Why Citizendium Sorta Flopped

I was studying for 5.60 all day yesterday, so at one point I took a short break and started looking at the tech news. I went through some slightly older news and saw the item that Google’s Knol would shut down in a few months. I went to its Wikipedia article, and I then went to the Wikipedia article for Citizendium, at which point I said, “Oh yeah, that.”

I remember reading about Citizendium a few years ago, and how it aimed to challenge Wikipedia and especially challenge Wikipedia’s liabilities of how anonymous and often incorrect edits of articles would frequently go unchallenged. Since then, Citizendium has gotten…twelve thousand articles. That’s less than 1% of Wikipedia’s English-language articles (to say nothing of Wikipedia’s article collection in other languages). So why did Citizendium fail so massively?

I think there were two factors at play. The first is that as Wikipedia got more regular and registered editors, misinformation and bias became much less problematic than they were a few years ago. That means the incentive for people to turn to sites like Citizendium and Knol, which tried to offer value through non-anonymous, expert-signed editing, went away. If you think about it, now more than ever, news organizations and other big names turn to Wikipedia for information without a second thought. That just goes to show how much better Wikipedia has become over the last few years.

But what else happened? The second issue has to do with what Michael Nielsen talked about at MIT, and I think I’m reaching the same conclusion as him (considering that unless I’m hallucinating, I do believe he specifically mentioned Citizendium by name). The issue is that Citizendium didn’t align incentives properly. It was a great, noble goal to try to gain users by promising good-quality non-anonymously-edited articles, but to do that it would have to give authors incentives to start contributing to Citizendium rather than Wikipedia. Yet it did just the opposite: there were no financial or other incentives other than the possibility of having one’s name attached to an article, yet the costs were high in that trying to get things published became quite difficult. Contrary to Wikipedia, which allows for easy, one-click anonymous editing, Citizendium required editors to register, and I would say that generally speaking, people don’t like registering for one more site that they may or may not ever use. I think Michael Nielsen said this too, and this is also why so many online scientific publishing social networks have flopped too. In addition, Wikipedia allows authors to see immediate results from their edits; Citizendium requires a review process, which is great for quality, but it means that authors are really taking a gamble on whether their articles will be published or not, and what’s the point of taking such a gamble when there’s the certainty of Wikipedia?

I don’t really have a reason for writing this. I just felt like it and wanted to procrastinate slightly on studying. :)

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