Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Year in Review

We're getting to the bitter end of the 2008 calendar year, so now seems as good a time as any to recap the year and try to put it into perspective. Here's a brief overview of what 2008 brought to English Wikibooks:

  • Added only 3 new administrators, but removed a whopping 13 of them for a net total of -10 administrators. With all the new anti-vandalism measures in place, there just doesn't seem to be a huge demand for new admins, and we've seen very few requests or nominations for the position in the last year. Many of the requests we do see are for rollbacker access instead of admin access for fighting vandalism anyway. Page deletion is really just no big deal.
  • Added 1 new bureaucrat and 1 new checkuser. They were the same person, Mike.lifeguard. He's been a huge help at Wikibooks for a while now, and is a huge positive influence on the site.
  • Added many editors, reviewers, patrollers and rollbackers. I'm not counting them all, but there were several in each category.
  • Added 8 new featured books. The first wave of books came in 2007 when we first created the program, and I expected we would have a much slower rate of approval as time went on.
  • We've been getting around 350,000 - 450,000 page hits per day on average, according to http://wikistics.falsikon.de/.
  • Our other stats appear to have stopped updating in May 2008, so I don't have any good numbers from there.
In some respects it was a relatively slow year for us, but in others it was quite exciting. We are seeing a little bit less community participation then in the past, but more people are concentrating on their books and building excellent content. There will be plenty of time in 2009 to talk about why things are trending in this way.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All I want for Christmas

It's that time of year again, where we wrap up one year, and start setting our goals for the upcoming year. The fact that it's almost a major gift-giving holiday means that, like everybody else, I'm putting together a wishlist. Some things on the list are very practical, and some are more fantastic. Without further ado, here is my wishlist of 12 things I want for Wikibooks in the upcoming year:
  1. Replace our old print versions and PDF versions with Collections. We've got javascript tools to help automate the process, and we're working on helpful documentation and templates to facilitate the process. What we need most is manpower to create collections pages and start marking the out-of-date print versions and PDF files for deletion. 2009 will be the year of the collection, mark my words.
  2. Fix our damn documentation! Our whole Help: namespace is a disorganized and out-of-date mess. Our help books, Using Wikibooks and Editing Wikitext are developing nicely and are primed to become our primary help resources. I'm hoping that with few exceptions most of our Help: pages can be deleted or redirected to pages that are more current and are better maintained.
  3. While we're at it, we need to clean up our sloppy category system and rethink the way we use categories to keep pages organized. Currently, they're just used as the unseen backend for our DPL-driven Subject pages.
  4. Higher quality. We have a lot of books with a lot of content. We even have a featured books program now that helps us to pick and promote the best of the bunch. However, we judge "featured" books by relative standards. What we need are absolute quality criteria for judging books, and we need honest and unbiased external reviews to see if books meet those criteria. We need feedback from subject matter experts and potential readers to help make our books better. We need to identify the holes in our bookshelves, especially in the "core" subjects and start writing the books to fill them.
  5. Usability. This topic is in vogue throughout the WMF, and Wikibooks is no exception. We need massive usability improvements as much or more then any other project. The barrier to entry is just too high to attract the kinds of contributors we need for long-term growth. I've done some javascript work that I'm proud of, but we need so much more on so many levels.
  6. Curricula. And this is something we could work on together with the Wikiversity folks. We have lots of books targeted to specific reading audience, we need to start arranging them by grade level into meaningful curricula for students. You should be able to search by grade level and see a list of books which are written for your level.
  7. Outreach. We need more active participants, and especially more people at the admin-level or higher. We need to attract more contributors who can help make the other things in this list happen.
  8. Issue tracking. This is purely an idea from my own imagination, but I would like to have some kind of issue tracking system for our books. This would allow us to find tasks and report them into a queue. Interested contributors could search through the list of open tasks, take ownership of them, and work to complete them. Having a list of finite tasks and tasklets will help people to get started more quickly and gives people progress milestones. Knowing that your work is needed and that you are making real progress on things is a huge benefit to productivity and morale. I would absolutely love it if Wikibooks had an issue tracking system like Bugzilla, even if we had to roll our own with Javascript or maintain our own separate server to host it.
  9. Wikibookians.org, where we could host things like an issue tracker, but also an @wikibookians.org mail server for our members. We could host advertisements for our books on PediaPress (and on Amazon if we can get them to appear there too), we could host book-related blogs and software tools that are more involved then the JavaScripts we're able to make on the wiki. I've wanted this for a long time, and 2009 could very well be the year I put it together.
  10. Institutional support. We need to get schools and universities involved, not just as readers but as content contributors and guidance providers. We don't just write books according to our own whims and ship them out, we need to write books to particular standards. We need something like a "Wikibooks advisory board" (even an informal one) that could help guide us in making important decisions for the site and improving our books in specific ways.
  11. Partnerships. We've worked with groups like the UNDP in the past when they donated a series of their e-books to Wikibooks. We need to expand that, and develop partnerships with other organizations as well. Wikibooks would be a great place for hosting things like software tutorials and documentation, or other free ebooks. Why maintain your own server for ebooks and documentation when you can host it at Wikibooks for free? I bet we could find several groups who fit this bill. I call this idea "Wikibooks as a service".
  12. Design. We're working on finding a new logo, and we might even succeed this time. I would like other improvements to our site design that includes improvements to our site CSS and JS, improvement of many of our interface messages and design improvements to our main page, our main discussion pages, our policy pages, our subject pages, etc. This is not to mention the aesthetic improvements that each individual books need.
This is my Christmas wishlist for Wikibooks, what kinds of things do other people want for the project?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Nomenclature

I was talking to Pharos today, and he mentioned something that I've been mulling over for a while now in the back of my mind but never took the time to say: We at Wikibooks have a problem with our nomenclature.

Things were easy when we were just an e-book site, because we could extend the "book" metaphor to our creations with ease. A book is broken into little chunks which could be equally referred to as "chapters" or "pages". Wiki wasn't paper, after all, so it didn't matter if one of our "pages" was far longer then a single printed page would be coming out of your printer. The point was moot.

Things are a little bit different now though, because Wiki can indeed become paper in a very real way. All of a sudden we have an insurmountable wall of dense terminology where every word seems to have multiple meanings. Keep in mind that every "book" on our site has two possible incarnations: the on-wiki version and the printed PediaPress version (and even the downloadable PDF version, but let's ignore that for now).

With these two incarnations in mind, what do the words "book", "chapter", "page", "section", "unit", "module", and "heading" mean? If we keep up the metaphor and say the things on our website are "books", then what are those things that PediaPress are printing? A "page" on wiki takes up multiple "pages" in the printed book. A "chapter" in the book is made up of multiple chunks of stuff that we used to call "chapters" on the wiki. In short, we have a terminology nightmare on our hands, and as a result our best tutorials about the subject have descended into opaque and indecipherable jibberish where words are used in multiple different ways, often in a single paragraph or sentence.

And don't even get me started on the difficulty in trying to file bug reports with the PediaPress people, trying to explain how certain "features" in a published book correspond to wikitext syntax in certain places on the wiki. The fact that we've had any meaningful discussions with them is a testament to the sheer courtesy, patience and willpower that the wonderful PediaPress developers have shown. If it's this hard for us to do, I can't even imagine how confused our poor new users are becoming by this all.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wikibooks mentioned in books

Darklama alerted me yesterday to this cool link:

http://books.google.com/books?q=Wikibooks&btnG=Search+Books

The word "Wikibooks" appears in 155 book search results. At least on of these books that I have see, "Wikijunior Big Cats" was actually written on en.Wikibooks, and is displayed here on Google. Quite an interesting list. Can anybody else find places where Wikibooks turns up in cool searches or places?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What if we...

Mike.lifeguard posed an interesting question today in #wikibooks: What ideas for outreach do you have for a group of Wikibookians who have some money available? Quite a loaded question, and we've done (and are still doing) a lot of brainstorming. It's basically a moot question because we don't have any money for anything, but still an interesting mental exercise. Here are some ideas we threw out about what we could do for outreach with a little bit of money:
  1. Contract out some UI improvement work to professional programmers and web designers to improve Wikibooks
  2. Buy a handful of our best books from PediaPress, and donate them to schools and libraries.
  3. Buy commodity laptops, and use them to host workshops for interested groups.
  4. Buy pro-Wikibooks advertisements in magazines for professional educators
  5. Offer prizes to students who donate their appropriate and well-written school papers to Wikibooks after school is over. These papers could make excellent starting points for new books.
  6. Try to convince more teachers to assign writing and editing tasks on Wikibooks
  7. Buy one give one: An event where for every PediaPress-printed book we sell, we donate one to a group in need
  8. Offer bounties to authors to write specific pages or to edit pages in specific ways
  9. Contact publishers and authors to purchase the rights to out-of-print books and have them uploaded to WB for improvement
  10. Purchase rights to use standardized educational curricula (which are often, unfortunately, copyrighted)
  11. Pay to have some of our best books reviewed, edited, and revised by professional editors
  12. Professionally publish some of our better books
These are just a few of the ideas that came out in the brainstorm. What ideas do other people have?

Visual Book Designer Released

Today I've finally released the next version of my Visual Book Designer gadget. It's a visual outlining tool for designing new books and manipulating existing books. This isn't a major release in that the basic architecture and operation of the gadget hasn't changed in any significant way. However, a number of new features have been added. Here's a brief list:
  • Added support for collections. You can create a collection (personal or public) from your new book outline, or you can load the TOC of an existing book and create a collection from that.
  • Added AJAX automation, although right now it's for admins only because it's like a beta test and could be very disruptive. You click the Create link, and the gadget will automatically create all the pages in your outline using any text you've specified.
  • Simplified adding subpages and page headings, so you don't have to use an edit box. Just click the [ + ] link to add a new subpage or heading to the outline.
  • Smoothed out the interface a little.


Here's an image of the current interface. Basically, you just click on anything you want to change, input the new values, and save them. I've put in a lot of effort to make this user-friendly and interactive, so I would love to hear about any feedback that people have with this. Maybe I'll post a short tutorial about how to use the tool in the next few days. Eventually, I would like this, or something like it, to be featured prominently as a tool to help our users make new books. There's a long way to go before this is ready for always-on deployment, but it's a decent tool to use right now. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wikibooks in 2009

We're getting closer to 2009, a year that I hope will be a big one for Wikibooks. This time a year ago I was very hopeful that 2008 would be a big year, and in many ways it was. We got a few cool new extensions: The gadgets extension, the collections extension, and the flaggedrevs extension. From an anecdotal account, I don't think our "active community" grew or became any more active then it had been in 2007, but I feel like our overall number of contributors has grown. I will need to take a look at some statistics to confirm this. Expect a full statistical review of the 2008 year in an upcoming post.

I talked to Erik Moeller briefly tonight. He's spoken to the people at PediaPress and apparently they've sold 8 books so far. Hardly a mindblowing number, but still an interesting figure. I've bought 3 of those myself. Let's hope this number goes up in the coming year. He also talked a little bit about the usability initiative, and how Wikibooks could definitely benefit from some UI improvements. I'm a big proponent of an improved UI and improved usability, so I hope things improve in this area.

What will 2009 hold for Wikibooks? I have some personal predictions and hopes that I'll post in a few days. What I want is to hear some ideas from other people: What will 2009 bring for en.WB? What should we focus on for the year? Where should we set our sights, and how high should be our expectations? I would love to hear from people about this.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Gadgets Galore

Some of the folks at PediaPress have been working on a javascript tool to automatically create a collection from a book's table of contents. Today, after some testing, I turned this little tool into a gadget.

The gadget adds a nifty little "get collection" link in the upper-right corner of the screen. When you click the link, it scans the current page for links to subpages, and then opens an edit window with the generated collection text. It is quite a handy tool, I even used it today to create a collection from one of the books I've been working on. I do have my own tool that can create collections too, it's a little bit more involved but has a bit more power. I'll post an update about my javascript work later.

I also added the WikEd editor gadget to Wikibooks a while back. I dont remember if I made any kind of a fanfare about it at the time. However, I've been using it and am very impressed by it. It's not quite WYSIWYG, but the syntax highlighting is a really neat trick. As a programmer, I've become so accustomed to syntax highlighting that I can't remember how I edited wiki without it. I especially like the full-page editing mode too. Just the full-page mode and the syntax highlighting make this cool tool worth a test. The editor has a lot of other features that I don't use personaly, but I imagine they would be useful to some people.

Next time you're at Wikibooks, check out the Collections gadget and the WikEd editor gadget. Quite cool tools.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Usability

A lot of talk about usability nowadays. Foundation even managed to pick up a sizable grant to try and improve our projects in this regard. I've been arguing that we need better editing tools for a while now, even going so far as to create some of my own tools to try and make things easier for new editors.

I'm a technically inclined person, so I personally don't find wikis too difficult to use. Of course, this is in comparison to some of the other work I've done in the past with HTML and LaTeX markup for documents. I also do a lot of coding work, so symbols and markup and parameters aren't anything new to me. But I'm one of a relatively rare breed of technically saavy people. The vast majorty of people in this world aren't as comfortable with plain-text editors and markup as I am. Hell, the vast majority of people in my family, and at my work, and from my school aren't comfortable with those things either. It's just not the kind of computing that people have been trained to expect.

Wikis are hard. They're hard for the radical conceptual reasons of openness and freedom and collaboration. But they're also hard for the technical reasons: strange and cluttered interface, and the ad hoc markup language. On top of the challenges inherent in MediaWiki, there are the challenges of writing a book, a whole book. It's a lot to deal with, and even if we write all sorts of documentation, it won't be enough. Books are big, they're structured, and they need a particular flow and cohesiveness to them that don't just happen when you click Save page.

Some people won't be able to find the documentation. Some people just wouldn't read it anyway. Nobody is going to read all of it. I haven't even read all of it, and I've personally written a good portion!

We need some form of WYSIWYG, even if it's very simple. There are too many people that just can't or just won't use Wikitext. We need automation, at least at Wikibooks. Books consist of multiple pages, collection pages, table of contents, introductions, and appendices. They have templates too, and categories. We need a button to "Create a book" given a few basic parameters that will create all these kinds of pages automatically and correctly. We need the software to take care of the technical and repetitive work, and leave the authors to do the basic book writing. We need the software to follow the rules, so the contributors don't have to read volumes of documentation just to learn them. If the software just does things the right way, the barrier to entry will be so much lower then it is now. Until we have that, the only people who will be writing books are the technically-saavy editors, a very small subset of the people who we would like to have writing books.

Monday, December 1, 2008

New Wikibooks Logo

I had planned on posting more updates about the logo selection process, but with all the other big things going on at WB, I completely forgot. Well, now it's over.

That's right. As quickly as it started, the vote for the new Wikibooks logo is over. 310 people voted in total, more then in my wildest dreams. Who would have thunk that we got higher voter turnout when I didn't post any updates on the blog, and very few reminders got sent to public forums like foundation-l. And yet, 310 people have spoken, and Wikibooks has a new logo. Here it is:




Already, Bastique is setting up a series of color alternatives. Once we pick the final color scheme (I'm hoping for red!) Wikibooks has a new logo.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Social Networking

Did you know that there are some social-networking venues for Wikibookians outside of Wikibooks? It helps like-minded people to get together off-wiki, and to proudly display your non-profit affiliations to others. Here are some social networking sites that I know about, I would love to hear about others from other people!

  1. Facebook: There is a Wikibooks group at Facebook. It's not a huge group, but it's a cool way to keep in touch with other 'bookians off-wiki. You have to have a facebook account to join (you might even need an account to see the page), but if you have one, we would love for you to become a member. Myself and Mike.lifeguard are admins of the group.
  2. Linked-In: We have a group at Linked-In too. There are only two members right now (myself included), but it's a cool way to add "I write books" to your profile.
  3. The blogosphere. It's not quite social networking, but I already have 1 "Follower" on this blog, and manage to solicit a few comments every now and then. It's a fun little way for people to chat about important news topics that happen at Wikibooks. If other Wikibookians are interested in joining this blog as an author, or submitting stories as a guest author, definitely let me know! Sub from Fr.Wikibooks also maintains a French-language blog about Wikibooks at http://wikilivres.wordpress.com/.
These are just the Wikibooks-related groups I'm aware of, I'm sure there are more about Wikibooks, tons about the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikipedia, and more still about open content and open education movements. I would love to hear about all of them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Print Version Difficulties

English Wikibooks has three separate ways of preparing a book for print:

  1. Print Versions. A print version is a transclusion of all the pages in a book into a single page, plus the GFDL and a few templates for formatting. These are large and unweildy, only look decent when printed, but do stay up-to-date with changes made to the pages in the book.
  2. PDF Versions. PDF versions are often made from a print version, by converting the large page to a PDF file. PDFs can be downloaded easily, look very nice offline and when printed. They are difficult to edit, however, and that's very un-wiki-like.
  3. Collections. There are still a few software kinks to be worked out, but the dev team is doing great work. Collections stay up-to-date like print versions, and can be easily converted to PDF by any user.
I personally would like to see options #1 and #2 be deprecated in favor of using Collections, but we're some time away from that yet. However, in looking around, I realized that not all books are designed to be printed and published. Some are, some authors have taken great pains to ensure their books are nicely formatted with printed. However, how do you print things like video, or audio, or animated GIFs? Or, how do you print things like our {{dynamic navigation}} template, which relies on Javascript to hide things from readers until clicked. This is especially used, I am told, in our foreign language books that use it for interactive exercises.

Today I threw together [[Template:DoesNotPrint]] to try and mark books like this, which aren't designed or intended to be printed. This is a counterpoint to templates like {{Print version}}, {{PDF version}}, or {{Collection}} which marks books where authors have taken extra care to make sure the book is printed.

In some cases, I think a book is more valuable if it can be downloaded or easily printed and distributed to people without internet access. However, the web is filled with cool technologies that don't work in a printed medium, some of which can have a very beneficial effect on education. It's up to authors to determine what directions they want their books to develop in.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Reviewers Wanted

Here's an excerpt from our [[Using Wikibooks]] book that contains some of our first guidelines on how to use the new FlaggedRevs extension at Wikibooks. If you have a good eye for content and have good judgement, we could use your help to review our mountains of pages. Also, we could probably use some help improving these guidelines:

Page Criteria

When reviewing a page, there are 3 categories with 5 levels in each. The three categories are Coverage, Accuracy, and Composition. Knowing how to review a page means knowing what these categories are and how to judge a book using them. The levels in each criteria are more then just grades for the page, they are also a checklist that editors can follow to bring a page up to featured quality. If all the pages in a book are basically featured quality, the book could easily be nominated for the honor at WB:FB. Of course, having individual pages be featured doesn't mean that the book itself is also featured quality. There needs to be an emergent quality to the book where pages build on each other in a logical and consistent way for the book to become featured. If the pages don't work together, the book is probably more of a macropedia then a textbook and needs additional work.

Composition

Composition is the basic quality of a page: How well is it written? Wikibooks is a text-based content website, so everything we do here revolves around the quality of our writing. The Wiki process does not demand that everything be written perfectly, but that successive editors and authors can improve a page incrementally by fixing errors and omissions as they are found. Pages should aspire to be technically correct in terms of spelling and grammar, but must also have flow, consistency, and structure. Readers hate to be presented with a bland wall of text, so things like headings, lists, templates, tables, and images should be employed to break the page up into bits that a reader can easily absorb.

Poor/Unreviewed
This page either hasn't ever been reviewed, or else it has been reviewed and is terrible. Spelling and grammar is off, the page has no flow and makes no sense. In short, this page is unreadable.
Good Spelling and Grammar
Using proper spelling and grammar, or very close approximation thereof, is really a minimum requirement. If a page isn't written so that other people can read and understand it, it's worse then having no page at all. This rating doesn't mean that the spelling and grammar must be perfect, but it should be reasonable and easy enough for an experienced editor to clean up quickly. Many web browsers have built-in spell checking functionality, so this shouldn't be too hard to achieve.
Good Structure
Once the words are spelled correctly and the sentences are constructed properly, it's time to focus on the overall structure of the page. Ideas should flow logically from one paragraph to the next. Later topics should build on earlier topics without going on tangents or requiring prerequisite knowledge that has never been discussed. The page should be broken down into sections and subsections, and maybe use some templates and tables to include additional information.
Consistent Style
Consistent style is the next step in page development. The page should not just be technically correct in spelling and grammar, or written with good paragraph and section structure. The page must be written in a consistent voice that properly accounts for the target audience. Wikijunior books for children should be written with high-energy and child-friendly vocabulary. Books for students, adults or professionals should all be written accordingly. To achieve this, the authors of a page should probably be familiar with pages like Wikibooks:Reading Levels.
Featured Quality
This page is not only well written, it is an example that other pages should follow. This page should be an example of good writing and good teaching by any standards.

Accuracy

Information is only as good as it's accuracy. If a page is well-written and has good coverage, it's still worthless if it's untrue or misleading. Wikibooks is an educational resource, and should aspire to teach accurate information to readers. The accuracy metric of a page should show how accurate and trustworthy the information on the page is, and how valuable it will be as an educational tool. Accuracy has five levels:

Poor/Unreviewed
The page is nothing short of absurd, talking about pseudoscience, nonsense, or other garbage. The page is untrue, misleading, and may even be dangerous to readers.
Acceptable
The page contains truth, or partial truth. It's not absurdly incorrect, but isn't well supported either. Important details might be missing and certain aspects may be incorrect. The page will be short on examples, and short on discussion to explain things in an understandable way.
Good/Average
The page presents information that is not obviously incorrect, and maybe only suffers in certain details. The page won't have many, if any, examples to illustrate the topic. The page probably doesn't make use of any references.
Verifiable
A verifiable page is one that presents correct information, but also provides the tools to prove that the information is true. This proof can come in many ways including references to primary sources, do-it-yourself verification, or building logically on topics covered in other pages from the same book. Some books may require a certain amount of prerequisite knowledge in readers, and will take certain facts to be self-evident, so this should be considered when reviewing.
Featured Quality
The accuracy of this page is a goal that other pages should aspire to. This page is a good and reliable resource on the given topic by any standards.

Coverage

Coverage deals with the amount of material that the page actually covers, as compared to the amount of material that it should cover. Good coverage means that a page covers all the topics that it intends to cover, and covers all of them well. Consider a page called "Arithmetic" that only covers addition, or a page called "Animals" that only covers mammals. Or, consider a stub page which only has a few short sentences about a large number of topics, without actually providing any interesting information about any of them. These are both examples of pages with poor coverage. Coverage is broken into 5 levels:

Poor/Unreviewed
This is the default setting for pages that are unreviewed. If a page is in this condition, it needs to be improved badly. Pages in this category are typically incomplete stubs, that provide only a brief overview, or only contain a lot of empty sections.
Acceptable
The page covers it's topic in a minimaly-acceptable way. It includes the bare amount of information on the topic, and doesn't include background information, references to other topics, examples, or in-depth discussions. This page needs an author to sit down and start drafting more content as soon as possible.
Good/Average
The page covers it's topic in a reasonable way. It should probably include a high-level overview, some examples, some background information, and other pieces of information that readers will want.
Great
Readers should be able to read this page and get all the information that they need on the topic. The page should have lots of good examples, in-depth discussions, overviews, and background. The page should set the reader up with all the information they need on this topic throughout the rest of the book, and maybe more then that.
Featured Quality
The amount of information that this page covers, and the method in which it covers that information is exemplary. This page is an example that other pages should aspire to follow, and is a good resource on it's topic by any standards.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Book Ideas

I was supposed to write a Wikibooks blog post three days ago, and now my todo list is saying that I have to write two! I can't afford to wait any longer and maybe stack up a few more of them, I'll never be able to catch up!

I do a lot of planning for new books, I am a firm believer that books with a solid plan will have a higher chance of success then books which are thrown together off the cuff. However, I have more outlines and plans then I possibly have time to implement. Also, I've adopted a number of stub-books which have strong potential, but a lot of redlinks in their tables of contents. I need to be honest about the fact that I can't write all these books myself, but I'm not prepared to just abandon them without finding new contributors to take over first. So, here is a list of books and book ideas that I've done some work on, but am not able to carry on any longer. I warn you that many of these books are very technical, since those are the topics I tend to write about.

  1. Find Employment: How do people find jobs? How do they write resumes and prepare for interviews? This book has a lot of content already, but isn't complete. I'm also not in the job market anymore, so I'm not thinking about it. Authors needed for ongoing maintenance and expansion of a few areas.
  2. Astrodynamics: I started working on this book when I was taking a class on it, and doing some research on satellites for the USAF. I've written up a few chapters, but the second-half of the TOC is mostly empty. Looking for somebody who knows physics and vector caluculus to really expand this book and bring it up to date.
  3. Electrodynamics: This book was originally a chapter in a larger book about "Modern Physics". I felt that it would be better served by being a stand-alone book, so I moved it out and restructured it. This book has some information and equations, but is woefully in need of help. I took a semester of electrodynamics back in school, but don't remember enough to be a help for this book.
  4. Digital Circuits: I started this book back when I was taking classes in the area, but I just am not interested enough in it to continue. This book is very much a stub, and needs a lot of TLC from a knowledgable author.
  5. Automata Theory: Wikibooks doesn't currently have a book about automata theory, but I've been planning one for some time now. I was intending to write this to support other books I was planning such as "Regular Expressions" and "Compiler Theory". None of these books have yet been written, in fact, but the later two I am going to get around to eventually. If you're interested in this, let me know and I will send you my outline and notes.
  6. Digital Storage Media: This is one of the oldest plans I've ever made. I literally wrote my first outline for this book 3 years ago in 2005. This book is intended to be about digital storage: CDs, hard disk drives, and file systems. Basically, how do we store all the trillions of bytes that we generate every year? How does storage work? What storage mediums are useful in which applications? I think this is a very interesting topic, but realistically I'm never going to write it. If you're interested in this topic, let me know and I will send you my outline and notes.
I'm slowly going through my list of old books and outlines, and I'll post more as I find them. If you know about any of these topics and are interested in writing about them, Wikibooks could use your help. Let me know, and I can help you get started.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Collections Redux

I wrote a blog post about collections a few days back, and people sent me in some comments asking for more updates and some pictures. Here's a picture of my first book:


You'll notice the large flash flare in the center, that's because I'm a lousy photographer. I did take a few other pictures, but they came out all blurry for the same reason. So this is what we get, and everybody is going to have to deal with it. If somebody more handy with a camera then myself can take some pictures and send them to me, I will post them.

I tried to purchase a few more today, and realized that something was wrong. Saved collections cannot be loaded with Special:Collection for some reason. This is the first time I've tested it since the Flaggedrevs extension got installed, so I assume there is some kind of negative interaction going on. If you were planning to check out this collection but haven't had a chance yet, you're just going to have to wait a little longer. I sent out a frantic email to the necessary people, and they are looking into it. Maybe we'll get it back soon, and then I'll have to write yet another post about this extension (and I'm happy to do it!).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Flaggedrevs Extension

I was planning to write another follow-up post about the new collections extension. Some people had requested links and pictures, and I am more then happy to provide them. However, there's no time for follow-ups now, there is too much exciting news to report.

As of last night, en.Wikibooks has the flaggedrevs extension. We're scrambling to figure it out, get it documented, and figure out how to use it. Plus, we're using a very custom configuration of it, so we're try to evaluate whether we want things changed.

Here's what I do know: It's awesome, with caveats. The flaggedrevs extension seems to interact negatively with new page patrolling, and that's throwing some of our patrollers into a tizzy. It might not make sense to both review and patrol pages (reviewing should suffice), but we have to reconsider some of our existing workflow, and we have to figure out what new flags to give to our patrollers so they can keep working.

Lots has been changing around here in the past few weeks, Wikibooks is barely recognizable anymore. Hopefully when all the dust settles, we're in a much better position then we used to be. With all the changes, now is a very cool time to come down to explore Wikibooks.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My First Book: PediaPress is here.

After all these years of writing on the wiki and repeating the mantra "wiki is not paper", I've finally gotten my first printed book for my efforts. Yesterday afternoon UPS delivered what is, I hope, the first of a long series of books with my name on the cover. It was an experience like no other.

Because it's more then just a cool opportunity to get some kind of physical justification of all this time I'm "wasting" at Wikibooks. It's more then being able to hold it up and say "See, this is what I'm doing with my time: Writing actual books that people can actually buy and actually use for class." Of course, then I get the question in return "How much money do you make from this?" Maybe one day I'll have a pile of money that I can hold up and show to people in response to that question too, but probably not. Visual aides to make question-answering much easier.

More then having displayable justification, it's an opportunity to learn something new and to teach new things to people. How long do you think it will take me before I start writing a book about how to write books for this new print-on-demand service? I've already been sending out emails rapid-fire to the PediaPress people with bugs, glitches, and issues that I've found from pouring over my precious new book. Every single page is an opportunity to learn something that I can pass on to others about this experience: Best practices for our authors, fixes and suggestions for the software guys, recommendations for our readers. This first book is a treasure trove of information, and it has my name in big blue letters on the cover. It's an experience that is immeasurably cool.

PediaPress and print-on-demand are here. This is it, this is the sign. When that first book shows up in your mailbox, you know that things have changed. Wikibooks is coming of age today, right now, in a way that most of us 'bookians barely dared to dream about a month ago. The work our authors and editors and volunteers are doing does matter, and will help students and teachers around the world in a very concrete way. All the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place, and the last thing we need is you: your contributions, your books, and your ideas. The books that you write will be printed, bound, and sent to people who can't afford books from traditional publishers. We're going to change the world with this, and we can start right now.

Go to Wikibooks and check out print-on-demand. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Math books for Children

Wikibooks has traditionally had a bit of a dearth in the "fundamental" subjects. These are subjects, especially those aimed at children, that are almost universally covered in schools and that almost all children learn about. Without having books (and high-quality books at that) the chances that books from Wikibooks will end up in a classroom are slim. We have several good books at the college level, but sheer quality and rigor will probably keep our books from being used there.

One area where our books are a larger mess then usual is in mathematics. We have several books which appear to be aimed at young children, but there isn't a critical mass of contributors for them to really make them grow, expand, and succeed. Here are a few books that could really use a helping hand:
  1. [[Wikjunior:Visual Math]]: is a very fun little concept aimed at pre-readers. The book uses pictures and colors to teach basic mathematical concepts to very young children. At least, it would do these things, but at the moment it's a stub book with tons of redlinks to lots of empty page space. A person who was good at navigating commons for images (or good at making images themselves) would be a great help for this book.
  2. [[Wikjunior:Mathematics in several volumes]]: is an interesting-looking book that I'm not too familiar with. It appears to be very ambitious, breaking up into logical "volumes" for different age groups. However, the development of this book hasn't gotten very far. It's a terrible stub right now, and the first decision to be made here is whether to keep and expand it, or delete it outright.
  3. [[Math for the Young]]: This book isn't part of Wikiunior proper, but it probably should be moved there. It's a relatively new book, but hasn't seen much development since it's original author disappeared in March. It looks to target readers in the 4-7 age range using simple words and sentences and lots of pictures. There is a suggestion that this book should be merged into [[Arithmetic]], but I'm not sure I agree with that suggestion. I do think the name of this should be changed to something a little more descriptive, however.
  4. [[Arithmetic]]: Aimed at a slightly older audience (I'm thinking 8-11?) then any of the other books on the list, this is still definitely a book for young people. I'm torn about whether this book might belong in Wikijunior, but the case could easily be made that this book could be dual-purposed for an older, math-illiterate audience as well.
After these books, we start getting into the territory of [[Algebra]] and higher maths, which are another problem all together (but at least the Algrebra books seem to garner occasional interest and contributions).

We at Wikibooks would love to have better mathbooks like these for children of all ages. If you think you have what it takes to make one of these books a success, we would love to hear from you. Stop on down to Wikibooks and take a look at some of these.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Logo Vote: The final stretch

I became a little bit downtrodden about the Wikibooks and Wikijunior logo selection processes when I learned that several copyvios had crept in to the list of candidates. What was most upsetting to me personally, some of the copyvios were my favorites from the entire bunch. I took some time off from the discussion after that to clear my head, because a lot of other people were in the same boat: The copyvios were generally considered the favorites by several of the participants. Without them, it felt like we were going to be forced to pick a logo that nobody liked as much.

However, things have changed now, and time heals all wounds. I was planning to get back into the fray of it this week, but others have beaten me to it. Apparently, the final vote is being scheduled for 17 November, and the list of final candidates is quite impressive indeed. I hope that we can select a great logo for Wikibooks to plaster on all these new books we're publishing!

I'll post some more information as I get it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

TEH LICENZE!

I've been away on vacation for a week, and have had a lot of catching up to do. This does highlight the need to get more people blogging about Wikibooks though: If anybody out there wants to post some news about Wikibooks on this blog, either as a regular author, or through irregular email submissions, that would be awesome. Let me know.

Some news points:

  1. When I left, the last thing I posted about was the new wiki-to-print extension. I've only seen a few reviews of it posted so far, but they've all be remarkably positive. I still need to take some time to test it myself (and I might order a few books to boot!).
  2. The License!! Holy Crap!! The FSF released GFDL 1.3, which includes a migration clause to CC-BY-SA. Wiki sites such as Wikibooks might eventually use CC-BY-SA, or GFDL+CC-BY-SA in the future for all their materials. This is great for interoperability with other open-content and open-education initiatives, but it does create some issues with book donations, where authors in the past have donated books to us under the GFDL, and now those works might be relicensed without their consent. Even if it's strictly legal, it's awfully underhanded, and I'm trying to get in touch with affected people (it's actually a very small list, thankfully) to make sure we aren't burning any bridges.
I'll definitely find more news to report as I start getting back into the swing of things.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wiki-To-Print Enabled.

http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/textbook-l/2008-October/001367.html

Just a short update this morning (I know I've been slacking!). The Wiki-To-Print extension has been installed on all language Wikibooks projects. I've been waiting for something like this for years now, so I'm very happy to have it. Of course, it goes live the day before I leave for vacation, and I can't play with it for a whole week!

There are a few known issues with this extension, so I would like to ask people to come check it out and give some feedback for it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Wikibooks in Print

I've found out this morning from Brianna's awesome blog that some of our featured books on Wikibooks have been independently published and are available for sale from Amazon:

This is great news, in general, although there are a few things that I obviously wish were different. For instance, we aren't a "project of Wikipedia", but instead are projects of the Wikimedia Foundation. Of course, using the word "Wikipedia" does help the books bank on the popularity of that project, and we aren't totally unrelated to WP either.

My question is, has anybody seen or bought any of these books? What is the quality like on them? 25$ seems a little bit steep to pay for a book that was written for free, but it's a business decision from the people who are doing the publishing, so whatever works for them.

If anybody else knows anything about this, or if you see any more books like this, let me know. It's good to keep track of things!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

OKFN Virtual Meeting

As I posted earlier, OKFN hosted a virtual meeting yesterday for several members of open content textbook enthusiasts and organizations. Sub represented Fr.Wikibooks, Mike.lifeguard and I represented En.Wikibooks. I had to leave a little early, and Mike showed up a little late, but together we canvased the entire thing. It didn't last more then an hour and a half, and a full transcript as been posted online. I'm "Andrew" in the chat.

Some of the topics brought up were the issues of increasing contribution levels and attracting new contributors, and decreasing the technical barrier to entry for some systems, both ideas that I've been preaching for a long time now. Wikis are much more simple to use and edit then raw HTML is (or, it can be if things don't get too cluttered!), but that doesn't mean that plain wikitext is easy for new non-technical editors to pick up and use.

There were lots of groups there and while Wikibooks does seem to be one of the biggest, I doubt it is primed for the most long-term success. The GFDL license we use is becoming more and more obviously a dead weight around our necks! So many other groups in this area are using CC licenses instead, and that means we can't inte-roperate with any of them. In fact, the only groups I saw there that also used the GFDL now or in the past were FHSST and GlobalTexts, both of which were originally started as projects on Wikibooks! Actually, GlobalText uses CC-BY-3.0 now, they relicensed the work they did at Wikibooks long ago.

Other groups are using things like collaboration management tools for getting books written too: Some groups are using things like pledges to attract new contributors. Some groups are using things like issue trackers for software (but with a different name) to parcel out large projects into smaller ones that can be assumed by individual users. For instance, each chapter is an assignment that people can volunteer for, and put their name on. Having a concrete list of tasks that need doing helps keep people focused and organized. It's so much easier to follow a task list then it is to enter a free-form environment and told "you can be bold and make things better!". The wiki way is nice, but I've seen first hand the productivity gains that open-source and open-content groups can reap with a little bit of group organization. I'm sure I'll ruminate at length on this topic later.

Another thing that was brought up was the sheer absurdity of the US educational system, which copyrights educational curricula and standards. Without good access to educational standards, Wikibooks has no hope of writing books to meet those standards which can be used in a real US classroom. Keeping educational standards proprietary is a disgusting profiteering measure and is something that I hope changes in the future. Having standards as a checklist will work like the organization that I talk about above: People are going to be more able to confidently tackle concrete, finite tasks, especially when there are clear progress indicators and a clear goal.

I've also been alerted to a few open textbook aggregation websites, where lists of such books from various projects are being indexed. Wikibooks would do well to make sure we are listed in those places as well.

The meeting altogether was a nice one, but short. I'm hoping a new one get's scheduled, and I might even try to get En.Wikibooks to host one. It really is interesting to see the things that other people are doing, and how Wikibooks fares in comparison. I'll post more information in the coming days and weeks, as I get it distilled down into a readable form.

Monday, September 29, 2008

OKFN Virtual Meetin

Just a short reminder to people in the wikiverse who might be interested: OKFN is holding a virtual meeting today in irc://irc.oftc.net/okfn about open textbooks. More information about it, including a sign-up sheet for interested participants is here:

http://blog.okfn.org/2008/09/29/open-textbook-virtual-meeting-today/

The meeting is, if I am doing my timezone math correctly today at 17:00 UTC (1PM EST). I hope to see some interested Wikibookians/Wikimedians there!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment

Quite a long name for a book (at least on Wikibooks), but [[Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment]] is one of our best. Developed over several semesters by students from Old Dominion University and on it's third edition, this is the kind of book that Wikibookians can point to and say "See? Writing high-quality books on a wiki really can work".

Though the bulk of the book is being written by education graduate students, the group of which changes each semester, the project is being overseen by the same professors and graduate students, [[User:Dwallen11]], [[User:PbakerODU]] and [[User:Jkauf007]], who helped develop [[Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education]], one of our current featured books. Because of the hard work and dedication that I've seen in the past, I have little doubt that "Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessmet" will become one of our featured books as well.

If you want to see what kind of potential the Wikibooks project truely has, come on down and take a look at these wonderful books.

Friday, September 19, 2008

How Wikipedia Works

Wikipedia's own Phoebe Ayers, Charles Matthews, and Ben Yates have written and published a book about Wikipedia. The book, How Wikipedia Works, is published by No Starch Press and is released under the GFDL license. Yes, that's right: a printed book released under the GFDL.

Is book. Is Wiki. Is GFDL. Is Wikibook? Not yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it get translated to wikitext in the future. After all, the beauty of wiki-based textbooks is that they never need to get out of date, and they can be updated as things change by anybody who is interested.

By the way, 5% of the proceeds go directly to the WMF, so that should make you feel better about it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Zero Revert Rule (0RR)

Surely the title must be a typo, isn't it the 3 Revert Rule (3RR)? Maybe it is on Wikipedia where you can revert another person twice without running afowl of the authorities, but not so on Wikibooks.

And I know I'm not the only person on in the world who finds it obnoxious, annoying, and down right rude. It's one thing with vandals and spammers (I'm sure that's what the revert and undo tools were originally intended for), but it's another thing to simply remove an edit made in good faith by another editor.

I saw an old post today from 2005 on an under-used talk page from an admin who was warning an IP that 6 reverts was uncalled for, and that the IP in question almost got blocked for it. That's 6 reverts by an IP, and nobody got blocked. Talk about patience! But, that misses the point: Reverts against good faith edits are never really acceptable, and that people should think twice before reverting even once. Edits are the most precious things that a wiki has. Edits make the wiki world go round. And if we're just wiping those edits off the slate without so much as a "hey, I don't understand your edit, can you explain it to me?" is terrible.

Here are two things you can do instead of revert:
  1. Talk about it. It's not so bad, I swear. People won't bite you if you don't chase them around with torches and pitchforks.
  2. Improve it. Edits are valuable, so don't ever just kill one. Make it better. Improve it. On wikis, books are never compete, articles are never perfect, everything needs to be improved. So why is it that some people choose to just delete edits instead of improving them?
0RR isn't a "rule" at Wikibooks (we have very few rules, and like it that way), but it doesn't need to be. We all just know the truth: that reverts are rude and bad, and that we shouldn't use them against good users.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Des nouvelles de Wikilivres

Speak any French? fr.wikibooks now has a similar blog to this one, operated by User:Sub. It's a news blog for the fr.wikibooks project. If you want to follow along with that progress of that project in an RSS-friendly way, check it out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cascading Style Sheets

Ever wonder how webpages get their pretty on? [[User:Dan Polansky]], who's been with Wikibooks for about half a year now, has been doing some great work on [[Cascading Style Sheets]]. It's an interesting book, and he's been developing a nice print version so you can download and print the whole thing at once. Come on down to Wikibooks and check it out.

OKF Virtual Meeting

The Open Knowledge Foundation is hosting a virtual meeting on IRC for open-content textbook developers and other like-minded individuals. This announcement was sent to textbook-l this morning. More details are on the OKF Website. I know I'm going to try to make it, any other Wikibookians or book-minded Wikimedians interested?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Monday, September 1, 2008

Wikitrust

Luca De Alfaro is a researcher who has been working on an awesome new MediaWiki extension: Wikitrust. Wikitrust is a coloring system for text on a MediaWiki website that uses a computed trust metric for authors to color the words on a page depending on how reliable they are computed to be. The words of a well-trusted author appear white, the words of an untrusted trouble-maker are shown in bright orange. Everybody else is colored somewhere in the middle of the scale. In Wikitrust, there would be a "Trust" tab at the top of every page that you could click on to see what parts of the page are the most stable, and which are most suspicious.

He announced the V2.0 of his extension on wikiquality-l last week, and we've been discussing it ever since. He was looking for some place to install and test it that wouldn't be too big (because we need to evaluate server-load before we install it on en.wikipedia), but would be bigger then a small test wiki. I, of course, nominated en.wikibooks for the honor, and I think there is a little bit of support for that on the list. It's one more item in the queue of desired features, behind flaggedrevs and a few other home-brew extensions we've been clamoring for.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wikijunior:American Founding Fathers

[[User:Red4Tribe]], one of our most recently elected admins, has been doing a lot of work today on [[Wikijunior:American Founding Fathers]]. This is a neat way to teach kids more about this important period in American history.

More tory then American? We also have an interesting (if a bit abandoned) book [[Wikijunior:Kings and Queens of England]]. There have been a lot of complaints that this book isn't really written at a level for children and should be moved out of Wikijunior. However, the decisions that need to be made about this book will be left until a capable volunteer comes to make them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cookbook

Hungry? [[User:Mike Hayes]] has been doing a lot of work recently on our own [[Cookbook]]. It's one of our largest books, so large in fact that we've given it it's own Cookbook: namespace. Mike is proving the old mantra that a lot of little fixes add up to big improvements over time.

The Cookbook is a bit of a special case at English Wikibooks, and some of our editors are not entirely happy with the way it's progressed. Specifically, it exists now as a disjointed collection of individual recipes, and is not a coherent book like we usually require. The general consensus is that it should be converted from simply a listing of ingredients and recipes to a teaching resource that uses those recipes to teach larger lessons about cooking. This is a big task, and we're looking for some very ambitious and energetic authors to help make it happen.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pueblo Colorado

Are there any Wikimedians out near Pueblo Colorado? I may be traveling that way for work this week by my lonesome. I don't know any of the details yet about the trip (when or if I am actually going, how long I will be staying) but there might be some downtime for a quick meet-and-eat if anybody is interested.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The GIMP

[[The GIMP]] wasn't just a weird character from Tarantino's Pulp Fiction: It's also a powerful open source image editing software package. Our book on it has been around since 2005, but hasn't always attracted a lot of contributors. Lately, it's been getting some much needed editing and updating from [[User:Chelseafan528]], a member of both Wikibooks and Wikipedia. If you're familiar with the GIMP, especially with recent versions of it, we could use your help and input.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wikitoddler Flowers Alphabet

[[Wikijunior:Animal Alphabet]] is one of our more successful and popular* Wikijunior titles, aimed squarely at young pre-readers who need books with more pictures then words. It's a beautiful title, and if you have toddlers at home, it could make for a great interactive read.

Another similar project in the same vein is [[Wikitoddler Flowers Alphabet]], which uses pretty pictures of flowers to teach the alphabet, instead of pretty pictures of animals. As quick-to-get-distracted kids will tell you, a little variety is always nice. This book stub was created by our own [[User:SB Johnny]], and has seen a few helpful edits tonight from Wikibooks regular [[User:Panic2k4]]. More hands are always appreciated, especially hands who are familiar with the huge image library at Commons.

If you want a fun activity to do with the kids, or just like writing some things that are less serious then your average encyclopedia, come on down to Wikijunior and take a look at our titles for kids.

* This book was so popular at one point that a visitor commented that Wikijunior was little more then a "collaborative zoobooks". There are a lot more WJ books available, but most of them weren't as visible.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Zope 3 Book

Ever hear of Zope? It's an interesting new web framework for the Python programming language, and now we've got a new book about it! If you're interested in Python and web development, you should check out [[The Zope 3 Book]] which is being actively written now by newcomer [[User:z00perep00z]]. If you're interested in Zope, or know alot about it and want to help, you should come down to Wikibooks and check it out.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dual Licensing Redux

On Friday I posted a quick note about a discussion that we've been having at en.wikibooks: The issue of dual-licensing of books has been raised again and it's getting the serious consideration that it deserves. Licensing and issues surrounding that is a perennial topic of discussion.

On one end of the discussion are several editors who are interested in multi-licensing their books to help facilitate use and reuse of our materials in schools and on other websites. Wikibooks is like Wikipedia in some ways, but very different in others. Key among those differences is the way that our content is used, and the target audience we have. For Wikibooks to be called a "success", we can't just have a huge library of free books, but we need to get those books into the hands of students and teachers.

The discussion started in our Reading Room (equivalent of WPs Village Pump), and migrated to textbook-l. Textbook-l tends to be a very low-volume and low-participation list, so I'm planning on writing up a digest to post back to the readers at Wikibooks eventually. Here is a link to the first textbook-l post that started the topic:

http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/textbook-l/2008-August/001302.html

And here is a link to the original discussion in the Reading Room:

http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Wikibooks:Reading_room/Assistance#Is_it_possible_to_create_a_Wikibook_under_Creative_Commons_license.3F

And these, as I mentioned before are not the first places where this issue has been discussed. We have a few precarious books which currently are attempting to use a multi-licensing scheme, and we've basically ignored it when it's happened in the past. I guess there's no more ignoring now, now that the issue is out in the open like this.

I would like to see more input, both on textbook-l and also in our Reading Room. If you have any information, opinions, or ideas to share to help out with this discussion, we would love to hear from you. Alternatively, if you post good messages here on this blog, I'll try to make sure they get seen by the rest of the community as well.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dual Licensing

Just a quick update tonight: The issue of dual-licensed books is an old one, and one on which we've never come to any firm conclusions. There are some people who are definitely interested in writing some books under dual licenses, or alternate licensing schemes. Some authors, for instance, are interested in writing books which are completely PD, while others are interested in dual licensing with CC-BY-SA-x.x.

Wikibooks has, in the past, taken a very laissez faire attitude towards this. We have allowed books with these intentions to post message templates to that effect on the main page of the book. I have been very optimistic about this situation historically, although I am becoming more pessimistic as I get more experienced and more educated about licensing issues. I worry that an uneven licensing landscape will make content reuse between books more difficult, will raise the barrier to entry for new users, and will create problems for contributors who are not conscious of licensing peculiarities in individual books.

However, despite my pessimism, I do recognize that there is a lot of motivation on the other side of the line: Increased flexibility, better targetting of books to their target audiences, and an increased awareness of books as being individual projects in and of themselves. A book really is a closed ecosystem, with it's own authors, it's own styles, it's own guidelines and practices. Having it's own license seems like just another logical peice in the customization puzzle.

The question was raised again, first in the Reading Room (our equivalent of the Village Pump) and then on textbook-l where discussion is continuing. I would like to see a lot more feedback, from Wikibookians especially but also from other Wikimedians too.

I don't have time tonight, but I'll post some relevant discussion and textbook-l archive links tomorrow.

Conversational Yiddish

I feel like I've been advertising a lot of language books lately, but they seem to be the focus du jour for some of our most recently active contributors. Today, I've been seeing a lot of activity on the [[Conversational Yiddish]] book, by [[User:Moyvey]]. It's a book that's been around for a while but has only started to progress recently with the new author.

There is a second book on Yiddish, [[Yiddish for Yeshivah Bachurim]] that hasn't been edited since it's primary author left in January. Both books are featured at a new portal [[Yiddish]], although this will probably be moved to [[Subject:Yiddish]] in the future.

If you're a Yiddish speaker and would like to contribute to either of these books, or even if you would like to start your own book on the topic, we would be glad to have you. Come on down to Wikibooks and take a look around.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

New Books and other news

Interested in computer modeling? [[User:MihalOrela]] has been doing some interesting work on his new book [[Modeling from A to Z]]. There is still a lot of work to be done yet, but it's a promising start and I'm looking forward to see where it goes. [[Clojure Programming]] is a relatively new book being written by [[User:Parth.Malwankar]]. Clojure is a dynamic programming language which is run on top of the Java Virtual Machine. These two projects look pretty interesting to me, and I hope they attract new contributors and continue to develop rapidly.

I created a new template yesterday, {{Not a book}} for flagging newly-created pages which don't appear to be heading in the right direction for inclusion in Wikibooks. Wouldn't you know it, as soon as I create the template I find about a million uses for it? As with any message template, it could probably stand to be more positive ("You know what would be much better then writing something that isn't a book? Writing a book!"), but I think this is a good start.

Erik mentioned yesterday on textbook-l that the PDF extension is being tested now in the wikimedia labs website. What's so cool about this is that the Wikimedia Labs site uses an old dump of the en.wikibooks database. It's like testing on our own wiki, and really gives the feeling for what it will be like when it gets installed for real. I haven't had a lot of time to play with it yet, but it looks fantastic. I definitely encourage all Wikimedians (and Wikibookians especially) to come take a look at the test site and give some good feedback about it.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Manchu Language Book

[[User:Mashuwen]] has been doing some great work on a book about learning the [[Manchu]] language. It's a language that could be on the verge of extinction unless it is preserved in books like these. Know any Manchu? If so, we could use your help here at Wikibooks.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Punjabi

Know any Punjabi? [[User:Jaspalkaler]] and newcomer [[User:YoshiroShin]] have been doing a lot of hard work on our new [[Punjabi]] wikibook and are looking for some help. It's still early in the book's development so it will be difficult for non-speakers to learn the language right now. Hopefully, development will start moving more quickly if we can get some more volunteers to work on it.

We've got a lot of other language books that need your help too. If you know a language and think you teach it to others, stop on by and take a look.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Props to my Peoples

There has been a lot of activity lately, and I feel like I could post a million blogposts about it all, but I'm trying to limit myself to one per day or less.

[[User:Aya]], the bureaucrat that first promoted me to admin several years ago, appeared out of nowhere yesterday. He's been absent without a trace for almost exactly 3 years, and not for lack of us trying to get in touch with him at various points. In the time he's been gone we've passed a new adminship policy that calls for the deadminship of inactive admins (so he's not a bureaucrat at Wikibooks any longer) and we've passed a policy to disallow videogame strategy guides (so the [[Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas]] book he was working on has moved to StrategyWiki. It's sad, I think, to see things change so much. However, I feel like we've made a lot of changes for the better and Wikibooks is a more mature and stable project now then it was three years ago. Hopefully Aya feels the same way.

A while back I started a book about [[Communication Systems]]. It was intended to be a general dumping ground for my notes from several classes I was taking in the field of Communications. Taking the "Wiki is not paper" mantra to heart, and being a bit naive, I tried to create a gigantic communications masterwork that would encompass the entire field in a way that no other traditional book had ever done, or would ever be able to do. A little wiser now, I've since broken the book up into several smaller books, each encompassing a particular aspect of Communications theory and practice. Now that I'm out of school, however, I don't have the time to work on any of them.

Enter [[User:Jugandi]] who's been flying through the [[Communication Systems]] book like a whirlwind. He's writing all sorts of content and examples, adding tables, pictures, diagrams. He's breathing life into the book in a way that I never could. I've long felt that the most important thing to do for a new book was to give it a solid organizational structure. A skeleton book without much content can be easily added to, because people know exactly where and how content should be added. A large formless book filled with rambling content, on the other hand, is much harder to contribute to. Jugandi has been able to take a bare skeleton book and add so much to it in such a short period of time, nice evidence in favor of my idea. [[User:Jeremyb]], a relative newcomer to the project (an SUL-enabled wiki-immigrant), has been helping to convert some images of tables and formulas into ordinary Wikitext or TeX format.

[[User:The Scarlet Letter]] has been doing some excellent editing and authoring in some of our mathematics books. Some of the work he does is gnomish (small fixes here and there), but some of it is very substantial too. He's been doing good work in our books [[Real Analysis]], [[Abstract Algebra]] and [[Functional Analysis]]. He and [[User:Topology Expert]] have also done some good work recently in the [[Topology]] book too. Our mathematics shelf, which has long been a little woeful, is being reinvigorated with these and other's efforts.

The [[Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter]], long one of our largest and most impressive books, is still as active as ever. One of our bureaucrats, [[User:Withinfocus]], keeps watch over the book, but a lot of the great content work recently is being done by [[User:Chazz]] and [[User:PNW Raven]]. So dedicated are Chazz and PNW Raven to their book, that neither one of them has ever requested adminship (and Chazz once turned down the offer outright). Their dedication shows, because this book is one of our crowning acheivements.

This is just a narrow glimpse into the activities at Wikibooks recently, and I'm sure I'm missing plenty of important details. Got something to share? Let me know and I'll post it on the blog.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Open Kids Dictionary

textbook-l received a cool email today. Karen Fasimpaur, an occasional Wikibooks contributor and open-education activist, wrote to tell us about an open dictionary project that's aimed at children and K-12 education: http://dictionary.k12opened.com. This website seems neat by itself, but what's really cool is the new glossary tool which hopefully could be adapted for use at Wikibooks. We're always talking about increasing our suite of book-building tools, and a glossary builder tool would be a great thing for us to have.

One thing that we at Wikibooks have been kicking around for a while, but have not been able to get developed, is some kind of system for extracting metadata from the pages of a book (word definitions for a glossary, references for a unified bibliography, keywords and terms for an index, etc) and displaying that data on a separate page. Think about our tags, but instead of having the references appear at the , it would appear on a separate page entirely. Now, extend that same concept to be more general, not just for references but for bibliography, indices, glossary, etc. It's a big and ambitious feature request to be sure.

Anyway, if you have some spare time today you should head down to the Kids Open Dictionary project and take a look around. Their project is all PD, so content reuse in Wikimedia-world shouldn't be a big problem. I wonder if some kind of synergy would be possible between them and Wiktionary? Maybe we could get some of our precious few Wikijunior enthusiasts interested as well.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

New Book Snapshot

Here is a snapshot of some of our new books. These books are listed on {{New}}, a DPL-generated template which is populated by the {{New book}} template. Tagging new books with {{New book}} is both an important job and a great way to get familiarized with the community. It isn't a fast-paced task, but it is very valuable.

Obviously, all these books aren't going to "make it", some of them are not suitable for Wikibooks and will eventually be relocated to some place more appropriate or deleted outright. Books which are obviously not going to ever be keepable can be nominated for deletion at [[WB:VFD]]. Books which are borderline cases should not be nominated for at least 7 days (we like to give a book enough time to develop before we start chasing it with torches). If a book has the potential to grow into something which is acceptable, it shouldn't be nominated for deletion, but instead tagged with one of our cleanup tags so people can work to fix them up.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Libre Software Meeting

Sub, a user from fr.wikibooks that I've been in contact with messaged me yesterday. He sent me a link to the Libre Software Meeting (LSM). The LSM is, from what I can gather, a conference for open-source software proponents. LSM will be held next year in the town of Nantes. Sub, living nearby, is on the planning committee for the event.

He suggested I go to the conference, and maybe take some time to talk about Wikibooks. I don't speak fluent French (or any French, for that matter), but he claims there will be plenty of English speakers in the audience as well. Sub also suggested that there might be the potential for some travel funding for the occasion, which would be a nice incentive if it materialized.

I was personally hoping to make it to OSCON next year, an open source conference that's a little closer to home (although not much closer, if it's in Portland again). My wikiwork would be just as relevant there and it would meld with some of my other OSS projects too. Since both are going to occur in the summer months next year I probably couldn't afford to do both (if I am able to afford either). Being half a world away again, I probably won't make it to next year's Wikimania either.

If any other Wikibookians--or Wikimedians for that matter--are near enough to Nantes France and want to help spread the word, this would be a cool opportunity.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Busy as a bee

I've been keeping busy with other projects and real life, so I haven't been able to update this blog as often as I would like. There are a few pieces of news worth reporting:
  1. A while ago I started a book [[Editing Wikitext]] as a way to replace our decidedly un-book-like help pages. It sat as a stub for a while, but is now being worked by a relatively new Wikibookian, User:Armchair. Instead of the "a little bit here and a little bit there" approach that I use because of my short attention span, Armchair has been focusing on one chapter at a time, turning each into a carefully-crafted masterwork. Not all chapters have gotten the royal treatment yet, but those that have are looking great. He is doing a great job of speaking to readers of all levels, from the most green newbie to the most experienced wikitexters. Definitely worth a read (and a contribute!).
  2. Another book that is relatively new (in comparison to some of our older tomes) is [[MIRC Scripting]]. MIRC is a popular IRC client for Windows users. Many of our IRC-capable Wikimedians probably use it it. User:PiemanXC has been doing a great job on this book, and I personally have learned a lot from it! Using MIRC? PiemanXC can help you take your experience to the next level.
  3. The [[C++ Programming]] book is an older book of ours, and has seen it's share of ups and downs. Currently, the book has two separate pages that serve as the Table of Contents. These two pages differ in the order of material covered and in aesthetics. This is a cool demonstration that wiki isn't paper, and that we can do things that traditional books can't do.
  4. Wikimedian par excellence Durova has started a cool-looking new book on [[Image Restoration]] that no doubt includes some of her Commons-related expertise. It's a very cool-looking book so far, and likely to be of immediate practical benefit to our cousins over at Commons.
  5. We have lots of new books, as usual. New ones pop up every day. Stop on by, see what all we've got, and find something good to read.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Fifth Anniversary

The fifth anniversary of the Wikibooks project is coming up this month, and in honor of it I'm trying to round up a few people to guest-post to this blog. I would like to find people who are current or past Wikibookians to talk about their experiences at the project, and their insights about how Wikibooks has changed and where the project might be heading.

If you are interested, or if you know somebody else who is, please let me know.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Candidates speak about Wikibooks

[[fr:b:User:Sub]] from the French Wikibooks, alerted us to some questions that he asked the board candidates specifically about Wikibooks. Some answers are missing, some are a little bit depressing, and some a brutally honest. Greg Kohs' answer, particularly, seems the meanest, here is an excerpt, where he talks about his observations in the [[US History]] book, one which is currently marked as a "featured book" on en.Wikibooks:
This chapter of UNITED STATES history includes multi-paragraph sections about Henning von Tresckow and Karl Dönitz, but no mention whatsoever of the Flying Tigers, the Doolittle raid, Aleutian Islands campaign, Rosie the Riveter, the Tuskegee Airmen, George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, or rationing of consumer materials on the American homefront.

Am I the only one who finds this appalling? I would not want my daughter learning about the most significant events in American history this way.
He has a couple other criticisms of the book too, all of which are fair and deserved. He then goes on to discuss the culture of expert-exclusion that seems to be one of Wikimedia's hallmark features. I will posit that Wikibooks doesn't have that same problem, we have been not only tolerant but welcoming and encouraging to "experts". We've hosted a number of classroom-related projects, teachers and students working to produce very nice books. I've never heard a single disparaging remark from an expert about the culture of Wikibooks. In fact, the response has always been overwhelmingly positive.

I don't say this to try to disprove what Greg is saying above. I actually agree with him to a point and I don't take offense to people criticising the project. Wikibooks is young, but we are growing and improving. Perfection takes time, even wikipedia hasn't achieved it and they have us beat by two years and several million man-hours.

Writing a book is hard. Ignore the fact that your average book is just a tad longer then your average article (it's not uncommon for a mature book on Wikibooks to be several hundred pages long), there is a lot of stylistic issues that need to be dealt with. Beyond just having length, a book must be continuous: it must build logically from beginning to end, and it must teach along the way. We don't just present information, we must find ways to ensure the target audience can learn. Sometimes, this means we have to cover the same topics over and over again, in different ways for different people.

Wikibooks doesnt have the same mass as WP has, our authors are more spread out around the project. It's not uncommon for some of our users to toil in peace, not interacting with any other users at all. We tend to have about one active author per book, rarely a popular book can attract 2 or 3. This is a far cry from the "many hands" mantra that powers Wikipedia. Mistakes are easy to catch if you have dozens of people reading your book, harder if there are only a few, and near impossible if there is only one. People write what they know, and if a particular author doesn't have Rosy the Rivetter on the top of his head, it likely won't end up in the book.

This isn't a condemnation of Wikibooks, just an admission that we are small and need more people. Everybody needs more people, I read Larry Sanger's blog regularly and he's always trying to convince people to join Citizendium. I might even consider it too, if I had the time or the energy in me to participate in another project. From what I read and from what I hear in casual conversation, Wikibooks is a lot more similar to Citizendium then it is to Wikipedia.

Featured books on Wikibooks are designated rather informally. Sometimes a vote by as few as 4 or 5 people can seal the deal. Voter apathy plays a big part in this, many of our members would rather just write then discuss meta content all day. What we look for in our Featured Books is not perfection, that much should be obvious. We're looking for books which are comparatively good and which are a good model that other developing books can follow. The secret to our method is that books can be de-featured easily, and we do it regularly as the bar gets raised. As we increase our standards, new books rise to the occasion, and old books (like the US History book) fall out the bottom. Finding featured books that aren't good enough to be called "featured" anymore is not a condemnation of Wikibooks or our culture, it's an affirmation that our standards are higher now then they used to be. This is because our editors, while few, are hard working and dedicated. Perfection is the end goal, and Wikibooks is approaching it, slowly, incrementally. We do set reasonable interim goals for ourselves until we reach perfection, and we're not ashamed of that.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wikibooks update, Week of June 9

Wikibooks has been slowly picking up lately, resurrecting itself from the slump we've been in for a few months now.
  • Our active membership is picking up again. As always, a large portion of our population is "silent" in that they focus on their books and don't get involved with the community discussions. This population is hard to measure, but I think it's the most important group that we have.
  • Some old faces are coming back from wikibreaks. As the semester ends (for students) or as the seasons change (for working adults) people who used to be very busy in real life suddenly find themselves less so. Of course, new groups of people are going to find summer to be their busy time, and they will temporarily disappear until fall.
  • We've got a new bureaucrat nomination, which is a relatively rare occurrence on en.wikibooks. Our "newest" bureaucrat was promoted back in April 2007, so I think it's high-time we had some fresh blood added to the mix.
  • SUL has increased our account-renaming load considerably, and we've created a dedicated page where such requests can be made. This is probably only a temporary measure, until the SUL account-conflict frenzy has died down.
  • Despite problems with copyright violations (a number of candidates were deleted) the new logo discussion for Wikibooks is continuing. There still seem to be some problems that will need to be worked through, however, so we aren't trying to follow any kind of strict timeline now.
  • We've been working on our desired custom FlaggedRevs configuration, and even though discussion is spread out all over creation, we're slowly coming to consensus on some of the outstanding details. Hopefully, we can reach agreement on the last few details and put in our bugzilla request soon. Being able to flag a particular stable revision of a book is going to be a big help for us to "sell" our books to teachers who need things to stay calm in order to use a book in their class.
That's probably not all the news there is to report, but it's everything I can think of off the top of my head. If you've never been to Wikibooks, or are just in the mood to try something new in the world of wiki, stop on by and see what we've got going on.