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October 16, 2006 10:08 pm

Wikipedia founder plans rival

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One of the founders of Wikipedia is days away from launching a rival to the collaborative internet encyclopaedia, in an attempt to bring a more orderly approach to organising knowledge online.

Wikipedia – which is available to be written and edited by anyone on the internet – is one of the most visible successes of mass collaboration on the web, with many of its 1.4m articles appearing high in search results.

However, its openness has also drawn charges of unreliability and left it vulnerable to disputes between people with opposing views, particularly on politically sensitive topics.

The latest venture from Larry Sanger, who helped create Wikipedia in 2001, is intended to bring more order to this creative chaos by drawing on traditional measures of authority. Though still open to submissions from anyone, the power to authorise articles will be given to editors who can prove their expertise, as well as a group of volunteer “constables”, charged with keeping the peace between warring interests.

Accusing Wikipedia of failing to control its writers and editors, he said: “The latest articles don't represent a consensus view – they tend to become what the most persistent ‘posters’ say.”

Mr Sanger said he had financial backing from an unidentified foundation for his new venture, while a web hosting company was providing its services free. He said he became frustrated with Wikipedia's failure to build expertise into its editing process and left after its first year.

Since then, the encyclopedia's other founder, Jimmy Wales, has taken some steps to bring more order to the Wikipedia approach, although he has avoided using authority figures such as editors.

Asked in an e-mail exchange how such disagreements should be resolved, Mr Wales replied: “With strong support for individual rights, and respect for reason.” His e-mail went on: “It is the fundamental responsibility of every individual to- think-, to- judge-, to-decide-. We must never abdicate that responsibility, not to the collective, not to Britannica, not to Wikipedia, not to anyone.”

Mr Sanger said volunteers would be able to become editors of his encyclopedia, called Citizendium, if they can show “minimum levels of qualification, based on real-world measures.”

This would be an “imperfect but effective” test based on “degrees, professional society memberships, things like that”.

Citizendium will be open “within the next few days” to a limited number of invited editors and members of the public who apply, and will be made generally available by the end of the year, said Mr Sanger.

It is likely to take Citizendium some time to prove whether it can create a better online encyclopedia. It will begin by simply taking over all of the existing entries from Wikipedia, then start the laborious job of having them filtered by expert editors – a job Mr Sanger called “a clean-out of the Augean stables”.

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