"User-generated content" is one of the catchphrases of Web 2.0. Behind it is the idea that we are better served when the many, instead of the few, can produce, share and rank information. That works well on YouTube, Flickr, Diggs or even Google. But when it comes to an encyclopaedia, it is nice to feel confident about the accuracy of the user-generated articles. In 2001, Larry Sanger (picture right) co-founded Wikipedia, probably one of the world’s largest collaborative projects which currently contains over 1,5 million articles in English. But he has become convinced that expert editors are the only way to ensure reliability. “It is not an encyclopaedia until you have brought it to the point where it can be trusted,” he said. As a result, there is one major difference between Wikipedia and his new project Citizendium. "Wikipedia gives no special role to experts. On Citizendium, editors are able to set policies for articles and we are working on a method to let them resolve editing wars."
While he has invited editors with expertise in various fields to join Citizendium, Sanger still deeply believes in the power of what he calls radical collaboration. He defines it as the possibility for anybody to participate in collective, unsigned work on their own terms. "Rank and file authors can contribute on any topic they want and the editors can’t boss them around. Editors have to explain their decisions," Sanger points out.
Since it was officially announced in September, Sanger’s new project has attracted nearly 400 editors, many of them with PhD and the rest with some other proof of their expertise in a particular area. Sanger and his executive committee are actively recruiting new experts by approaching academic journals.
"In October, we downloaded the entire body of Wikipedia articles and so far we have 400 articles that have been tagged "CZ Live" meaning that someone has made significant changes or even rewritten the article," explains Sanger. He hopes to make Citizendium available to the public this coming January with a base of 1,000 vetted articles.
"If it is successful, Citizendium’s biggest impact could be to awaken a whole generation of academics, professionals and scientists to this new model of content creation,” Sanger believes. “It could change the world in a way similar to the industrial revolution."
Experts popular in other fields
Experts are making a comeback in other, less lofty endeavors. Since the end of 2005, PicksPal has become a destination for sports fans wanting to show off their predicting talents. “We wanted to reach a critical number of members to see the best ones bubbling up to the top,” says PicksPal CEO Tom Jessiman, a veteran of online sporting ventures. “For 35 dollars, we sell their picks in two ways: the All-Star picks of one particular member or Genius picks, a blended consensus of the top people.” It will soon be possible to buy “consensus of the masses” picks. They will obviously come cheaper.
Portfolio management is another area that has Web entrepreneurs excited about ferreting out the next wonder kids. Marketocracy is dedicated to « finding the best investors in the world. » “Could you be one of them?,” alluringly asks the site’s home page. Another site still in beta, SocialPicks, has similar designs.