Citizendium struggles to reach critical mass

I’ve been keeping my eye on Citizendium, watching as the edit rate dwindles and the policy discussion about licensing stagnates. I hoped that Citizendium would help establish the legitimacy of experts contributing to the work of open content, and that it develop a mutually beneficial relationship with Wikipedia.

Unfortunately, it seems like Citizendium has missed its chance, and is slowly fading out. I’ve drafted an article for the Wikipedia Signpost, analyzing Citizendium’s current status and comparing the 31 Approved articles they’ve produced to the corresponding Wikipedia content. Any comments and criticisms to help me improve it before I head off to visit my families across the country (beginning this Saturday) would be greatly appreciated.

13 thoughts on “Citizendium struggles to reach critical mass”

  1. Thought your blog post and the proposed Signpost article were both interesting. It is interesting to observe how dynamic all this web 2.0 stuff is.

    Thought you might also be interested in this link to our article on Larry Sanger’s review of Andrew Keen’s book on web 2.0 technology.

    Thanks for your post and the well-written draft article for Signpost.
    – Ian Johnson, Out Now.

  2. “Citizendium struggling after eight months”

    “the site’s public opening in March 2007”

    It’s only been publicly available 4 months and you’re already shooting it down.

    You don’t even link to the Citizendium site. That shows you don’t want people going there.

    You don’t link to the Wikipedia versions of the articles (some which show histories of repeated vandalism).

    You say that a managing editor leaving is a ‘troubling precedent’ though Wikipedia admins leave all the time, and one the top admins, Essjay, was recently revealed to be completely lying about his qualifications and background.

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda :
    “The aim of propagandism is to influence people’s opinions or behaviors actively, rather than merely to communicate the facts about something. For example, propaganda might be used to gather either support or disapproval of a certain position, rather than to simply present the position, or to try to convince people to buy something, rather than to simply let them know there is some thing on the market.”

  3. d,

    I’ve revised the article to reflect less of my opinion. The article does link to many of the Wikipedia articles.

    As for the bit about Sculerati’s leaving, the troubling precedent is the deletion of the userpage. This is because, unlike Wikipedia, Citizendium explicitly relies on the authority of its editors. So even if editors leave, their bios should remain available. If it is common practice delete the bios of departed users, that makes it tough to follow up on where info is coming from.

    But I admit, from my own perspective (and with respect to this blog rather than the article), I have just about given up on Citizendium as a potential major contributor to the world of open content.

    See http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/CZ:Statistics

    The the influx of new users is falling rapidly. For Citizendium to reach a scale of content production to make it a meaningful Wikipedia competitor (which I would have welcomed), we would need to be seeing the opposite trend. I think Citizendium has missed whatever window of opportunity it might have had, and will have very little chance of talking off with the kind of exponential growth it would need.

    And unless Citizendium adopts the GFDL for its original content, most of the hard work that experts have put into their CZ articles will never be widely read. So at this point, I don’t want to see more experts put in work to what is essentially a lost cause, when they could be contributing to Wikipedia or working on traditional publications (either of which will have considerably more permanence).

  4. (Re-posting with fixed typos)

    Sage, you mentioned things about the tone of your piece.

    There is another tone you are setting that you might not be aware of that has caused me significant concern as a Citizendium contributor–and I think Wikipedians should be equally concerned about it.

    Because your piece is working to set a very poor tone in a relationship. It is a tone that is beneficial to neither project.

    Your piece seems to assume:

    1) WP will never borrow (or has not yet borrowed) from CZ.
    2) There has not been a good faith effort by CZ to attribute when it is so.
    3) It is both desirable and possible and to monitor the attribution situation perfectly.
    4) Wikipedians will be perfect in the issue–will never, and right now do not have, material from CZ that is attributed as such.
    5) All material in Wikipedia articles really is the original work of Wikipedians.
    6) De minimus borrowing without attribution is a huge deal and is to be exploited.
    7) When attribution problems are discovered, don’t [[WP:AGF]] http://tinyurl.com/225ft5 and don’t give the professional courtesy of informing the party as the first step. Instead, exploit and publish attribution problems.

    I had hoped a different tone would be set, one that accounts for [[WP:NOT#BATTLEGROUND]] http://tinyurl.com/2b9cj5 and that realistically assumes several things:

    1) Both CZ and WP will borrow from one another’s works.
    2) There will generally be a good faith effort by their contributors to attribute when it is so.
    3) It is neither desirable nor possible for either CZ or WP to monitor the attribution situation perfectly.
    4) Both CZ and WP, even with monitoring, will never be perfect on the attribution issue.
    5) When an attribution problem in an article becomes known, to be kind enough to communicate to one another directly about it, and to be thankful and responsive to one another in the matter, knowing that points 1 through 4 above are so.
    6) To not worry too much about de minimus borrowing, if it is found unattributed.

    I hope you will do your part to set that sort of tone, not the one currently in your piece. You have my assurance that, for my part, I will.

  5. I’m surprised to see these criticisms coming from you, Stephen, as you’ve been probably the strongest advocate of Citizendium adopting a license that prevents use by Wikipedia, in the forum discussions.

    If Citizendium was universally GFDL-licensed or dual licensed for original content, I wouldn’t care much about the attribution issue.

    At this point, it looks to me like Citizendium isn’t going to reach critical mass. That’s not the outcome I would have liked to see, but unless something changes drastically in terms of recruiting, I don’t see how to avoid that conclusion. So I’d like to see as much as possible of the worthwhile work put in by CZ writers make its way onto WP, where it will find an audience.

    If anything, this article will bring some much-needed attention to Citizendium, and get some Wikipedians interested in finding ways to incorporate the positive changes on forked article back into the WP versions. I have not seen any CZ-to-WP content movement (though there may have been some I’m not aware of.) This article will point out the fact that some Citizendium content is worth looking into for possible import (at least on the WP-derived articles).

    Obviously, compliance will not be perfect, and no one is going to sue each other over this, but the attitude on Citizendium seems to be that getting rid of WP prose is a good goal in and of itself, just so the Wikipedia attribution can be removed.

    I’ve tried to write an evenhanded article, and if you have specific suggestions about how to improve the tone, I’d be glad to hear them and try to address them.

  6. The Alexa daily reach chart is interesting too. You can see media events right there.

    It would be bad for Citizendium to lose interest. What can be done to lure people to it?

    (I have a login but I think I’ve made two edits … I barely edit Wikipedia of late. I talk about it a lot to others, though. *cough*)

  7. And BTW, I can’t say that removing Wikipedia prose from Citizendium articles is a bad idea, in that it would free them from the GFDL – which is a horrible licence for a wiki, it’s just (as I understand it) there wasn’t a better one when Nupedia started. (Wikipedia was GFDL because Nupedia was, although the first CC licences were out by then.)

  8. Since your substantive point is the decline in the edit rate, you need a graph. Include comparisons for other wikis.

  9. Sage, beyond David Gerard’s obviously spot-on point about the GFDL, your own screed is a very fine addition to the substantial corpus of why CZ should choose a different open-content license for its original materials. See http://tinyurl.com/3ce9wk

  10. In response to the comments in quotes:
    “Friday, July 20, 2007

    Citizendium struggles to reach critical mass
    I’ve been keeping my eye on Citizendium, watching as the edit rate dwindles and the policy discussion about licensing stagnates. I hoped that Citizendium would help establish the legitimacy of experts contributing to the work of open content, and that it develop a mutually beneficial relationship with Wikipedia.

    Unfortunately, it seems like Citizendium has missed its chance, and is slowly fading out.”

    The language here is in and of itself designed to cast a negative light on asserted facts or opinions and does not, in my opinion, reflect a considered approach to the process and administration of the Citizendium. There is no point painting the subject in a negative hue if the objective is to present an objective approach.

    Critical Mass–What is critical mass for a project like this? Is the metaphor even valid?

    Stagnating discussion–what constitutes a stagnant discussion? There are a lot of people talking to each other in various forums and I do not see that the Blog Author is involved in those discussions or has access to them. The metaphor is simply inaccurate.

    Edit rates for a project like CZ–What is a healthy rate? What effect would sessional or seasonal demands have on input that is clearly delineated on the CZ? The greater the number of serious academics involved would mean that their own schedules are more demanding at various times of the year–this will drop the rate of editing. The better the quality of authoring and editing will also reduce the amount of editing. The use of discussion before making editorial changes is much more pronounced in CZ than in WP where vast changes may completely alter entire articles overnigh: Editing on CZ is judged by quality and mere quantity. The greatly decreased amount of vandalism, given the barriers to vandals CZ has put in place, will also decrease the needed amount of editing. There are a host of reasons why the editing rate at CZ will be much lower than WP. Good and constructive reasons.

    As for a mutually beneficial relationship with WP, it is important to understand that many CZ authors would not be part of the WP given its lack of quality control and its open-door policy leaving it vulnerable to absolutely anyone who has no desire to provide constructive input. The comparison between WP and CZ is like comparing a horde of pastoral marauders to a well fortified city. They are very different cultures in many ways.

    Thomas Simmons

  11. (Fixed typos)

    I see Tom’s underlying point of contrasting WP and CZ through use of the rhetorical devise of referencing two polar opposites, “a horde of pastoral marauders” and “a well fortified city”, but let me suggest an accurately down-to-earth comparison.

    WP is a like a large area of land, the control of which is subject to tribal, warring factions, who perpetrate various abuses upon various of the inhabitants of the land.

    CZ is like a modern democratic polity, and what that traditionally implies. It’s landmass is small now but can become massive because immigrants are invited and promised a better future.

  12. Thomas, in the article I do not compare Citizendium’s edit rate to Wikipedia’s (which would indeed be a very unfair comparison, if only because of the different ages of the projects and the volume of vandalism/reversion on Wikipedia). Citizendium’s level of activity has dropped considerably in each month since public launch, with no appreciable uptick with the end of most college class in May/June. That comes from Citizendium’s statistics page. From my own, admittedly imprecise observations, edit rates are falling a little bit more into July.

    Critical mass is subject to interpretation, but I would define critical mass as a community active enough to attract new users at a faster rate than established users fade out. It needn’t be exponential growth, but some sort of sustained growth in activity will be necessary if Citizendium is going to produce an appreciable amount of content. And reasonable breadth of content will be necessary to attract attention from readers. At the current rate of article creation (which has not risen over the last several months), it will take about 15 years to reach 65,000 articles (the size of Britannica).

    I think many Citizendium editors would agree that the project has not yet reached critical mass. As for “struggling”, that’s my interpretation, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch.

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