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.