Two Wikipedia Spinoffs In The News

from the more-reliable? dept

Wired has a roundup of two Wikipedia spinoffs that have been in the news recently. Both sites, Citizendium and Veropedia, were launched because their founders felt that Wikipedia had reliability problems that could only be addressed by an independent project. But their approaches are very different. Citizendium is what the open source software world would call a fork. They launched the site with some Wikipedia articles as the baseline, but they're not contributing their changes back to the Wikipedia project. That means that the two projects are diverging over time, and in a few years the content on the two sites will be quite different. It also means that there's going to be a lot of duplication of effort: the content in Citizendium and Wikipedia will largely be redundant. In contrast, Wikipedia is, in open source terms, "upstream" from Veropedia. Just as distributions like Ubuntu and Red Hat take Linux code, improve it, and then package it for public consumption, making a profit in the process, so Veropedia is going to take a subset of Wikipedia, do some additional work to ensure it's reliable, and then publish it on an ad-supported site. Unlike Citizendium, Veropedia is planning to contribute its changes back to Wikipedia. Personally, I'm not convinced that there's a pressing need for either effort, and I'm particularly skeptical of Citizendium. I think Clay Shirky is right to question the underlying rationale for Citizendium, and while founder Larry Sanger has touted some modest successes over the last year, they're going to need some massive growth to catch up to Wikipedia.

Veropedia is more promising, especially since it's contributing to, rather than merely competing with, Wikipedia. It obviously can't hurt to have more people verifying the accuracy of Wikipedia articles, and if Veropedia can find a way to pay people to do that, that obviously helps the overall Wikipedia project. My only concern is that promising "a quality stable version that can be trusted by students, teachers, and anyone else who is looking for top-notch, reliable information" might lull people into a false sense of security, reinforcing the attitude that if you read something in a "reliable" publication, you can automatically assume it's true without further research. I would much rather that we teach students to approach all published works with a degree of skepticism, to understand that works fall along a broad spectrum of reliability, and that it's often a good idea to double-check important information in multiple sources. Still, it will be great if they find a business model that allows them to offer financial support to some of the dedicated editors who have made Wikipedia such a success.

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Companies: citizendium, veropedia, wikipedia

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Comments on “Two Wikipedia Spinoffs In The News”

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Max Powers at (user link) says:

People still believe everything they read.

A vast majority of consumers (in my opinion) still believe that if it is written, it must me true. Just by having more people confirming content for Wiki still leaves the question of reliability.

It is very hard for me to use any information that was contributed by just anyone with a computer and an Internet connection.

Petréa Mitchell says:

Not a fork

Citizendium gave up on forking Wikipedia early this year, after determining that it was less effort to just start with a clean sheet of paper. There are still some articles that originated at Wikipedia left at Citizendium from that attempt, but the vast majority of the articles being written now are started from scratch.

(Full disclosure: I’m a Citizendium contributor.)

Matt says:


As was noted by a commenter in the Shirky article, though Citizendium is “competing” with Wikipedia, they are both released under the GPL. That means that if there ever was an article (and I’m somewhat skeptical there would be) on Citizendium that was extraordinarily better than the corresponding Wiki article, the Wikipedians could essentially just cite it and incorporate it into the article. Not true for the reverse, as I understand it — a Wiki article would need to go through some sort of “expert” before posting (I’m not a Citizendium user, though, so I could be wrong).

This, to me, makes Citizendium seem pointless as a site on its own. If it were to exist as a project whose members strived to make great articles and incorporate them into Wikipedia using the expert/public idea, that would make more sense.

Either way, both sites seem to be solving a problem that doesn’t exist. Wikinoids like to espouse how unreliable Wiki is, but I’ve yet to see an example of someone find something blantanly untrue on the site for more than a small period of time, and Wikipedia isn’t meant to be an absolutely definitive source on anything, anyway.

Petréa Mitchell says:

Re: Why?

“As was noted by a commenter in the Shirky article, though Citizendium is ‘competing’ with Wikipedia, they are both released under the GPL.”

Not quite; any Wikipedia articles which have been copied to Citizendium retain the GPL unless and until they change enough to lose their Wikipedia content, but Citizendium is just about to choose which license it will use for articles it originates.

“Not true for the reverse, as I understand it — a Wiki article would need to go through some sort of ‘expert’ before posting (I’m not a Citizendium user, though, so I could be wrong).”

The only thing that would have to happen to the Wikipedia article is that the person copying it would have to remember to mark it as having Wikipedia content. If it isn’t copied over by the person who originally wrote most of the Wikipedia article (which is mostly how Citizendium gets them these days), it’s also marked as an “external article” until it has undergone significant changes.

Learned says:

Find It

My schooling taught me that unless you could find three legitimate sources of a supposed fact, it wasn’t valid. This was in the days of researching through printed media/books/references.

Nowadays, it’s difficult to find three sources that are truly different sources. So many websites get the same information from the same source (without quoting the original source) that we cannot know whether they are the same source over and over, or if they are truly unique sources.

The problem with having “backups” of Wikipedia is that the source information will all be the same, and if the original source is inaccurate, so will all the downstream info.

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