Monday, December 24, 2007

2007: The Year in Review

2007 was a very exciting year at en.wikibooks. Here is a brief recap:
  • Permissions: 3 new checkusers were promoted this year, bringing the total to 5. 8 new admins were promoted, for a total of about 29. I say "about" because we have a policy of desysopping inactive administrators, and several we desysopped this year. No new bureaucrats have been promoted, we currently have 4. Some users were nominated for Oversight, but the community voted not to allow oversight access. We discussed the creation of an Arbcom, but the community voted it down.
  • Policy: A number of changes, additions, and modifications were made to our policy pages. We updated policies concerning administrators, and we also made a number of changes to our inclusion criteria. Wikijunior inclusion criteria were completely revamped.
  • Appearance: The main page of our project was discussed on many occasions, and has been fixed/updated/modified regularly. Our primary discussion area, the "staff lounge" was completely reformatted, and was renamed the "Reading Room". A new designation called "featured books" was created, and has been very successful. We now have about 62 featured books, and more are added regularly. All the old message box templates were updated by stealing the template design from Wikipedia. Thanks Wikipedia!
  • Help: The "Help" pages, which have traditionally been an eyesore, have undergone a number of edits and improvements. Additionally, a number of new help books, and an entire help bookshelf have been created.
  • Organization: We added several new namespaces, including "Wikijunior:", and "Subject:" spaces. Old manual organization schemes, including the Bookshelves are being phased out in favor of category and DPL-based organizational schemes. Mass-categorization bots and volunteer efforts have been utilized to organize books alphabetically, by Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress numbers, and by subject.
  • Logo: A long-running logo discussion was stalemated in June because of last-minute problems in the color scheme of the selected logo. A new logo selection process was started in October and is expected to continue into 2008. A discussion has also been started to select the first official logo for Wikijunior.
  • Milestones: In 2007, we crossed some important milestones: 1 million edits, 90,000 total pages, 25,000 non-stub book pages, 8,000 uploaded media files, 60,000 user accounts. Some people estimate that we now have more then 5000 books, although this number is difficult to count accurately because old books are not always properly linked and categorized.
  • Donations: Wikibooks received a number of book donations, including 24 e-books from the United Nations.
  • Bots: A number of bots, automated and semiautomated clients, and other tools have been added to our roster for handling various tasks. Among these are page, book, and image categorization, discussion archiving, discussion aggregation, and other repetitive tasks. Several wikibooks users have adopted AWB and Pywikipediabot for various purposes. A bot policy was drafted and discussed, but never fully accepted.
This certainly isn't an exhaustive list of things that happened, only what I can remember and what I can easily find in the archives. It was, however, a very interesting year for Wikibooks, and I am hopeful that 2008 is even better.

Page Counts

It's been an interesting year in terms of page hit counting, to say the least. Wikibooks is being analyzed by the wikicharts page counter, and aggregated results are being kept on Wikibooks. These results are compiled per-book, and only the top 5o books are listed. Statistics have been running for about 3 months now, although only pages in the main namespace and the Wikijunior namespace are being kept. This means that hits to the [[Cookbook]] (which now has it's own namespace) are not being kept, nor are discussions in the talk or Wikibooks namespaces. Some people have suggested expanding the page counter to include these other spaces, but I dont know if there is enough interest to warrant it.

Here are some general pieces of information that we have gathered in 3 months of statistics keeping. Keep in mind that all these results are computed statistically, and are subject to my interpretation:

  1. en.wikibooks seems to get about 90K-110K page hits per month. This is only for the top 500 pages. This comes down to about 3000 hits per day. I think this is a reasonable, if low, estimate of readership
  2. Our three best books, consistently, are [[Blender 3D: Noob to Pro]], [[LaTeX]], and [[Human Physiology]]. Combined, these three books seem to get about 30K-35K hits per month. That's about 100 hits per day.
  3. The Main Page gets about 10K-15K hits per month (350 hits per day)
  4. Wikijunior, including the Wikijunior main page and all Wikijunior books, only seem to get about 1500 hits per month or less. Wikijunior books are rarely in the top 50 most popular books, despite our advertising efforts.
  5. For some reason, [[How to solve the Rubik's Cube]] is the 4th most popular book, for the last three months. It gets about 1 page hit per day or more. This single-page "book" is relatively lousy as far as books go, and it is edited relatively infrequently. [[How to use a Motorola DVR]] also gets an unbelievably high page hit count. Combined, these books get about 4000 hits per month.
These results are very interesting, to say the least, and it's helping us on Wikibooks to focus our attention on pages that people are reading the most. These results are limited, however. Some people have suggested installing Google Analytics as an opt-in gadget with our fancy new gadgets extension, although support for that has been luke-warm at best. We've also been promised that Wikicharts is going to be improved in the future, so that's something to look forward to.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Gadgets Extension

The gadgets extension was installed on all Wikimedia wikis yesterday, and already wikibookians have installed over a dozen javascript gadgets. With this addition has come a major refactoring, not only of global javascripts, but also of individual user's javascripts. Functions and features that had previously been global are being converted into optional gadgets. This way, users who do not want these features do not need to load them.

Several of our users had interesting personal scripts, and these are slowly being converted into gadgets as well. In this way, one person's hard work can be shared with the rest of the community quickly and easily. Scripts that once had to be installed by all users manually are now being removed in favor of global, gadget-based solutions.

I think that this extension is going to play a big role at Wikibooks, because users who are not javascript saavy can benefit from many enhancements, additions, and modifications that our more advanced users have been implementing for a long time. I think it's a great addition, and I'm happy that it's been installed on Wikibooks and all other Wikis.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Quick Logo Update

Just a quick update today about the Wikibooks and Wikijunior logo selection processes. Things are going generally well. There are currently 15 logo submissions for Wikibooks, but only 4 submissions for Wikijunior logos. We have seen a few submissions in the past few days, so I am hopeful that many more will come before we stop accepting submissions and move to the first voting phase.

This vote is most important for Wikijunior, which has never had an official logo. It's for this reason that I would like to see many more submissions for this, so we have a large selection to choose from. I know that there are some fantastic artists in Wikimedialand, so I'm hoping that we see a lot of great submissions in the coming days and weeks.

We haven't set any firm deadlines on when we will stop accepting submissions either, and since there have been so few submissions we are probably going to wait for a while yet before we try to move to the next phase.

Also, the logo submission rules for Wikibooks have been translated into german. If other people are willing to make translations into other languages as well, it would be a great help.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Multilingual Wikibooks

Wikibooks is already multilingual you say. Wikibooks is offered in over 100 languages. However, a new multilingual Wikibooks project has been proposed on meta that would act as a staging ground for multilingual work and coordination.

Think of a project where:
#Book translation projects could be coordinated
#Multilingual books, such as books on how to speak one language written in another, could be produced (or edited)
#Books could be donated and converted into wikitext (and then possibly translated into many languages)

Where commons is a multilingual media project, this proposal could be a multilingual book project. There is a growing demonstration of this new multilingual Wikibooks on the incubator wiki. It's an interesting idea that I hope gets some good attention in the next few weeks/months.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wikibooks Research

While doing some cleanup rounds the other day, I stumbled onto a book project being conducted on Wikibooks by Professor Curtis Bonk, from Indiana University. Professor Bonk, with whom I've had the pleasure of helping on other occasions has been studying Wikibooks, and Wikibookians for some time, and has even written some papers about us. I wrote about Professor Bonk in August. His website contains the lion's share of his information, but I've also been given copies of other papers he's been working on, and I've been informed that he is planning another study of Wikibookians, for which he needs volunteers.

In 2005 he did a study called "A Window on Wikibookians", and found out some neat demographic information about out little project. The majority (39%) of Wikibookians polled were between the ages of 18 and 25). Only 5% were over the age of 50. Strikingly, only 2.5% of Wikibookians polled were female. 50% had a bachelors degree or better, of which 54% had a graduate degree of some kind. 42% of surveyed Wikibookians were employed as teachers or professors.

Wikibookians who contributed to other WMF projects:
  • Wikipedia: 98%
  • Wiktionary: 34%
  • Wikinews: 19%
  • Wikiquote: 18%
  • Wikiversity: 14%
  • Wikijunior: 11%
Professor Bonk has been busy recently writing a few books on Wikibooks, such as [[The Practice of Learning Theories]], and [[Web 2.0 and Emerging Learning Technologies]]. You always hear about people doing cool research about Wikipedia, it's good to hear people doing the same for Wikibooks too.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


a new checkser candidate has been nominated, our first in a while. We at en.wb have 4 checkusers already, and some people say that this is enough. However, there are strong suspicions that we could be down to two of them within a year, and that's not even the worst case scenario.

Our first checkuser votes took several months to produce a positive result, and there were some nominations that were open for an entire year before being closed as futile. However, things have come a long way since then, and in less then a week our newest candidate is already getting close to the 25 vote minimum.

We've had some very active CUs, and some very diligent vandal fighters on Wikibooks, and we've seen a steady decline in vandalism because of them. This is, I think one of the big reasons why Wikibooks has seen so much growth recently.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Logo Discussion: Translations

The wikibooks and Wikijunior logo discussions were supposed to start with an advertising blitz. The last discussion, which ended abruptly with no final result failed, in part, because not enough Wikibookians participated in the discussion. Many people felt that the decision wouldn't be meaningful unless it was decided by wikibookians (or, unless wikibookians were well-represented). Because of this, before starting the new logo discussion, we made it clear that we were going to spend time advertising the discussion, and getting wikibookians involved. That effort appears to be bearing fruit, as we've been able to successfully post advertisments to en.wb, de.wb, fr.wb, pt.wb, ru.wb, simple.wb, pl.wb, and es.wb (not listed in any particular order). According to Alexa, this should make up about 82% of the total wikibooks population, which is a good starting point.

I can't really think of an instance where we needed to contact and communicate with the other language wikibooks projects. It's an issue that doesnt come up much. The effort that it has taken to find translators for all these projects has not been negligible, and the #wikibooks chatroom has never had so many people in it as it has while we were trying to get these messages sent. Wikibooks of all languages is lucky to have so many members that are willing to help each other.

I'm starting to get excited about this, personally. Wikibooks and Wikijunior could end up with some awesome logos when this is all said and done.

Monday, November 26, 2007

New Wikibooks and Wikijunior Logos

Logo selection processes have started today for both Wikibooks and Wikijunior, on meta. Wikibooks is looking to update it's logo, which has been the target of criticism for some time now. Wikijunior has never had an official logo, and it's hoped that having one will help to promote the project, and make it more professional-looking to prospective readers.

Some people may remember that there was a logo selection discussion for Wikibooks several months ago. That discussion ended in the final stage when it was decided that the selected logo could not use the red-blue-green combination of other WMF logos. People were unable to decide how to "fix" the selected logo, or whether to restart the process entirely, and eventually it just died. There were also many criticisms that Wikibookians were not involved in the selection process. We've spent several months fixing the rules and the procedure so that the same problems do not occur. First, we are doing an advertising blitz to try and attract wikibookians from all language projects. Translators are needed for this effort, and hopefully it won't be too big a task. Second, we have made it explicit that logos should not use WMF colors, and we are also strongly suggesting that the submitted logo should not be primarily blue, like several other logos are (wikiquote, wikisource, wikiversity, wikinews, etc). This is in response to the findings of the Marketing Committee, who say that the projects would benefit from color coding. Of course, this is just a guideline, but it's one that I hope our artists follow. Also, speaking of artisits, i've posted an advertisement about this on commons to try and attract some artists. I am also open to other suggestions about places we can go to try and recruit more artists. More submissions and more options are bound to produce better results in the long-run.

What we don't have quite yet is an official time-line nailed down, and that's something that we are going to try to finalize in the coming days. Until then, I ask everybody to get involved in this process.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fair use...again

The issue of fair use is up for discussion again, and while we seem to be making slightly more progress then is usual, we still don't have many concrete answers to show for our efforts. Every time the issue of fair use comes up, there are the inevitable people who suggest banning fair use outright (I'm normally one of this group, although recently i've favored a less dramatic resolution as a potential compromise). When we talk about banning fair use images, people always bring up a large train of all the broad categories of images that we will "lose", although a close inspection of these kinds of lists often yeild little fruit: Coats of arms and currency, while useful in WP articles have yet to find much of a home on WB. Software screenshots are another area of concern, but not nearly as big as one would assume. Many of our best software books are about open-source software, not proprietary software. There are a few books about proprietary software, however, that would really be hurt by removing fair use.

Logos have been a surprising sticking point. The [[Adventist Youth Honors Answer Book]] for instance has some recognition from the Pathfinders, and uses the Pathfinder logo under fair use. Removing those logos would take away a certain amount of credibility for that book.

In lieu of banning fair use entirely, we are considering a system where fair use images need to be "approved". That is, for a fair use image to be allowed on the server, satisfactory justification for why that image is needed in the first place, along with proper citations will be required. This is in response to many abuses of fair use tags in our image collection, many of which are improper, unjustified, unattributed, etc. This is a result of our relatively small staff of image patrollers, and a large span of time from the beginning of the Wikibooks project until just recently where a laisze-fair attitude about images was prevalent.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Simple English Wikibooks: Aftermath

A while back I started a discussion on simple.wikibooks suggesting a merger with en.wikibooks. This wasn't any kind of hostile request to close the project, but instead a request that the two projects combine and focus efforts to produce english-language textbooks for readers of all levels. I said when we started the discussion that it was just a friendly suggestion, and that if any of the active community members of that project disagreed with it, that we would drop the issue entirely.
One person did disagree with it, and so the discussion (or at least my role in it) is finished. What I don't want is for that project to stagnate or fade away over time, and I can't help but see that as the path it is currently traveling. However, another idea was suggested that instead of just hosting simplified english texts, that it could host simple texts from all language wikibooks projects. In essence, it would be a multilingual project like meta. I hope that's a direction that they consider, because it would be a way to expand their audience and their library.

Technical Wishlist

What technological changes or updates would we want to make Wikibooks better? This is the question that was posed to the community yesterday, and there have already been several replies. Some ideas are not new:
  • Create a new [[Special:Randombook]] that would randomly return a top-level page only (not a subpage). We do this function already using javascript, but this method isn't fool-proof, and since it's javascript it won't work in all browsers
  • Create a new [[Special:Allbooks]], as an analog for [[Special:Allpages]]. Again, it would only return a listing of top-level page names, not subpages.
  • Create a new {{NUMBEROFBOOKS}} magic word that would return the number of top-level pages, as opposed to {{NUMBEROFPAGES}} which doesnt make sense as a metric at Wikibooks
Some new suggestions were also provided, some of which are very interesting:
  • Modify [[Special:Search]], or create [[Special:Searchbook]] to perform per-book searches. This would be useful for some of our larger or more diverse books. At the moment, we use a javascript to call a google search to do this same thing, but again javascript might not work in all browsers
  • Create a special class of indexing page, where we could "design" a book from a high level. We could provide a list of pages in a specific order, and the index would automatically produce some common features of a book, such as a table-of-contents, a printable version, forward/backward navigation links between adjacent pages, etc. TOCs are basically just lists of links of the pages in a book in a specific order. Printable versions are like TOCs, but transcluding the pages instead of just linking to them (thus creating a single page that contains the entire book). Basically, it provides a way to specify the relationship between pages, so that we don't need to maintain those relationships manually. This is a very popular idea among wikibookians (as one might imagine).
  • Create an <includeonce>...</includeonce> tag or other similar mechanisms to prevent inter-page navigational templates from being included dozens of times into a printable version. At the moment, we have to use a messy <div {{#ifeq:{{SUBPAGENAME}}|Print version|style="display:none;"}}> tag to hide navigational templates on a print version, and that's hardly ideal.
  • A PDF generator, or PDF export function. I know server loads would be a pain, but it would help our efforts out so much to be able to make PDFs quickly and in a uniform way.
Some other perennial favorites were also suggested, such as upgrading our DPL, enabling StringFunctions, enabling the LilyPond extension, etc. I understand why the developers don't want these extensions to be installed, but wishlists don't need to be realistic.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

How Big is a Book?

The question came up yesterday: "How big does a book need to be?". Or, if I may rephrase, "What is the minimum size necessary for a Wikibooks module to be a book?". Surprisingly, there were some disagreements among wikibookians about the answer. It's not necessarily a bad thing, however, that we haven't codified every last detail. One thing that Wikibookians really pride themselves on is that they do keep the rules to a minimum, and they keep editorial freedom to a maximum.

Some people say that a book should be considerably longer then a corresponding Wikipedia article. I'm of the school that it's not a quantitative difference we should be shooting for, but instead a qualitative one. In my mind, what most separates out a book from an encyclopedia article is that a book should be instructional. Books likely should be more comprehensive then an encyclopedia article, but that's just a guideline.

People view book writing as a daunting task, but I don't feel like that is the case. Books can be long or short, in-depth or just scratching the surface. You can pick a subject niche, and expect other books to fill in the background information and other books to carry the baton into the more advanced subjects. On top of that, we don't have the same style and formatting guidelines that Wikipedia has, so authors are more free to get creative, or even go completely minimalist.

In short, writing a book should not be any more daunting then writing an encyclopedia article.

Monday, November 5, 2007

WritersUA: More details

More details are coming in about the WritersUA conference in March of next year. I have been invited to speak about Wiki-based content creation, and Wikibooks in particular. Details about my presentation are posted on the website now at:

I am asking people for input about what I should talk about in the presentation. My planning page is located here at Wikibooks. I am going to be setting up a draft presentation using Google docs sometime soon, and will be welcoming collaboration on that as well. Since I'm going to be putting myself in front of the audience, I get a final say in what ends up in the presentation, but help is always appreciated whether I use it or not.

Hopefully, this will be a good opportunity to advertise Wikibooks and attract some new contributors to our project.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Per-Book Licensing

Two books were found (or "rediscovered") today that have large prominent notices on them that they have been released into the public domain, not under the GFDL. The books have notices on them that "all future contributions to this book must also be released into the public domain". Checking the history, all the edit contributions to these books were from authors who have explicitly stated that all their contributions are released into the public domain, or anonymous authors (who have no legitimate claim to copyright anyway). So what's the verdict? Can a single book on Wikibooks be released into the public domain? Can we tell contributors that they must agree to certain alternate licensing schemes on a per-book basis? And what if a person edits a book or page without seeing that warning first?

This also brings up the topic of cross-licensing. Some books in the past have attempted to cross-license themselves under both GFDL and CC-BY-SA-2.5 (or similar). So long as all text is released under the GFDL, and so long as all authors agree to the cross-licensing scheme, is this acceptable? This is the kind of issue that we have never really come to grips with in the history of the Wikibooks project, and maybe it's something we should be dealing with now.

Monday, October 29, 2007


The veropedia project is finally up and running, and I'm very impressed with the results so far. After a quick browse of the site, I realized that what they are doing would likely be perfect for what I want to do with Wikijunior. It's a read-only website with prominent links back to Wikipedia (for editing). It also has a very simplified interface, which would be ideal for presenting to children.

One day, if the Wikijunior thing works out well, I would like to do something similar for ordinary wikibooks books. Stabilized versions of books would be an excellent tool for getting Wikibooks integrated into classrooms.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fundraising and the sister projects

Went to wikipedia today to track down a link, and noticed the new site banner: It's a display with a ticker, a graph and a video. A great advertisement for the new fundraiser. Went back to wikibooks and... nothing.

Wikibooks doesn't have the donation message. Wikiversity doesn't have it. Wikinews, wikiquote, wikisource, none of the sister projects have the donation message. I can't even imagine whether any of the other language projects have it. I know that the foundation has been desperately calling for translators, so I assume this effort is well under way.

What gets me is that wikipedians are all complaining about the way the banner add looks, but they take for granted the fact that they get to see it at all. The rest of wikimedia hasn't even been invited to the fundraiser yet, and wikipedians are complaining about aesthetics.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wikijunior needs help

I read a post this morning in the reading room about how contributions to Wikijunior have decreased in recent months, a trend which may be partially due to the removal of the "Wikijunior New Book of the Quarter" (WNBOTQ) advertisement from the main page. We are working now to replace that advertisement, in hopes that better advertisements will attract more readers and contributors.

What we really need to do is attract more readers who are willing to write books for children. Wikibooks has a policy about allowing allegory if it is instructional, so people really can write some cutesy childrens storybooks so long as they teach lessons in the background. Get together with a good illustrator, and we could be putting together some world-class childrens books.

Another issue, although I doubt that this has anything to do with the lack of contributors, is that wikijunior books aren't "safe" in that people can still vandalize them. Once FlaggedRevs is installed, we will have a good first line of defense against this, but it won't be perfect. The optimum solution might be to try and move forward with book publishing, something that we had tried to start in the past but never took to the next level. With enough publication-worthy books on Wikijunior, we might just be able to start it up again.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Writers UA conference

I've been invited to the WritersUA conference in Portland Oregon next year to speak on behalf of Wikibooks to an audience of software documentation authors. The goal is to discuss the Wikibooks writing process, and hopefully to recruit some new members to the project. Some of the topics to be discussed include:
  • Pros and Cons of wiki-based content creation
  • Introduction to Wikibooks, the WMF, MediaWiki, and associated vocabulary
  • Explanations of how to volunteer, contribute, and donate at Wikibooks
  • Discussion of some "lessons learned" that might be valuable to others working on a similar project.
Wikibooks has a traditional strength in software books and documentation as most of our early adopters were software-inclined in one way or another. Over time many of the early adopters moved on, and we presently see good distribution of contributions over a wide range of subjects. It's my hope that with some good advertisement we will be able to attract authors to help revive many of our dormant computer books.

i'm working on a summary now for the presentation. Apparently it's supposed to be about 75 minutes (allowing for Q&A). I'm certainly open to suggestions about what kinds of materials to cover and how to present it. I'll post more information on this blog as it comes to me.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Calling All Artists: Wikijunior Visual Math

In discussing the OLPC project, a few people at Wikibooks had shown an interest in helping, but were undecided how to do so. Using Wikijunior we could write books for the children recipients of these laptops to use for independent learning. However, as many of these children are not native english speakers, it's difficult for us to do anything directly. We could write a book with the expectation that it be translated "on the ground" by volunteers into whichever local language was necessary.

The concept also arose that we could write a book about the english language, that is a book designed to teach a non-english speaker to speak basic english without reliance on the reader's native language. Basic ideas about this involved a heavy reliance on images to associate simple words with common objects. Possibly even audio files could be added for help in pronunciation. This seems like an awfully anglo-centric solution to an unrelated problem and so this idea was scraped (at least for the OLPC project, this idea has plenty of merit among illiterate children in english-speaking countries).

From that idea we found the concept of image-based learning. We could use pictures and symbols, almost to the exclusion of all words, to teach basic subjects in a language neutral way. Using the imagemap extension we were able to come up with a proof-of-concept for the idea in [[Wikijunior:Colors]]. For the colors book, the table of contents is completely image-based: Click on a color to go to the page about that color. There are some english words in this book because it was originally designed as a simple read-along for parents and infants.

The next idea on the table was a mathematics book, which is slowly coming to fruition in the form of [[Wikijunior:Visual Math]]. This book has highlighted the need to create a large number of images representing quantities and basic arithmetic operations (addition, subtraction, counting, etc). There are some images for this purpose available on commons, but not nearly enough to complete this book. To that effect I would like to post a call to all wikimedian artists to help generate images for use in this book. Images of items in various quantities are needed most importantly (so that numbers can be directly associated with object quantities), although images that represent changes in groups according to arithmetic operations are also needed. There really is a lot of room for creativity here. I sweep through commons regularly, so images that appear in [[commons:Category:Arithmetic]], will be found and employed readily. If we can collect a large enough group of images we might even need an additional category ([[commons:Category:Numbers]] appears to already be used for a different purpose).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Script Trading

Spent some time over on Wikinews yesterday and today, and I saw something very interesting: They have a feature where you can load a per-page javascript or css file. That means for every page there is an option to load scripts and stylesheets specific to that page only. You don't need to add bloat to MediaWiki:Common.js in order to enable features on only one or two specific pages. Wikinews hosts these files in the MediaWiki: namespace, so they are only editable by admins by default.

I've borrowed the idea, and have started a small-scale test of the script on Wikibooks. Naturally, i've changed a few details, and discussed some uses with other Wikibookians:
  1. CSS pages are loaded in per-book, not per-page. This way book authors and editors can make large changes to the appearance of a particular book by making edits to a single file (and without having to rely on volumes of specialized formatting templates).
  2. Per-book CSS files might be located in the main namespace, in the book itself. These pages wont be protected by default which means that vandals will be able to mess with them, but regular authors and editors will be able to play with them more as well. This is an idea that some other users have suggested, and is worth testing.
  3. There isn't going to be any per-book JS loaded globally, but i'm testing a way for users to do it individually. That is I can load per-book javascripts, but I can't force other users to do the same.
In return, some Wikinewsies have adapted our google analytics idea for that project. Users can opt-in to the program by installing the script into their account, and can then receive the reports by email.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Google Analytics, Day 1

The first results are in from my experiment with Google Analytics. As of today, I was the only user to be using this script, but more users are joining in the test. Performance issues appear to not be a factor, and looking through the generated reports, I can't find much information that would make people personally identifiable. I'll keep searching on that front though, just to make sure. If IP addresses do appear in the report that would put a hold on the whole thing (Im a CU, so I probably won't abuse that information if i do see it).

Anyway, in the first 24 hours, I:
  1. Checked my watchlist 22 times
  2. Used FireFox 100% of the time
  3. Visited from two distinct locations
  4. Had 105 recoreded page view (we had a javascript error last night, so this number should likely be higher)
  5. Viewed my monobook.js file 10 times (trying to ensure the script was installed correctly)
  6. Am located in the united states
  7. Spent an average of 1:20 viewing each page
Like i said above, last night there was a javascript error that caused my script to crash, so a lot of my hits weren't recorded. However, the numbers look to be very useful. Also, I can export the report to XML, which means that we can likely use some scripts to analyze the data and to post the results onto the wiki (if that's what people want). All in all, I would say that the test is working out very well, and I can't wait to see how things go.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Google Analytics

The issue of page counting is one that is raised regularly, not just on Wikibooks but on many other WMF projects as well. There are plenty of good reasons why the software doesnt do this automatically, not the least of which is the caching mechanism. However, in a recent wikibooks discussion, the possibility of using the free Google Analytics service has been raised. Some users, myself included, have installed the google analytics script into their own personal javascript files.

I personally access Wikibooks through multiple browsers (IE6 and IE7, Firefox, Safari), so i'll be able to test the script in a variety of ways. I'll be looking at the accuracy and relevancy of the results, as well as the performance of using this tool. If everything is on the up and up, we may start seeing a few recommendations that this script be loaded into the common.js file, at which point we will get the site-wide statistics that we've always wanted. Of course if this doesnt work out, we will go back to counting page hits the old-fashioned way: on our fingers.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Updated Templates

Stolen? Yes, we ripped wikipedia's new {{Ambox}} template off cold. Let's face it: it was a great idea. A complete aesthetic overhaul, and a standardization of all the various messages that we put onto a page. Plus, the nice color-coded scheme is very logical and easily usable. Red means bad, blue or green mean good. It's a system that anybody can get behind. Of course, we had to fiddle with the icons, the colors, and the CSS, but we Wikibookians can never just leave well-enough alone.

Wikibook's old template messages were ugly and archaic. When the idea was brought up to replace them en masse with a newer, sleeker, prettier and more standardized series of templates, the decision was unanimous: "yes, do it now". And so it is done. Wikibooks now has a whole set of fancy new templates, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I got a message from Erik Moeller in my inbox today, and so should everybody else (if not you need to sign up for one of the various mailing lists). It was all about the new "Wikiquality" initiativew, involving the ne website, a new Wikiquality-l mailinglist, and the FlaggedRevs extension. It's all exciting stuff, and I think that Anthere was a genius for making reliability one of her focus points.

However, the concern that comes to my mind (as is usual) is that the whole thing seems very wikipedia-centric. Even on the website, it's all about wikipedia: not a single mention of any of the other sister projects. I can understand it, the whole issue was started because of reliability concerns over Wikipedia, and the negative press that it has received because of it's spam and vandalism and biased editing. I do understand that this is a good solution to a problem that Wikipedia has faced more then any other sister project.

However in this movement to improve Wikipedia I can see the catalyst for the explosive growth of other projects, specifically Wikibooks. One of the primary reasons why Wikibooks textbooks are not currently used in school class rooms, is precisely because of the non-static nature of those books. Teachers need a stable and reliable textbook to base a class around, and things would go to hell if the book changed mid-semester. Imagine if a classroom of young children reading a Wikijunior book woke up one morning to find pornographic image vandalism in their textbook? Stable versions would help to prevent that, and therefore make the whole experience more reliable and more safe.

Instead of hunting down the specific revision IDs of the pages in a book, a teacher could simply ask that the "current version" of the book be stabilized for the duration of the school period. Work could still continue in the background, and after the classes are over the new version could go live. Up till now, most classes have used Wikibooks as a collaborative writing medium, and we would really like to expand that to become a reading medium as well. I think this new quality assurance initiative is the last piece to the puzzle for Wikibooks to finally become a world-class source for reliable, high-quality textbooks.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Simple/English Wikibooks Merger

SB Johnny and myself have left a message on the [[Wikibooks:Simple Talk]] page of the simple.wikibooks project (the equivalent of the "staff lounge" or "village pump" that readers might be familiar with). The gist of the message is that we move to merge the simple.wikibooks project into the en.wikibooks project. Earlier this week, import was enabled between the two projects, which would make the transition easier then it would have been otherwise.

Initial reaction seems positive. We've tried to structure the suggestion in a way that is non-hostile. We want to accentuate the positives of a merger, without throwing around words like "failed project". Some of the positive reasons for a merger are:
  1. More administrators. En.wikibooks has more administrators, along with bcrats and CU's necessary to really keep cleanup tasks under control, and to effectively combat vandals. Simple.wikibooks currently only has two admins, one appears to be relatively inactive, and they require regular help from stewards to fight vandalism. If there is a merger, it's likely that the administrators from simple.wb could be made into admins on en.wb immediately, or through an expedited process.
  2. En.wikibooks is no longer "grumpy" (not my term for it). Our project used to copy many of the policies from wikipedia, such as the "one subject, one article" policy. We've expanded to allow multiple books on a single subject, especially if those books have different scopes, or different target audiences. This means it's perfectly acceptable to have an "X" book, along with an "X in simplified english" book. In fact, we already have a number of books written in simplified english variants, so the addition of the books from simple.wikibooks would not be any kind of problem or exception.
  3. En.wikibooks has really been expanding it's organizational structures recently. We have an entire namespace dedicated to organizing, and we've developed a number of category/DPL techniques for keeping books organized. We also have a very successful "Featured Books" program that helps to promote our best books.
  4. En.Wikibooks is very stable, with a solid group of contributors, large numbers of new accounts created regularly, new content being created regularly, etc. We are no longer suffering from the cyclic periods of ups and downs that smaller projects experience. Work is able to progress at a more even and consistent rate. This stability attracts new contributors who in turn bring more content and more visibility for our project.
There are still a few more active users on that project that we want to hear from, but overall i think it's a good idea that will bring benefit to all users. If they don't like the idea, that's fine too. I dont want to force anybody to do anything that they dont want to do, but I hope that other people can see the same kinds of benefits that I see from it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Adopt a Book

Books, especially younger books, need a strong driving force to keep them growing and to keep them on track. So often, the author of a new book abandons it before the book has reached a stable and mature status. Without a certain amount of stability, new editors don't contribute to the book, and it languishes over time. Wikibooks has many books that really just need to be adopted by new authors, authors who have the necessary vision and energy to turn a forgotten book-stub into a great educational resource.

[[Human Anatomy]]: Most of the links in the TOC are red, and the few blue links point to mish-mashed pages with all sorts of random content. This book has also been nominated for a merger with [[Anatomy]], which is in a similar condition. Compare this book with the fantastic [[Human Physiology]] book, which has tons of content and images.

[[Semiconductors]]: I started this book as a way to combine several stub-books and pages on this topic. Unfortunately, it isnt an area of expertise and I haven't been able to add to it much. Proof that even an experienced author can get in over his head. Since many of the pages were merged in from other books, there is very little continuity of discussion, nor commonality of formatting.

[[Geometry]]: There are many links in the TOC of this book, but most of them point to stub pages. Also, all the pages are named in a very non-descript fashion, such as "Geometry/Chapter 1". Comparse this to an excellent geometry book for younger readers at [[Geometry for Elementary School]].

[[Psychology]]: A subject that so many students study, but for which we don't have a good book. This book has only a few pages out of a relatively large outline. The few sub pages are either stubs or outlines themselves.

This is just a very small listing of books that need some help. Hopefully, i'll be able to list a few other good ones here eventually.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dewey Decimal System

So we go through all this effort to implement the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system, and now it seems the effort may have been wasted. We've created categories and templates, and all sorts of other pretty things to manage this new system, taking extra precautions to ensure that the system was both usable and expandable. Using categories and DynamicPageLists we were able to create a whole swarm of dynamically-updated lists of books by subject.

Recently en.wikibooks got a whole new namespace to use for organization, and we've been putting it to good use. For a look at the initial work (most of it bot-created) in organizing, you can travel to [[Subject:All Subjects]].

What we have now is (at least the beginnings of) a powerful new system for organizing books: logically arranged, automatically updated, completely uniform. In short, we just don't need DDC anymore, especially not with it's obvious deficiencies in the areas where Wikibooks needs the most precision (computer books).

Beyond that, some questions have come to light about the legality of using the DDC. It is under copyright, although the extent to which it is copyrighted is a matter of some ambiguity. The OCLC website has the following to offer in it's FAQ:

"The DDC is owned by OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Incorporated ("OCLC"). We do consider licensing arrangements for the DDC database. To request a licensing proposal, please send an e-mail message to, describing in detail your proposed use of the DDC."

Do we need a license even if we aren't using the database? Do we need a license to apply numbers to books, or do we only need a license to use the categories that OCLC has already created? If the system is a copyvio, we might have to delete it whether we want to keep it or not.

Monday, September 3, 2007

More organization, a whole namespace

Over the weekend, en.Wikibooks got a new namespace, the "Subject:" namespace. it's goal is to be an organizational namespace, where we can list and cross-list books based on a variety of metrics. By using a comprehensive set of categories, templates, along with clever use of special pages and DPL, we can automatically generate a large number of helpful book lists. The only problem so far is that there are so many possibilities, that nobody quite knows where to start.

Also, it will take much more effort to create templates and categories, and then properly tag all the books, to help maintain all the millions of lists that we are likely to develop.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Algebra I in Simple English

A bit of a discussion has arisen around the en.wikibooks book [[Algebra I in Simple English]]. This book was originally created on en.wikibooks as a simplified version of the [[Algebra]] textbook. There are a whole host of other issues relating to the algebra textbook that will have to be addressed in a different post.

The "Algebra I in Simple English" book was imported onto the simple.wikibooks project, and tagged as a speedy delete on en.wikibooks. One admin had already started on page deletions (although luckily didnt get too far) before complaints were raised and the issue was changed from a speedy delete to a VfD discussion.

On the VfD, the majority of en.wikibookians appear to be in favor of keeping the book, even if it's forked to another project. Of the votes cast by simple.wikibookians, they seem to be in favor of either deleting the book or else protecting it. Here are some comments posted by simple.wikibookians:

  1. "There are very few active contributers to this book and forking it into two projects will only harm the progress of the book." I would say in retort that there are very few members total at simple.wikibooks, and that the long-term prospects for any book are better at en instead of simple because of our higher reader and contributor volume. If the book doesn't have any contributors currently, it's likely a matter of bad timing.
  2. "There can always be a link on the Math bookshelf to the version on SE Wikibooks." We have a mechanism that we already use to create interwiki links. If anything, we should add a [[Simple:Algebra I in Simple English]] iw link to our copy of the book. en.wikibooks bookshelves are used to organize our books, and are not used as a general directory for wikimedia resources from other projects. We don't list on our math bookshelf all the mathematics books that are on en.wikisource or all the math-based courses that en.wikiversity has either.
  3. "...protecting the page from editing to encourage only one active version of the book" It's simply not our policy not to encourage people to contribute to a book. Wikibooks, in any language, doesnt just host pre-written books, we provide for people to create new content. If we are going to host a copy of the book at all, we are going to enable people to contribute to it. Beyond that, we have a policy against internal forks of material, but we have no policy on en.wikibooks against forks to an external project. En.wikibooks has only one version of this book, and we intend to encourage participation in it.
What other projects do or do not do, and what kinds of materials other projects host really can't be a factor in the decisions that we make. Collaboration between projects is fine and should be encouraged, but when it comes to deleting large volumes of content because another project might be trying to host a version of it, a certain amount of caution should be exercised.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I received an email today from a college professor who is interested in starting two new wikibooks on the subject of education. He pointed me to his website, where he has written research papers on the use of Wikibooks to facilitate learning. The one paper, titled simply "Wikibook AERA paper" is a good read and talks a lot about Wikibooks, the WMF, and the various sister projects. Specifically, it talks about the differences between novices to wikibooks, and "wikibookians" who are experienced wikibooks experts. Wikibooks novices, according to the study, appear to be more focused on individual accomplishments, while experts tended to be more driven by the community as a whole. Also, experts tended to be more optimisitic about the wiki development process (better expectations that a book could be "completed", more convinced that wiki was a valuable educational tool, etc).

Another point that is touched on, albeit briefly, was the idea that people new to Wikibooks were uncomfortable in posting incomplete or messy work. The authors surmise that school children are so trained to hand in a "final draft" and receive a grade for it, that they become uncomfortable brainstorming or posting something that isnt perfect online. It's not a bad hypothesis, i think.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Book Donations: Updates

I've been talking with mr [[Frederick Noronha]] about donating open-content books to Wikibooks, I've written a previous post about this, and I wanted to post a quick update. Mr Noronha has secured rights from the original author to release the first book, but apparently there is an issue because the original illustrator is unwilling to release the books images under an acceptable license. The question has been posed to me: is it okay to upload the book sans the images? The answer: yes. I mentioned a couple points:
  1. Most books on Wikibooks are works-in-progress. Most books are missing necessary images
  2. We have a whole mess of images at commons, we can probably find some suitable replacements
  3. Wikimedia contains a whole bunch of artists. I'm even passable with inkscape in a pinch. We can make new images to replace the old ones.
I'm waiting for the next reply, but hopefully this will smooth out the process.

Dynamic Categorization System

For a long time, English Wikibooks has been using a system of manually-maintained lists to help keep books organized. Historically, when a new book is created, we needed to:
  1. Add a link to the book on {{New}}, and remove the last book from the list.
  2. Add a link to the book on the appropriate bookshelf (we have 26 different shelves)
  3. Add a link to the book on the bookshelf's template
  4. Add a link to the book on the alphabetical list
  5. Add a link to the book on the appropriate Dewey Decimal category page
  6. Add a link to the book on the appropriate Library of Congress page
  7. Apply any additional categories to your book to help keep it organized.
As anybody can readily see, new book authors are either inundated with work, or else they skip a few steps and then the books aren't properly listed. The net result is a series of lists, many of which are horribly outdated, none of which are complete. In short, the system was very unhelpful and disorganized.

A better system is on the horizon, however, and change is already happening. Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress, and alphabetical listing systems were changed from manually-updated lists to a category-based system. Luckily, since books are already listed by subject on the various bookshelves, bots have been successfully employed to apply the necessary categories to existing books. Applying these categories to new books is trivial.

A bug request has been submitted to create a new meta-organizational "Subject:" namespace. This namespace, along with a comprehensive category system and DPL will allow us to have all sorts of different listings: "Subject:Geometry books", "Subject:Books for Children", "Subject:Books using BE850", "Subject:Books that meet the California public school curricula", etc.

Once we have a more comprehensive organizational system, some people have even suggested that we could list books from other sites, such as Wikisource, or Simple.Wikibooks. That may be a little too progressive (and requiring of more manpower then we could muster), but it really shows where the Wikibooks organizational system is headed: up.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Adminship and recognition

en.wikibooks has a policy, often the center of controversy, that inactive sysops are deadmined after a period of time. The justifications for, and the arguments against are both numerous, so I won't discuss them here.

There is always some opposition to this process, and the most recent round of it is proving to be the most controversial yet. Up for deadminship are three editors who played a large role in Wikibooks at the beginning of the project, but who have all since been completely absent for over a year. One of those admins, having had a particularly large role in the foundation of the Wikibooks project, was immediately re-nominated for adminship after the de-adminship process ended. If I may quote my fellow Wikibookian, Rob Horning:

Since the desysopping is a "done deal", I'm formally requesting that those who are interested to express perhaps a sort of "honor" upon this user that is deserving and experience has shown has not been abused at all.

I do understand this sentiment, and I really wish this were the case. However, adminship isn't some kind of "honor" that we bestow on people, it isnt a badge of accomplishment. The last thing we want is for admins to become some kind of aristocracy, and we don't want it to become a popularity contest either. My opinion has always been that admin tools are given to people who need them, and are returned when not needed. There are, of course, plenty of people who disagree with me on this, but I truely believe that adminship really is no big deal.

In lieu of using an honorary admin title, how do we recognize people who have had a large and beneficial impact on the project? Barnstars don't quite cut it (although they can be very nice). A "Featured user", or "User of the week" or something would also be nice, but i can just foresee it degrading into a mud-slinging popularity contest. A "user hall of fame" might be nice, where we could induct only inactive members, but i can't think of a way to do it judiciously.

And in the end, the greatest strength of wikimedia projects is that they are, nominally at least, flat. There is no definite hierarchy or aristocracy. There are plenty of cases where users draw a disproportionate amount of respect from their fellow users, but that respect is typically hard-earned over a long career of contributing and helping. Doing anything to set particular users up on a pedastool really defies the whole system, and serves to decrease the inherent equality among users.

Simple English Wikibooks

A message was posted today on the english wikibooks [[bulletin board]] about a related project, the simple english wikibooks. Simple English WB apparently has reached the milestone of 100 book pages. Looking through their recent changes, I can see why this is such a big milestone: over the past week or so the project has averaged about 25 edits per day, from only about half a dozen contributors.

I have to wonder why simple english wikibooks is so small compared to en.wb. There are many potential factors:
  1. No advertising. People simply don't know that there is a simple-language alternative to the regular english wb. I know that our project doesnt advertise for it, and it's hard to find anybody on meta or in the foundation really pushing for simple english to become more widely adopted.
  2. Direct competition. en.wb already contains books for many audiences: books for children (in the form of Wikijunior), books for school students, etc. Some of our books even specify that they will be written in a particular english dialect, such as british english or "e-prime". Each book is empowered to have a local "manual of style" to help keep all it's pages synchronized, and many books take the effort to specify what language and vocabulary is going to be used.
  3. Less versatility. Editors on simple english wikibooks can write books in simple english. On en.wb, authors can write simple and they can write complex. We can write books for children and university graduate students without having to log in to a different server. Of course, once SUL happens this will be much less of an issue. Readers, also, have the benefit of being able to progress from simple books to harder books without having to switch projects.
I don't mean to be disparaging, because i've seen the work on that project and I'm very impressed by the skill and dedication of their workforce. However, the fact remains that en.wikibooks likely has more books written in simple english then simple.wb has. Top that off with Wikijunior, our popular children's book project which attracts much attention from people who want to write in simplified english, and regular efforts to duplicate curricula for school curricula, and it seems that simple.wb has quite an uphill battle.

I do believe that the two projects should be merged. Not because simple.wb has failed in any way, but because they would benefit from our environment with more readers, more writers, more infrastructure, and a closer proximity to other efforts such as Wikijunior. It makes good sense to me, and I hope that other people seriously think about it.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

ICT Policy Handbook

A while ago english Wikibooks received a donation of books from the UNDP APDIP. Because the arrangement has been such a successful one, I have been contacted via email about additional book donations. One of the books being donated now is the ICT Policy Handbook.

An astute observer will notice that the handbook is listed as being released under CC-BY-NC-SA, a license which is not allowed on Wikibooks because of it's NonCommercial clause. This is the reason why the book hasn't been uploaded already. We are working with the author to ensure that the book is properly released under the GFDL, with the images and PDF file versions being uploaded under an acceptable license (probably CC-BY-SA 2.5, or cross-licensed with GFDL, etc).

The text of the email I received paints a very hopeful picture for this partnership:

Could you help to make this possible? It could surely be a win-win game, with this title (and possibly more in the pipeline) adding value to Wikibooks, and Wikibooks giving [sic] the added readership that not-for-profit projects could well do with.

To conclude, some good news here. I'm working on a project to set up an alternative publishing firm of my own, again not-for-profit
and I hope to get the books out in either CreativeCommons2.5Attribution or GFDL or some such suitable license. So I'll probably be coming back shortly with more proposals. Keep up your good work, guys!

The mentions of other books in the "pipeline" and future "proposals" are certainly exciting.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Books for "new" Audiences

I'm writing a short response to an article i saw on slashdot:

Danica McKellar, a television star, has written a mathematics textbook aimed squarely at teenage girls. Some people may think that this effort is wasted, or that it is sexist, but I think it's brilliant. Traditionally, mathematics and the sciences has been a domain for men, and few girls pursue studies in these areas. A big part of it is that young women are simply never exposed to math and sciences, and never develop an interest. If we look at the numbers of women who graduate from college in these areas (mathematics, science, engineering), the numbers will prove the point: the overwhelming number of graduates in these areas are male.

Part of a good book is a focus on the target audience. While many of our books are very generic and tend to focus on the "traditional" audiences, some of them have taken steps to focus their attention on others. Mostly this comes in the form of trying to take information that is typically intended for one audience, and present it to a new audience. Some good examples of this are [[Algebra I in Simple English]], [[Geometry for elementary school]], and Wikijunior's [[World War II]]. These, of course, are all attempts to focus material at readers who are younger then the traditional audience, not necessarily attempts to present information at a different group entirely.

Math and science books written for young girls would be a great start in making the intellectual playing field much more even. Even this one idea is not enough, Wikibooks is always searching for intrepid authors who are willing to present old information in new ways. Some of our books are very traditional, but we are also starting to see many new books created that are far from it. It's a trend that I hope will continue.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Unrepresented at Wikimania

A cursory glance shows that there isn't anybody talking about Wikibooks at this years Wikimania. For that matter, very few of the sister projects are even mentioned. Cormack Lawler is doing some presenting on the topic of Wikiversity (which I'm very glad about), and Craig Spurrier is doing some talk about Wikinews, but by and large the remainder of the sister projects are unrepresented. I have to wonder if so many of the sister projects aren't well represented just because of the large divide between where Wikimania is being held, and where most of the editors are among the sister projects?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Comparison of Open Universities

Cormaggio posted this link on en.Wikiversity's Colloquium (equivalent of the village pump) about a comparison and review of Wikiversity:

While it isn't about Wikibooks directly, there is mention that some of the free textbooks being used by courses in Wikiversity do indeed come from Wikibooks. It's the strong collaboration between these two projects, the simultaneous production of free textbooks and free course materials, that offers the biggest promise to education available in open content. To that effect it is almost worth wondering whether Wikibooks and Wikiversity would have been better served as a combined project, instead of being separated into two. Of course there would be many kinks to work out (perhaps too many), especially considering the differing attitudes of these two projects with respect to fundamental issues such as NOR.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Waiting on the New Logo

Just a short revisit to a previous entry: Guillom has asked that we wait to start the new Wikibooks logo selection process until after Wikimania. Guillom is giving some kind of presentation (one that has become highly anticipated) about logs and branding at Wikimania. After he discusses his findings and results, we will start the logo process up again.

One more convert

It's always great when a new user comes to Wikibooks and says "I can't believe they have all this great content available for free!"

Friday, July 20, 2007

Muggle's Guide to Harry Potter

Wikibooks contains a number of annotated texts and reading guides, but none of them are as famous as the Muggle's Guide to Harry Potter. The Muggle's Guide contains information on all the books and other media associated with the Harry Potter series, and is already bracing for the influx of new readers and contributors with the release of the newest book in the series: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This book has already attracted over 500 edits in the past week (which is a large amount for any single book), and that number is expected to rise dramatically.

All the site admins and RC patrollers have been asked to keep a special eye out for this book, both to revert the inevitable vandalism, but also to warmly welcome all new potential contributors. Already some of the most active contributors to that book are taking a brief wikibreak to actually read the book, during which time they can all expect to be less active then normal.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Wikibooks Logo: New Process

The voting page on meta where they have been discussing a new Wikibooks logo has finally come to some kind of decision: that we want to restart the process from the beginning and abandon the old results. The previous process suffered a large amount of criticism, both from people who felt the process excluded Wikibookians, and from a few people who felt that the final logo design was not of a particularly high quality.

Many people did like the logo that had been selected in the previous voting rounds, and we are going to reenter it (albeit with a modified color scheme) in the new selection process.

Here are some things that we would like to do:
  1. Establish firm guidelines, before any voting occurs, on what the logo should be, what colors it may use, what size, what format, etc. No wildcards later in the process.
  2. Get more wikibookians involved, especially wikibookians from other languages. This will involve translators.
  3. Set firm voting deadlines so that the process cannot drag out indefinitely. The last selection process failed primarily because most of the participants lost interest.
  4. Contact noted graphical designers, including wikimedians and others, who would be willing to submit logo ideas.
If we can get all these things together, and if we can lay out all the ground rules before the process even starts, we should have much more success.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A number of programming wikibooks, including books on assembly language, Ada, C++, and other languages have been listed at In almost every category, the wikibooks are listed at the very top of the page. Some examples:

x86 and MIPS Assembly books.

Ada Programming book

C++ Book (further down the page)

Not all of these books are very complete, but they are still good resources and can use all the publicity that they can get.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Value of a Textbook

When I was younger we had a copy of the 1985 Encyclopedia Britannica: nearly 50 black leather-bound volumes with gold filigree and gilded edges. The index alone took up over 2 volumes, packed to the brim with every subject under the sun. For a number of years it was the single nicest possession in our household, although I can't imagine that either of my parents ever read a single word in it. I would sit around as a child and thumb through the pages, reading articles on all sorts of subjects. However, though I would read the words and see the occasional image, I can't say that I learned a single thing. An encyclopedia is an excellent source of information, but without the necessary background and instruction, the information will never become knowledge.

4 years ago (Wikibooks is coming up on it's 4th birthday) some instructional material was written on Wikipedia. It can't be denied that textbook-style content doesnt belong on Wikipedia, and therefore this content was summarily nominated for deletion. This kind of content does have an intrinsic value, and so the powers that be decided to create a new project for it: Wikibooks. A textbook can do more then simply present the information, it can teach it, along with examples, demonstrations, exercises. We can write a module not only on a particular subject, but also with full consideration of the background information that the reader will have.

For an example of what I am talking about here, I suggest this challenge: Pick a random, but decent, wikipedia article on a science, mathematics, or technology, and try to read through it. Without the necessary background information, I would be surprised if you learn anything from that article whatsoever. This illustrates my point, that without the proper background information and instruction, the presentation of information is simply useless.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Wikibooks Breakdown

We've been doing a lot of effort recently to try and organize en.Wikibooks, and one of the results of this process is that we can start to see the general breakdown of exactly how many books we have in what subject areas. Because it is the most descriptive, I will try and break down the number of books that we have according to the Library of Congress classification system. Keep in mind that not all our books have been categorized at this point, this is just a preliminary count:

  • LOC A (Generalities): None (or none that have been properly categorized)
  • LOC B (Philosophy, Psychology, Religion): 16
  • LOC C, D, E, F (History): 2
  • LOC H (Social Sciences): 31
  • LOC J (Political Science): 6
  • LOC K (Law): 43
  • LOC L (Education): 46
  • LOC M, N (Fine Art and Music): 0 (or none that have been properly categorized)
  • LOC P (Language and Literature): 3
  • LOC Q (Mathematics and Science, including computer science): Several Hundred
  • LOC R (Medicine): 55
  • LOC S (Agriculture): 0 (or none that have been properly categorized)
  • LOC T (Technology): 55
  • LOC U, V (Military and Naval Sciences): 0 (or none that have been properly categorized)
  • LOC Z (Library and Information Sciences): 5
As we can see from this list, the majority of our books are located in the "Mathematics and Sciences" section. However, if we compare this list to the books that have been "featured", we can see a different breakdown entirely:

  • Math and Science (Q, R, T): 20
  • Social Sciences (C, D, E, F, H, J, K): 9
  • Humanities and Arts (B, M, N, P): 10
  • Misc (All others): 5
If you consider that Q and T represent a wide variety of subjects: math, computer science, engineering, science, and medicine, the 20 books in that category really doesnt seem like a large amount. This is especially true when you consider how many books are in this category, according to my first list. Even though there are many many books in the Q category (especially in the area of computers), relatively few of them go on to become featured books. Many computer books, especially books on obscure programming languages or on outdated software, are aborted.

As we get further into the categorization project, and we are more careful to properly sub-categorize all our books, I will be sure to post updated numbers.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Wikibooks Logo

The Wikibooks logo is an issue that needs to be decided, but which can't seem to draw anything besides complete apathy from the community.

The current wikibooks logo has a number of problems which are often sited as reasons why we need to change:

1) The "flower symbol" on the front of the textbook (frequently taken to be a diagram of an atom) seems to show that Wikibooks is biased towards science books, chemistry books in particular. Considering that the first Wikibook was the [[Organic Chemistry]] book, it's easy to understand why this might be the case. Wikibooks does have a rich set of textbooks from across the educational spectrum, and the "atom symbol" really isn't appropriate.
2) The unofficial slogan, "Think Free, Learn Free" really has no basis in the Wikibooks project itself. It is a nice idea, but I've heard tell that it's difficult to translate. Also, "Thinking Free" isn't really one of the goals of the project at all. It would do better as "Teach Free, Learn Free", or "Read Free, ...", or something similar. While we are a free content website, our primary focus is on structured instruction, not free-form thinking. I would love to have an official wikibooks slogan or something, but this isn't it.
3) The logo is relatively poor quality, even the newer SVG version of it. It also isn't as aesthetically pleasing as most of the other WMF logos are. In fact, in terms of it's design, I would say it's one of the worst logos on the internet. Thankfully, you can't judge a book by it's cover.

There was an effort to replace the logo that was moving along very well on meta. At the last stage of the vote, we hit a stumbling block because it was decided that the logo could not use the standard WMF colors (green, blue, and red). The logo that had been selected used these colors, so an impromptu additional round of voting was started to try and select a new colorscheme for the logo. This, of course, brought about a new wave of criticisms, because many people said the vote was invalidated, or that people would not have voted for the selected logo if it had been in different colors. At this point, the discussion was all but aborted.

A new round of voting was started recently, asking people to vote to continue the process and move on to the next step. While there is majority support for this new round, there are a few vocal dissenters who think that we need to either abandon the process entirely, or restart it all from the beginning.

What would be nice is if we could get this process on track, but there is so much confusion, and so much apathy from various community members that we just can't seem to move forward.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Reoccurant VfD

The [[Relationships]] book has been nominated for VfD (votes for deletion) again on en.wikibooks, making this the third time that this book (or part of it) has been nominated for deletion. That is the most that any book has ever been nominated, a fact that has some tempers riding unusually hot.

Chief among the common criticisms of the book are the obvious POV bias, coupled with the fact that there are no active contributors working on it who would be willing to make the necessary changes to keep it in conformance with policy. Those who defend the book (and there are some very notable names crying out in it's defense) cite the book's wiki-nature as one that is open to eventual improvement. After all, what is the use of a wiki if things are removed before they have a chance to improve? And can we really expect books to be 100% perfect from the very first edit, or is there a development curve where books are granted a certain amount of leniency until they "come up to speed"?

The fact that the book contains a number of POV violations, and even the fact that the book might contain some copyright violations is really not being called into question: We know that the book is currently not in accordance with policy. However, what is being called into question is the ability of the book to ever improve beyond these problems: Not a single change for the better has been made to the book since the very first VfD, several months ago. There are two options: the book needs to be deleted, or it needs to be improved. After 3 VfDs, it is looking like the book is not headed for improvement.

New information has surfaced that the book apparently is a digital version of a preexisting book. However, it is not known the exact details of this: Was the book donated to Wikibooks under the GFDL properly, or is it a copyvio? And if the book is a proper donation, would it perhaps be better suited at Wikisource, considering that it contains a strong POV bias? I know that Wikisource doesn't accept all manner of garbage, and we dont know whether the original book was self-published, or if it is released under an acceptable license, or what. We are trying to get in touch with the author, but using an old email address it's a shot in the dark. In the end we may end up deleting this book for a different reason then what it has been nominated three times on VfD for: a copyvio instead of all the POV violations.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Writing a Book: Scope

This is the second part in my series of how to write a good wikibook, this one focused on the proper selection of a book's scope. The scope is, in a nutshell, the amount of "stuff" in the book. The scope defines for us what the book will include, what it will exclude, and to what depth the material will be covered.

One of the key concepts when considering the scope of a book, and the one that most wikimedians will be familiar with, is the idea that "Wiki is not paper". A wikibook simply doesnt have a maximum nor a minimum number of pages, and it is just as easy (and cost efficient) to write two short wikibooks as it is to write one large one. In the world of dead-tree publishing, books come with a pricetag--and that price tag is typically outrageous. We can't afford to buy two separate books, and so we prize books that cram in as much information as possible, even information that is loosely related or unnecessary.

Real-world books are designed for real-world needs: textbooks are typically broken up according to school semesters. Consider the school of economics, where first year students typically need to buy a book in "introduction to economics". The following year, you are buying an "introduction to microeconomics" and an "introduction to macroeconomics" book. To make matters worse, both of the two new books you have just bought include refresher chapters on the basic introductory material, as well as introductory chapters for the other discipline. At this point you have spent 300$, you have 3 copies of introductory material, lots of material overlap, and very little new information.

Being that a wikibook isnt paper, why shouldn't all this material be arranged more logically? instead of having an introductory chapter in each advanced book, you can post a link that says "read this first". Instead of having a series of books that are "introduction to...", "intermediate..." and "advanced...", you could have a single book with a single fluid progression of the material from the beginning to the end. This means there are fewer overlaps, fewer gaps, and more coherency between separate semesters of study in the same subject. Instead of having a whole pool, we can have three books on economics: "Economics", "Microeconomics", and "Macroeconomics". Or, if we were feeling ambitious, we could write just a single book with the knowledge that our book can be as long as we want it to be: "Economics". Of course organizing a large book that covers multiple sub-subjects and caters to multiple audiences can be an overwhelming task.

There is no one right way to do it, but that doesn't mean that some ways aren't better then others. Books, like many other areas of life, strongly benefit from a little bit of planning before you start putting pen to paper (or even finger to keyboard).

A different atmosphere

On the planet Wikimedia and in other places, I read posts frequently from disgruntled wikipedians. As I read over these posts, I find myself saying on a point-by-point basis that "Wikibooks doesnt have this problem", or "Wikibooks doesnt have that problem". And while I can't speak for all the sister projects, I can tell you that in my experience, the level of discontent is higher among the Wikipedians then it is among any other community group under the WMF.

I know that Wikipedia does have to face a number of problems that the other sister projects don't face, or that they haven't faced yet. There is the sentiment that Wikipedia is in some kind of competition with other encyclopedias (notably Britannica, which is mentioned most frequently), and also the fact that Wikipedia has grown a fair level of name recognition. When you know that the neighbors are watching, you do tend to put on a bit of a show, after all. Also, because wikipedia has grown so famous, there is certainly the urge for people to write up an article about everything, which has spawned a large network of "notability guidelines", many of which are very strict and rigid.

What the sister projects don't seem to have, or at least they don't seem to have it as much, is the drama. We don't have "factions", and we rarely have "trolling". There is no such thing as a "deletionist" or an "inclusionist". We have never voted to delete our Counter-Vandalism Unit. Bureaucracy, too, is something that many of the sister projects are proud to avoid. To put things into perspective about how little bureaucracy Wikibooks has, I had previously proposed a version of the "KISS" guideline, and the community rejected it as being "instruction creep". In this case, I suppose, the community preferred to lead by example.

Discussions are typically not heated, and very focused on the positive. People are congratulated on their successes, forgiven for their mistakes, and encouraged to continue their work. We block vandals quickly, we don't block our editors at all, and we respect everybody's best efforts.

The sister projects are hardly utopian, and I don't want to make it sound like we are so great, and Wikipedia is so bad. However for anybody who has grown a little weary of the hustle and bustle of Wikipedia, the sister projects share the same ideals of free content while fostering a very different working atmosphere. Sometimes a change of pace is all you really need to get your creative juices flowing again.

Writing a book: the Title

This is going to be the first part in a small series of posts about how to write a good wikibook. What I would like to talk about first is the title of a book, because it's the first decision that the author of a Wikibook needs to make, and it is the first thing that the reader is going to see when they read the book.

It's very tempting for people to try and emulate what they see in the real world. People are almost universally familiar with dead-tree books, and some very popular books have a noticable impact on our work at Wikibooks. Several books, and many requests at [[Wikibooks:Requested books]] will attempt to use naming schemes from existing book series, such as "In a Nutshell", or "For Dummies".

If we look through the list of requested books, we can see a number of instances where people suggest titles that are lousy. The same types of people who are suggesting the book ideas are the people who are creating new books, so this makes a good case study. I'll give some examples of titles that were actually suggested on our site, so that you can see what I mean:

"Drawing Politically Incorrect Cartoons" How to draw a politically correct cartoon is likely the same type of process as drawing a politically incorrect one. This title is also a good example of a particular type of book that we see too often, the "How to do something bad" type of books. Some of them, such as "how to build a bomb", or "how to build a Bong" (both titles of actual books that we've had to deal with) are deleted swiftly, although others are left to linger in a VfD grey zone forever.

"How to Take Photos of Children and Infants without Getting Blurry Pictures" This title is entirely too specific. It should be assumed that any book about "how to photograph children" would include at least a side note about avoiding blurry pictures. For that matter, a book on "how to photograph people" would probably have the same information, but would be much more useful. And could you actually write an entire book about taking non-blurry photos of children?

"Nude Basketball" It's hard to tell which is more ridiculous: the fact that people attempt to write books like this, or the fact that there are people out there putting in requests for us to write it. The supply/demand curve here is mind-boggling.

"Who Really Cares about Philosophy?" Good question, who does care? What is the appeal of this type of title that a more simple and elegant "Philosophy", or even "Basics of Philosophy" couldn't handle? This is another good example where people try to write Wikibooks to mirror existing books. The author probably found a book with this same title, or a similar variant, and wants us to duplicate it free of charge.

"Flying Spaghetti Monsterism" Perhaps the wrong subject to be writing a book about. It seems the much more poignant book would be one about the effects of the First Amendment on public school curricula, or even the debate over Evolution v. Intellegent Design in America. After all, we want to teach things that people actually want to learn.

"How the Electricity in Your Wall Creates Your Computing Experience" Another title that is far too long winded. A much more simple book would be titled "How Computers Work". This is also an example of a potential book that is far too broad: there are too many subjects that you need to talk about between AC current and Windows XP.

"Microchips: Design, Production, and Business" Or, simply "Microchips".

"Widows Communication Foundation Unleashed" (sic) Another example of people trying to use real-world book titles as a model for a Wikibooks title. The danger is that "...Unleashed!" is probably copyrighted or something.

"The Illustrated Wikibook of Automotive Basics, Maintenance, Subsystems, and Problems" At this stage of internet development, I think we all need to be a little less excited about illustrations. If illustrations are that big a deal, go check out Commons.

"Urology (or Pee Studied)" It's either supposed to be funny, or some kind of shock advertising. Either way, not a good title.

"Yoda in Theory and Practice" What makes this title so funny is that it was suggested on the "Life Sciences" bookshelf.

"Robert's Rules of Order" Who is Robert and what, exactly, does he know about order?

Unlike on Wikipedia where there is a policy about using common names, Wikibooks leaves the title of the book up to the author. However, many authors just don't know what it takes to write a good title. Some of the best books we have are the most simply named, such as [[Calculus]] or [[Spanish]].

The Summer Lull

I am not familiar enough with any of the other sister projects enough to know whether this is a global phenomina within the WMF, or if it is specific to Wikibooks. There are a number of times each year where the participation in Wikibooks seems to dip very low, and other times of the year when the pace is almost frantic. These times tend to coincide with the academic calendar: During the fall and spring semesters participation is up, and during the summer or winter breaks participation is down.

This being summer, we are in the middle of our annual summer slump. On one hand, it's not alarming because we know that things are going to jump back into high-gear come august or september. However, it is a little disconcerting when a post on the [[Wikibooks:Staff lounge]] goes unanswered for a week or more.

I don't mean to make it sound like the entire project becomes dormant, because it certainly doesn't. However, we do lose alot of important contributors for various reasons:
1) Classroom projects only happen during the school year. That's about a dozen books at a time that only attract regular contributors in the fall or spring.
2) Many of our contributors are either teachers or students. These people tend to either have summer jobs or, at the least, have less computer access away from school.
3) People tend to take vacations during the summer, and to spend free time outdoors, instead of inside on the computer.

In some respects there are as many edits during the summer months as usual, but these are more frequently from anonymous contributors, or from contributors who don't participate in the public discussion forums. So even though work continues on Wikibooks, it feels more empty, more vacant. This is a time when the dedicated volunteers are able to get some serious work done, because they are not hampered by arguments or lengthy discussions. Authors can get back to the solitary business of authoring, and hopefully make some significant progress, before the influx of new and old users comes in the fall.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Casualty of War: Random Book Link

The first negative side effect of the organization project has surfaced, and it's one that was really unforeseeable. First, a little background:

On Wikibooks, the "Random Page" link, which connects to [[Special:Randompage]] is essentially useless. It could point you to any random subpage of any random book. Books are intended to be complete units, that is that you are supposed to start at one point and work your way to the end. Coming in to a book in the middle is useless. First you would need to figure out what book you are in (an easy task, admittedly), then go back to the Table of Contents, read up on all the necessary background information, and then read the page you arrived at.

For editors, the system is a little different. However, each book has it's own formatting conventions and style guidelines, so an editor cannot be expected to navigate to a random page and just make improvements.

To that end, we decided to implement a "Random Book" link, instead of a "Random Page" link. A little bit of fancy javascript, combined with the list at [[Wikibooks:Alphabetical classification]] created a random book link that worked very well. However, when the Alphabetical classification was changed from being a manually-updated list to being a series of categories, the Random Book javascript was broken.

The fix for this is likely going to be an easy one. However, it does go to show that radical changes, even if they are radical improvements, can cause unforeseen problems.

WMF Separation

There has been some discussion here and there, most of it only in passing, that perhaps the WMF will want to focus more of it's attention on Wikipedia, and less of it's attention on the other sister projects. There has even been some discussion floating around (notably among some of the board candidates) that the WMF should consider dropping the sister projects entirely, essentially becoming a proper "Wikipedia Foundation".

I don't want to propose to say that this idea is a particularly common one, and I am certainly not advocating that members of these sister projects become afraid or start to panic. However, considering the frequency with which it is brought up, it is worth some general consideration.

I would also like to point out that there are a few forces that seem to be pushing the opposite direction as well: The advent of Commons, as being a central shared media repository does seem to show that the powers that be are very interested in additional integration and collaboration of the various sister projects. Several projects have already specified that all image uploads must be made to commons, which makes all these projects intimately dependent on this central shared resource. Also, Single-User-Logon (should it ever be implemented) will have a very large effect on inter-community unity.

Perhaps there are some benefits that the sister projects could reap by being separate entities as well. Some projects, such as Wikibooks or Wikiversity would really benefit from more of a grass-roots advertising effort. In Wikibooks specifically, we won't realize our full potential until we are able to interact with schools, governments, and universities on an individual level. If you consider the amount of money that governments spend on textbooks for children, the cost of donations to Wikibooks in order to produce a free set of downloadable textbooks is small. Likewise, university professors could be writing textbooks for their students, and University students (especially students in the field of education or library science) could be writing and editing free textbooks as class projects. It's these kinds of relationships that we really need to foster, and we need to think about whether being part of the WMF is helping us or hurting us in this regard.

Even small issues, such as the use of Wikimedia logos or Brand names, have slowed down our ability to print and distribute our books at Wikibooks. The solution to this might be as simple as asking "may we do this", although discussions to that effect have not been fruitful historically.

And is there even a procedure now for the WMF to transfer control of a project to another entity? What if another organization offered to "adopt" one of the projects, or purchase one of the projects? What if one of the projects asked to leave? Would we be creating a bigger problem for everybody involved if somebody tried to do this? These are things that I think the board needs to think about, especially considering some of the candidates who very well might be elected in the near future.

This post is not meant to advocate for either viewpoint (I personally would prefer that Wikibooks remains under the umbrella of the WMF, at least for the foreseeable future), but instead to raise awareness that these issues are slowly bubbling to the surface.