Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thinking about project mergers

In idle conversation tonight we started talking about the idea of merging projects. I know it's certainly not a very popular topic, a lot of people have staked out their territories and don't like to think that their "home" project is going to get merged into a larger project and lose it's individual charm and character.

It's no secret that in the past I have strongly suggested that Simple English Wikibooks be merged into English Wikibooks. I'm still of that opinion, although recent activity levels at that project have been higher then they were when I first went on crusade.

The topic tonight was about a potential merger between Wikibooks and Wikisource. Before the knee-jerk "UR IDEAZ R TEH SUX!!" response that these kinds of suggestions tend to recive on these 'ere internets, consider what such a project would look like:

It would be a virtual library, but prepped for crowd-sourcing. We would have all sorts of static "historical" books, a la Wikisource, that are pre-published and are not editable. They would stand as the reference works in the library. Since this is a wiki, we would want an editable section too. These, the "community" books would be normal editable wiki pages, a la Wikibooks, that could evolve and improve over time.

Every "book" on this fanciful project could be composed of one or both of these parts: (1) a "base" version, which represents the pre-published static version, and (2) the "current" version, which represents the wiki editable community version of the book. At a click, you could instantly see both the original manuscript, or the updated community version as it evolves.

On WB we receive book donations on occasion, where we receive a completed manuscript, post it on the wiki, and ask our editors to update and maintain it. Unfortunately, without the use of a custom template, the original uploaded version gets lost in the sands of the history pages.

Now I know that this idea needs a lot of fleshing out. WS obviously contains lots of material that isn't "book-like", and the vast majority of WB's 3000+ books aren't derived from a pre-published base version. Plus, there's the consideration that it's nonsensical to try and update or maintain many of the books that are currently in the public domain. For instance, what will an editor today change about Principia Mathematica, or The Republic, or Beowulf? And speaking of Beowulf, what would become our policy on fictional works? Are we allowed to maintain and update them, and if so are we allowed to create new fiction works from scratch?

So the idea isn't perfect, but I think there are some gems hidden in there that are worthwhile to consider. I think it's more feasible to merge WB+WS then it would be to merge WB+WV (which is a suggestion I hear very often).

As a disclaimer, I doubt such a merger would ever happen, but it's a fun thing to think about and might lead to cool new ideas in the future.


  1. I like the idea; in particular, the idea of a "base" version and a "community" version. Whether the merger happens or not, we should experiement with this idea. I.e. we should start to allow "base" versions, which can only be edited by the original donator/author (and other authors by invitation) and a community version, which can be edited by everyone. This would be the kind of protection of books that would make wikibooks much more attractive for a lot of authors from academia.

  2. at de.wb there were already discussions about something similar: it was discussed whether a book shall be protected infinitely if the "main author" has finished it in his opinion and if he wishes so. as i understand the discussions there is no "official" consent 'til now but it seems that nearly everybody thinks that the "main author" has this "power" to make the admins protect a book, cf. e.g. http://de.wikibooks.org/wiki/Wikibooks:Meinungsbilder/_Mitautor_an_einem_Werk_werden. at the moment i am not able to find another, more specific discussion about this. i think there is one but i can also err. ;)

  3. That's a very interesting situation, heuler06. However, I can't really see how that would be acceptable on a wiki. The problem is, I think, that people on de.wikibooks are allowing a concept of "ownership" by saying that there is one "main author" who can make decisions that other users cannot.

    On en.wikibooks there are a few common values that we try to follow:
    1) All users are equal, from the newest user to the most experienced admin.
    2) Nobody owns a page or a book. No person has more authority to make decisions then any other.
    3) The wiki is editable: We do not allow static content (that is for wikisource) and we do not allow users to restrict who can and cannot edit.
    4) Nothing is ever "finished", so long as people want to edit it.

    So if the proposition of protecting a "finished" book was raised on en.wikibooks, it would be denied quickly.

    That said, it might be valuable to take permalinks to "last approved version", but let the community continue to edit the pages.

  4. in truth there is no real "ownership" at de.wb. people think there is for two reasons:

    1) they are the only persons writing at a book. -- there are nearly no other contributors to a book at de.wb. i don't know why. maybe it's the mood not to change the work of other people except correcting something.

    2) changes of other persons except the main author will be just reverted if they do not fit obviously. if a main author does not accept an edit he is most often right with his opinion. as long i am active at de.wb i never realized a situation when a main author did not accept a fitting change.

    so, in reality there is no concept of ownership. there are also no pages being protected just because the author wished it. that's why i wouldn't say that the values you showed here are not common for de.wb. ;)