Larry Sanger may have co-founded Wikipedia, and I say ‘may’ as Jimmy Wales seems to dispute this somewhat and prefers to refer to Sanger as merely an employee, but there is no doubt that it was Larry who came up with the name Wikipedia. A great name, it has to be said, but perhaps we all only have one great name inside us. Certainly that might explain why his latest project, a ‘progressive fork’ of Wikipedia with the distinctly naff name of Citizendium.
Described as being a “citizens' compendium of everything" Citizendium will be an experimental new wiki project, combining both public participation and expert guidance. And the ‘progressive fork’ thing means what exactly? Well according to Sanger not a great deal to begin with at least, as initially it will just be a mirror of Wikipedia. However, the hope is that people will soon start making changes to Citizendium articles, although if the original Wikipedia article changes then that will get updated as well (provided the Citizendium one hasn’t if you are still with me at this point.) But I have to say that I am slightly confused by the usage of ‘fork’ in this context as Wikipedia isn’t an open source application for crying out loud, it’s an online knowledge collective. Citizendium isn’t a fork as I understand the term, it isn’t anything yet because it has yet to launch but it certainly isn’t a fork: it is Wikipedia with a twist, namely that Sanger and his crew intend to re-write it. A true fork, in the open source sense, is when a project travels down divergent development paths because the original developers cannot agree on the same direction. But Sanger has had no involvement in Wikipedia since he resigned in March 2002, so surely this cannot hold water?
I might concede that there are some similarities, not least that when a project gets forked (excuse my French) then one or other of the resulting products usually withers and dies. The jury is out as to which is most likely to collapse in this case. Wikipedia has the advantage of critical mass and momentum, while Citizendium can argue that it won’t allow any Johnny Idiot to post anything about anything, it will bring responsibility and expertise to the table. The problem for Citizendium, as I see it, is that if it does succeed and prove to have a value, then there will be nothing to stop Wikipedia simply updating its content with that from Citizendium.
Confused? Me? You betcha…