Slashdot reported on the creation of Citizendium by wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger. Citizendium is planning to do this specifically to impose some level of quality control. I’ve read through the plan currently on the website and it looks quite reasonable. Essentially it creates a layer of expert editors on top of the regular anonymous editors that do much of the grunt work in wikipedia. Expert editors are people with established, recognized backgrounds in particular topics. They must disclose their identity + verifiable credentials in order to get the status of expert editor. The idea seems to be that in case of conflicts, expert editors decide.
Like many users, I’m pretty fond of wikipedia. I am also aware of its limitations with respect to quality. Wikipedia and the associated community grew rapidly over the past few years. However the slightly anarchistic model that drives this growth ensures that has the disadvantage that the work of more knowledgeable individuals in the community can be damaged (intentionally and unintentionally) by unfortunate edits. This problem is real, not imagined, and it affects the quality of many wikipedia articles. I was reading an interesting article on mathematics the other day (brushing up some rusty skills and long forgotten concepts) which looked like somebody spent a lot of time on it. The current model of wikipedia makes it possible for people to add/change that article. However, I’d hate to see any non trivial edits in that particular article by someone without a solid mathematics background (e.g. me).
For all practical purposes wikipedia is rightly conservative in changing the way they operate. After all they have so far been very successful. Forking therefore seems a good way to experiment with new collaboration strategies. Forking does not need to be permanent, unlike source code it’s actually pretty easy to do some form of controlled synchronizing or even merging of articles. Branching might be a more appropriate name. Both branches will be able to benefit from work in the other branch.