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?


  1. With #7 is not obvious how money would be used. And "Contact publishers and authors to purchase the rights to out-of-print books and have them uploaded to WB for improvement" - could be attempted without offering to purchase copyright.

    Great brainstorming. It always helps to know what you want money for before asking for it. :)

  2. Yeah, #7 probably doesn't require any money to do, but is an idea worth remembering here anyway. Obtaining the rights to out-of-print books definitely doesn't require money in all cases, but not all such books are going to come in a form that's amenable to wikitext conversion.

    Another related idea would be to contract out programmers to develop a PDF2Wikitext tool, or even a good TeX2Wikitext tool to help with these kinds of donated coversions.

  3. My favorite idea is #6, but I'm not even sure that would require any sort of budget in the short term.

    I'm a hyperlocalist, so my best advice for Wikibooks would be to establish a really good connection with just one university, and then proceed from there.

  4. When you think about all the content that is generated every year, between students writing papers, teachers writing lesson plans, tour guides and their presentations, etc. It's staggering to think about how much content is created for once-off assignments and is then deleted or forgotten.

    Obviously it would take a gigantic effort to take this kind of material, convert it to wikitext, upload it, and integrate it into our books. Although, if we have money to offer, we could probably make it happen.

    Even if you think about the content generated in one University, it's a pretty large amount.

    One other thing we should try to advertise is that writing things on Wikibooks, or taking photos for commons, or writing stories at Wikinews or whatever is a great way for young students and professionals to build up an online portfolio, or to pad out a resume. There is potential for significant personal gain at Wikibooks, it isn't all butterflies, rainbows, and altruism.

  5. A pretty common mental exercise among programmers is to think about a question very similar to this: If you had the money to hire 5 programmers for a year, what kinds of projects would you have them work on? Considering all the usability talk that's flying around, if we had the money to hire programmers to take on specific tasks for Wikibooks to improve our software and our UI, what would we have them work on?

  6. I think sometimes we overvalue technical improvements.

    The best use of money to improve Wikibooks, in my opinion, would rather be the social improvement attained through projects that foster the expansion of the Wikibooks community.

  7. I'm trying to put in practice "6. Try to convince more teachers to assign writing and editing tasks on Wikibooks"... But it's very difficult to convince some people... =/

  8. Oh well. Wasn't the idea that users create high-quality textbooks at Wikibooks? Considering the current state, I would think that the most important point is to make sure that a few very good textbooks are hosted at Wikibooks. Thus, #9 and #10 makes a lot of sense to me. All the other points are rather questionable in my humble opinion.

  9. It's not just about creating high-quality textbooks, although the collaborative creation process is certainly a high priority and trumps most other considerations if there is a conflict. For instance, we've had to tell book donors in the past that we couldn't accept their donations because they tried to impose restrictions on the book that would prevent open collaboration (must protect all pages in the book, must monitor and authorize any changes, etc). So we've lost out on some interesting donations because we put such a high premium on our collaborative authoring model.

    However, writing books isn't the only priority, distributing them and finding readers for them is high on the list as well. A book with no readers, and therefore no reviews and no feedback, is very limited. Readers play an integral part of the authorship process, and a book with no readers will never be as valuable a resource as a book that does.

    The goal is to get more people aware of Wikibooks--students and teachers and readers and writers--and to increase our volume of usable content the two form a positive feedback cycle: more content attracts more readers, who in turn generate more content. Promoting either will have the effect of increasing both.

  10. Well, if someone wants to "donate" a book but wants to keep full control over the book, then he or she is just looking for someone to host the book on the web. That's certainly not the idea of Wikibooks.

    I agree that creating more and better content attracts more readers. I disagree that attracting more readers by advertisement etc. is always a good idea. If readers have a look at low-quality books and don't find anything useful for them at Wikibooks after searching through lots of stubs and useless books, they will not come again for a long time and they will tell other potential readers (and authors) to stay away. At least that's what happened to the books in the languages bookshelf. Quote from a discussion there: "Already language lovers advise each other not to come here to study...". And in fact, I wouldn't recommend anyone to study a language with a wikibook; you can get far better books for less than 20 euros (10 euros if you are lucky or buy a used book).

    Actually, advertising a premature version of a product is a common mistake in marketing: you lose a lot of potential consumers for a long time regardless of the quality of your improved product. From my limited focus on the languages bookshelf I would say: forget about advertisement, focus on higher quality and let mouth-to-mouth advertisement do the rest. (And "higher quality" doesn't mean the quality of commercial books, it means the quality of the standard textbook used in the respective field.)

  11. Exactly Martin! That's why I put such a high priority on content donations and increasing the size and quality of our collections: We want to have good content here so readers will have something good to read.

    However, that's not the entire story. One virtue of Wiki is that anybody can get involved. Instead of saying "These books stink, I'm leaving this website and never coming back", we hope that a few people will say "These books have errors, and I know how to fix them". Readers aren't going to be attracted by lousy content, but contributors aren't going to be attracted by picture-perfect content either. They need something to latch onto that they can improve, and they also need enough low-hanging fruit where quick and easy improvements can be made.

  12. I guess I agree with what you are saying. I just have a more extreme opinion on a couple of issues. For example, I think:

    there is no perfect textbook. Textbooks can always be improved. (And if you really don't find anything to improve, just wait a year, then the book definitely will require an update.)

    When it comes to high-quality textbooks, there are no low-hanging fruits. There just aren't. The better a textbook is, the harder it is to further improve it. High-quality textbooks always will require a lot of work.

    In my humble opinion even thousands of low-quality, incomplete books and stubs won't attract many serious contributors. On the other hand, a dozen of high-quality textbooks probably can. Either to fix small problems in them or to write new books of a similar quality about a different subject. In fact, one suggestion in the archived discussions on the languages bookshelf (by a professional linguist and language teacher) was "producing some quality materials that may be useful (at least to some of the more serious potential editors here) as models".

  13. There are no perfect textbooks I agree entirely! This is why I've been pushing to have the {{stage}} and {{stage short}} templates deprecated, because no book ever deserves that little "100%" mark. Even with our featured books we try to make a point of saying that they still need improvement.

    When it comes to high-quality textbooks, there are no low-hanging fruits. There can be. Small changes in wording to improve clarity, the addition of a single small example, aesthetic improvements of templates, etc. Books are a never-ending process and even most of our best "featured" books could still benefit from the most basic of copyediting tasks.

    Wiki is a new concept to most people, and new contributors need easy and low-pressure tasks that they can perform to acclimate themselves. Everybody starts small, and without that we won't have any new contributors at all. We really need to advertise the fact that even our best books can benefit from some of the smallest edits. This will increase the confidence of our contributors and get them started on the road to more ambitious projects.