Here’s a Great Idea (that apparently doesn’t work)

November 5, 2008

This article reaches the same conclusion as most on the matter of using Wikipedia as reference.  It’s a fine starting point, but the limitless customization guarantees a certain amount of inaccuracy.  So I had an idea:  why not have a wiki based encyclopedia that is managed exclusively by experts?

After doing a tremendous amount of research (I googled scholarly wikipedia) I found that the idea, like most I have, is unoriginal.  I found this which led me to this.  Citizendium sounds great.  A wiki (like every other application/website that we’ve covered in this class, who the hell came up with that name?) where content is generated by the community at large, but moderated by published experts.

Here’s the reality.  I looked up cancer, a very broad subject that has a little bit of relevance to me (and probably most of you) at the moment.  Here’s the Citizendium version versus the Wikipedia version.  I expected the Wikipedia version to be larger, its tremendously popular, so I don’t hold the size of the article against Citizendium.  I’m also not a doctor, so I couldn’t honestly judge the accuracy of the content.

I can count references.  Okay, that’s not entirely true.  I couldn’t count Wikipedia’s references, there’s a bunch, a gaggle, even a shit-ton.  I was able to count Citizendium’s references.  There’s one.  Chapter 56 of Principles of Human Genetics.  It’s not even a whole book, some dude just summarized a chapter from his first year med school text.  And it’s from 2005, which is almost ancient in the rapidly evolving medical field.

I might be able to understand if it was an obscure or ultra-specific subject.  But it’s friggin’ cancer, 7.6 million people die from it per year (thanks Wikipedia).  This leads me to one conclusion:  Citizendium is a miserable failure.  Here’s a list of possible reasons why.

  • No one has heard of Citizendium.

It doesn’t exactly have a strong marketing push behind it; it’s not profit driven.  Even still, you’d think that they could get the word out in the academic community, who could in turn drive their students to the site.  I’d never heard of LexisNexis before either, but then I went to college.

  • There’s no article on Lost.

As useful as Wikipedia is for getting a gist of an in depth academic subject, it’s used just as frequently for diving into the intricacies of clever, but ultimately unimportant pop-culture.  It was reading the biography of Mos Def or checking the episode guide to Salute Your Shorts that developed the habit of using Wikipedia.  It seemed like a natural fit when I first applied to schoolwork.  There’s a reason why the article for Lost is bigger than the article for Spain.

  • It’s too inclusive.

Citizendium allegedly has expert moderators, but still relies on the general public for the body of its articles.  I believe a better alternative would exclude the unpublished masses entirely, and treat the site as an open slate for the findings of true academic experts (people with a Ph. D., professors, leaders of business, authors).  It should be promoted as an exclusive academic club with complete transparancy of results to the general public.  Someone call TED.

So basically the slot for a scholarly wikipedia is still unfilled (as far as I know).  I might try to start it up if I had any money to invest, and if I thought it could actually turn a profit.  Seriously, someone call TED.

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