The project will be put in a "back burner" state until 2007 or 2008 by project director Larry Sanger, who has decided that his energies are better spent on a new project.

May 2006

Dear scholars and coders,

The Text Outline Project (Textop) is a brand new project and here is a letter to put a personal face on it.  I want to explain how I feel about it and to motivate you to get involved, if you want more than just a simple project summary and less than a big project manifesto.

I'm very pleased to announce and organize this set of new projects.  My personal policy is to let people get to work, and to motivate them by giving them a strong voice in the management and design of Textop--and to recognize and praise excellent work.  I learned this, among much else, from my time with Wikipedia, a project I co-founded but from which have since distanced myself over policy differences.  Before that, I designed and edited Nupedia, a peer-reviewed free encyclopedia.  These and other experiences online--I've been organizing projects of one sort or another since 1995--have given me some well-grounded and definite ideas about how to organize and motivate people to create great new things together.

I'm convinced that there's a significant demand for this project now.  I submit two items as evidence: the broader, and incredibly ambitious, project I'm now working for--the Digital Universe--has received significant attention despite being in its infancy.  The DU is aimed at creating a central repository of reliable information, created by experts and that part of the general public who are willing to work on behalf of experts.  Also, the growing interest many academics and professionals have shown in using collaborative methods, especially wikis such as Wex, to build new kinds of information resources is very exciting.  In short, those who make it their life's work to discover knowledge and to impart knowledge professionally are observing Wikipedia, the Blogosphere, and other new collaborative publishing methods, and thinking about how to use similar methods but for perhaps more serious purposes.

Textop has sister projects managed by the Digital Universe Foundation and ManyOne Networks, which I am also involved with, and which you can learn about at http://dufoundation.org.  Textop complements those projects by giving you the option of participating in plain old text projects that you can help build yourself from the ground up: from the software, planning, and initial community-building, to the finished product.  Everything in Textop is always going to be managed online in an open, transparent way by participants--the coders, scholars, professionals, students, translators, and others who show up to build it.

We'll certainly have our challenges.  One problem is that many academics and professionals are not "hackers" and do not have an understanding of the culture or values that make open source software and open content projects like Wikipedia capable of producing so much for free.  Another is that much of the hacker community seems wedded to the ideas of anonymity, radical egalitarianism, and in-your-face disruption and cynicism, which drive off most academics and professionals.  By combining positive elements from both cultures, we're going to try something different.  We're going to try to combine the openness, the flatness of editorial structure, and the strong and radically efficient collaboration of the hacker community, all well illustrated by Wikipedia, with the meritocracy and collegiality of academia and the professional world.  In short, an open meritocracy.  (I explain this in more detail in the "project manifesto.")

These projects themselves are, I think, exactly what is needed: they aim to create unprecedented information resources made possible precisely by a new kind of collaboration that marries openness with expertise.  The world has seen many an encyclopedia, but it has never yet seen anything like the Collation Project, which will analyze public domain texts (to begin with) into paragraph-sized chunks, placing the chunks into an ever-growing outline of human knowledge.  The world has never had a constantly-updated, enormous encyclopedia of controversy, a debate guide (not a debate forum) directed by rhetoricians and logicians as well as content experts, that will help decisionmakers of all sorts to navigate the merits of argument.  And when has there ever been an exhaustive analytical dictionary of the English language and professional jargon, set alongside dictionaries in many other languages, that groups words together by sense or concept, and includes information about phrases, idioms, connotation, etc.?  And isn't it about time that the world had its own event log, in which current events are exhaustively summarized on the fly, based on multiple sources, and placed into a chronology that is continuous with a summary of history?

Isn't it time that scholars from around the world got together to create amazing new things--cutting out the middlemen of publishers and bureaucratic, hierarchical editorial structures--with virtually no overhead?  Isn't it time, finally, that the world got what it knows it can get, namely, enormous amounts of reliable free content created collaboratively?

These things are possible, but they have become possible only now--as the most credible content producers have been exposed to and intrigued by the possibility of strong collaboration online.

We're about to create something new and amazingly beneficial.  Please read about how you can get involved.

Thanks in advance--let's get started.

Larry Sanger (Ph.D. 2000, Ohio State, Philosophy)
Director, The Text Outline Project
Director of Collaborative Projects, The Digital Universe Foundation

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