V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
A brainiac version of Wikipedia

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers March, 2007.

Readers may recall a recent experiment conducted by Sun Media that altered the text of a Wikipedia entry to read that the waters of the Rocky Mountains are known to turn people into furless rodents if consumed between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

It was a cheeky experiment that would be unlikely to see the light of day on a new online encyclopedia project headed by Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger that launched this week.

Unlike Wikipedia, which of late has been scandal-plagued and hemorrhaged users because of editing wars and questionable information, Sanger said Citizendium requires all contributors to use their real names, provide resumes and web links where possible to prove their identities.

While the premise of Wikipedia is that "anyone can edit" articles, entries on citizendium.org will be more academically accountable, with "expert editors who work shoulder to shoulder with the rank and file authors," Sanger said in a phone interview from Ohio.

So far, the site has 180 expert editors and 820 authors who have worked on 1,100 articles. It has a lot of catching up to do if, as Sanger hopes, the site grows to house millions of articles like Wikipedia.

"The idea is to have a significant number of those approved by editors. A giant source of information that people can rely on," he said. "I'd like to have an accurate representation of how we understand the universe, with not just mainstream views but also minority views." Citizendium has already poached former Wikipedia users, malcontent with its vulnerability to automated "vandalbots."

"I think Larry's concept is great in principle," wrote professor Shane Pinder, a registered Canadian user now teaching at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. "I tried for a while to monitor the ever-changing content of a few Wikipedia articles, but there are just too many people making changes and I have a job that I have to devote my time to -- which is more than I can say of some Wikipedia contributors."

Critics have slammed Citizendium, calling it elitist, undercutting the point of a community project like Wikipedia.

"The more certain you are about a site, the less you engage in conversation about it, the less you interpret it and the less you think about it," pointed out Jim Paul, an associate professor at the University of Calgary.


Soon there will be "alternatives to alternatives," he predicted, and a return to increasingly scholarly websites filled with jargon and knowledge exclusive to the privileged few and already available in academic journals. "Of course you're going to solve the problem of Wikipedia, but you're also going to get a culture of experts re-emerging," Paul said.

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