Larry Sanger

Lawrence Mark Sanger (/ˈsæŋər/;[1] born July 16, 1968) is an American internet project developer and co-founder of the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, which he named and wrote much of the original governing policy for. He has also worked on other online educational websites such as Nupedia, Citizendium, Everipedia, and the Encyclosphere.

Larry Sanger
Sanger in July 2006
Lawrence Mark Sanger

(1968-07-16) July 16, 1968
ResidenceColumbus, Ohio, U.S.
EducationReed College (BA)
Ohio State University (MA, PhD)
OccupationInternet project developer
Known forCo-founding Wikipedia

Developing an interest in using the internet for education during college, he joined the online encyclopedia Nupedia as editor-in-chief in 2000. Disappointed in the slow progress of Nupedia, he proposed a wiki to solicit and receive articles to put through Nupedia's peer-review process, which led to the development and launch of Wikipedia in 2001. He served as Wikipedia's community leader in its early stages, but became increasingly disillusioned with the project and left it in 2002.

Since his departure from Wikipedia he has been critical of the project, arguing that despite its merits, Wikipedia lacks credibility due to a lack of respect for expertise and authority. He founded Citizendium in 2006 to rival Wikipedia. His status as a co-founder of Wikipedia has been called into question by fellow co-founder Jimmy Wales, but is generally accepted.

Outside of the internet Sanger's interests have been focused mainly on philosophy, in particular epistemology, early modern philosophy, and ethics. He formerly taught philosophy at his alma mater Ohio State University.

Early life and education

Lawrence Mark Sanger was born in Bellevue, Washington on July 16, 1968.[2] His father Gerry was a biologist and his mother reared the children.[3] When he was seven years old, the family moved to Anchorage, Alaska, where he grew up.[2][4] He was interested in philosophical topics at an early age.[5][6]

He graduated from high school in 1986 and attended Reed College, majoring in philosophy.[6] In college he became interested in the Internet and its potential as a publishing outlet.[5] He 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."[7] He started and moderated a philosophy discussion list, the Association for Systematic Philosophy.[4] 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.[4]

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.[8] Beginning in 1998, he and a friend ran a website called "Sanger and Shannon's Review of Y2K News Reports", a resource for those concerned about the year 2000 problem such as managers of computer systems.[4][9]

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, were licensed as free content.[10] It was conceived by Jimmy Wales and underwritten by his company Bomis, with Sanger as editor-in-chief.[11] Wales, who had been inspired to make a free-content encyclopedia by DMOZ,[12] had interacted with Sanger on mailing lists he had maintained regarding objectivist philosophy.[13] Sanger had e-mailed Wales and others about a potential "blog" project he had in mind after the millennium had passed and rendered his Y2K site obsolete, and Wales replied with the idea for Nupedia and invited Sanger to join.[9] Sanger began to oversee Nupedia in February 2000,[14] developing a review process for articles and recruiting editors.[15] Articles were reviewed through Nupedia's e-mail system before being posted on the site.[16] Nupedia made very slow progress and was at a standstill at the end of 2000, much to the consternation of Sanger and Wales.[17] Sanger proposed a wiki be created to spur article development in January 2001, resulting in the launch of Wikipedia on January 15, 2001.[18] Wikipedia was initially intended as a collaborative wiki for the public to write entries that would then be fed into the Nupedia review process, but the majority of Nupedia's experts wanted little to do with this project.[4]

The idea of using a wiki came when Sanger met up with his old friend Ben Kovitz at a dinner on January 2, 2001,[19] where Sanger was first introduced to wiki software.[8] Kovitz, whom Sanger had known from philosophy mailing lists,[17] was a computer programmer who had come across Ward Cunningham's Wiki.[20] Sanger was impressed with the possibilities of wikis and called Wales about it, who agreed to try it.[21] Sanger came up with the name "Wikipedia", which he later said was "a silly name for what was at first a very silly project".[22]

To the surprise of Sanger and Wales, within a few days of launching Wikipedia had outgrown Nupedia and a small community of editors had gathered.[4] Sanger served as Wikipedia's "chief organizer",[23] running the project and formulating much of the original policy, including "Ignore all rules", "Neutral point of view", "No original research", and "Verifiability".[24] He embraced Wikipedia's encouragement of boldness amongst its editors, telling users to "not worry about messing up."[25] He also created "Brilliant prose", which would evolve into featured articles, as a way to showcase Wikipedia's best articles.[26]

Sanger grew disillusioned with Wikipedia.[27] He has argued that by mid-2001, the Wikipedia 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".[28] While such issues were not important to Sanger when Wikipedia was merely a source of articles to run through Nupedia, as it assumed a life of its own he started to become more concerned about the community.[29] Of particular note in his increasing disillusionment and frustration was a Wikipedia user known as "The Cunctator", who would bother and troll Sanger.[29] Sanger responded to these trends by proposing a stronger emphasis for expert editors, individuals with the authority to resolve disputes and enforce the rules.[28] He also asked to be given more respect and deference by Wikipedians, which would lead to an increase friction between him and the community.[30]

Sanger was the only paid editor of Wikipedia.[31] In early 2002, Bomis, who had intended to make Wikipedia profitable from the outset, announced the possibility of advertising on Wikipedia in part to pay for Sanger's employment,[32] but the project was against any commercialization and the market for internet advertising was poor in any event.[33] Bomis discontinued funding his position in February 2002,[34] and Sanger resigned as editor-in-chief of Nupedia and chief organizer of Wikipedia on March 1.[35] Sanger gave his reason for ending his participation in Wikipedia and Nupedia as a volunteer as that he couldn't do justice to the tasks as a part-timer,[35] although he was also frustrated by sustained content battles and feeling he had a lack of support from Wales.[28]

Sanger attempted to revive Nupedia throughout 2002 as its activity petered out.[33] First trying to find an organization to take control of it as it appeared that Bomis would be unable to manage it and Wales seemed uninterested in it, he later attempted to himself purchase the domain and other proprietary materials of Nupedia from Bomis.[33] He has claimed that Nupedia was allowed to die a slow death and that its demise could not be said to be entirely due to the inherent inefficiencies in the review process it had initially possessed.[33] Its server crashed in September 2003, and the site was never brought back up again.[36]

Status as Wikipedia co-founder

Sanger's role in founding Wikipedia was the subject of edits by Wales to Wikipedia in 2005, followed by discussions within the community. Sanger accused Wales of "rewriting history" by disregarding his involvement. Wales told Wired that he only clarified details about his co-founder's contribution to the project and removed factual errors, and admitted he should not have done so.[37][38] Wales would later state that he had initially heard of the wiki concept from Bomis employee Jeremy Rosenfeld rather than Sanger.[22]

Sanger posted on his personal webpage several links which supported his role as a co-founder.[39] As early as January 17, 2001 Sanger was noted as "Instigator of Nupedia's wiki" by chief Nupedia copyeditor Ruth Ifcher,[40] and he was identified as a co-founder of Wikipedia as of September 2001.[41] Sanger has said that he organized Wikipedia while Wales was mostly focused on[42]

Wales devised the broader idea of an open-source, collaborative encyclopedia that would accept contributions from anyone and invested in it, while Sanger was in charge of actually organizing such an encyclopedia.[43]


Relationship with Wikipedia

Since 2002, Sanger has been critical of Wikipedia's accuracy.[44] 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".[45][46] Shortly after the launch of Citizendium Sanger once 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."[47] 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."[48] He continued: "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."[48] 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."[48] 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."[49]

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".[50][51] Sanger said that he felt it was his "civic duty" to report the images.[52] In 2012, Sanger told that 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 2012 but received no response at that time.[53] Critics accused Sanger of having an ulterior motive for reporting the images, noting that he was still in charge of the then-failing Citizendium and asserting that publicizing the accusations was unnecessary.[54]


At the Wizards of OS conference in September 2006, Sanger announced a new wiki-based encyclopedia called Citizendium, short for "citizens' compendium", as a fork of Wikipedia.[55] The objectives of the fork were to address perceived flaws in the way Wikipedia functions; anonymous editing was disallowed and all users were required to use their real names,[56] and there was a layer of experts who had extra authority.[55] It was an attempt by Sanger to establish a credible online encyclopedia based on scholarship,[57] aiming to bring more accountability and academic rigor to articles.[58][59] The site attempted to implement an expert review process, and experts tried to reach a decision for disputes that could not be resolved by consensus.[60]

Sanger predicted a rapid increase in Citizendium's traffic at its first anniversary in 2007.[61] After a burst of initial work, however, the site went into decline and most of the experts were not retained.[62] Ars Technica reporter Timothy B. Lee said in 2011 that Citizendium was "dead in the water".[62] Lee noted that Citizendium's late start was a disadvantage, and that Citizendium's growth was also hindered by an "unwieldy editing model".[62] 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.[63] By August 2016, Citizendium had about 17,000 articles, 160 having undergone expert review.[64]

Sanger, who had announced he did not intend to head Citizendium indefinitely in early 2007,[57] 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.[65] He stepped down as editor-in-chief of Citizendium on September 22, 2010, but said that he would continue to support the project.[66]

Other projects

Sanger has been involved with several online encyclopedia projects.[31] In 2005, he joined the Digital Universe Foundation[67] as Director of Distributed Content Programs.[68] He would be a key organizer of the Digital Universe Encyclopedia web projects which was launched in early 2006.[69][70] The Digital Universe encyclopedia has recruited recognized experts to write articles, and to check user-submitted articles for accuracy.[71] The first step in this effort was the expert-authored and edited Encyclopedia of Earth,[71] an electronic reference about the Earth.[72] In due course, however, Sanger would feel that the pace of content production at the Foundation was too slow for him, and unsuccessfully proposed open content to help push it forward.[55]

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.[73] It is a non-profit funded by grants, philanthropists, and the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi.[74] Sanger headed the development of WatchKnowLearn from 2008 to 2010.[75] It consists of a repository of educational videos for kindergarten to the 12th grade.[76] 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.[77] 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.[78] It uses the principles of phonics, using multimedia presentations such as videos, PowerPoint presentations, and ebooks.[78] In addition to aiming to teach children to pronounce words, it aims to teach the meaning and context of each word.[78]

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".[79] The site, which sought to be a crowdsourced news aggregator, went online in December 2014[80] but ran out of money in July 2015.[81] In September 2017, it was announced that Sanger became the chief information officer of Everipedia.[82][83] Sanger told Inverse in December 2017 that Everipedia is "going to change the world in a dramatic way, more than Wikipedia did."[84] Sanger said, "Everipedia is the encyclopedia of everything, where topics are unrestricted, unlike on Wikipedia."[85] It is an open encyclopedia contributed by many different editors that will use blockchain technology.[86]

On July 1, 2019 Sanger advocated for a social media strike to take place on July 4 and 5, to demand that social media platforms be decentralized to their user base from their top level management, in order to have assert control over user data and privacy.[87][88]

On October 18, 2019, he announced that he had resigned from his position at Everipedia and returned his stock holdings in Everipedia without compensation in order to establish the Knowledge Standards Foundation and develop the website Encyclosphere[89] (a portmanteau of encyclo[-pedia] with [blog-]o-sphere). Explaining the venture, Sanger said, "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."[90]


Sanger has a doctorate in Philosophy from the Ohio State University.[8] His professional interests are epistemology in particular, early modern philosophy, and ethics.[6] Most of Sanger's philosophical work has focused on epistemology;[5] in 2008, he went to the University of Oxford to debate the proposition that "the internet is the future of knowledge," where he argued that wikis and blogs are fundamentally changing the way knowledge is created and distributed.[91]

Sanger has worked as a philosophy instructor;[92] he began work as a lecturer at Ohio State University, where he taught philosophy until June 2005.[5]

Personal life

Sanger moved to San Diego in February 2000 when he was first hired by Wales to develop Nupedia.[93] He was married in Las Vegas in December 2001.[94] In January 2002, he returned to Columbus, Ohio, to teach philosophy at the Ohio State University.[67] In 2005, he and his wife moved to Santa Cruz, California to work for Digital Universe.[95]

Sanger supports the concept of baby reading.[96] He has recalled starting to teach his son to read before his second birthday, and has posted videos online as a demonstration.[96] He is also known for his love of Irish traditional music.[67] In December 2010, Sanger said he considered WikiLeaks "enemies of the U.S. — not just the government, but the people."[97]

See also

Selected writings

Academic work
  • Epistemic Circularity: An Essay on the Problem of Meta-Justification – doctoral thesis.
  • Descartes' methods and their theoretical background – bachelor thesis.


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