A few weeks ago Larry Sanger, the co-mastermind behind Wikipedia, announced he’s taking on the grassroots encyclopedia with his own “fork” (a term used by hackers when two groups working on open-source software move in opposing directions) called Citizendium. Sanger–who at one point was Wikipedia’s only employee–left the org in 2002, not exactly on great terms with his former co-founder, Jimmy Wales. The two have been reported to have had both philosophical and personality clashes (in fact, on Wikipedia, Wales declares himself the site’s sole founder).
With Citizendium, which is slated to launch by the end of the year, Sanger–who has a doctorate in philosophy–is challenging the Wikipedia philosophy head-on: instead of anonymous writing and editing of submissions by anyone, Citizendium will have a stable of expert editors (that reflect what some might say are elitist academic creds like: PhDs, masters degrees, published work, etc.) that all submissions will be filtered through. Citizendium will literally begin by taking Wikipedia’s 1.4 million articles (ten times that of Britannica) and comb through those with its experts, to weed out the inaccurate and the biased. Surely the academics will be thrilled to regain their authoritative voice, but the site’s sustainability is dependent on whether or not the masses will want to participate in this refereed version of the post-modern encyclopedia they know and love.
This of course raises the central debate of the entire open-source movement: does the revival of the expert mean we’re already over the whole utopian idea of a democratic, user-generated world? Have we realized that it just doesn’t work?