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 What we need most is manpower to create collections pages and start marking the out-of-date print versions and PDF files for deletion. 2009 will be the year of the collection, mark my words.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 Our whole Help: namespace is a disorganized and out-of-date mess.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., where we could host things like an issue tracker, but also an 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?


  1. I think the biggest usability issue we have for new users is how we've misnamed the "Reading Room". That name simply doesn't jump out and yell "here's where you can get help." It rather implies that it's a place where you can read stuff.

  2. Merry Christmas and hopefully all your wishes come true! Here is my wishlist (not just for 2009 ;):

    1. Wikibooks supports LaTeX in addition to Wiki markup. (Not just for equations but also for tables of contents, page references, bibliography, index generation, etc.)

    2. Wikibooks allows for more choices for content protection, e.g., contributors need to be invited or changes need to be reviewed. (It is not easy to come up with good schemes for this to avoid abuse of wikibooks as a hosting service, but I think there have to be more choices for content protection than available currently.)

    3. Wikibooklets become popular. (I realized recently that this can go in two ways: podcasts that lead to accompanying wikibooks, and wikibooks that are podcasted as PDF files (possibly together with audio files) in RSS feeds. iTunes has a huge user community who probably is very interested in such wikibooklets.)

    And a fourth (optional) wish:

    4. Collections print as good as print versions. (By the way, this trivially implies that the paper format for printing is user-defined.)

  3. Jomegat: I'm certainly not against a rename, but anything we call that page won't necessarily be obvious to all people. Better would be to rename some of our most prominent links (such as in the sidebar) to "Discussion" or something like that.

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