Sanger in July 2006
Lawrence Mark Sanger
July 16, 1968
Bellevue, Washington, U.S.
|Education||Reed College (BA)|
Ohio State University (MA, PhD)
|Occupation||Internet project developer|
|Known for||Co-founding Wikipedia|
Lawrence Mark Sanger (//; born July 16, 1968) is an American internet project developer and co-founder of the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, for which he coined the name and wrote much of its original governing policy. Sanger has worked on other online educational websites such as Nupedia, Citizendium, Everipedia, and the Encyclosphere.
While studying at college, Sanger developed an interest in using the internet for educational purposes and joined the online encyclopedia Nupedia as editor-in-chief in 2000. Disappointed with the slow progress of Nupedia, Sanger proposed using a wiki to solicit and receive articles to put through Nupedia's peer-review process; this change led to the development and launch of Wikipedia in 2001. Sanger served as Wikipedia's community leader in Wikipedia's early stages but became increasingly disillusioned with the project and left it in 2002.
Since Sanger's departure from Wikipedia, he has been critical of the project, describing it in 2007 as being "broken beyond repair". He has argued that despite its merits, Wikipedia lacks credibility due to a lack of respect for expertise and authority. He founded Citizendium in 2006 to compete with Wikipedia. Sanger's status as a co-founder of Wikipedia has been questioned by fellow co-founder Jimmy Wales but is generally accepted.
Besides the Internet, Sanger's interests have been focused mainly on philosophy—in particular epistemology, early modern philosophy, and ethics. He taught philosophy at his alma mater Ohio State University.
Lawrence Mark Sanger was born in Bellevue, Washington, on July 16, 1968. His father Gerry was a biologist and his mother raised the children. When he was seven years old, his family moved to Anchorage, Alaska, where he grew up. He was interested in philosophical topics at an early age.
Sanger graduated from high school in 1986 and attended Reed College, majoring in philosophy. In college he became interested in the Internet and its potential as a publishing outlet. Sanger set up a listserver as a medium for students and tutors to meet for 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.
In 1994, Sanger wrote a manifesto for the discussion group:
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.
Sanger received a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Reed in 1991, a Master of Arts from Ohio State University in 1995, and a Doctor of Philosophy from Ohio State University in 2000. Beginning in 1998, he and a friend ran a website called "Sanger and Shannon's Review of Y2K News Reports", a resource for people such as managers of computer systems who were concerned about the year 2000 problem.
Nupedia was a web-based encyclopedia whose articles were written by volunteer contributors possessing relevant subject matter expertise and reviewed by editors prior to publication, and were licensed as free content. It was conceived by Jimmy Wales and underwritten by his company Bomis. Wales had interacted with Sanger on mailing lists. Sanger had e-mailed Wales and others about a potential "blog" project he had in mind after January 1, 2000, had passed and rendered his Y2K site obsolete. Wales replied with the idea of Nupedia and invited Sanger to join the project, and Sanger was hired as Nupedia's editor-in-chief. Sanger began to oversee Nupedia in February 2000, developing a review process for articles and recruiting editors. Articles were reviewed through Nupedia's e-mail system before being posted on the site. Nupedia made very slow progress and was at a standstill at the end of 2000, causing consternation to Sanger and Wales. In January 2001, Sanger proposed the creation of a wiki to speed article development, resulting in the launch of Wikipedia on January 15, 2001. Wikipedia was initially intended as a collaborative wiki for which the public would write entries that would then be fed into Nupedia's review process but the majority of Nupedia's experts wanted little to do with this project.
The idea of using a wiki came when Sanger met up with his friend Ben Kovitz on January 2, 2001, when Sanger was first introduced to wiki software. Kovitz, whom Sanger had known from philosophy mailing lists, was a computer programmer who had come across Ward Cunningham's Wiki. Sanger was impressed with the possibilities offered by wikis and called Wales, who agreed to try it. Sanger originated the name "Wikipedia", which he later said was "a silly name for what was at first a very silly project".
Within a few days of its launch, Wikipedia had outgrown Nupedia and a small community of editors had gathered. Sanger served as Wikipedia's "chief organizer", running the project and formulating much of the original policy, including "Ignore all rules", "Neutral point of view", "No original research", and "Verifiability". He embraced Wikipedia's encouragement of boldness among its editors, telling users to "not worry about messing up". He also created the concept of "Brilliant prose", which evolved into featured articles as a way to showcase Wikipedia's highest-quality articles.
Sanger later grew disillusioned with Wikipedia, saying by mid-2001 its community was being "overrun" by "trolls" and "anarchist-types", who were "opposed to the idea that anyone should have any kind of authority that others do not". While such issues were not important to Sanger when Wikipedia was a source of articles for Nupedia, as it grew into an independent project he started to become more concerned about the community. Sanger became increasingly disillusioned and frustrated by a Wikipedia user known as "The Cunctator", who would troll Sanger. Sanger responded to these trends by proposing a stronger emphasis on expert editors and individuals with the authority to resolve disputes and enforce the rules. He also asked to be given more respect and deference by Wikipedians, which backfired and led to an increase in friction between him and the community.
Sanger was the only paid editor of Wikipedia. In early 2002, Bomis, which had intended to make Wikipedia profitable from the outset, announced the possibility of placing advertisements on Wikipedia, in part to pay for Sanger's employment, but the project was opposed to any commercialization and the market for internet advertising was small. Bomis stopped funding Sanger's job in February 2002 and he resigned as editor-in-chief of Nupedia and chief organizer of Wikipedia on March 1. Sanger said he ended his participation in Wikipedia and Nupedia as a volunteer because he could not do justice to the tasks as a part-timer; he was also frustrated by sustained content battles and felt he lacked support from Wales.
Sanger attempted to revive Nupedia throughout 2002 as its activity petered out. He tried to find an organization that would take control of it because it appeared Bomis would be unable to manage it and Wales seemed uninterested in it. Sanger later attempted to purchase the domain and other proprietary materials of Nupedia from Bomis. He said Nupedia was allowed to die a slow death and that its demise was not entirely due to the inherent inefficiencies in its review process. Nupedia's server crashed in September 2003 and the site was never relaunched.
Sanger's role in founding Wikipedia was the subject of edits by Wales to Wikipedia in 2005, which was followed by discussions within the community. Sanger accused Wales of "rewriting history" by disregarding his involvement; Wales told Wired he only clarified details about Sanger's contribution to the project and removed factual errors, and said he should not have done so. Wales later stated he had initially heard of the wiki concept from Bomis employee Jeremy Rosenfeld rather than Sanger.
On his personal website, Sanger posted several links that supported his role as a co-founder. As early as January 17, 2001, Sanger was cited as "Instigator of Nupedia's wiki" by its chief copyeditor Ruth Ifcher, and he was identified as a co-founder of Wikipedia by September 2001. Sanger has said he organized Wikipedia while Wales was mostly focused on Bomis.com.
Wales devised the idea of an open-source, collaborative encyclopedia that accepted contributions from anyone and invested in it while Sanger was in charge of organizing such an encyclopedia.
Since 2002, Sanger has been critical of Wikipedia's accuracy. In December 2004, he wrote an article for the website Kuro5hin, in which he stated Wikipedia is not perceived as credible among librarians, teachers, and academics because it does not have a formal review process and is "anti-elitist". Shortly after the launch of Citizendium, Sanger again criticized Wikipedia, stating it 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". In September 2009, Sanger said he distanced himself from Wikipedia partly because; "I thought that the project would never have the amount of credibility it could have if it were not somehow more open and welcoming to experts ... The other problem was the community had essentially been taken over by trolls to a great extent. That was a real problem, and Jimmy Wales absolutely refused to do anything about it." Wales responded by stating, "I think very highly of Larry Sanger, and think that it is unfortunate that this silly debate has tended to overshadow his work". In a 2015 interview by Zach Schwartz for Vice, Sanger said; "I think Wikipedia never solved the problem of how to organize itself in a way that didn't lead to mob rule" and that since he left the project, "People that I would say are trolls sort of took over. The inmates started running the asylum."
In April 2010, Sanger sent a letter to the FBI about his concern that Wikimedia Commons was hosting child pornography and later clarified the object of his concern was "obscene visual representations of the abuse of children". Sanger said he felt it was his "civic duty" to report the images. In 2012, Sanger told FoxNews.com he worked with NetSpark to get them to donate or heavily discount its pornographic image filtering technology for use on Wikipedia. NetSpark attempted to contact the Wikimedia Foundation in 2012 but received no response. Critics accused Sanger of having an ulterior motive for reporting the images, noting he was still in charge of the failing Citizendium project and saying publicizing the accusations was unnecessary.
At the Wizards of OS conference in September 2006, Sanger announced the launch of a new wiki-based encyclopedia called Citizendium—short for "citizens' compendium"—as a fork of Wikipedia. The objective of the fork was to address perceived flaws in the way Wikipedia functions; anonymous editing was disallowed and all users were required to use their real names and there was a layer of experts who had extra authority. It was an attempt by Sanger to establish a credible online encyclopedia based on scholarship, aiming to bring more accountability and academic rigor to articles. The site attempted to implement an expert review process and experts tried to reach a decision in disputes that could not be resolved by consensus.
Sanger predicted a rapid increase in Citizendium's traffic at its first anniversary in 2007. After a burst of initial work, however, the site went into decline and most of the experts were not retained. In 2011, Ars Technica reporter Timothy B. Lee said Citizendium was "dead in the water". Lee noted that Citizendium's late start was a disadvantage and that its growth was hindered by an "unwieldy editing model". In 2014, the number of Citizendium contributors was under 100 and the number of edits per day was about "a dozen or so" according to Winthrop University's Dean of Library Services. By August 2016, Citizendium had about 17,000 articles, 160 of which had undergone expert review.
Sanger, who in early 2007 announced he did not intend to head Citizendium indefinitely, effectively ceased to edit it in early 2009, although an announcement confirming this was not made until July 30, 2009, on the Citizendium-l mailing list. He stepped down as editor-in-chief of Citizendium on September 22, 2010, but said he would continue to support the project.
Larry Sanger has been involved with several other online encyclopedia projects. In 2005, he joined the Digital Universe Foundation as Director of Distributed Content Programs. He was a key organizer of the Digital Universe Encyclopedia web project that was launched in early 2006. The Digital Universe encyclopedia recruited recognized experts to write articles and to check user-submitted articles for accuracy. The first part of the project was the expert-written-and-edited Encyclopedia of Earth. Sanger later felt the pace of content production at the Foundation was too slow for him; he proposed open content to help speed development but the proposal was rejected.
Sanger has worked at the WatchKnowLearn project, a non-profit organization that focuses on educating young children using videos and other media on the web. It is funded by grants, philanthropists, and the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi. Sanger headed the development of WatchKnowLearn from 2008 to 2010. It consists of a repository of educational videos for kindergarten to the 12th grade. In February 2013, it ranked as the top search result among educational videos on Google's search engine and attracted over six million page views each month. In 2010 and 2011, he continued developing a web-based reading-tutorial application for beginning readers, which was launched in as Reading Bear in 2012. It uses the principles of phonics and multimedia presentations such as videos, PowerPoint presentations, and ebooks to teach pronunciation to children. It also aims to teach the meaning and context of each word.
In February 2013, Sanger announced a project a crowdsourced news portal called Infobitt; saying on Twitter, "My new project will show the world how to crowdsource high-quality content—a problem I've long wanted to solve. Not a wiki". The site, which aimed to be a crowdsourced news aggregator, went online in December 2014 but ran out of money in July 2015.
In September 2017, it was announced that Sanger had become the chief information officer of Everipedia, an open encyclopedia contributed by many editors that uses blockchain technology. That month, Sanger told Inverse Everipedia is "going to change the world in a dramatic way, more than Wikipedia did". Sanger said, "Everipedia is the encyclopedia of everything, where topics are unrestricted, unlike on Wikipedia."
On July 1, 2019, Sanger advocated for a social-media strike to take place on July 4 and 5 to demand the decentralization of social media platforms to their user bases from their top-level management so their users can assert control over their data and privacy.
On October 18, 2019, he announced he had resigned from his position at Everipedia and returned his stock holdings in the company without compensation to establish the Knowledge Standards Foundation and develop the website Encyclosphere. He said of the venture, "We need to do for encyclopedias what blogging standards did for blogs: there needs to be an 'Encyclosphere.' We should build a totally decentralized network, like the Blogosphere—or like email, IRC, blockchains, and the World Wide Web itself."
Larry Sanger has a doctorate in Philosophy from Ohio State University. His professional interests are epistemology, early modern philosophy, and ethics. Most of Sanger's philosophical work focuses on epistemology; in 2008, he went to University of Oxford to debate the proposal "the internet is the future of knowledge", arguing wikis and blogs are changing the way knowledge is created and distributed.
In February 2000, when he was hired by Wales to develop Nupedia, Sanger moved to San Diego. He was married in Las Vegas in December 2001. In 2005, he and his wife moved to Santa Cruz, California to work for Digital Universe.
Sanger supports the concept of baby reading. He started teaching his son to read before his second birthday and posted videos online to demonstrate this. He is known for his love of Irish traditional music. In December 2010, Sanger said he considered WikiLeaks to be "enemies of the U.S.—not just the government, but the people".
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