Recently, some linguists have come up with a project called Glottopedia, which aims to be something like a specialised Wikipedia for linguists, written by linguists. The editors in chief have been promoting the project on various linguists’ mailinglists. I appreciate their initiative on this, but quite frankly, I don’t see what Glottopedia can offer which Wikipedia cannot. In fact, I think some of the decisions made when starting Glottopedia were ill-advised. Here’s why:

  • Glottopedia isolates linguistic knowledge from other knowledge, while Wikipedia intergrates it. I think it’s a major advantage of Wikipedia that all information is embedded into a huge, universal encyclopedia. If you read, say, an article on ‘laryngals’ on Wikipedia, it will let you click on ‘larynx’ and read all about its anatomical features etc. ‒ that’s a feature, not a bug.
  • Glottopedia restricts contributors to people with an academic background. I think this is a very bad concept, because (1) the equation academics = good contributors, non-academics = bad contributors just isn’t right, and (2) Wikipedia only works so well because of its open contribution model, and because so many people coming from different backgrounds collaborate. I don’t believe Glottopedia can rally enough contributors with such an ‘elitist’ policy, and even if it should turn out that the articles which get written are of better quality (which I’m not sure would be the case), the trade-off of having few contributors, few authors per article, and weak coverage won’t be worth it.
  • Glottopedia is directed at ‘linguists only’. That seems to imply that laymen have fundamentally different needs wrt an encyclopedia compared to academics. I don’t think that’s true. Both want information, and both want it to be presented in an accessible way. So where’s the difference, really? And who decides where the border between ‘professional’ and ‘laymen’ knowledge is? (E.g. Glottopedia has articles on the infinitive or natural language ‒ not exactly the type of concept you need a PhD to write something clever about).

Well, we’ll see what happens to Glottopedia, but personally I’d rather contribute to Wikipedia instead.