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 and founding Citizendium|
Lawrence Mark Sanger (//; born July 16, 1968) is an American Internet project developer and philosopher who co-founded the online encyclopedia Wikipedia along with Jimmy Wales, for which he coined the name and wrote much of its original governing policy. Sanger has worked on other online encyclopedias such as Nupedia, Citizendium, and Everipedia.
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. Sanger's status as a co-founder of Wikipedia has been questioned by fellow co-founder Jimmy Wales but is generally accepted.
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 has also criticized Wikipedia for what he perceives as a leftist and liberal ideological bias among editors of the project. He founded Citizendium in 2006 to compete with Wikipedia, stepped down as editor-in-chief of the project in 2010, and left Citizendium entirely in 2020. In 2017, he joined Everipedia as chief information officer (CTO), but resigned from this position in 2019 to establish the Knowledge Standards Foundation and the Encyclosphere.
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.
Around 1994, Sanger met Jimmy Wales after subscribing to Wales’ mailing list titled Moderated Discussion of Objectivist Philosophy (MDOP).
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.
Main article: History of Wikipedia
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 "cultural news blog" project that would cover social and political issues that he had in mind after January 1, 2000 had passed and rendered his Y2K site obsolete. Wales replied with "Instead of doing that, why don't you come and work on this idea that I've had?", presented the idea of Nupedia to Sanger, and invited him to join the project. Sanger was hired as Nupedia's editor-in-chief. He 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, with Sanger saying of the slow progress that "by the summer of 2000, it had become clear that the process we tested out [for making articles on Nupedia] was very slow." In January 2001, Sanger proposed the creation of a wiki to speed article development, which resulted 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. However, the majority of Nupedia's experts wanted little to do with the project, with users of the Nupedia advisory board mailing list dismissing the idea of Wikipedia as being ridiculous.
The idea of using a wiki came when Sanger met up with his friend Ben Kovitz for dinner 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 editorial employee 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 in 2007, 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 April 2010, Sanger sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (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. Critics accused Sanger of having an ulterior motive for reporting the images, noting he was still in charge of the failing Citizendium project and said that publicizing the accusations was unnecessary. In 2012, Sanger told Fox News that 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.
In a November 2015 interview with Zach Schwartz from Vice, Sanger said 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." He also recounted his experiences with trolls on Wikipedia during the site's initial growth, saying that "It was kind of stressful. I think it stressed out my wife more than me. The idea that there were people who were abusing me online just bothered her greatly." Sanger equated the trolls with modern-day social justice warriors. When asked by Schwartz what his thoughts were on Wikipedia in 2015, Sanger said that "I guess I'm moderately proud. I always sort of felt like we just got lucky with the right idea at the right time".
In a June 2017 interview with Alexis Sobel Fitts from Wired, Sanger credited how Wikipedia works with the cultural norms established by the website’s earliest editors, saying that "Online communities are self-selecting" and that "They will tend to drive out people—not by force—but simply people will self-select out of projects that have policies they dislike. So if there is a really strong initial commitment to neutrality, then people who are strong ideologues will tend to steer clear."
In a May 2019 interview with Sophie Foggin from 150Sec, Sanger called Wikipedia "a broken system" because the website did not "come up with a good solution" "to rein in the bad actors so that they did not ruin the project for everyone else." He also claimed that "This problem was supposed to be solved by Wikipedia’s neutrality policy, but Wikipedia has long since decided to turn the other cheek when influential editors make articles speak with one point of view, when they dismiss unpopular views, or when they utterly fail to do justice to alternative approaches to a topic."
In a blog post in May 2020, Sanger described Wikipedia as "badly biased" and stated that he believed it no longer had an effective neutrality policy. In his opinion, portions of the Donald Trump Wikipedia article are "unrelentingly negative", while the Barack Obama article "completely fails to mention many well-known scandals", and listed other topics that he believes are also presented with a liberal and left-wing bias, including the topics on Hillary Clinton, abortion, drug legalization, religion, and LGBT adoption. Sanger also said in the blog post that "It is time for Wikipedia to come clean and admit that it has abandoned NPOV (i.e., neutrality as a policy)." and that "At the very least they should admit that they have redefined the term in a way that makes it utterly incompatible with its original notion of neutrality, which is the ordinary and common one".
In a February 2021 interview with Maxim Lott from Fox News, Sanger claimed that "The days of Wikipedia's robust commitment to neutrality are long gone" and that "Wikipedia's ideological and religious bias is real and troubling, particularly in a resource that continues to be treated by many as an unbiased reference work".
Main article: Citizendium
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.
On July 2, 2020, Sanger wrote that he had transferred legal ownership of Citizendium to Pat Palmer.
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 December 2017, it was announced that Sanger had become the chief information officer of Everipedia, an open encyclopedia that uses blockchain technology. That month, Sanger told Inverse that Everipedia is "going to change the world in a dramatic way, more than Wikipedia did". That same month, Sanger told TechRepublic that "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, Sanger 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.org. 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."
On March 3, 2020, blockchain company Phunware Inc announced that they had appointed Sanger to their advisory board.
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 visited Balliol College of the 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.
Sanger has worked as a philosophy instructor; in January 2002, he returned to Columbus, Ohio, to teach philosophy at Ohio State University, where he taught philosophy until June 2005.
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. As of 2015, Sanger lives in the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio.
In December 2010, Sanger said he considered WikiLeaks to be "enemies of the U.S.—not just the government, but the people".
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.
Sanger was raised as a Lutheran, but became an Agnostic when he was 16 after his family stopped regularly going to church.