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.


  1. This is a good point. I think it's something authors need to decide before they start writing anything. Knowing whether you are writing for the web or for print helps you know whether or not to link heavily, just as the most basic example.

  2. Hi Whiteknight and pfctdayelise! Well, here is my story: I started writing a wikibook that accompanies a podcast. The podcast is for learning Spanish and there are obviously some things (like reading) that you cannot learn easily with a podcast. Since the specific shows of the podcast are under a CC-BY license, it is possible to include the audiofiles of the podcast in the wikibook. Thus, quite a big part of the wikibook is not printable. But then, the whole idea was to create something that you can print and read without a computer while you are listening to the podcast with your MP3 player. Thus, for this wikibook, printing is crucial, even if an important part (the podcast) is not printable.

    My point is: sometimes it is just not necessary that the online version shows the same information that the print version includes. Even if the print version is very different from the online version, there might still be an important reason for the print version. It's just like with books and movies: even if the storyline is the same, there will be lots of differences. There are often even multiple movies for the same book!

    Thus, I guess the generation of a good print version will always be challenging. But I still hope that collections will make it more easy to create good print versions in the future when all the current problems and bugs are solved.