On Wikipedia, Citizendium, Accountability, and Reputation {*Update*}

This started off as a comment to something BusinessWeek’s Stephen Baker posted on Blogspotting (Link) regarding Wikipedia; about how it relates to the words beginning and, I assume, the ideas behind “We the People…“.

I’m not sure why I started down this particular thoughtpath. Perhaps it was my reading the text of retired Lt. Col. Andrew Horne’s radio response to President Bush’s own radio address. From the Chicago Tribune article (Link) providing that text:

“At the same time, these bills both demand something that previous Congresses did not – accountability from the administration. Both bills demand that the President continue to verify that we are moving Iraq towards stability, and that we are on track to disengage our combat troops from the Iraqi Civil War by 2008.

“Accountability is something this administration has demanded of everyone else. Go to the website of the White House, and put in a search for the word “accountability.” What comes up is a list of nearly 2,000 pages on the site that mention the word.

“Right there in the President’s first major policy proposal, the first bullet point in the brief on the No Child Left Behind Act reads: “Increase Accountability for Student Performance: States, districts and schools that improve achievement will be rewarded. Failure will be sanctioned.”

“It’s ironic that an administration that has touted its commitment to tying accountability to funding for things like schools or social programs is so opposed to any performance evaluation itself, especially with American lives on the line.”

After reading those words, I surfed to Blogspotting and read Baker’s post. And while he’s juxtaposing Wikipedia and “We the People…”, I’m throwing in Accountability… and thinking Wikipedia’s days are numbered.

Based on what I’ve read and my own experience (reLink), the current Wikipedia system simply isn’t tenable. Lack of adequate safeguards ensuring accuracy of the site’s information and its increasingly bad press – a result of both griefers and selfishly immature minders – will very likely be its downfall.

This is why I see Citizendium‘s reputation-based, “real identity” information verification model as having an excellent chance of displacing Wikipedia. Not only that, I suspect Citizendium – by virtue of being reputation-based – also has the power to move well beyond just being an information resource. Watch it get wrapped up into Brand Advertising and Marketing.

Furthermore, should Reputation systems link up with elements of freakonomics, it may even become wrapped up in commerce; perhaps morph into a kind of Business-to-Business Reputation resource or placeholder.

While all that’s interesting, what I now find especially intriguing is that Citizendium can build on what’s already posted on Wikipedia. Imagine that. It’s like being able to use all of Britannica‘s assets in order to make a better – and rebranded – print encyclopedia which you could sell through Lulu. Or acquire all of Disney’s animations, review them (with popcorn) , rebrand them as your own and stick them on YouTube in hopes of being hired as a consultant to a film studio making a feature-length animation.

Pretty wild to be sure, but this is Wikipedia… no one owns the words. Wikipedia’s entries aren’t intended to be claimed as if they are some kind of property; it’s a “We the People” operation. All-for-one and one-for-all and all that.

True enough. Yet I suspect we will see a minor uproar as hardcore Wikipedians watch “real” people with verifiable credentials, seizing an opportunity to bolster their real world Reputation, do little more than lend their real world names to other people’s Wikipedia work; thus, in essence, claiming it as their own. Remember, some of Wikipedia’s biggest problems originate from the control exerted, and sense of ownership felt, by the Wikipedia elite.

So what is this activity… a form of plagiarism? Open source hijacking? Reputation by word grab? I don’t know how it’ll be characterized or even what we’ll call it… though I’m partial to “CSooners“, for a number of obvious reasons.

I only know that the next question I have is: are they already staking claims?

We’ll know soon enough.

{Update: Just wanted to call attention to a C|Net interview (Link) with Larry Sanger, the guy behind Citizendium.}