The nascent Web encyclopedia Citizendium springs from Larry Sanger, a philosophy Ph.D. who counts himself as a co-founder of Wikipedia, the site he now hopes to usurp. The claim doesn't seem particularly controversial — Sanger has long been cited as a co-founder.
Yet the other founder, Jimmy Wales, isn't happy about it.
Sanger has assembled many links at his Web site that appear to put the matter to rest. Among the citations are early news stories and press releases that say Wikipedia was founded by Wales and Sanger. It was an offshoot of Nupedia, an encyclopedia project for which Wales hired Sanger to be editor-in-chief, and there is evidence that it was Sanger who proposed augmenting Nupedia with flexible, open Wiki software.
The Wikipedia entry on Wales also holds that Sanger played a sizable role, even giving Wikipedia its name. Without a doubt, Sanger was an early community leader on Wikipedia.
But Wales insists that Sanger was a subordinate employee of his, and by that measure, 20 other people would deserve co-founder status. Wales claims Sanger wrote those early news releases to inflate his role; Sanger responds that Wales approved the releases.
Wales has repeatedly tried to address this — even going so far as editing his own Wikipedia biography to tone down credit for Sanger. Such autobiographical contributions are frowned upon in Wikipedia's community, and Wales apologized after his changes were noticed and publicized by blogger Rogers Cadenhead in 2005.
In a lengthy instant-message exchange about Citizendium and other topics, Wales raised the subject of Sanger's role: "When you write this up please do not uncritically repeat Sanger's absurd claim to be the co-founder of Wikipedia."
"I know of no one who was there at the company at the beginning who would think it anything other than laughable," he added.
Yet a few moments later, Wales asserted that he didn't really care: "I am not bent out of shape about it," he wrote. "The facts are on my side, which is why I bother so little about it."
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