Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Wikipedia has become such a part of my life that it is a rare day when I don’t visit the site to look up something. The site has grown to become a fantastic starting point to learn about just about everything. What’s more, it is mostly surprisingly accurate (Nature compared it to Encyclopedia Britannica and found it comparable in accuracy), given the fact that it can be compiled and edited by anyone, and most authors are non-experts in the field. However, this great strength, which allows the site to expand into every conceivable topic, is also a weakness.

It does not come with any expert authority, and there is little “incentive” for experts in the field to constantly contribute to the site.

Now, you might say the Wiki is just fine; there is no need for “experts”. Or you might say “an expert can contribute just as much as any one else, and that’s great”.

True. But there remain problems with that model. One of them is that experts might, just might know more about their chosen topic than another author, and might provide detailed information about a topic. But someone else might not like what appears on Wikipedia, and therefore edit it. Additionally, an expert author’s contribution (perhaps more carefully researched and referenced) is not valued any more than any other article.

Yet other completely expert driven efforts are far from flawless. Experts too may err, or have their own biases, or sometimes may not know specific areas of the field, or may base their articles on old data.

So, is there a way to create a resource as vast and powerful as wikipedia, but something that comes with more expert authority, greater reliability and importantly, more accountability, but still have widespread public participation?

It looks like the answer may be yes.

(going into deep announcer voice mode)

From the founders of Wikipedia comes a new, more exciting, more reliable and perhaps more powerful tool.

Welcome, Citizendom.

Citizendom is still in pilot (or in Google speak, beta) mode, but I think the model for the site is fantastic. It retains the large involvement of authors that Wikipedia has. But the difference is that the authors cannot remain anonymous and randomly edit sites. They work under real names, with real profiles (hopefully therefore increasing accountability). Additionally, all sections will be headed by editors, who will be experts in that field. The requirements for being an editor for a specific field are high. For example, editors in academic fields will need to have qualifications required for a tenure-track assistant professor position. But, importantly, like wikipedia itself, the editors don’t rule over the site. It will remain a broad public participation.

I think along with the high-profile open-access journal movement (led by the excellent PLoS journals) this may well become the defining moment of easy access to quality, reliable, “free” information for everyone who wants it.

Read more about Citizendom here. And like the wikipedia, you can be a part of it and shape its evolution.


Bala Pillai said...

Hi Sunil,

I'd like your thoughts, if you so choose, on how India might be able to use the Wikipedia model, perhaps an accelerated one to put India back on the path to quantum inventiveness.

What do I mean?

Why has India not produced a single quantum invention in over 1000 years when before that it together with China was responsible for nearly all of them?

What might the root reasons be?

[Quantum invention = a significant leap in order of problem-solving from caveman days to now eg taming of fire, domestication of rice, discovery of language, urban social systems, wheel, paper, printing press, electricity, cars, computers etc]

Why is this question important?

It will enable us to address the 'disease' instead of wasting time on the symptoms.

Sunil said...

well bala....there are way too many reasons why discovery in India stagnated. One of them is probably the hold of religion, ritual and custom. History has it that whenever religion or rules became too rigid, it killed creative discovery. It happened in Europe after Rome fell, it happened in India, it happened in the middle east.
In the present day, a lot of it has to do with the environment. It is impossible to carry out breakthrough discoveries when there is little incentive for anyone to think beyond or ask questions. In the present system it is much easier to be successful (and rewarded) by knowing the right people, rather than by finding something new. Institutions have few rewards for excellence....

it'll take time, but for a thriving scientific environment, there needs to be openness, and a lot of freedom.

Rosalie said...

Hi, I'm interested in learning more about citizendom, it's for a group project in my technology in education class, could you give me a few other websites that have information about it as it's so new that I'm having a hard time with it. Maybe a few links.Thanks!

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