User:Thomas Wright Sulcer/Experiences at Citizendium

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CZ:Experiences at Citizendium is a collection of comments from different users about their respective experiences at Citizendium. It is a way for users to tell other users about their experiences here.

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Thomas Wright Sulcer

My experience at Citizendium

I came to Citizendium after being thoroughly frustrated by Wikipedia. I considered that I was one of Wikipedia's best contributors, having mastered its rules, and was a good researcher, competent writer, skilled at referencing, neutral, and I wrote perhaps 50 new articles as well as important sections of important articles, but found Wikipedia frustrating. You know why. Or read my account here on Amazon of my Wikipedia experience (see my review): My review of a book about Wikipedia chronicling my Wiki-mis-adventures

I wanted to write about topics I care about: Spinoza's philosophy, citizenship, government, music.

I hoped Citizendium would be an improvement. It's smaller, tighter, with a higher quality of contributors in terms of smarts and skill, and a generally nicer atmosphere overall. When I ported good articles I had written on Wikipedia to Citizendium, I ran into flack about doing this -- even though I knew the articles were solid because I had been involved extensively with them, and wrote or revamped much of the material. The reasons given were that current contributors didn't want Citizendium to look too much like Wikipedia (which is seen as baser, less accurate, poorly written etc). So, to accommodate them, I did less porting, and more original work, but I found this slowed me down considerably. I found Citizendium's subpage system somewhat confusing, unnecessary, and don't think it "sets CZ apart from WP" but adds more fuss, slows down article creation, and may hinder Google's crawlers in determining what links to what, possibly lowering web exposure (but I can't prove this). Technically, I've found the CZ approach fussier from a technical standpoint which makes it harder for both writers and readers to navigate the system. I wanted to write; perhaps I should have studied the manuals first. But this was a speed bump slowing me down. Still, I wrote articles.

But my biggest concern was that when I googled my own articles, which were supposedly online at CZ, I couldn't find them -- even if I put the article title and the word Citizendium in the search bar. What was going on? For all of Wikipedia's problems, at least there was the benefit that people were reading what I wrote, sometimes hundreds of people each day. And the criticism section of articles like the US Congress on WP (which I wrote), traffic would be thousands of people each day.

So, my agenda shifted. How to get readership? Was this something I could influence? My first foray was thinking that if I wrote hot articles, (hot=identified by WP as big draws of eyeball traffic), imported/revamped to CZ, that more people would be steered here, and it might build the encyclopedia, possibly causing more people to look at my stuff, and bring in new contributors possibly, to help CZ grow. So, for about a month, I wrote all kinds of supposedly hot articles like Lady Gaga, HDMI, Acai berry or Elin Nordegren. I wanted to do this quickly while maintaining quality, so I often would start from the WP article, add new information, rewrite the LEDE, trim material I thought was unimportant, and bring it in. These efforts, sometimes, were viewed with suspicion by others here, with fears that I was polluting the project with substandard material, and perhaps who didn't grasp what I was trying to do. I found writing new articles from scratch (and trying to maintain quality standards) was slower, but I wrote articles on Romantic love, love with mostly new material. I also surmised that unusual sounding article titles might drive traffic such as bromance so I wrote that article, although I got some kidding (perhaps fair) about it. I wrote SEO, another article driver. Long story short: hot articles didn't boost traffic. CZ still anonymous. No eyeball traffic. I tried. Lesson learned.

In the meantime, I tried to pitch in on projects where I thought perhaps I might be helpful, such as Panton Principles, Panton Arms, Nitrogen cycle, Air, Brain morphometry, and deferring to existing contributors, adding diagrams, and such. I also worked on, either revamping, adding to, or starting from scratch: Plane (geometry) (contributed pictures plus a simplified definition) - Skive - Script kiddie - Quiz show - Jamie Cullum - Elin Nordegren - Intron - Cat adoption - Brittany Murphy - Scrubs (TV show) - Content Management System - Nibiru - Search engine optimization - The Burr in the Garden of Eden - Sanford Levinson - SERP - Dana Delany - DVD - Julian Hatton - Handyman - Georgina Starr - The Fame - Lady Gaga - Acai berry - James M. Bennett - Naruto - FairTax - 2012 - Vicki Genfan.

Working on SEO and SERP suggested another approach to boosting traffic: article thickets. That is, to build traffic to a few core articles, it's necessary to write dozens, perhaps hundreds, of small but intensely wikilinked articles which feed the big ones. I even did a mini-experiment, by looking at PageRank on a bunch of CZ articles, trying to see what variables were most important in boosting traffic -- this little experiment suggested the article-thicket approach would work. Here it is here: CZ:PageRank analysis of Citizendium articles (double click the column to see how important the wikilinks are). What happens is that Google crawlers explore web sites, and try to figure out what links to what and, as a result, get a sense of what's important on the web. Wikipedia is a HUGE so-called link farm with literally millions of highly hyper-linked articles, a VAST thicket. So I wanted to bring that strategy here. It's a legitimate way to create a link farm to increase PageRank and bring Google Juice to us. But it involves a LOT of work. Writing little articles is cumbersome because of CZ's subpage system (lots of clicking on tabs, waiting for pages to load, etc etc) but I was finally introduced to a rather quick way to write CZ:Lemma articles.

So I picked an area I'm interested in -- the Aeneid, about the Journey of Aeneas, written by the Roman poet Virgil in dactylic hexameter (all articles I wrote) -- and found a way to write related "thicket" mini-articles quickly, with plenty of wikilinks, to see if the Aeneid as well as related articles, such as the source Elizabeth Vandiver and The Teaching Company, and tried to build in wikilinks for future projects which are related, that is, articles I may write or revamp substantially in the future, such as the Iliad and Odyssey. So I created dozens of these thicket articles. What happened? As of yesterday, I'm getting flack that the definitions are too extensive and I'm being told to cut back on wikilinks since the objective of having a tight definition outweighs the benefit of having a wikilink thicket. I didn't get any praise or recognition for at least trying to make a contribution. And no place to take my dispute to.

It can be frustrating if you want to write articles that real people read. I want people to be able to find and read my articles, but it's like the effort of Sisyphos, constantly pushing a boulder uphill, only to run back down again at night. It's a lot of work. It's unpaid.

At present, that is, as of April 2010, I don't know for sure whether this thicket approach will succeed, but after about a month or so, I'll try googling my Aeneid article to see where it comes up, or what it's PageRank is. At least I'm trying.