Larry Sanger

Lawrence Mark "Larry" Sanger (born July 16, 1968) is an American philosopher, co-founder of Wikipedia, and the creator of encyclopedia Citizendium.

As a philosopher, one of his special interests is epistemology, concerning the theory of knowledge. He received his B.A. in philosophy from Reed College in 1991 and Ph.D. in philosophy from Ohio State University in 2000. He has been involved with various online encyclopedia projects. He is the former editor-in-chief of Nupedia, chief organizer (2001-2002), and instigator of its successor, Wikipedia. From his position at Nupedia, he assembled the process for article development. During the early years of Wikipedia, he was the community leader and formed much of its original policies. In the interim, he taught philosophy at Ohio State University and was an early strategist for the expert-authored and edited Encyclopedia of Earth. He proposed Citizendium on September 15, 2006, first envisioned as a fork of Wikipedia. It was launched on March 25, 2007. Presently, he is the editor-in-chief of Citizendium and an internet speaker and consultant.

Early life and education

Sanger was born in Bellevue, Washington, and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. At seven years old, the family moved to Anchorage, Alaska, where Sanger spent his formative years and excelled in the classroom. At an early age, he was interested in philosophical topics. In high school, Sanger was asked, "What are you ever going to do with philosophy?" He said, "Well, change the way the world thinks, for one thing." He graduated from high school in 1986 and went off to Reed College, majoring in philosophy. As a college student, he explored the understanding and sources of knowledge. He also became interested in the Internet and its publishing abilities. These interests helped him to realize the benefits of using a wiki for an online encyclopedia. He set up an early attempt with a listserver as a medium for students and tutors to meet up for "expert tutoring" and "to act as a forum for discussion of tutorials, tutorial methods, and the possibility and merits of a voluntary, free network of individual tutors and students finding each other via the Internet for education outside the traditional university setting." He started and moderated a philosophy discussion list. The Association for Systematic Philosophy, managed by Sanger, published a journal. Dated March 22, 1994, Sanger wrote in his opening manifesto:

"The history of philosophy is full of disagreement and confusion. One reaction by philosophers to this state of things is to doubt whether the truth about philosophy can ever be known, or whether there is any such thing as the truth about philosophy. But there is another reaction: one may set out to think more carefully and methodically than one’s intellectual forebears."
He received his B.A. in philosophy from Reed College in 1991 and Ph.D. in philosophy from Ohio State University in 2000. His bachelor thesis is titled Descartes' methods and their theoretical background and his doctoral thesis concerned Epistemic Circularity: An Essay on the Problem of Meta-Justification. From 1998 to 2000 he ran a website called "Sanger's Review of Y2K News Reports" (formerly at, a resource for Y2K watchers. In 2007 Sanger examined the possibilities for education online. He explained, "Imagine that education were not delivered but organized and managed in a way that were fully digitized, decentralized, self-directed, asynchronous, and at-a-distance." He further stated, "There would be no bureaucracy to enforce anything beyond some very basic rules, and decision-making would be placed almost entirely in the hands of teachers and students." When asked in an interview with The Minnesota Daily: Do you see a role for Citizendium anywhere in academia? He responded: "Of course. The idea is it will be good enough for professors to be able to send their students and students to get reliable information from. I know a lot of students use Wikipedia as a place to start to learn about a subject. For that purpose it's fine. I actually think, as a place to start to get some information, it's a fine resource. Approved articles on Citizendium hopefully will be more reliable than articles on Wikipedia."

Online encyclopedias

Nupedia and Wikipedia

Nupedia was a Web-based encyclopedia whose articles were written by experts and licensed as free content. It was founded by Jimmy Wales and underwritten by Bomis, with Sanger hired as editor-in-chief. He developed a review process for articles and recruited editors. Frustrated at the slow progress of Nupedia, in January 2001 Sanger proposed a wiki be created to spur article development, and the result of this proposal was Wikipedia, officially launched on January 15, 2001. By virtue of his position with Nupedia, Sanger spearheaded and named the project, and formulated much of the original policy, including "Ignore all rules" and "Neutral point of view." Sanger was the only paid editor of Wikipedia, a status he held from January 15, 2001, until March 1, 2002. Sanger worked on and promoted both the Nupedia and Wikipedia projects until Bomis discontinued funding for his position in February 2002; Sanger resigned as editor-in-chief of Nupedia and as "chief organizer" of Wikipedia on March 1. Sanger's stated reason for ending his participation in Wikipedia and Nupedia as a volunteer was that he could not do justice to the task as a part-time volunteer. Nupedia shut down the following year.

In December 2004, Sanger wrote a critical article for the website Kuro5hin, in which he admitted that there had existed "a certain poisonous social or political atmosphere in the project" that had also accounted for his departure. While claiming "to appreciate the merits of Wikipedia fully" and to know and support "the mission and broad policy outlines of Wikipedia very well," Sanger maintained that there are serious problems with the project. There was, he wrote, a lack of public perception of credibility, and the project put "difficult people, trolls, and their enablers" into too much prominence; these problems, he maintained, were a feature of the project's "anti-elitism, or lack of respect for expertise." The article was the subject of much controversy in the blogosphere, and led to some reaction in the news media as well.

Origins of Wikipedia

Wales, who is the current de facto leader of Wikipedia, has publicly disputed since 2004 that Sanger is a co-founder of Wikipedia. Wales described Sanger as having been merely a subordinate employee, and stated of the co-founder issue, "I know of no one who was there at the company at the beginning who would think it anything other than laughable." Sanger was identified as a co-founder of Wikipedia at least as early as September 2001. Sanger was introduced to wikis at a January 2, 2001 dinner with Ben Kovitz, a computer programmer and regular on Ward Cunningham's wiki. Sanger thought a wiki would be a good platform to use and decided to present the idea to Jimmy Wales, at that time the head of Bomis. Sanger initially proposed the wiki concept to Wales and suggested it be applied to Nupedia and, after some initial skepticism, Wales agreed to try it. After sharing his wiki idea, Sanger formally proposed a "feeder" project for Nupedia titled "Let's make a wiki" and created a new page on Ward's wiki named "WikiPedia." Wales ascribed the broader idea of an encyclopedia that "non-experts" could contribute to, i.e., the Nupedia. Wales mentioned that he heard of the wiki concept first from Jeremy Rosenfeld, though he said earlier, in October 2001, that "Larry had the idea to use Wiki software." In fact, Sanger "came up with the name 'Wikipedia', a silly name for what was at first a very silly project." In response to Wales' view of his role in Wikipedia, Sanger posted on his personal webpage a collection of links which seemingly confirms his co-founder honorary appellation. For example, Sanger provided evidence, to the best of his knowledge, that he is a co-founder of Wikipedia, by referencing earlier versions of Wikipedia pages, citing press releases from Wikipedia in the years of 2002 - 2004, and asserting that early media coverage articles described Wales and Sanger as the co-founders. In review, Sanger conceived of the wiki-based encyclopedia as an idea to assist with Nupedia's growth inefficiency, and spearheaded and guided the community as its leader in its first year. During the time of Sanger's involvement in the project, he was routinely known (never disputed) as a co-founder. Moreover, Sanger has been widely cited in the media as a co-founder. Wikipedia became an accidental spin-off of Nupedia, originally to allow collaboration on articles prior to the editorial review process.

After Wikipedia

Sanger, a philosophy instructor, began work as a lecturer at Ohio State University, where he taught philosophy until June 2005. His professional interests are epistemology (in particular), early modern philosophy, and ethics. In his spare time, he plays and teaches Irish traditional music on the fiddle in Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, and also manages a site about the Donegal fiddle tradition.

In December 2005, Digital Universe Foundation announced that Sanger had been hired as Director of Distributed Content Programs. He would be a key organizer of the Digital Universe Encyclopedia web projects which was launched in early 2006. The Digital Universe encyclopedia plans to recruit recognized experts to write articles, and to check user-submitted articles for accuracy. The first step in this effort is the Encyclopedia of Earth, an electronic reference about the Earth.

In April 2006, Sanger published "Text and Collaboration: A personal manifesto for the Text Outline Project" arguing for the importance of what he called "strong collaboration" (that is, collaboration in which people work on the parts they're interested and nobody gets to claim control), the possibility that strong collaboration could be more effective with a less anarchistic set of ground rules than Wikipedia, and the creation of a new Text Outline Project to create The Book of the World, featuring summaries of the arguments of the great philosophers, organized by topic and time, along with summaries of their debates.

At the Wizards of OS conference in September 2006, Sanger announced Citizendium, a fork of Wikipedia. The objectives of the fork are to address various perceived flaws in the Wikipedia system. The main differences will be no anonymous editing — every author/editor will have to be identified by his/her real name, no "top-down" hierarchy of editors, and to aspire to be a "real encyclopedia." More differences are discussed at the Citizendium website in the FAQ. The initial fork is of the English language Wikipedia. Prior to its March 2007 public launch, Citizendium favored an emphasis on its own original articles. Sanger took a leave of absence from Digital Universe, announced on the September 27, 2006, "in order to set up a fully independent Citizendium Foundation." In 2008, Sanger was at Oxford University to debate the proposition that "the internet is the future of knowledge." The discussion included whether the internet was democratising the creation and distribution of knowledge.

Citizendium launched

On March 25, 2007, Citizendium, an English-language wiki-based free encyclopedia project, ended its pilot phase, entering a live and publicly readable beta phase. The launch coincided with a feature-length Associated Press article that ran widely, with a title in USA Today of "Citizendium aims to be better Wikipedia." Unlike Wales, who has compared his role in Wikipedia with that of a British monarch, Sanger said he would not head Citizendium indefinitely, and has already announced his planning to step off the leadership team in two or three years.

Two weeks after the launch of Citizendium, Sanger criticized Wikipedia, stating the latter was "broken beyond repair," and had a range of problems "from serious management problems, to an often dysfunctional community, to frequently unreliable content, and to a whole series of scandals." Citizendium has a form of peer-review and is oversighted by experts. Sanger stated in part:

"The work of the Wikipedians has astounded the world, but the amateur nature of Wikipedia's contributions, whose authors remain anonymous, is not for everyone. Some experts are hostile toward the idea of Wikipedia and many avoid Wikipedia altogether. We may take Wikipedia as an early prototype of the application of open source hacker principles to content rather than code. I want to argue that it is just that, an early prototype, rather than a mature model of how such principles should be applied to reference, scholarly and educational content. Where Wikipedia shares the culture of anonymity found in the broader Internet, the Citizendium will have a culture of real-world, personal responsibility."
In reference to the creation of a more credible online encyclopedia Sanger said: "I think there is a need for a more reliable and free [online] encyclopedia. If we can create a more reliable and free encyclopedia, particularly if we adopt a different system than Wikipedia's, then we should." Citizendium's editor-in-chief Sanger commented in late October 2007 about Citizendium's one-year anniversary from its initial private launch date of October 30, 2006. According to Sanger, the Citizendium’s readers have only just begun to see the power of the project's model:
"Simply put, we’ve pioneered a new and better way to use wikis, and an interesting, dynamic way to build an online knowledge base. Increasingly, the Citizendium is looking like the next step in the evolution of the collaborative Internet. The project's fundamentals are solid and growing stronger through motivated, diligent effort. Given enough time and enough people, the results would surely be amazing. If this possibility is amazing, it is even more amazing that it's within our grasp. What I do know is that if we do have a good chance to create something so stupefyingly useful for humanity, we must try."

Citizendium v. Wikipedia

With experience from earlier encyclopedias, Citizendium founder Larry Sanger started a new project in an effort to establish a scholarly and credible online encyclopedia. In an interview with CNET News Sanger explained the reasons for starting a Wikipedia alternative:

There are three clear differences between Citizendium and Wikipedia. Both projects have wiki similarities, though, the main differences include:

  • Prospective contributors are required to apply for membership under their real names. The nature of Wikipedia is mostly anonymous editing.
  • Experts in their field of expertise guide the Citizendium project to create stable, "approved" articles. Wikipedia seeks consensus and not truth.
  • Citizendium has a very low tolerance for vandals, trolls, or disruption. Wikipedia has been prone to disruption and sometimes misinformation.

Selected writings

A partial list of academic work, essays, and presentations Sanger has written include:Academic work


External links

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