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:


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


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.