Re-Emergent Collaboration? Wikipedia, the Sequel

March 27, 2007 · · Posted by jfrank

This week, reports the Wikipedia co-founder seeks to start over. While the blemishes of vandalism and some poor writing doesn't sway Wikipedia fans, Larry Sanger, one of the Wikipedia co-founders, disagrees.

Though Wikipedia could be considered an example of emergent collaboration, there is at least a fair amount of social and structural engineering taking place. For one, the use case "encyclopedia" is the basis of the wiki site. So factual information prevails while opinion and conjecture of notability is suppressed. I wrote further on this topic in Best Practice and the Wikipedia Big Brain.

The force of the Wikipedia use case and the 1000s of administrators who work collectively to enforce it is not enough for Sanger. This week he unveiled Citizendium, a non-profit clone of Wikipedia, but with the aim of being free from the vandalism and inconsistencies which are its pitfalls.

Sanger says:

It has bothered me that I helped to get a project started, Wikipedia, that people are misusing in this way, and yet the project itself has little chance of radically improving.

Citizendium aims to provide a radically improved approach vs. Wikipedia by forcing authors to use real names and to have tighter controls over edits via a core of "approved" editors.

Whether this "re-pedia" succeeds in taking on the incumbent Wikipedia is anyone's guess, but the lesson from both contendors is the need for a careful and acceptable forms of good system design, a set of norms for contribution, and the right mix of top down support and enforcement combined with reasonable lattitude for emergent collaboration to allow the system to grow and improve as the user patterns and content evolves.

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