Thursday, January 31, 2008

Warning Templates

We got a message yesterday that our {{test}} template was very "mean", and that it most likely serves to scare away more well-meaning new users then it does to stop vandals. The text of the template, it was suggested, should be made more friendly so we aren't scaring away new users every time they make a test edit.

On the face, yes. The suggestion that we should "not bite the newbies" is one that every project should take seriously, because new users bring so much to a project. The problem is not that en.wikibooks is mean to it's new users (I posit that we are actually more kind then average), but that our methods and procedures are so far different from Wikipedia's as to be almost incomparable. On Wikipedia, the {{test}} template and it's brethren are used to kindly alert a new user to a simple but well-intentioned mistake. "Thank you for experimenting with Wikipedia", it says and goes on to mention the sandbox and a link to some documentation.

On en.wikibooks, we simply don't have an analogous template to this. When a new user makes one of the common editing mistakes, we find that it's often easier to correct the mistake immediately, and give that new user a warm welcome. Our {{welcome}} template is not entirely dissimilar to Wikipedia's version of the {{test}} template. "Welcome to Wikibooks!", we say, here are the links you need to get started. When needed, we follow this up with an explanation of what they did wrong, if it's even worth mentioning. "I saw that you made a strange edit, I hope you don't mind, but I went ahead and fixed it for you. Let me know if you have any questions about this".

New users are one thing, but vandals are another entirely. Wikipedia has several templates for all manner of warnings: {{uw-vandalism1}} to {{uw-vandalism5}}, and a similar sequence for spam, blanking, etc. A vandal could, conceivably, receive 4 warnings before they are blocked, even if it's apparent from their first edit that they have no intentions to be long-term productive members. On en.wikibooks by contrast, we have one template for all varieties of bad edits: {{test}}. It's our first, last, and only warning. "Do not make inappropriate edits to Wikibooks", it used to say (before it was made more "positive"), " Edits that you have made have been considered inappropriate or even disruptive". No sense here in differentiating between vandalism or spam, because it all falls under the category of "inappropriate or disruptive", and is simply not acceptable. We are much less tolerant of vandalism then en.wikipedia is, and many supporters of that mind-set (myself included) will be happy to point out that we have much lower levels of vandalism compared to our volume of productive edits then most other projects do.

Now, a Wikipedian who comes to wikibooks, sees a new user and leaves them a {{test}} message is in for a rude and traumatic surprise. This demonstrates that perhaps we should rename our template to something that is more indicative of it's purpose: {{vandalism}} or {{onlywarning}}, or even {{Oh snap, son}} would probably create less confusion. I still don't see a need to even have a template for warning new users for test edits, so maybe our {{test}} could just be redirected to {{welcome}} for the same purpose.

This should go to show everybody that the communities, methods, and procedures at different projects can be far different from each other, and you shouldn't assume that templates with the same name do the same things in other places.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Advanced Interactive Media Class

A book by the title "Advanced Interactive Media Class" was nominated for VfD. Considering the large volume of information in the book, deletion was ruled-out, and many people were leaning in favor of a transwiki to Wikiversity. Given that the word "Class" is in the title, this seemed like a good enough solution.

However, before the VfD could be closed, the instructor of the class posted the following message (edited for brevity):

Leave content as is until March 30th. [...] I'm new to Wikis but getting up to speed ASAP. [...] Undergraduate students are assigned to manage our Wikibook so it's not surprising that is has evolved inappropriately. I'll take responsibility to see that content is oriented to a book, not an on-line course, but will need until March 30th 2008 to accomplish this. [...] Is it possible to change the name of a book (from Advanced Interactive Media Class to Advanced Interactive Media), once it has been published?

The initial knee-jerk reaction to this is that Wikibooks isn't a web-host and that we shouldn't be storing, even temporarily, material which doesn't belong on our site. However, it's worth remembering that writing books is a big undertaking, and we have to expect some books will reach stages of unaccepability on their way to completion. Common examples of this include temporary macropedias, where people "borrow" articles from Wikipedia to seed a new book, and then slowly format the information into a book-like form. Macropedias are not acceptable per our policy, but a "macropedia stage" of a book in active development is.

Similarly, we can assume that a "course-like stage" of an active book that is being written by a classroom group should be an acceptable stage of development. When judging whether a macropedia is to be deleted, we must look at the activity level of the book, and make an educated guess as to whether the book is active enough to progress beyond that level. Likewise, we need to assess whether this course-like book is active enough to progress under it's own power to a more acceptable state. Considering that the class is currently on-going, and the semester is not over for two months, I think it's safe to assume that the book will eventually satisfy our requirements.

The important lessons to learn here are that there is no single "standard" way for a book to develop, and that often times things need to get worse before they get better. In the wiki spirit of things, we can't expect anybody to get it right the first time, and if they did there would be no need for massive collaboration.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Flurry of Activity

I've been keeping busy off-wiki with school work, and the small amount of time i do have online is spent sorting through email garbage, and working out some important issues on the chapcom wiki.

While I've been away, however, Wikibooks has seen a flurry of activity from old and new users alike. A large amount of cruft is being deleted, and VfD has been more active then i've seen it in a long time. People are chatting in the reading room, and a few brave souls are even starting to participate more in the oft-neglected Wikijunior.

I dont know more details because I'm not around often enough, but I'm happy to see how active the site is from a third-person perspective. Hopefully, i'll be editing regularly again soon.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

+Patroller and +Rollbacker

The new +rollbacker and +patroller rights have been enabled on en.wikibooks, and administrators have been given the ability to distribute these rights without requiring bureaucrat intervention. Unlike wikipedia, support on wikibooks was nearly unanimous, and very little arguing occured. Some people would have preferred that these new rights were only applied by bureaucrats, but in the end we didn't go that route.

This year, I would like to see these rights distributed to many willing participants, and I hope that the +patroller right becomes helpful in putting an end to our never-ending new page backlog. I also would like to see these rights helping to catapult users who maybe wouldnt qualify for adminship under our relatively-strict system, but who are looking to become active and involved in community maintenance work anyway. Ideally, people who otherwise wouldn't be interested in adminship would display a need for the tools, and we will be able to expand our ranks of admins.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Adopt a Book

Writing a book is a big project, and many authors jump into it without realizing exactly how much work it takes to make a book a successful one. Here are some books and book-stubs that have been abandoned, and need to be adopted:

[[Programming:Delphi]]: This "book" consists only of a short introduction to Delphi programming, and a listing of links to external websites to go for help. If you know Delphi and would like to take over, it would be a big start. Conversely, if you know of other groups or websites with Delphi or Kylix materials that they would like to donate, that would be awesome too. If you know it, we could use some help with our [[Fortran]] and [[Pascal]] books as well.

[[Solar System]]: This book is basically just a skeleton, and needs a lot of work. This book could probably be seeded by importing articles directly from wikipedia, and then removing the unnecessary information and formatting that doesnt fit into a book. Funny enough, we have a great book on this subject, if you're a child: [[Wikijunior:Solar System]]. Adults just don't get the same attention.

[[Raising Cattle]]: Farmers wanted! This little book-stub has only a bare-minimum level of content, and could use an overhaul. And while you're at it, take a quick glance at [[Raising Chickens]] too.

[[Sufism]]: The Sufism book needs some attention, and formatting, and cleanup, and more content. It's a "one big page" book with plenty of links to Wikipedia, but not a lot of content for itself. If you're familiar with Sufism, this book could use your help.

En.Wikibooks has about 3,000 books, but only about 60 of them are good enough to be featured. That means we need your help with 2,940 books on a wide variety of subjects.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Quick Logo Update

Just a quick logo discussion update today. The logo discussion text has been translated from english into french, italian, and german. We have 21 logo submissions for wikibooks, but only 5 for wikijunior. We have not yet specified a cutoff for the submission period because we would like to get more submissions.

Open Call: If you, or somebody you know is a good graphic designer, we would love for you to submit a logo proposal. We're trying to get as many as we can, and we are hoping that many more submissions come in before the end.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Forking and Disambiguating

In the past, Wikibooks had a de facto policy against forking material. The policy said, in effect, that each subject would be afforded only one book. This policy served an important purpose: We didn't want books to be forked every time two authors had a minor disagreement. We wanted people to work together, to focus their efforts, and not to create parallel books that were essentially the same with minor differences.

The previous forking policy has basically be abandoned, and replaced with a new de facto variant (I say "de facto" because it isn't actually written down anywhere). We now do allow multiple books on a single topic, although we require that the "Definition" of the books must be different. That is, they must have a different scope, or a different reading level, or target audience, or whatever. Books still can't be forked over minor arguments in vocabulary, formatting, organization, etc.

The problem arises now, how do we disambiguate between multiple books on the same subject? We have a whole organizational namespace, the "Subject:" namespace that would provide convenient disambiguation between related books, but the "Subject:" namespace isn't searchable by default. If somebody is searching for one of our C++ books, for instance, they can't find the page [[Subject:C++]] with any ease. That is, unless we redirect the page [[C++]] to the relevant subject page, but that seems to me to be a waste of effort. We can't possibly redirect every page to a relevant subject page, and it would be foolhardy to even try.

There are some details that still need to be hashed out, and so far only a few books are causing a problem in this area. With any luck we'll find a nice elegant solution. What we might need is for the developers to change our search function to include the Subject: namespace by default.

Sunday, January 6, 2008, as of version 2.3, has an option to export documents into MediaWiki format. I've tested it out today on a large book donation, and I'm impressed with the results. The problem was that we had a book donated by the original author in Microsoft Word format. We used to handle the conversion between the two formats. Despite my reservations about automatically generated wikitext, the resultant text was not too bulky. Some of the tables with special formatting need to be trimmed, but other then that things went well.

One deficiency that I did find was that I need to upload and insert all the images from the document manually. That is a little annoying, but at least I don't need to format several dozen pages of text by hand. I think that this could become an excellent tool for Wikibooks, Wikisource, and Wikiversity too.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Page Counts: Correction

A new wikibookian, [[User:Jacques Bergeron]] has suggested an interesting diagnosis for why the wikicharts page counts seem to be so wildly inaccurate. His hypothesis is that the counter keeps a running total of all page hits since the counter was first activated, and that total is then divided by the current day of the month. This would make more sense if it were the count since the beginning of the month divided by the current day instead. It seems like a plausible explanation, and he has filed a bug report to that effect in the necessary places.

Anyway, doing a little bit of arithmetic to correct for this error (if this is indeed the true nature of it), I've come to the following totals:
  • en.wikibooks: approx 23,000 page views per day; 750,000 page views per month.
  • en.wikijunior: approx 500 page views per day; 15,000 page views per month.
  • en.wikiversity: approx 7,500 page views per day; 225,000 page views per month.
These seem to be reasonable estimates of page counts, and when combined with some information at, is perhaps the first good picture we have about our usage statistics.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Lots of Activity

Wikibooks has been bustling with activity in the past few days and weeks. A few new active members have joined and have already shown themselves to be productive community members. I'm thrilled about it, personally. Some things that are going on:

  1. The list of featured books is getting a good cleaning. We have a few books in there that were sort of "grandfathered in", and now no longer fit our definition of "good". These books are being evaluated and removed from the listing, leaving only the true creme de la creme.
  2. "Wikiprojects" are being reincarnated as the less idiosyncratically-named "Maintenance Projects". On that has my heart is the "Publishing Project", whose aim is to edit our good books, prepare them for PDF/publishing/distribution, etc. It's a logical extension to our work, and is the project that is most going to affect the future of Wikibooks, in my opinion.
  3. A Wikibooks newsletter is being created, or the old newsletter is being re-created. Keeping up with news and accomplishments (like we've been trying to do with the bulletin board) can go a long way to helping the community coalesce and infusing us with a combined sense of project-pride.

2008 is shaping up to be a good year for Wikibooks, and hopefully things exceed even my expectations.