Monday, March 24, 2008

Videogame Guides, Rehash

It was basically decided, over time, that video game strategy guides do not belong on Wikibooks. There were many concerns and a few objections over this, but I think that the majority of Wikibookians really agreed that it was the right move. So, over time, the guides were phased out in a peaceable and civil way.

What we have now is a policy that says videogame strategy guides are not acceptable at Wikibooks. It seems simple on the surface of it, if we see videogame strategy guides, we work to have them moved to a more appropriate venue (typically StrategyWiki, where several former-Wikibookians are active members). However I worry now, in hindsight, that maybe the policy is too cut-and-dry. Let me give an example.

Today, a book about the board game "Dungeons & Dragons" was nominated for deletion. At least one person voted to delete the book, and then switched the vote to keep because Dungeons & Dragons is not a videogame and therefore isn't part of the blanket deletion mandate.

When we look at books about games in general, not just video games, we need to weigh many factors about that game and about the style of the book itself. Books which are completion guides or strategy guides with no educational value, probably don't belong on Wikibooks whether the game in question is a videogame or not. Similarly, a book written about a videogame does not necessarily need to be deleted if the book is well written and discusses more then just game play strategy. The quintessential example of this was a book (unfortunately, now abandoned) about how the game SimCity 3000 could be used to teach readers lessons about urban planning. Another example is the concept of programming books where the reader is instructed on how to create new videogames or modify existing videogames programmatically.

Being about videogames is not a condemnation that a book be deleted. Being about board games should also not be some kind of immutable protection against deletion either. The spirit of the policy, at least the spirit as the the policy was intended to be) is that books about games need to follow the same requirements as all other books on our site:
  • Books must be instructional and educational
  • Books must be non-fiction
  • Books must be verifiable
If we apply the same standards to all books the issue about videogame guides, or guides about ordinary games, all come out in the wash.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Citizendium Blog Post

I read an interesting post on the Citizendium blog, posted by Larry Sanger. The post is HERE. In it, he compares the atmosphere and community of Wikipedia and Citizendium. It shouldn't come as a surprise, but in his comparison, Citizendium won.

What caught my attention most was not really that he was taking a swipe at WP, but that his description of Citizendium reminded me so much of Wikibooks. In this paragraph especially, if you replace all mentions of "Citizendium" or "CZ" with "Wikbooks" and "WB", respectively, it would still be perfectly accurate:
By contrast, on the Citizendium, it’s extremely easy to get your edits to stick. There are zillions of topics that are still wide open, or that need great expansion. We genuinely love it when new people get involved; we won’t shoo you off. And how many self-appointed ”managers” will your work have? If you’re lucky, a few. But, at this point, it’s more likely you’ll have one or none. If you like to work largely free of the typical Wikipedia busybodies and know-it-alls, you’ll find CZ much more congenial. And how quickly will editors or constables “lay down the law”? Well, you can get away with a lot on CZ, I’m afraid. That’s because people behave themselves so well most of the time that we are genuinely surprised when someone needs to be reined in.
It's something that I've said a lot (and I'm sure I'll say it more and more in the future) but we really are a different kind of environment from what Wikipedia is. Of course, maybe it's a function of our size. Maybe Wikibooks hasn't yet reached the critical mass where people spend more time arguing then they spend authoring, but it is destined to do so. I like to think, in contrast, that we've laid a very different ideologic foundation at Wikibooks, and that we won't develop in the same way that Wikipedia did. Only time will tell, of course, and once we do reach our critical mass point we can start to make more observations about it. Larry had a similar observation about size:
Now, I know that our wiki is open, bottom-up, and largely free of “command-and-control” in part because we’re still much smaller than Wikipedia. Yes, that’s obvious. Yes, I know that growth has a way of making governance harder. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are for now much freer and less constrained than Wikipedia is. ... And we at least still have a chance to retain the more open, freer, more congenial nature of our “small town” community as we grow; it’s too late for Wikipedia, which has become largely a “big city” mobocracy, one that I for one find more oppressive than liberating.
Again, you can see his clear bias against Wikipedia here, but that doesn't make what he's saying untrue. This is another example of where you can replace "Citizendium" with "Wikibooks", and still have an accurate statement. He ends with this statement, that I think is good enough to end my blog post with as well, because it also describes Wikibooks accurately:
Maybe, just maybe, we’ve learned something from Wikipedia’s governance mistakes.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wikibooks and Wikijunior Logos: Discussion Round

The submission stage for the Wikibooks and Wikijunior logo selection process has finished. We are no longer accepting new logo submissions. All told, there are about 33 submissions for WB, and 13 for WJ. During this round, which is scheduled to last until about April 15, we are discussing and voting on the submissions. Some changes can be made based on suggestions. We are trying to select the top 10 "logo families", or groups of logos which are very similar except differ in small details and color schemes.

Starting on April 16th, after the top 10 logo families have been selected, there will be a discussion round to select the best particular logo from each family. This discussion time will last until about 15 May. Until 15 May then, the logos may be modified, including changes in detail, changes in rendering, changes in color scheme, etc. In essence, we are allowing time for the artists to get feedback from the community, and for each submission to be perfected.

Starting 16 May, there will be a final vote to determine the single winning logo. The selected logo must include a 16x16 favicon, logos in black & white and greyscale, and must be available in SVG.

All Wikimedians (THIS MEANS YOU!) are invited to take a look at some of our logo submissions, and discuss or vote on them. I'll post regular updates here on this blog, and I'll probably spam a few of the mailing lists too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

WritersUA Conference

I'm at the WritersUA conference in Portland Oregon, where I'm acting as a general evangelist for Wikibooks and Wikimedia. I'm giving my presentation, "The Wikibooks Paradigm for Collaborative Content Creation" in less then three hours. I hope to have a nice-sized audience.

Since there is more to talk about then just Wikibooks/Wikimedia, I've been posting updates about the trip on my personal blog. Check that out if you want to see how things are going.

I plan to post my presentation slides, and a video of the presentation online once this whole ordeal is over. I'll post more details about that in the coming days.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New Bureaucrat and Admin Nominations

One of my favorite things to do on Wikibooks is to nominate deserving individuals for adminship or bureaucratship. It's bittersweet for me, however. Since I'm a bureaucrat, if I make the nominations I can't do the promoting myself.

[[User:Mike.lifeguard]] is a person who started out as the almost unknown author of our little [[First Aid]] book. Since promotion to admin, he's become one of our most active administrators. He is an active vandal fighter and because of it he was promoted to CU late in 2007. His [[First Aid]] book has also become a featured book at en.Wikibooks.

[[User:Neoptolemus]] is one of the first users who were given the rollbacker rights, since that ability was added by the developers. I personally think that rollbacker and patroller rights are an excellent stepping stone for potential new admins, and Neoptolemus is the first example of that process in action.

We also are starting to reexamine some of our de facto policies for dealing with bots. We have some proposals for bot policies, but none of them have been accepted yet. In lieu of these policies, we've been trying to figure out the situation on our own, and in some cases we've been conservative almost to the point of absurdity. Knowing how we have been doing things, and also how we would like to change things, a lot of people are talking about heavily streamlining the process of giving the bot flag. Some people have even suggested that we move to allow admins to grant the flag (instead of just bureaucrats as it is now). I personally like that idea, but time will tell what the wikibooks community thinks about it.

[[Linear Algebra]]

Our [[Linear Algebra]] text has been around a long time, but it has been in bad condition for most of it's life. It was part of a set of three books, including [[Algebra]] and [[Abstract Algebra]] that were all in bad shape. The problem with these books (and a few others as well) was that they were heavily cross-linked, and interdependent. Material that belonged in one could be found in another. Pages were moved from one book to the other creating a maze of redirects and double-redirects.

A while back, we started a project to separate these conjoined books, and to set them up properly. A lot of progress was made, but instead of having three books that were heavily interdependent, we now had three stub books that were completely independent.

I received a question a while back from [[User:Shahab]] who asked what our policy was on book donations. If he could find another book that was released under the GFDL, could we import it to Wikibooks? I said yes we could, but I recommended that he get permission from the original author, as a courtesy. Permission was gotten, and now we have access to a brand-new, complete linear algebra book. We are uploading and developing this new book in parallel to our old book. Eventually, we may merge the two, but that depends on how things progress.

The book, however, is written entirely in LaTeX, and multiple contributors have produced files that don't have any kinds of standard formatting rules. Plus, the book relies heavily on macros for a number of common tasks. There are some LaTeX->Wiki translation programs available, but none of them can accurately handle macros, and all of them are restricted to a small subset of LaTeX directives, which this book does not follow. So I pulled out my bot and started the slow process of incrementally translating the book to wikitext. In retrospect I should have written a proper parser, but I was convinced that I could use Regexps to handle most of the conversions, and then manually tweak pages after the fact to cleanup any remnants. Certainly, I could do just as good a job, or better, then some of the other tools I had seen, given the input data.

I was partially correct.

I was able to do a lot of the conversion work automatically, and the results are very promising. I'm still working on it to fix some residual nonsense, but for the most part the pages are nice and mostly LaTeX-free. There are about 80 pages, and all of them need editing assistance to help complete the conversion process. If you are interested in helping with this process, head over to the "NEW Table of Contents" in the [[Linear Algebra]] book, and dig in. Here are some things that we need from editors, that cannot really be done by bot:

#Add headings to break the long pages into managable sections.
#Determine whether inline math equations need to be surrounded by tags or not.
#Seek and destroy residual punctuation marks, like "/" and "&".
#Fix numbered lists so they are continuous
#Find and fix malformed equations. The original book used some advanced formatting that our LaTeX engine doesnt support.

Every little bit helps!

Friday, March 7, 2008

[[Inorganic Chemistry]]

The [[Inorganic Chemistry]] book, one of the oldest books on Wikibooks (dating back to March 2004) has finally been adopted by a new volunteer author. However, the task ahead is daunting, and more contributors are desired. This book, while old, has attracted relatively few contributors and contributions in it's time here, and is still in a very early state of development.

If you know a little bit about inorganic chemistry and would like to help out with this project, we would love to hear from you. If you are interested in helping with the Inorganic Chemistry book, contact [[User:Thewinster]], or leave a message on the discussion page.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Brief Presentation Update

I just got back from the presentation. Not as many people showed up as I would have liked, but you know it's a success when one professor says to the other "We should really look into this as a department", and all the other professors agree.

I took video of it. I'll try to post that, along with the slides, somewhere online soon (hopefully tonight).

Wikibooks Presentation

My first presentation about Wikibooks is today at 12:30 EST. I'm putting the finishing touches on my slides now, and hopefully things will look alright by then. Here's a little background:

I was invited to give a presentation at the WritersUA conference in Portland OR about Wikibooks, and the challenges of collaborative volunteer authorship. That conference is in two weeks, and I'm presenting there on Tuesday the 18th around 2:45 PST. When I mentioned the presentation to some of my professors, they suggested that I also give the presentation here at school, and they said that for two reasons: (1) Practice for the "real thing" in Portland, and (2) discuss an interesting topic which the students and faculty here are probably not too familiar with. Plus, it's another opportunity for me to shamelessly evangelize, so I jumped on the opportunity.

So I created a very nice slide show with at monobook themed skin. I covered the history of Wikipedia, Wikimedia, and Wikibooks. I introduced people to MediaWiki and Wikitext. I discussed some of the most common criticisms, and tried to lay them to rest. Finally, I discussed Wikibooks a little bit, what we do, what we are all about, and how to volunteer. I emailed a copy of my slides to the conference organizer.

He hated them.

I was under the impression, mistaken as it now turns out to have been, that the audience in Portland were new to wikis, and that they needed to be introduced to them for the first time. As it turns out, the audience are an extremely savvy group of technical writers who are intimately familiar with wikis. I had to revamp my whole presentation, and I had to do it very quickly. So I tossed out all the stuff labeled "introduction", "Wikitext and MediaWiki", condensed my entire history section down to a single page, deleted most of the slides in the second half, and started over. I focused more on the technical aspects of our project: How we keep the peace, how we organize materials, how we structure books, how we organize and motivate our volunteers. I discussed books in great detail including strategies that work and those that do not, how we decide when to delete a book, and a bunch of other topics. I discussed a roadmap for goals that we as a project would like to acheive in the future. I went from giving a fun high-level overview to a deep discussion about the nitty-gritty of our project. I think it's going to be a big success.

However, after redoing my presentation for Portland, I had a different problem. I needed to make some changes to my presentation here at school since the audience here are not all familiar with wikis, and are not savvy technical writers. I made a few changes to focus more on the educational aspects (which is what teachers and students want to hear), and less on the technical and logistical aspects. So now, I'm giving two presentations with little overlap, and can't use the one to practice for the other.

I'm planning to upload my slides for both presentations, including my slide templates (since they are monobook-ish and could easily be used or adapted for other similar presentations). I don't know where I am going to upload them exactly, but I'll find a place. I'm also going to try to videotape both presentations, and load them someplace appropriate. Johnny suggested YouTube, and that might be a cool learning exerience since I've never used YouTube before.

It's always a good day when I get to dress up and talk to people about a subject I love so much. If I can recruit just one new member, or if I can inspire just one small class project, this whole experience will have been so remarkably worthwhile.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Wikimedia Drama

I'm not one much for drama or gossip, so I've been trying to stay out of all the issues that have been popping up lately. Jimbo, the founder of Wikimedia, has been the subject of a lot of gossip, and there appears to be a little bit of an ongoing quarrel between Jimbo and Danny Wool. I had no idea who Danny Wool even was before Google Reader suggested that I subscribe to his blog. I certainly didn't know there was any ill-will between him and Jimmy. I'm also not entirely certain who Kelly Martin is, but Google recommended her blog to me as well. She also doesn't seem to have a lot of nice things to say about Jimmy. I don't mean any offense to these two individuals, I'm mostly lamenting the fact that as a Wikibookian I'm very well insulated from the pulsing nerve core of Wikimedia. I personally couldn't give a crap about Jimmy's personal life, or his love life, or his habits, or whatever. It's not news to me, and it shouldn't play a part in the way we all interact with Wikimedia.

Some people, notably Kelly and Danny, have also had some comments about how money is being spent by the foundation. I also have my concerns, although I'm not knowledgeable enough to point out any specific problems. In the last fund raiser I scraped together 100$ to donate, and that was not without serious consideration or consequences. I gave up lunch on more then one occasion when money started getting tight. Consider the case where the foundation allowed donors to specifically earmark their donation money for one or more of the following uses:
  1. Server operation and maintenance (includes salaries for devs and IT)
  2. Server expansion and hardware purchase
  3. Wikimania
  4. Administrative (includes employee salaries and benefits)
  5. Logistics (expenses, such as travel, for the board)
  6. General use
If this were the case, I think the foundation would find very quickly that they have more then enough money to operate the servers, expand the servers, and pay the developers and the IT guys, and possibly even start a nice little savings account for future hardware needs. I also think the foundation would find that not a lot of people are interested in donating money for board member air fare, or high-priced salaries, or Wikimania. The fund raiser advertisements invariably include mention of "help keep our servers running", and most people donate for exactly that reason. If you give people who are actually donating the money a chance to say where that money will be spent, I think you will see that the priorities are a little bit different. I won't harp on this too much for now.

Speaking of Wikimania, there has been a lot of fuss about it's location: Alexandria Egypt. And I mean A LOT of fuss. It turns out that Egypt isn't a particularly safe place, and that the Egyptian government and people don't share in the same values that your average Wikimedian does. An organization that champions freedom of information and expression is holding a conference in a land where people don't have the basic rights of free speech, freedom of expression, or freedom of religion (unless you are one of the three religions allowed by the state). It also turns out that not all Wikimedians are straight judeo-christian muslim males, and so your average conference goer is going to find themselves in a very uncomfortable and possibly dangerous situation. The next time somebody suggests "let's hold our annual conference in place where our most cherished ideals of freedom and diversity are forbidden by law and punishable by jail time", everybody needs to take a step back and reconsider our priorities.

Maybe I'm an old fashioned capitalist, but I think that the only real voice a person has is their actions. If you don't agree with the venue for this year's Wikimania, as I don't, then simply don't go. People can complain all day long about the security and safety issues, but if everybody goes to Wikimania, and it turns out to be a grand success, then no lessons will be learned and no changes will be made. I'm not going to say a single disparaging thing, not on foundation-l and not on meta, because words are not going to fix this problem. When Wikimania rolls around, I'm going to be safe at home, editing Wikibooks and focusing on what's really important: the content.