.. some thoughts on Citizendium

Open-source communities have quite a lot of antagonism against their open-source ‘rivals’, instead of seeing as partners against Greater Evils. I imagine that bootstrapping a project like Citizendium is a huge task, so I followed some of the discussions in their forums:

  • It’s a nightmare. Only Mozilla Thunderbird gets more disrespect from me. – Lead developer Jason describes the software they use, mediawiki.
  • Can we like anonymize some stuff and submit Mediawiki to WorseThanFailure? – Technical liasion [sic] Zachary suggests.

Of course, being forced to run open-source package from greatest ‘rival’ is pain oh pain. Citizendium team even forked software, called it CaesarWiki.
This is how improvements to the fork are described:

Well, hypothetically, we can do whatever we want in terms of improving MediaWiki, including working on the difference engine.
However, I think that it’s more likely that any changes in that area will filter down from work done by the MediaWiki team.
They have a lot more developer time (in developer-hours/month) and a lot more expertise with MediaWiki.

Of course, having paid lead developer not understand core principles of how software functions (disrespect, remember?) doesn’t help with real improvements. Of course, half a year ago, big work was ahead:

Ideally, I would like to rewrite mediawiki from the ground up in OO style. Since that may not work well, the best way is to wrap it in a bow and let the “present” develop into something pretty over time.

Xoops was given as an example of package that scales, has some security, even uses caching, so integrating with MediaWiki would make it scale. Thats sure way forward. Of course, one of biggest mistakes Wikipedia folks has made is LAMP choice:

To not box ourself in like Wikipedia has done with Mediawiki, PHP and MySQL, we need to pursue modular, easy to use and easy to maintain and update solutions. No one needs network and system admins spinning dinner plates on sticks all day.

It is quite difficult to understand how people who never talked to us know about our operations that much. Back when this was written, Wikipedia had one full-time employee working on the system, few others did the work whenever they (we) wished, and that usually was creative (of course, sometimes artistic) work. Anyway, to run away from evil MySQL to PG, this set of arguments was used:

Disadvantage: no years of heavy use to test it. Advantage: fewer workarounds, easier to scale overall, incredibly knowledgeable community ready to help out.

Of course, at Wikipedia we failed to scale. Now what made me slightly envious, is discussion about security and operating personnel – having a pool of developers scattered around the world, with floating 24/7 schedule is priceless, we really can’t afford that at Wikipedia – at one moment all of us were in Europe, now just Brion is sitting in Florida (what is not that far away either).

Anyway, though I believe in Wikipedia evolution more than in Citizendium revolution, I wouldn’t reject advises – the project may be quite interesting, and if content can be reused on other projects, it just adds value to the Web. Probably we’re rookies in software engineering, but there has been long path to build Wikipedia platform. Some of us learnt technologies used specifically for the project. I’m not sure we did earn the disrespect we’re getting, but I still think that antagonism is harming Citizendium, not us.

4 thoughts on “.. some thoughts on Citizendium”

  1. It’s this whole ethos surrounding Citizendium; “oh, they’ve done that bit badly, but instead of helping to make it better, let’s just waste some time and resources and divide our manpower into a clone.”

    I’d be interested to see if anything useful filters back to us, and whether it’s of acceptable production quality.

  2. I’m not sure which rivalry is more vicious: the one between BSD Unix and linux, or the internecine rivalries of the BSD variants & the distributions of Linux.

    Geoff

  3. Hi Domas,

    I know Jason, and I’m sure his comment came out of frustration, not any personal antagonism or animosity. We appreciate the availability of MediaWiki.

    Mike Johnson
    Citizendium Executive Committee

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