Lawrence Mark "Larry" Sanger // (born July 16, 1968) is an American Internet project developer, co-founder of Wikipedia, and the founder of Citizendium. He grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. From an early age he has been interested in philosophy. Sanger received a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Reed College in 1991 and a Doctor of Philosophy in philosophy from Ohio State University in 2000. Most of his philosophical work has focused on epistemology, the theory of knowledge.
He has been involved with various online encyclopedia projects. He is the former editor-in-chief of Nupedia, chief organizer (2001–02) of its successor, Wikipedia, and founding editor-in-chief of Citizendium. From his position at Nupedia, he assembled the process for article development. Sanger proposed implementing a wiki, which led directly to the creation of Wikipedia. Initially Wikipedia was a complementary project for Nupedia. He was Wikipedia's early community leader and established many of its original policies.
Sanger left Wikipedia in 2002, and has since been critical of the project. He states that, despite its merits, Wikipedia lacks credibility due to, among other things, a lack of respect for expertise. In October 2006, Sanger started a somewhat similar encyclopedia to Wikipedia, Citizendium.
Sanger has taught philosophy at Ohio State University and was an early strategist for the expert-authored Encyclopedia of Earth. He has worked on developing educational projects for individuals behind WatchKnowLearn. He has designed a web-based reading program named Reading Bear which aims to teach children how to read. In February 2013, he attempted to start a news crowdsourcing project named Infobitt; it ran out of money in mid-2015 without the code being ready to handle a fullscale launch.
Early life and education
Sanger was born in Bellevue, Washington. His father was a marine biologist and his mother cared for the children. When he was seven years old, the family moved to Anchorage, Alaska. At an early age, he was interested in philosophical topics.
He graduated from high school in 1986 and went off to Reed College, majoring in philosophy. In college he became interested in the Internet and its publishing abilities. He set up 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. Sanger wrote in 1994 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 College 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 ran a website called "Sanger's Review of Y2K News Reports", a resource for those concerned about the year 2000 problem, such as managers of computer systems.
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."
In 2007, Sanger wrote an essay for the Edge stating in part: "As it turns out, our many Web 2.0 revolutionaries have been so thoroughly seized with the successes of strong collaboration that they are resistant to recognizing some hard truths. As wonderful as it might be that the hegemony of professionals over knowledge is lessening, there is a downside: our grasp of and respect for reliable information suffers. With the rejection of professionalism has come a widespread rejection of expertise—of the proper role in society of people who make it their life's work to know stuff. This, I maintain, is not a positive development; but it is also not a necessary one. We can imagine a Web 2.0 with experts. We can imagine an Internet that is still egalitarian, but which is more open and welcoming to specialists. The new politics of knowledge that I advocate would place experts at the head of the table, but—unlike the old order—gives the general public a place at the table as well."
In 2008, Sanger was at Oxford University to debate the proposition that "the internet is the future of knowledge." Sanger agreed that today's wikis and blogs are fundamentally changing the way knowledge is created and distributed.
In 2010, Sanger wrote an article for Educause stating in part: "In the last several years, many observers of education and learning have been stunned by the abundance of information online, the ever-faster findability of answers, and the productivity of online 'crowds,' which have created information resources like Wikipedia and YouTube. The enormous scope of these developments has surprised me too, despite the fact that they are more or less what many of us had hoped for and deliberately tried to bring into being. These sudden, revolutionary developments demand analysis: How is this latest information explosion changing the way we live? Is the relationship between society and individual changing? More to the point for this article, how is the Internet revolution changing education?"
Nupedia and Wikipedia
Nupedia was a Web-based encyclopedia whose articles, written by volunteer contributors possessing relevant subject matter expertise and reviewed by editors prior to publication, would be licensed as free content. It was co-founded by Jimmy Wales and underwritten by Bomis, with Sanger hired as editor-in-chief. In February 2000, Sanger began to oversee Nupedia. He developed a review process for articles and recruited editors. Articles were reviewed through Nupedia's e-mail system before being posted on the site. With Wales and Sanger 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. It was initially intended as a collaborative wiki for the public to write entries that would then be fed into the Nupedia review process of expertise, but the majority of Nupedia's experts wanted little to do with this project. Originally, Bomis planned to make Wikipedia profitable.
Shortly after a blank wiki was set up Sanger wrote the initial pages and promoted the site. To the surprise of Sanger and Wales, within a few days of launching, Wikipedia had outgrown Nupedia, and a small community of editors gathered. By virtue of his position with Nupedia, Sanger ran the project, and formulated much of the original policy, including "Ignore all rules", "Neutral point of view", and "Verifiability". Wikipedia quickly took off, but just months after it was launched, things started to go off the rails, Sanger says, and by the summer of 2001 the new online community was being "overrun" by what he described as "trolls" and "anarchist-types", who were "opposed to the idea that anyone should have any kind of authority that others do not". Sanger responded by proposing a stronger emphasis for expert editors, individuals with the authority to resolve disputes and enforce the rules.
Tired of endless content battles and feeling he had a lack of support from Wales, Sanger eventually left the project. Sanger was the only paid editor of Wikipedia, a status he held from January 15, 2001, until March 1, 2002. In early 2002 Bomis announced plans to sell advertising on Wikipedia in part to pay for Sanger's job, but the project was against any commercialization. Sanger worked on and promoted both the Nupedia and Wikipedia projects until Bomis discontinued funding for his position in February 2002 after the collapse in Internet advertising spending; 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 in 2003, shortly after Wikipedia's second anniversary.
Origins of Wikipedia
Wales started to play down Sanger's role in the founding of the project in 2005, a few years after Sanger left Wikipedia. In light of Wales' view, Sanger posted on his personal webpage several links which supported his role as a co-founder. Sanger was identified as a co-founder of Wikipedia at least as early as September 2001. Wales identified himself in August 2002 as "co-founder" of Wikipedia. Sanger said "While I was organizing Wikipedia, Wales was in the background and focused on Bomis.com." Wales stated in 2005 that he had initially heard of the wiki concept in 2001 not from Sanger, but instead from Jeremy Rosenfeld. Wales stated in October 2001 that it was "Larry (who) had the idea to use Wiki software for a separate project."
The critical concept of marrying the three fundamental elements of Wikipedia, namely an encyclopedia, a wiki, and essentially unrestricted editorial access to the public, first took form when Sanger met up with an old friend, Ben Kovitz. This meeting occurred at a dinner on January 2, 2001, and it was here that Sanger was first introduced to the functionality of wiki software. Kovitz was a computer programmer and a 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.
It was Jimmy Wales, along with other people, who came up with the broader idea of an open-source, collaborative encyclopedia that would accept contributions from ordinary people and it was Wales who invested in it. Sanger came up with the name "Wikipedia", which he later said was "a silly name for what was at first a very silly project". Sanger first conceived of the wiki-based encyclopedia project only as a means to hopefully accelerate Nupedia's slow growth. During Wikipedia's critical first year of growth, Sanger spearheaded and guided the following that gathered around this nucleus. Through this early period, he served as Wikipedia's "chief organizer", a position which has not been filled since his departure from Wikipedia. Sanger is also credited with creating and enforcing many of the policies and strategy that made Wikipedia possible during its first formative year. By the end of the year in 2001, the site had about 15,000 articles and upwards of 350 Wikipedians.
Since Sanger parted ways with Wikipedia in 2002, he has been critical of its accuracy, among other things. In December 2004, Sanger wrote a critical article for the website Kuro5hin, in which he stated that Wikipedia is not perceived as credible among librarians, teachers, and academics when it does not have a formal review process and it is "anti-elitist". In September 2009, Sanger mentioned one reason for distancing himself from Wikipedia: "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." He pointed out "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."
Sanger, a philosophy instructor, began work as a lecturer at The Ohio State University, where he taught philosophy until June 2005. His professional interests are epistemology (in particular), early modern philosophy, and ethics.
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 has recruited recognized experts to write articles, and to check user-submitted articles for accuracy. The first step in this effort was the expert-authored and edited Encyclopedia of Earth, an electronic reference about the Earth.
The question of accuracy over Wikipedia article content spurred Sanger to unveil plans for a new encyclopedia called Citizendium, short for "citizens' compendium". At the Wizards of OS conference in September 2006, Sanger announced Citizendium as a fork of Wikipedia. The objectives of the fork were to address various perceived flaws in the Wikipedia system. The main differences would be no anonymous editing: every author/editor would have to be identified by his/her real name, no "top-down" hierarchy of editors: it would aspire to be a "real encyclopedia."
In 2015, Sanger was interviewed by Zach Schwartz in Vice. In the interview, he said, among other things, that "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."
On March 25, 2007, Citizendium officially launched. In early 2007, Sanger announced he would not head Citizendium indefinitely. 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 was an effort by Sanger to establish a scholarly and credible online encyclopedia which aimed to bring more accountability and academic quality to articles.
Ars Technica reporter Timothy B. Lee said in 2011 that Citizendium was "dead in the water". Lee noted that Citizendium's late start was a disadvantage, and that Citizendium's growth was also hindered by an "unwieldy editing model". In 2014, the number of Citizendium contributors was fewer than 100, and the number of edits per day was about "a dozen or so", according to Winthrop University's Dean of Library Services. Citizendium has about 17,000 articles, of which 160 have been expert reviewed as of August 2016.
Citizendium was wiki-based, but with a few differences from Wikipedia: Prospective contributors on Citizendium were required to sign in using real names in contrast to Wikipedia users who may remain anonymous. The site attempted to implement an expert review process, and experts tried to reach a decision for disputes that cannot be resolved by consensus. After a burst of initial work, however, the site went into decline, and most of the experts left.
In early 2009, Sanger effectively ceased to edit Citizendium, although an announcement confirming this was not made until July 30, 2009, on the Citizendium-l mailinglist. On September 22, 2010, Sanger stepped down as editor-in-chief of Citizendium but said, at the time, that he would continue to support the project.
In April 2010 Sanger sent a letter to the FBI detailing his concern that Wikimedia Commons was hosting child pornography in its pedophilia and lolicon categories later clarified as "obscene visual representations of the abuse of children". Sanger said that he felt it was his civic duty to report the images. Sanger told FoxNews.com that, in 2012, he worked with NetSpark to get them to donate or heavily discount its pornographic image filtering technology for use by Wikipedia. NetSpark attempted to contact the Wikimedia Foundation in July/August 2012, but received no response at that time.
In December 2010, commenting in regard to WikiLeaks, Sanger said: "I consider you enemies of the U.S.—not just the government, but the people."
He has worked at the WatchKnowLearn project, a non-profit organization which focuses on educating young children using educational videos and other media on the web. Sanger was the executive director of the system. It is a non-profit 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 No. 1 search result among educational videos on Google's search engine, with page views surmounting 6 million each month. In 2010 and 2011, he continued working on developing a web-based reading-tutorial application for beginning readers which was launched as Reading Bear in 2012. It uses the principles of phonics, using multimedia presentations such as videos, PowerPoint presentations, and ebooks. In addition to aiming to teach children to pronounce words, it aims to teach the meaning and context of each word.
In February 2013, Sanger announced a project he named Infobitt - a crowdsourced news portal. On Twitter, he wrote: "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 sought to be a crowdsourced news aggregator, went online in December 2014. In July 2015, Sanger announced that the project had run out of money, he had let the programmers go, he was himself looking for a job, and that it was impossible to do a full launch of the project as the code behind it was still only capable of working "at a small scale".
Sanger moved to San Diego, California, in February 2000 when he was first hired by Wales to develop Nupedia. He was married in Las Vegas, Nevada, in December 2001. In January 2002 he returned to Columbus, Ohio, where he currently resides with his wife and two children.
Sanger supports the concept of baby reading. He says that he started teaching his boy to read before age 2, and he posted videos his child reading.
A partial list of academic work, essays, and presentations Sanger has written:
- Academic work
- Epistemic Circularity: An Essay on the Problem of Meta-Justification – doctoral thesis.
- Descartes' methods and their theoretical background – bachelor thesis.
- . Ballotpedia, December 2015.
- (PDF). LarrySanger.org, December 2010.
- . Educause Review, April 2010.
- (PDF). Episteme – Edinburgh University Press, February 2009.
- . Edge Foundation – Edge Reality Club, April 2007.
- . LarrySanger.org, March 2007.
- . () Edge Foundation – World Question Center, 2007.
- . Citizendium, September 2006.
- . Keynote at the Annual Meeting of Society for Scholarly Publishing, San Francisco, CA, June 7, 2007.
- . Keynote at the Handelsblatt IT Congress, Bonn, Germany, January 30, 2007.
- . Opening keynote at the SVForum, The Business of New Media, Santa Clara, CA, October 25, 2006.