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Citizendium One Month Later

Citizendium, the Wikipedia fork (sort of) that aims to be a more credible alternative to Wikipedia, was launched into public beta on March 25th, which makes it nearly one month old. So how does it stack up to its progenitor?

First some background. Citizendium was founded by Larry Sanger, a 38-year-old who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Ohio State University that some say was a co-founder of Wikipedia (though that’s disputed, according to Sanger’s own Wikipedia page). The idea behind Citizendium is to improve on the wiki-model by adding what they call “gentle expert oversight” — which more or less means that qualified users approve articles before they are officially added to the encyclopedia. Further, contributors are required to use their real names, which Sanger hopes will encourage civility and stem the flame wars and ad homenim attacks that plague Wikipedia talk pages on contentious articles.

“It has bothered me that I helped to get a project started, Wikipedia, that people are misusing in this way, and yet the project itself has little chance of radically improving,” Sanger told theAssociated Press when the site launched. Citizendium outlined the lofty goal of unseating “Wikipedia as the go-to destination for general information online” in an October 2006 press release.

Running the Numbers

Citizendium was initially meant to be a true fork of Wikipedia, meaning that the articles would be seeded using Wikipedia content and edited and reworked where necessary over time. But on January 18, 2007, while the site was still in private development, Sanger made the decision to keep only articles that were original or had been heavily edited from their Wikipedia counterparts. This drastically cut down the number of articles on the site, but ensured that visitors would not be viewing duplicate Wikipedia content.

Citizendium marks files in three ways: CZ Live (articles being written), Approved (articles that have been given the stamp of approval by experts), and a separate draft status for previously approved articles that are being edited. Citizendium currently has 13 approved articles, and 1625 being written (by my quick count). Though obviously an unfair comparison to 6-year old Wikipedia, they trail the wiki encyclopedia giant by about 1.5 million articles.

Can Citizendium match Wikipedia’s growth rate?

A more fair comparison would be to look at Wikipedia’s early statistics. In its first month, Wikipedia had about 15 articles and 10 users. By the second month, 140 entries, and by the fifth month, 2,300 articles at a rate of 16 new entries per day. By June 2001, Wikipieda also had 110 users. It is probably important to note when making these comparisons that while Citizendium was opened to the public just a month ago, people have been working on the site since November 2006, and had about 900 authors and 200 editors at launch.

“I didn’t see the kind of excitement I saw in the early days of Wikipedia,” Sanger admitted to the AP. “You get excited about something if you’ve taken responsibility for it, if you’ve created it yourself. By conceiving of ourselves as a big mop-up organization for Wikipedia, we essentially lock ourselves into being a version of Wikipedia. … In order to have a robust, distinct identity, it’s important, I think, that we start over.” This was part of the reason that Sanger made the decision for Citizendium not to be a true fork of Wikipedia.

Comparing Content

It’s hard to compare Citizendium’s content to Wikipedia’s because there just isn’t very much of it. The 13 approved articles are generally more fleshed out than their Wikipedia counterparts, but not necessarily more accurate. In many ways, the Wikipedia articles read like an abridged version of the more extensive Citizendium entries.

But in at least one case, I actually preferred the Wikipedia entry to the approved Citizendium one. For the article on dogs, Wikipedia’s entry begins, “The dog (Canis lupus familiaris) is a domestic subspecies of the wolf, a mammal of the Canidae family of the order Carnivora. The term encompasses both feral and pet variants. It is also sometimes used to describe wild canids of other subspecies or species.” The Citizendium entry, meanwhile, starts off, “Domesticated from selected wolves thousands of years ago, the dog is often called ‘man’s best friend’. Throughout the world today, dogs are found associated with humans, although certainly not always as a part of the household!”

In this case, the conversational tone of the Citizendium entry seems out of place for an encyclopedia. Further, and I don’t profess to be an expert on canine evolution, I caught a PBS documentary a few weeks ago that said some scientists dispute the theory that humans actively domesticated wolves. Wikipedia’s entry makes mention of this, while Citizendium’s approved article does not.

The ‘CZ Live’ articles are mostly woefully inadequate. Wikipedia trumps them in almost every case, so comparing them isn’t really worthwhile. For amusement’s sake, though, compare Citizendium’s article on itself to the Wikipedia entry on the site.


Really, the verdict is still out on Citizendium. It is far to early to see how it will stack up against Wikipedia. However, because Wikipedia has such a strong network effect, and such a widely recognized brand, it will be hard to get people excited about Citizendium. Unless something strange happens to drive people away from Wikipedia, I’m not placing any bets on Citizendium. But that’s not to say I want it to fail. It is certainly an intriguing idea that could very well yield a more reliable body of work.

However, and both Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) and Larry Sanger agree on this, neither Citizendium nor Wikipedia should be used as primary sources for serious academic research.

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