Saturday, November 29, 2008

Social Networking

Did you know that there are some social-networking venues for Wikibookians outside of Wikibooks? It helps like-minded people to get together off-wiki, and to proudly display your non-profit affiliations to others. Here are some social networking sites that I know about, I would love to hear about others from other people!

  1. Facebook: There is a Wikibooks group at Facebook. It's not a huge group, but it's a cool way to keep in touch with other 'bookians off-wiki. You have to have a facebook account to join (you might even need an account to see the page), but if you have one, we would love for you to become a member. Myself and Mike.lifeguard are admins of the group.
  2. Linked-In: We have a group at Linked-In too. There are only two members right now (myself included), but it's a cool way to add "I write books" to your profile.
  3. The blogosphere. It's not quite social networking, but I already have 1 "Follower" on this blog, and manage to solicit a few comments every now and then. It's a fun little way for people to chat about important news topics that happen at Wikibooks. If other Wikibookians are interested in joining this blog as an author, or submitting stories as a guest author, definitely let me know! Sub from Fr.Wikibooks also maintains a French-language blog about Wikibooks at
These are just the Wikibooks-related groups I'm aware of, I'm sure there are more about Wikibooks, tons about the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikipedia, and more still about open content and open education movements. I would love to hear about all of them.

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.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Reviewers Wanted

Here's an excerpt from our [[Using Wikibooks]] book that contains some of our first guidelines on how to use the new FlaggedRevs extension at Wikibooks. If you have a good eye for content and have good judgement, we could use your help to review our mountains of pages. Also, we could probably use some help improving these guidelines:

Page Criteria

When reviewing a page, there are 3 categories with 5 levels in each. The three categories are Coverage, Accuracy, and Composition. Knowing how to review a page means knowing what these categories are and how to judge a book using them. The levels in each criteria are more then just grades for the page, they are also a checklist that editors can follow to bring a page up to featured quality. If all the pages in a book are basically featured quality, the book could easily be nominated for the honor at WB:FB. Of course, having individual pages be featured doesn't mean that the book itself is also featured quality. There needs to be an emergent quality to the book where pages build on each other in a logical and consistent way for the book to become featured. If the pages don't work together, the book is probably more of a macropedia then a textbook and needs additional work.


Composition is the basic quality of a page: How well is it written? Wikibooks is a text-based content website, so everything we do here revolves around the quality of our writing. The Wiki process does not demand that everything be written perfectly, but that successive editors and authors can improve a page incrementally by fixing errors and omissions as they are found. Pages should aspire to be technically correct in terms of spelling and grammar, but must also have flow, consistency, and structure. Readers hate to be presented with a bland wall of text, so things like headings, lists, templates, tables, and images should be employed to break the page up into bits that a reader can easily absorb.

This page either hasn't ever been reviewed, or else it has been reviewed and is terrible. Spelling and grammar is off, the page has no flow and makes no sense. In short, this page is unreadable.
Good Spelling and Grammar
Using proper spelling and grammar, or very close approximation thereof, is really a minimum requirement. If a page isn't written so that other people can read and understand it, it's worse then having no page at all. This rating doesn't mean that the spelling and grammar must be perfect, but it should be reasonable and easy enough for an experienced editor to clean up quickly. Many web browsers have built-in spell checking functionality, so this shouldn't be too hard to achieve.
Good Structure
Once the words are spelled correctly and the sentences are constructed properly, it's time to focus on the overall structure of the page. Ideas should flow logically from one paragraph to the next. Later topics should build on earlier topics without going on tangents or requiring prerequisite knowledge that has never been discussed. The page should be broken down into sections and subsections, and maybe use some templates and tables to include additional information.
Consistent Style
Consistent style is the next step in page development. The page should not just be technically correct in spelling and grammar, or written with good paragraph and section structure. The page must be written in a consistent voice that properly accounts for the target audience. Wikijunior books for children should be written with high-energy and child-friendly vocabulary. Books for students, adults or professionals should all be written accordingly. To achieve this, the authors of a page should probably be familiar with pages like Wikibooks:Reading Levels.
Featured Quality
This page is not only well written, it is an example that other pages should follow. This page should be an example of good writing and good teaching by any standards.


Information is only as good as it's accuracy. If a page is well-written and has good coverage, it's still worthless if it's untrue or misleading. Wikibooks is an educational resource, and should aspire to teach accurate information to readers. The accuracy metric of a page should show how accurate and trustworthy the information on the page is, and how valuable it will be as an educational tool. Accuracy has five levels:

The page is nothing short of absurd, talking about pseudoscience, nonsense, or other garbage. The page is untrue, misleading, and may even be dangerous to readers.
The page contains truth, or partial truth. It's not absurdly incorrect, but isn't well supported either. Important details might be missing and certain aspects may be incorrect. The page will be short on examples, and short on discussion to explain things in an understandable way.
The page presents information that is not obviously incorrect, and maybe only suffers in certain details. The page won't have many, if any, examples to illustrate the topic. The page probably doesn't make use of any references.
A verifiable page is one that presents correct information, but also provides the tools to prove that the information is true. This proof can come in many ways including references to primary sources, do-it-yourself verification, or building logically on topics covered in other pages from the same book. Some books may require a certain amount of prerequisite knowledge in readers, and will take certain facts to be self-evident, so this should be considered when reviewing.
Featured Quality
The accuracy of this page is a goal that other pages should aspire to. This page is a good and reliable resource on the given topic by any standards.


Coverage deals with the amount of material that the page actually covers, as compared to the amount of material that it should cover. Good coverage means that a page covers all the topics that it intends to cover, and covers all of them well. Consider a page called "Arithmetic" that only covers addition, or a page called "Animals" that only covers mammals. Or, consider a stub page which only has a few short sentences about a large number of topics, without actually providing any interesting information about any of them. These are both examples of pages with poor coverage. Coverage is broken into 5 levels:

This is the default setting for pages that are unreviewed. If a page is in this condition, it needs to be improved badly. Pages in this category are typically incomplete stubs, that provide only a brief overview, or only contain a lot of empty sections.
The page covers it's topic in a minimaly-acceptable way. It includes the bare amount of information on the topic, and doesn't include background information, references to other topics, examples, or in-depth discussions. This page needs an author to sit down and start drafting more content as soon as possible.
The page covers it's topic in a reasonable way. It should probably include a high-level overview, some examples, some background information, and other pieces of information that readers will want.
Readers should be able to read this page and get all the information that they need on the topic. The page should have lots of good examples, in-depth discussions, overviews, and background. The page should set the reader up with all the information they need on this topic throughout the rest of the book, and maybe more then that.
Featured Quality
The amount of information that this page covers, and the method in which it covers that information is exemplary. This page is an example that other pages should aspire to follow, and is a good resource on it's topic by any standards.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Book Ideas

I was supposed to write a Wikibooks blog post three days ago, and now my todo list is saying that I have to write two! I can't afford to wait any longer and maybe stack up a few more of them, I'll never be able to catch up!

I do a lot of planning for new books, I am a firm believer that books with a solid plan will have a higher chance of success then books which are thrown together off the cuff. However, I have more outlines and plans then I possibly have time to implement. Also, I've adopted a number of stub-books which have strong potential, but a lot of redlinks in their tables of contents. I need to be honest about the fact that I can't write all these books myself, but I'm not prepared to just abandon them without finding new contributors to take over first. So, here is a list of books and book ideas that I've done some work on, but am not able to carry on any longer. I warn you that many of these books are very technical, since those are the topics I tend to write about.

  1. Find Employment: How do people find jobs? How do they write resumes and prepare for interviews? This book has a lot of content already, but isn't complete. I'm also not in the job market anymore, so I'm not thinking about it. Authors needed for ongoing maintenance and expansion of a few areas.
  2. Astrodynamics: I started working on this book when I was taking a class on it, and doing some research on satellites for the USAF. I've written up a few chapters, but the second-half of the TOC is mostly empty. Looking for somebody who knows physics and vector caluculus to really expand this book and bring it up to date.
  3. Electrodynamics: This book was originally a chapter in a larger book about "Modern Physics". I felt that it would be better served by being a stand-alone book, so I moved it out and restructured it. This book has some information and equations, but is woefully in need of help. I took a semester of electrodynamics back in school, but don't remember enough to be a help for this book.
  4. Digital Circuits: I started this book back when I was taking classes in the area, but I just am not interested enough in it to continue. This book is very much a stub, and needs a lot of TLC from a knowledgable author.
  5. Automata Theory: Wikibooks doesn't currently have a book about automata theory, but I've been planning one for some time now. I was intending to write this to support other books I was planning such as "Regular Expressions" and "Compiler Theory". None of these books have yet been written, in fact, but the later two I am going to get around to eventually. If you're interested in this, let me know and I will send you my outline and notes.
  6. Digital Storage Media: This is one of the oldest plans I've ever made. I literally wrote my first outline for this book 3 years ago in 2005. This book is intended to be about digital storage: CDs, hard disk drives, and file systems. Basically, how do we store all the trillions of bytes that we generate every year? How does storage work? What storage mediums are useful in which applications? I think this is a very interesting topic, but realistically I'm never going to write it. If you're interested in this topic, let me know and I will send you my outline and notes.
I'm slowly going through my list of old books and outlines, and I'll post more as I find them. If you know about any of these topics and are interested in writing about them, Wikibooks could use your help. Let me know, and I can help you get started.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Collections Redux

I wrote a blog post about collections a few days back, and people sent me in some comments asking for more updates and some pictures. Here's a picture of my first book:

You'll notice the large flash flare in the center, that's because I'm a lousy photographer. I did take a few other pictures, but they came out all blurry for the same reason. So this is what we get, and everybody is going to have to deal with it. If somebody more handy with a camera then myself can take some pictures and send them to me, I will post them.

I tried to purchase a few more today, and realized that something was wrong. Saved collections cannot be loaded with Special:Collection for some reason. This is the first time I've tested it since the Flaggedrevs extension got installed, so I assume there is some kind of negative interaction going on. If you were planning to check out this collection but haven't had a chance yet, you're just going to have to wait a little longer. I sent out a frantic email to the necessary people, and they are looking into it. Maybe we'll get it back soon, and then I'll have to write yet another post about this extension (and I'm happy to do it!).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Flaggedrevs Extension

I was planning to write another follow-up post about the new collections extension. Some people had requested links and pictures, and I am more then happy to provide them. However, there's no time for follow-ups now, there is too much exciting news to report.

As of last night, en.Wikibooks has the flaggedrevs extension. We're scrambling to figure it out, get it documented, and figure out how to use it. Plus, we're using a very custom configuration of it, so we're try to evaluate whether we want things changed.

Here's what I do know: It's awesome, with caveats. The flaggedrevs extension seems to interact negatively with new page patrolling, and that's throwing some of our patrollers into a tizzy. It might not make sense to both review and patrol pages (reviewing should suffice), but we have to reconsider some of our existing workflow, and we have to figure out what new flags to give to our patrollers so they can keep working.

Lots has been changing around here in the past few weeks, Wikibooks is barely recognizable anymore. Hopefully when all the dust settles, we're in a much better position then we used to be. With all the changes, now is a very cool time to come down to explore Wikibooks.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My First Book: PediaPress is here.

After all these years of writing on the wiki and repeating the mantra "wiki is not paper", I've finally gotten my first printed book for my efforts. Yesterday afternoon UPS delivered what is, I hope, the first of a long series of books with my name on the cover. It was an experience like no other.

Because it's more then just a cool opportunity to get some kind of physical justification of all this time I'm "wasting" at Wikibooks. It's more then being able to hold it up and say "See, this is what I'm doing with my time: Writing actual books that people can actually buy and actually use for class." Of course, then I get the question in return "How much money do you make from this?" Maybe one day I'll have a pile of money that I can hold up and show to people in response to that question too, but probably not. Visual aides to make question-answering much easier.

More then having displayable justification, it's an opportunity to learn something new and to teach new things to people. How long do you think it will take me before I start writing a book about how to write books for this new print-on-demand service? I've already been sending out emails rapid-fire to the PediaPress people with bugs, glitches, and issues that I've found from pouring over my precious new book. Every single page is an opportunity to learn something that I can pass on to others about this experience: Best practices for our authors, fixes and suggestions for the software guys, recommendations for our readers. This first book is a treasure trove of information, and it has my name in big blue letters on the cover. It's an experience that is immeasurably cool.

PediaPress and print-on-demand are here. This is it, this is the sign. When that first book shows up in your mailbox, you know that things have changed. Wikibooks is coming of age today, right now, in a way that most of us 'bookians barely dared to dream about a month ago. The work our authors and editors and volunteers are doing does matter, and will help students and teachers around the world in a very concrete way. All the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place, and the last thing we need is you: your contributions, your books, and your ideas. The books that you write will be printed, bound, and sent to people who can't afford books from traditional publishers. We're going to change the world with this, and we can start right now.

Go to Wikibooks and check out print-on-demand. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Math books for Children

Wikibooks has traditionally had a bit of a dearth in the "fundamental" subjects. These are subjects, especially those aimed at children, that are almost universally covered in schools and that almost all children learn about. Without having books (and high-quality books at that) the chances that books from Wikibooks will end up in a classroom are slim. We have several good books at the college level, but sheer quality and rigor will probably keep our books from being used there.

One area where our books are a larger mess then usual is in mathematics. We have several books which appear to be aimed at young children, but there isn't a critical mass of contributors for them to really make them grow, expand, and succeed. Here are a few books that could really use a helping hand:
  1. [[Wikjunior:Visual Math]]: is a very fun little concept aimed at pre-readers. The book uses pictures and colors to teach basic mathematical concepts to very young children. At least, it would do these things, but at the moment it's a stub book with tons of redlinks to lots of empty page space. A person who was good at navigating commons for images (or good at making images themselves) would be a great help for this book.
  2. [[Wikjunior:Mathematics in several volumes]]: is an interesting-looking book that I'm not too familiar with. It appears to be very ambitious, breaking up into logical "volumes" for different age groups. However, the development of this book hasn't gotten very far. It's a terrible stub right now, and the first decision to be made here is whether to keep and expand it, or delete it outright.
  3. [[Math for the Young]]: This book isn't part of Wikiunior proper, but it probably should be moved there. It's a relatively new book, but hasn't seen much development since it's original author disappeared in March. It looks to target readers in the 4-7 age range using simple words and sentences and lots of pictures. There is a suggestion that this book should be merged into [[Arithmetic]], but I'm not sure I agree with that suggestion. I do think the name of this should be changed to something a little more descriptive, however.
  4. [[Arithmetic]]: Aimed at a slightly older audience (I'm thinking 8-11?) then any of the other books on the list, this is still definitely a book for young people. I'm torn about whether this book might belong in Wikijunior, but the case could easily be made that this book could be dual-purposed for an older, math-illiterate audience as well.
After these books, we start getting into the territory of [[Algebra]] and higher maths, which are another problem all together (but at least the Algrebra books seem to garner occasional interest and contributions).

We at Wikibooks would love to have better mathbooks like these for children of all ages. If you think you have what it takes to make one of these books a success, we would love to hear from you. Stop on down to Wikibooks and take a look at some of these.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Logo Vote: The final stretch

I became a little bit downtrodden about the Wikibooks and Wikijunior logo selection processes when I learned that several copyvios had crept in to the list of candidates. What was most upsetting to me personally, some of the copyvios were my favorites from the entire bunch. I took some time off from the discussion after that to clear my head, because a lot of other people were in the same boat: The copyvios were generally considered the favorites by several of the participants. Without them, it felt like we were going to be forced to pick a logo that nobody liked as much.

However, things have changed now, and time heals all wounds. I was planning to get back into the fray of it this week, but others have beaten me to it. Apparently, the final vote is being scheduled for 17 November, and the list of final candidates is quite impressive indeed. I hope that we can select a great logo for Wikibooks to plaster on all these new books we're publishing!

I'll post some more information as I get it.

Monday, November 3, 2008


I've been away on vacation for a week, and have had a lot of catching up to do. This does highlight the need to get more people blogging about Wikibooks though: If anybody out there wants to post some news about Wikibooks on this blog, either as a regular author, or through irregular email submissions, that would be awesome. Let me know.

Some news points:

  1. When I left, the last thing I posted about was the new wiki-to-print extension. I've only seen a few reviews of it posted so far, but they've all be remarkably positive. I still need to take some time to test it myself (and I might order a few books to boot!).
  2. The License!! Holy Crap!! The FSF released GFDL 1.3, which includes a migration clause to CC-BY-SA. Wiki sites such as Wikibooks might eventually use CC-BY-SA, or GFDL+CC-BY-SA in the future for all their materials. This is great for interoperability with other open-content and open-education initiatives, but it does create some issues with book donations, where authors in the past have donated books to us under the GFDL, and now those works might be relicensed without their consent. Even if it's strictly legal, it's awfully underhanded, and I'm trying to get in touch with affected people (it's actually a very small list, thankfully) to make sure we aren't burning any bridges.
I'll definitely find more news to report as I start getting back into the swing of things.