Citizendium is a project for a more sophisticated version of Wikipedia.  It seems to be a worthwhile cause, but it requires the volunteer effort of specialists.  Below is an email circulated by Larry Sanger, who is behind the Citizendium effort.  I’d be interested in hearing your opinions about the feasibility of such a project.—

Dear philosophers,

Larry Sanger, long-time listmember and Wikipedia co-founder, here.  I’m now
Editor-in-Chief of the Citizendium (
) and I’m
writing, again, to invite you to join the project, which you can easily do
A human being will look over your (brief!) application and let you in
typically within an hour or two.  But why should you join?  Read on.

Some differences

Some months ago, I announced here the start of the non-profit, free,
international Citizendium (“the Citizens’ Compendium”).  “CZ” as we call it
is a wiki and a general encyclopedia project.  Since first announcing the
project, it occurred to me that many of you may have not seen its point.  So
I wanted to describe the project’s interesting niche.  What makes it
different from other projects, and why should philosophers join in?

* Unlike Wikipedia, contributors to our wiki are required to use their real
names; experts have a role (they approve articles and can make decisions
about content issues in their areas of expertise); and the community is
managed by “constables” who ensure that contributors follow the rules.  As a
result, our open, but expert-led community is remarkably pleasant and
virtually vandalism-free.  It’s been called “Wikipedia for grown-ups.”

* Unlike the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet
Encyclopedia of Philosophy–both fine reference works, which I have used
regularly over the years–CZ articles are not signed, and they are
constructed collaboratively.  Furthermore, CZ is considerably more open and
interdisciplinary.  These are “differences that make a difference,” as I’ll
explain below.

We’re growing

We’re about to celebrate the first year anniversary of the launch of our
pilot project.  In the intervening time, we have developed over 3,100
articles–three times what we had last spring.  Every month, over 200
different people edit the wiki, and some 2,000 people have signed up with
accounts, of which about 240 are expert editors.  We continue to grow
robustly and, recently, at an accelerating rate.  Wikipedia started small,
too.  In a few years, we will have over a hundred thousand articles (my
opinion of course).  There is no reason that we cannot replicate Wikipedia’s
sort of growth, which as Wikipedia’s organizer I engineered; our
fundamentals are very solid.

So, why another encyclopedia?

But, you might well ask, what *reason* is there for another online
philosophy encyclopedia?

There are in fact four excellent reasons.

(1) Collaborative, unsigned articles are less idiosyncratic and more
neutral.  I think collaboratively-developed articles have interesting
epistemic features that articles with single authorship do not have.  Such
articles, to the extent that they are developed by many people from a
variety of perspectives, and if managed by experts (as CZ’s are), tend to
omit idiosyncratic and highly implausible information, and they tend to be
include a very wide variety of perspectives, and to be more neutral.  Just
imagine if all those Wikipedia articles had been developed collaboratively
*by experts* or *under expert guidance*.  You’d take a second look, wouldn’t
you?  Well, that’s what we’re creating (better late than never).

(2) Articles developed by people from many disciplines are broader-based.
SEP and IEP, excellent though they are, present only the professional
philosopher’s approach to certain very interdisciplinary topics.  Consider
topics such as cosmology, God, space and time, information, morality, the
state, the law, and many more topics that are studied by other experts,
often from multiple fields (think of how many disciplines study the topics
“communication” and “community”).  Articles on those topics, if written so
as to bring together many different disciplinary perspectives, will be
considerably more interesting to the average reader and broader-based.

(3) Articles that allow for public contribution are more comprehensible to
non-experts.  If you have ever referred undergraduates to SEP’s articles,
you discover, as I have, that they are too advanced.  IEP’s articles are
usually better.  But the fact is that most philosophers find it difficult to
write very comprehensibly for non-philosophers.  In my experience with both
Wikipedia and the Citizendium, it helps experts considerably to have active,
intelligent non-experts around to consult about how to put things clearly.

(4) CZ’s growth rate far surpasses those of SEP and IEP, both in terms of
number of articles and number of words.  We will, in fairly short order,
have far more articles, on a far wider variety of topics, than these (again,
excellent) sources.  I don’t pretend that size is what matters; but there is
no question that it is *useful* to students and others to have a very large
variety of articles on all sorts of topics.

But why contribute if you can’t take personal credit?

I could go on at great length about this question, but I’ll spare you.
Suffice it to say that (1) if we succeed, and there is an excellent chance
we will, it will be **enormously** beneficial to humanity (imagine Wikipedia
done right); (2) it can be great fun, the psychological rewards can be
curiously intense; and (3) for the Ph.D. philosophers on the list,
editorship and other positions of responsibility can be claimed on a CV (I
make no guarantees that this will help–but it’s something!).

You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to participate; students and amateur
philosophers can become authors:

Editor candidates may want to look at this:
But what about our level of quality?

It’s a young wiki, so most articles are “in progress.”  To get an idea of
the level of quality we are aiming at, and very capable of, please see our
lists of “Approved Articles” and “Developing Articles”: (scroll down)
eveloped_Articles” target=_blank>

In the previous year, we have discovered something very interesting:
wiki-based expert/public collaboration is capable of producing large numbers
of really high-quality articles.  I’m particularly proud of our approved
articles–check out “life” and “biology.”

There are only a few philosophers
active on the project at present, but I am
hoping that this announcement and these arguments will help change that.

Help us fill in the top 99 philosophy topics

I’d also like to invite you to create any from a set of 99 “core articles”
about philosophical topics.  Here’s the list:

Use this link if the latter is broken:

I would be happy to discuss Citizendium privately, or either on CHORA (let
me know if you post about it there as I don’t currently subscribe) or on the
“Non-member discussion” board of the Citizendium Forums, here:,73.0.html

There’s much more to read on the website:

Again, do join us!

Lawrence M. Sanger, Ph.D. |

Editor-in-Chief, Citizendium |

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