There are billions of intelligent people in the world, millions of whom have access to the Internet. Imagine the potential for a knowledge resource produced by these people through a pleasant and respectful community collaboration in a wiki environment – a multilingual knowledge resource that is not only free in the sense of freedom but also technically and factually accurate, comprehensive, neutral, verifiable, ethical, and beautiful. Imagine the good such a knowledge resource could do in the world, how much education could benefit, how ordinary people could be empowered to produce a better and more pleasant society. After all, the Internet was created to allow people to share their knowledge internationally and interlingually, regardless of their location or the language which they use to communicate with other human beings – and sharing knowledge invariably makes the world a better place.
This the vision that I myself hold with undoubtedly many others.
The knowledge resource that I describe in my vision is not yet in existence, but nothing stops us, humanity, from creating it. Wikipedia and Citizendium, the two other projects with a similar vision, have attempted to fulfil the dream, and both have partially succeeded and partially failed in different manners; both of these projects lack an extremely strong big-picture commitment to fulfilling the vision effectively.
I do not believe that the status quo, Wikipedia, is the best that humanity can achieve. I believe that Wikipedia is plagued by so many problems in its community and encyclopedia it is not willing to address –
- the precedence of quantity over quality in the encyclopedia,
- the precedence of openness over reliability in the encyclopedia,
- the precedence of tradition and emotion over common sense in the community,
- over-tolerance of trolls in the community,
- a governance system of the loudest, instead of democratic rule of the law, a constitution, and sensible and mature administrators in the community,
- discrimination against professionals, and bias towards amateurism in the community, and
- too much hostility, and not enough respect in the community
– that a new project is needed.
Citizendium is departing from the open model by increasingly assigning expert "editors" more authority and more control over the articles in their areas, and by limiting some positions of authority (such as constable, equivalent to Wikipedia administrator) to experts. In addition, Citizendium's articles, even those that have been "approved" by experts, are often of poor quality and plagued by lack of referencing. Citizendium's failure to address many of Wikipedia's quality problems is an indication that a new project is needed.
I hope to write another essay specifically addressing the need for Wikipendium in the near future. I apologise for the lack of explanation in this essay, but, for the moment, I wish to keep you focused on the proposal and not the purpose of the proposal.
A new compendium of human knowledge
In light of the need to fulfil the vision I elaborated on above, I propose a new compendium of human knowledge, Wikipendium (Wiki Compendium).
If you are genuinely interested in Wikipendium, please feel welcome to contact me.
Core compendium principles
In particular, Wikipendium's compendium content will:
- be free in the sense of freedom and available via the Internet free of charge,
- be multilingual, representing all languages spoken by significant numbers of people,
- be technically and factually accurate, containing only coherently-presented correct facts,
- be comprehensive, providing a full coverage of available knowledge,
- be neutral, representing all significant viewpoints sympathetically,
- be verifiable, providing easy means for readers to ensure that content they read is correct,
- be acceptable, responsibly presented in an ethically and morally responsible way, and worthy of inclusion in a compendium, and
- be beautiful, presented in a beautiful, consistent, aesthetic, accessible, well-structured, and well-organised manner.
It is likely that Wikipendium will make use of the flagged revisions extension to the MediaWiki software in order to maintain stable revisions of articles and allow revisions of articles to be rated. Exactly how this functionality will be implemented is open to debate, and I hope to produce a more specific, concrete proposal in the near future.
I want Wikipendium's compendium to be a useful, reliable, and free compendium of human knowledge that may be justifiably trusted by its readers.
Core community principles
In particular, Wikipendium's community members will:
- act in a respectful, pleasant, and collaborative manner,
- productively and constructively build the project,
- be accountable and responsible for their actions,
- be guided, and guide others, in a sensible way,
- follow fundamental rules that ensure a productive and constructive project,
- recognise and respect abilities, both their own and those of others, and refer or defer to others graciously, and
- have broadly diverse backgrounds, cultures, and experience.
Pleasantness and respectfulness will be effectively enforced on Wikipendium, and all community members will have the right to contribute and participate constructively in a pleasant, respectful, and productive environment. Hostility will be prohibited, and constables will work responsibly to ensure that discussions proceed productively, calmly, and have a good outcome. Trolling will not be tolerated at all on Wikipendium, and will warrant an immediate ejection from the project.
I want Wikipendium's community to be a peaceful, enjoyable, vibrant, vigorous place where community members may productively build an useful, reliable, and free compendium of human knowledge.
The values that will be required in Wikipendium's community are summed up neatly in the acronym FORM: freedom, openness, respect, and motivation.
By "freedom" in this context I mean that Wikipendium's community members will not be told what to do. (They may, however, be told how to do something if they want to do it.) The basic principle will be very simple, in that the strictly volunteer nature of Wikipendium will be maintained. More clearly, community members will not be told to write a certain article, to upload a certain image, or to participate more actively; but if they want to write a certain article, or upload a certain image, or participate in certain areas of the project, they may be asked to follow relevant policies, standards, or "norms" and obey certain authorities while doing so, and those community members who deliberately and inexcusably fail to obey rules or authorities may eventually have to be ejected from the project.
By "openness" in this context I mean that Wikipendium's community will be strictly open to new members who agree with Wikipendium's fundamental goals and agree to reasonably obey Wikipendium's rules and authorities. In some circumstances it may be necessary to show people to the door, in which case we will do so speedily; but most of the time I hope that we will have a fast and efficient system for inducting new community members. It's for this reason that entry into Wikipendium's community will require only filling out a form: selecting an account name and password, providing an e-mail address, and clicking a check box to indicate agreement with Wikipendium's principles.
By "respect" in this context I mean that Wikipendium's community members will be required to interact and participate in a manner that is thoughtful and considerate towards other community members, their work, and their abilities. Among other things, this means providing only contructive criticism, refraining from hostility, incivility, personal attacks, and poisonous behaviour, and acting "professionally". Without respect, there can be no unity; and with no unity, there can be no "community". I'm sure that some people believe that to refuse to tolerate hostility and poison is unreasonable and that people who do so, like myself, are not "mature"; I will respond with the reply that it's daft, dumb, and childish to tolerate any form of constant hostility, since doing so is simply an invitation for more poison, less work, and therefore a sub-standard community and project. The mature project is the one that is friendly and productive, not the one that requires a "mature audiences only" stamp.
When I refer to "motivation" in this context, I refer to a common goal towards which all Wikipendium community members can actively strive. Without motivation, there can be no "progress"; with no progress, there can be no project; and with no project, there can be no purpose of the community.
For Wikipendium to be as accessible to as many people as possible, content will be presented in as many significantly-spoken languages as possible through language-specific Wikipendium projects. Each language-specific Wikipendium will be permitted to operate itself under a "general" Wikipendium within core content and community principles and standards, but all languages will work together to achieve virtually the same goals. A "general" Wikipendium will provide a means of inter-language communication, standards, and a global guiding body of community members.
I suspect that many Wikipedia and Citizendium community members desire a completely democratic, responsible, reasonable, simple governance structure based not on qualifications or loudest shouting but instead on abilities, responsibility, and commitment. Wikipendium's government will be based on the latter values, not the former; I hope that very many people will be satisfied.
In addition, I have very strong reasons to believe that nearly all active Wikipedia community members are seriously concerned with the lack of unity between Wikipedia's governing bodies, such as the Board of Trustees, founder Jimmy Wales, and administrators, and Wikipedia's community. Wikipendium will encourage diversity of backgrounds, cultures, and experience in its governance, and will ensure that its government is part of the community.
From as early on as possible, hopefully within a few weeks of its formation, Wikipendium will be fully and effectively governed by a democratic structure. I will relinquish all of my powers as founder immediately after the formation of this structure, meaning that I will have no exceptional powers and will have to go through the standard procedures to acquire positions. This is an interesting experiment: I wish to find out whether a huge free content project can be effectively operated with just three levels of governance structure – a general level, a day-to-day management level, and a longer-term management level – and no official individual leaders at all. There will be no Editor-in-Chief, no Chief Constable, and no Chairman Emeritus; there will be a democratic Council which will make decisions as a group.
All Wikipendium community members will operate on specific-language Wikipendia and will have the ability to modify content in their respective projects. It goes without saying that constables and Council members will, of course, be productively-participating and constructively-contributing real-name-using community members. All real-name-using community members will have the authority to elect the Council yearly.
All Wikipendium constables will operate on specific-language Wikipendia and will be charged with assisting, guiding, and managing the community in their respective projects. Constables will be mature, safe, responsible people with a good understanding of ethical concerns, excellent communication skills, and a strong commitment to fulfilling the vision articulated above.
The Wikipendium Council will operate on the general Wikipendium and will lead Wikipendium as a whole, will handle issues associated with all or many Wikipedia, and will provide a global guiding, standards-setting, inter-language-communicating body of community members. The Council will be democratically elected and I hope that it will be a body of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and experience.
Wikipendium will have simple, clear rules that will be firmly enforced, with due leniency, common sense, and reasonableness, by constables with the assistance of all community members.
The fundamental rules that I propose are:
- Fundamental Statement of Principles – what Wikipendium exists for and how it is achieving its goals, and the rights and responsibilities of all community members,
- freedom – content must be free in the sense of freedom and available via the Internet free of charge,
- multilingualism – content must be available in all languages spoken by significant numbers of people.
The compendium rules that I propose are:
- technical and factual accuracy – content must contain only coherently-presented correct facts,
- comprehensiveness – content must provide a full coverage of available knowledge,
- neutrality – content must represent all significant viewpoints sympathetically,
- verifiability – content must provide easy means for readers to ensure that content they read is correct,
- acceptability – content must be responsibly presented in an ethically and morally responsible way, and must be worthy of inclusion in a compendium,
- stylistic – content must be presented in a beautiful, consistent, aesthetic, accessible, well-structured, and well-organised manner.
The community rules that I propose are:
- acceptable behaviour – community members must act in a respectful, pleasant, and collaborative manner, and productively and constructively build the project,
- governance and rules – community members are accountable and responsible for their actions, are guided, and guide others, in a sensible way, and must follow fundamental rules that ensure a productive and constructive project,
- fair go – community members should recognise and respect abilities, both their own and those of others, and refer or defer to others graciously, and endorse a broadly diverse environment of many backgrounds, cultures, and experience.
I propose that all these rules be included in just three simple documents, as a "fundamental policy", "content policy", and "community policy".
In any free content project that wishes to create an useful, free, reliable resource through an enjoyable community, some forms of accountability and responsibility of community members are required. The need for accountability increases as a project becomes larger, because members of the project's community know one another less intimately and therefore must rely on other means for ensuring responsibility.
I have grappled and struggled with the issues of accountability and responsibility on the Internet, especially in the regards of account names as addressed by both Wikipedia and Citizendium. Wikipedia allows anybody to use practically any account name on the condition that it is not offensive, while Citizendium requires nearly everybody to use their real name as their account name with very rare exceptions. Thus, Wikipedia provides a haven for anonymity, irresponsibility, and a large amount of both helpful and unhelpful people, and Citizendium strictly enforces accountability and responsibility, discouraging unhelpful people while at the same time likely scaring away many helpful people.
I am torn between the two extremes of selecting account names: "use anything you like" and "use your real name". Personally, I like to know the real names of people I interact with, both on or off the Internet, in any manner that is not insignificant, and I expect many people appreciate knowing my real name. However, I realise that others do not wish to, or cannot, release their real names on the Internet for privacy or security reasons, and I sympathise with these people; however, I still believe that some form of accountability and responsibility on the part of these people is necessary if they wish to contribute to, or participate in, Wikipendium. Therefore, I believe that a compromise is in order as Wikipendium will need as many helpful people as it can get while deterring as many unhelpful people as possible.
Tentatively (and this is still open to debate) Wikipendium will deal with the issues of accountability and responsibility by:
- requiring people to acquire an account before they can modify content (whether this acquisition will be made via a requests process or simply by filling out a form is open to debate),
- requiring account names to be in the form of a real name,
- granting, after some form of verification has taken place, a certificate to community members who use their real name as their account name (or, perhaps, simply display their real name prominently), and
- requiring community members to have this certificate in order to be eligible acquire a higher access level or position in the system, except perhaps in very rare circumstances where explicit permission is granted by the Council.
Thus, community members will not be required to use their real name as their account name on Wikipendium, but those people who do so will have the ability to gain a number of benefits; of course, real-name-using community members will not be considered "superior" to non-real-name-using community members.
Principle of aggressive innovation
To conclude this proposal, I would like to put forth the principle of aggressive innovation that I intend Wikipendium to hold. That is, Wikipendium will be highly innovative and creative, and will pursue any path that helps the project reach its goal and causes minimal harm in proportion to maximal good. This means that Wikipendium will aggressively take risks with high chances of a good outcome, pride itself on being at the very cutting edge of collaborative enterprises, and not be afraid to experiment and gain feedback from readers.