Citizendium Turns One. Point Still Unclear

by on November 1, 2007 · 18 comments

Larry Sanger has an essay touting Citizendium’s accomplishments over the last year. Apparently they’ve amassed a whopping 3,200 articles over the last year, and are adding about a dozen new article per day.

He puts a brave face on this, but it’s really hard to see how this is success. Wikipedia has 2 million articles, about 500 times as many as Citizendium, and it’s growing a lot faster. I decided to check out the articles on a few topics I’m interested, and most of them didn’t exist. No articles on the Cato Insititute, libertarianism, F.A. Hayek, or even copyright. There is an article on Milton Friedman, but it’s extremely short and frankly not very good. Take the first sentence: Friedman didn’t consider himself “a leader of American Conservatism in its libertarian aspect.” He called himself a liberal. The corresponding sentence in Wikipedia is “His political philosophy, which Friedman himself considered classically liberal and consequentialist libertarian, stressed the advantages of the marketplace and the disadvantages of government intervention, strongly influencing the outlook of American conservatives and libertarians.” That’s much more accurate and informative. The Wikipedia article on Friedman is also more than twice as long as the Citizendium article.


Moreover, if Alexa is to be believed, Citizendium’s traffic numbers are even more grim. The site’s traffic has been absolutely flat over the last six months, and it’s behind Wikipedia by a factor of about 5000. And that matters for the site’s success because casual visitors are an important source of new content. Therefore, Wikipedia will continue to have a massive advantage over Citizendium in content creation.

Citizendium is a solution in search of a problem. As Clay Shirky has explained so well back when Citizendium launched:

Sanger is an incrementalist, and assumes that the current institutional framework for credentialling experts and giving them authority can largely be preserved in a process that is open and communally supported. The problem with incrementalism is that the very costs of being an institution, with the significant overhead of process, creates a U curve — it’s good to be a functioning hierarchy, and its good to be a functioning community with a core group, but most of the hybrids are less fit than either of the end points.

The philosophical issue here is one of deference. Citizendium is intended to improve on Wikipedia by adding a mechanism for deference, but Wikipedia already has a mechanism for deference — survival of edits. I recently re-wrote the conceptual recipe for a Menger Sponge, and my edits have survived, so far. The community has deferred not to me, but to my contribution, and that deference is both negative (not edited so far) and provisional (can always be edited.)

Deference, on Citizendium will be for people, not contributions, and will rely on external credentials, a priori certification, and institutional enforcement. Deference, on Wikipedia, is for contributions, not people, and relies on behavior on Wikipedia itself, post hoc examination, and peer-review. Sanger believes that Wikipedia goes too far in its disrespect of experts; what killed Nupedia and will kill Citizendium is that they won’t go far enough.

So far, I would say Sanger has failed to prove Shirky wrong. Citizendium isn’t dead yet, but its performance to date has been underwhelming, and despite his fervent prayers for an “explosion of growth,” there’s no reason to think one is in the offing.

  • http://www.citizendium.org Larry Sanger

    I’m not sure you actually read the essay you linked to, Tim. I think you missed the point by a mile: we are growing, at an accelerating rate. Alexa ranking and comparisons to Wikipedia are utterly and completely irrelevant–of course. And as anyone who knows much about the growth vectors of projects like this understands.

    Another point left out of the essay, which I just found out about, is that CZ has slightly more words (5 million) than Wikipedia had after one year. See:

    http://blog.citizendium.org/2007/11/01/our-word-count-about-the-same-as-wikipedias-after-one-year/

    As to the ridiculous notion that the Citizendium has no “point”–well, that’s so silly it needs no reply. If you don’t know what the point of the project is, you don’t know anything about the project.

  • http://www.citizendium.org Larry Sanger

    I’m not sure you actually read the essay you linked to, Tim. I think you missed the point by a mile: we are growing, at an accelerating rate. Alexa ranking and comparisons to Wikipedia are utterly and completely irrelevant–of course. And as anyone who knows much about the growth vectors of projects like this understands.

    Another point left out of the essay, which I just found out about, is that CZ has slightly more words (5 million) than Wikipedia had after one year. See:

    http://blog.citizendium.org/2007/11/01/our-word

    As to the ridiculous notion that the Citizendium has no “point”–well, that’s so silly it needs no reply. If you don’t know what the point of the project is, you don’t know anything about the project.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Larry, thanks for commenting. It’s hard to extrapolate growth rates based on a few months of data and starting from a small base. So it’s certainly possible your traffic will skyrocket in the next few months and I’ll be proven wrong. But Alexa, the only traffic metric I have access to, shows your traffic being basically flat over the last 6 months. As for the amount of content, I see that Wikipedia had 37 million words of content in January 2003. If CZ has that much content this time next year, then you’ll have something to crow about. I’ll be pretty surprised if that happens.

  • http://linuxworld.com/community/ Don Marti


    “Alexa doesn’t work because of who will install it, and perhaps more importantly, who won’t.”
    — Rob Malda, slashdot.org

    Wikipedia and Citizendium contributors are probably equally unlikely to install the Alexa spyware, I mean stats collecting application, but Wikipedia gets the benefit of millions of regular users who come to them through Google searches.

    Out of the 5 million words of Citizendium, though, how many are “forks” of Wikipedia articles?

    Barbara McClintock on Wikipedia

    Barbara McClintock on Citizendium

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Larry, thanks for commenting. It’s hard to extrapolate growth rates based on a few months of data and starting from a small base. So it’s certainly possible your traffic will skyrocket in the next few months and I’ll be proven wrong. But Alexa, the only traffic metric I have access to, shows your traffic being basically flat over the last 6 months. As for the amount of content, I see that Wikipedia had 37 million words of content in January 2003. If CZ has that much content this time next year, then you’ll have something to crow about. I’ll be pretty surprised if that happens.

  • http://linuxworld.com/community/ Don Marti


    “Alexa doesn’t work because of who will install it, and perhaps more importantly, who won’t.”
    — Rob Malda, slashdot.org

    Wikipedia and Citizendium contributors are probably equally unlikely to install the Alexa spyware, I mean stats collecting application, but Wikipedia gets the benefit of millions of regular users who come to them through Google searches.

    Out of the 5 million words of Citizendium, though, how many are “forks” of Wikipedia articles?

    Barbara McClintock on Wikipedia

    Barbara McClintock on Citizendium

  • http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/User:Stephen_Ewen Stephen Ewen

    Malda is spot-on about Alexa, and Don Marti equally on spot in his
    following point about it.

    As to how many are external articles (based on WP articles), the number
    is 658: http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Category:External_Articles

    Taking the standards of WP and applying them to CZ is not particularly
    fair.  They are different projects – obviously.  One trend
    that can be seen pretty clearly is that a lot of CZ contributors tend
    to focus on developing out particular articles rather than creating
    lots of small articles.  I’d suggest the evaluation criteria of
    CZ’s approved articles up against WP’s versions of the same articles one year out.  There’s just no
    comparison whatsoever.  To highlight one article–well, it is one
    I helped author, so I’m well acquainted with it–consider http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Butler
    and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butler

  • http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/User:Stephen_Ewen Stephen Ewen

    Malda is spot-on about Alexa, and Don Marti equally on spot in his
    following point about it.

    As to how many are external articles (based on WP articles), the number
    is 658: http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Category:External_Articles

    Taking the standards of WP and applying them to CZ is not particularly
    fair.  They are different projects – obviously.  One trend
    that can be seen pretty clearly is that a lot of CZ contributors tend
    to focus on developing out particular articles rather than creating
    lots of small articles.  I’d suggest the evaluation criteria of
    CZ’s approved articles up against WP’s versions of the same articles one year out.  There’s just no
    comparison whatsoever.  To highlight one article–well, it is one
    I helped author, so I’m well acquainted with it–consider http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Butler
    and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butler

  • http://gondwanaland.com/mlog/ Mike Linksvayer

    Citizendium’s point is quite clear to me and Shirky explains it well if unflatteringly. I’m pretty skeptical of CZ’s point, but I wouldn’t say it’s a solution in search of a problem — although Wikipedia works great, 100x better than one who had never encountered similar would intuit — it is not without problems. I doubt CZ’s approach will constitute an improvement, but it is well worth trying out, and cheap to do so. Even total failures provide useful lessons, and I doubt CZ will be an utter failure, except when held up against Wikipedia.

    Another public source of website ranking and traffic data: http://siteanalytics.compete.com/wikipedia.org+citizendium.org/?metric=uv

  • http://gondwanaland.com/mlog/ Mike Linksvayer

    Citizendium’s point is quite clear to me and Shirky explains it well if unflatteringly. I’m pretty skeptical of CZ’s point, but I wouldn’t say it’s a solution in search of a problem — although Wikipedia works great, 100x better than one who had never encountered similar would intuit — it is not without problems. I doubt CZ’s approach will constitute an improvement, but it is well worth trying out, and cheap to do so. Even total failures provide useful lessons, and I doubt CZ will be an utter failure, except when held up against Wikipedia.

    Another public source of website ranking and traffic data: http://siteanalytics.compete.com/wikipedia.org+citizendium.org/?metric=uv

  • P G Palmer

    Methinks you protest a little too much. I expect Citizendium will grow much more slowly than Wikipedia, but eventually, it will have higher quality across the board.

    And from a personal standpoint, I’m putting all my effort on Citizendium from now on, and none on Wikipedia, because it’s simply more satisfying.
    It’s amazing how much better people behave when they are not acting anonymously. That, and mainly that, in my view, is the difference in Wikipedia and Citizendium.

  • P G Palmer

    Methinks you protest a little too much. I expect Citizendium will grow much more slowly than Wikipedia, but eventually, it will have higher quality across the board.

    And from a personal standpoint, I’m putting all my effort on Citizendium from now on, and none on Wikipedia, because it’s simply more satisfying.
    It’s amazing how much better people behave when they are not acting anonymously. That, and mainly that, in my view, is the difference in Wikipedia and Citizendium.

  • Elijah

    Sanger has always had enough free time to comment on the scarce Citizendium-related stories that appear on blogs and (more scarcely) news sources. Citizendium is flawed as a commons-based peer production model, in that it presents too significant a barrier to use. This was obvious a year ago and continues to play itself out.

    If they’re smart, they’ll lighten the anti-Wikipedia tone and try to become something more like an expert colony of Wikipedia, constantly feeding their assumably improved contributions back to the big W. As long as Sanger and the Citizendium crew have a chip on their collective shoulder, though, this is pretty much impossible.

  • Elijah

    Sanger has always had enough free time to comment on the scarce Citizendium-related stories that appear on blogs and (more scarcely) news sources. Citizendium is flawed as a commons-based peer production model, in that it presents too significant a barrier to use. This was obvious a year ago and continues to play itself out.

    If they’re smart, they’ll lighten the anti-Wikipedia tone and try to become something more like an expert colony of Wikipedia, constantly feeding their assumably improved contributions back to the big W. As long as Sanger and the Citizendium crew have a chip on their collective shoulder, though, this is pretty much impossible.

  • Jer

    More than a year later after your post, I think that Larry's predictions regarding an explosion of growth were cleary wrong. Right now, Citizendium has a mere 8900 articles and only 80 of those are approved.

    I think it's prettty clear that Citizendium is a failure. Despite their claims, they don't have enough experts working there (only 3 or 4) and the ones that they had left the project, in some cases due to Larry's leadership style.

    The failures of Citizendium can be explained by the harsh rules and rigid procedures they adopted, which I think are not attractive to people (they ban people who use acronyms, if you don't believe me follow this link http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/CZ:Introduction_…).

  • Jer

    More than a year later after your post, I think that Larry's predictions regarding an explosion of growth were cleary wrong. Right now, Citizendium has a mere 8900 articles and only 80 of those are approved.

    I think it's prettty clear that Citizendium is a failure. Despite their claims, they don't have enough experts working there (only 3 or 4) and the ones that they had left the project, in some cases due to Larry's leadership style.

    The failures of Citizendium can be explained by the harsh rules and rigid procedures they adopted, which I think are not attractive to people (they ban people who use acronyms, if you don't believe me follow this link http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/CZ:Introduction_…).

  • HAHA

    Citizendum is still less popular than wikepedia by far I mean nobody in my ////c/ountry even knows it exists AFTER 2 years

  • HAHA

    Citizendum is still less popular than wikepedia by far I mean nobody in my ////c/ountry even knows it exists AFTER 2 years

Previous post:

Next post: