[Citizendium-editors] The 10, 000 article barrier and its significance

Larry Sanger sanger-lists at citizendium.org
Sat Feb 21 21:40:54 EST 2009

Dear all,

What great news, eh?  So, the Citizendium <http://www.citizendium.org/> has
recently broken the 10,000 article barrier.  I'm gratified that we achieved
this milestone before the second anniversary of our public launch (the press
release was March 27, 2007).  Thanks to everyone for your work over the last
two years.

What does this mean?  Let me give my opinion just here on the list for now.
I might say something similar in a press release to coincide with our second
anniversary (see below).

This is a psychologically important milestone.  It's only 1,000 more than
9,000, but it *sounds* like a lot more.  It must be the extra zero!

In any event, it is a substantial number.  In two years, with pretty minimal
expenses, our open, bottom-up community of authors and editors has written
and released, for free use and reuse, a quarter the number of articles in
Microsoft Encarta
(<http://encarta.msn.com/artcenter_0/Encyclopedia_Articles.html>), and a
fifth the number in the Columbia Encyclopedia.  More to the point, CZ is
actually approaching the point where it can be consulted as a general
reference resource, i.e., if you have a very general knowledge question,
you'll be able to find the answer.

I want to make a little declaration: it is now impossible to dismiss CZ,
with any credibility, as a failed experiment.  Since I'm sure some naysayers
and skeptics are on these lists, let me argue this point.  The project has
been growing steadily since its inception, and the community is now quite
active, with new people joining (actively) all the time, I'm happy to
observe.  Citizendium is, in fact, one of the largest, most active, and most
prominent wikis to appear in the last two years.  Give us more time, and
we'll be one of the biggest and best.

And we have achieved this in spite of what have turned out to be some huge
disadvantages.  Consider--

First, we have had to compete directly with Wikipedia for contributors and
users.  This is huge.  And then there was Conservapedia.  And Knol.  The
fact that we produced so well even through the initial ordeal is really
saying something.

Second, it has also become clear that, sadly, a lot of people in the Web 2.0
world want us to fail.  Our success would mean they'd have to rethink a lot
of what are now cherished dogmas about what Web 2.0 means and how people
should be organized online.  Therefore, we have had few of Wikipedia's
substantial early advantages in terms of support from the open source
community, Richard Stallman, largely uncritical cheering from the tech press
(and the New York Times), and so forth.

Third, it has also become clear that, while our success is entirely owing to
many early adopters (thanks to you all), most potential contributors have
taken a "wait and see" attitude.  I think they have been skeptical--perhaps
understandably so--that we could survive in the face of competition from
Wikipedia.  They have also been skeptical that an open public-expert hybrid
wiki could actually work as billed.  It is, after all, completely
unprecedented.  But the regulars all know that it does work pretty well, and
in important ways it works a lot better than what is now affectionately
known as The Other Place.  I expect growing numbers of these people to come
try us out in the coming years, and growing numbers to stay a good while.

A final disadvantage, I must humbly admit, is that in the last year I have
been spending a lot of time on other things.  This has proven to be at CZ's
expense, and for this I have to apologize and ask your understanding and
forgiveness.  My livelihood and the financial survival of CZ has depended on
my developing a brand-new project, managing the development of brand-new
software for an educational video project, WatchKnow.org.  (While the
website quietly opened to beta testing last fall, we're now busily rewriting
the software, and the version that launches is going to be a heck of a lot
better than what you see on the website now.  We will be launching, I hope,
late spring/early summer.)  In addition, I have spent a lot of time writing,
speaking, and my most essential work of teaching and playing with my little
boy.  Still, I remain committed both to leading this project until a
replacement can be found (as I promised in 2006, I must step down fairly
soon), and to helping it in various ways after that.

I should thank certain people for picking up the slack.  I can't thank
everyone now, but a few people deserve special mention: Chris Day for his
work on the metadata template and other things, Greg Sabino Mullane for his
ongoing expert, but unpaid technical support, Aleta Curry for driving the
Write-a-Thon every month, and Matt Innis for exercising his Constabulary
duties.  Without them, I'm not sure where we'd be.  And there have been
quite a few other very active editors and authors--top producers will be
listed in an upcoming monthly newsletter.  Thanks, again, to all these

Despite the disadvantages, here we are, plugging away
(<http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Special:RecentChanges>), and with tricks
still up our sleeves.

In fact, we didn't just survive--we just broke 10,000 articles (with many
subpages), and wrote nearly 10 million words, in less than two years.  In
the long run, our model will prove to be socially saner, and epistemically
more reliable, than other free encyclopedias on offer.  *That* is why my
personal opinion remains that, at the end of the day, we will succeed to
become one of the finest free resources in the world.

So, keep the faith and, if you haven't looked in on us lately, give us
another look!


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