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.