopedia article on this topic" often is not considered when we decide whether to keep articles. On this issue, the German Wikipedia follows a much stricter standard.

Biographies of living persons[edit]

Citizendium has a "Policy on Topic Informants" that allows subjects of biographies greater leeway than does Wikipedia's policy on biographies of living persons.

Copyright policy?[edit]

Some Citizendium articles, e.g. astronomy, explicitly state "This article uses content that originally appeared on Wikipedia" and link to the article here. Other articles, like Jesus and Ciénaga, Magdalena, were obviously initially block-copied from Wikipedia without attribution. This is in violation of the GFDL. However, the above examples were fixed only one day after this essay was written, so we thank the good people at Citizendium for paying attention. They have a simple checkbox for editors to set and this will automatically generate the attribution and link to Wikipedia, so it's obvious they do care about giving credit to our work when it is used.[5] Both Citizendium and Wikipedia have a strict copyright policy that includes potential banning of anyone who refuses to respect the copyrights of others.

Images and fair use[edit]

Wikipedia prohibits free-content images that disallow commercial use and derivatives. Citizendium allows them but says "the freer the better". Citizendium also allows fully copyrighted images, so long as proof of permission is displayed on an image subpage. Wikipedia uses all images uploaded to the project as well as to the Wikimedia Commons. Citizendium imposes a two-pronged test—the image must be attributable to a real-named person or official entity, and the image must have clear licensing data—before they may be used within its project. Wikipedia has a well-defined and strict policy over "fair use" images. Citizendium currently has a fair use policy proposal that is in many ways much more liberal than Wikipedia's.

"Family friendly"[edit]

Citizendium says they won't have as many articles about porn stars and sexual fetishes, that those they do have will be scholarly and tactful, and that none will contain graphic photos. This raises questions of censorship because presumably "expert editors" will decide which sexual material is "acceptable".

Differences in community culture[edit]

Real names[edit]

The Citizendium idea is to have socially responsible encyclopedia where all contributors use their full names. The good thing is that they have experienced less vandalism. On Wikipedia, some of our highly respected editors use pseudonyms, while many others use their real name, see for example this list. Banning pseudonyms has certain problems as Wikipedians who edit controversial articles would be in risk of harassment or even lawsuits. Citizendium allows pseudonyms in cases when people have truly substantive reasons for one.

Respect for expertise[edit]

The alleged lack of sufficient respect or even outright hostility toward expertise on Wikipedia is a criticism that Larry has leveled against Wikipedia ever since he left. Other current and former Wikipedians have made the same criticism.

In fact, Wikipedia's core policies on attribution (Verifiability and No Original Research) are meant to ensure that its content is based on published expert sources (this includes academic publications, but also reputable media, of which the staff could be described as experts in providing reliable information). However, this is different from granting special treatment and privileges to experts as individuals, the way this is done on Citizendium. All Wikipedia users are regarded as equal in the sense that they are all expected to abide by the same policies regarding content. A contribution and an argument are ideally judged only according to their own inherent merits in terms of rationality and compliance with the policies, and not depending on who is making them.

Despite its seeming "egalitarianism", this system should in principle give an automatic advantage to a competent person, including an expert, because s/he will have better command of the existing reliable sources in his field of expertise. Indeed, it should flexibly reflect various degrees of competence instead of relying on a rigid hierarchy between users with and without credentials, as on Citizendium. However, it is undeniable that, like political democracy, this system also pre-supposes a certain amount of intelligence and rationality on the part of the majority of humans in the Wikipedian community, because it is assumed to have the intellectual capability and the good will to assess the logic of an argument or the "legality" of a contribution under a policy. In this sense, Wikipedia shares Citizendium's "elitist" objective (providing the truth as described by authoritative sources), but pursues it through "egalitarian" means (sources are authoritative, not users). Value judgements aside, one practical justification of such systems is that they tend to attract volunteers: here, anyone can "make it" (gain respect and feel useful) provided that they follow the rules and make a rational argument.

So why do many experts feel uncomfortable on Wikipedia? Probably for reasons not so different from those for which many non-experts do. On the one hand, the practice is not quite as beautiful as the theory: in particular, policies are not enforced as efficiently and consistently as they should be, with the result that persistence, plenty of spare time, superior numbers and unfair tricks gives trolls and POV pushers the edge over conscientious and competent editors.

In other cases, the reason may be individual personalities. Being forced to discuss and seek to convince on equal terms rather than rely on authority and previously achieved reputation may be frustrating. If a person tends to attach high significance to formal status, and has already achieved it in real life and become used to it, they may find the "change of climate" on Wikipedia uncomfortable and not worth the trouble.

Finally, Wikipedia has more policies than just WP:V; for example, being an expert (or, for that matter, a highly knowledgeable amateur) does not automatically make you happy about the requirements regarding Neutral Point of View, Undue Weight, or even Original Research. The assumption of good faith and intelligence in the general community may be utopian, but it is not necessarily more utopian than the assumption of good faith and intelligence in an uncontrolled elite.

Wikipedia Administrators vs. Citizendium Constables[edit]

At Wikipedia, anyone may become an administrator who garners adequate "consensus" during a vote, which is tabulated to mean "community trust". This includes fully anonymous persons and high school students. At Citizendium, constables must go through an application process to its Personnel Administrators and the Chief Constable. Qualifications include the exhibition of mature judgment, achievement of at least 25 years of age, and achievement of at least an accredited bachelor's degree. Mature judgment is proven through past community interactions (as on Wikipedia), and identity and degree status are proven by sending real-life records, i.e., a state-issued picture identification card and college transcripts.

Zero tolerance for trolls, vandals, and other problem users[edit]

Larry Sanger has also long argued that we are too tolerant of trolling and vandalism. This is indeed a difficult issue. The criticism is valid, but we also don't want to bite new editors. Wikipedia administrators encourage disruption by assuming good faith with established editors who are sometimes POV-pushers.

Avoiding acronyms[edit]

The chief constable at Citizendium says that using acronyms is a serious offense, because it creates an unfriendly in-culture. Clearly, we have to acknowledge this criticism. It's much better to use a piped link, e.g. "this article is biased", than to throw acronyms around ("this article is POV" or "this article violates NPOV"). However, in some situations piped links cannot be used (such as in IRC chats). When we are in a content dispute with experienced editors we assume the other side will know the terminology, but we shouldn't forget that outsiders may also view our discussions and feel quite intimidated.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Youngwood, Susan (April 1, 2007). "Wikipedia: What do they know; when do they know it, and when can we trust it?". Vermont Sunday Magazine. Rutland Herald. Archived from the original on 8 November 2016. Retrieved 2007-04-04. Perhaps the most important thing to understand about Wikipedia - both its genius and its Achilles heel - is that anyone can create or modify an entry. Anyone means your 10-year-old neighbor or a Nobel Prize winner - or an editor like me, who is itching to correct a grammar error in that Wikipedia entry that I just quoted. Entries can be edited by numerous people and be in constant flux. What you read now might change in five minutes. Five seconds, even.—Susan Youngwood.
  2. ^ Lysa Chen (2007-03-28). "Several colleges push to ban Wikipedia as resource". Duke Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-04-02.
  3. ^ Bob Park (2007-03-23). "Wikipedia: Has a beautiful idea fallen victim to human nature?". What's New By Bob Park. Retrieved 2007-04-02.
  4. ^ Are wikis reliable sources? From: Wikipedia:Attribution/FAQ
  5. ^ [Citizendium-l] The "Content is from Wikipedia?" checkbox

External links[edit]