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.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Categorization Continues

I've taken a little bit of a break from book categorization myself, other things in life have been eating up a lot of my time. However, just because I've taken a break and have stopped blogging about it doesn't mean that categorization has stopped en masse. [[User:Adrignola]] specifically has been doing a lot of work getting our terrible category system cleaned up.

The Category: namespace at Wikibooks has been, to put it nicely, a trash heap. There are a lot of reasons for this, stemming pretty far back in the history of the project. A lack of a clear categorization policy resulted in a number of ad hoc categorization methods being implemented by various people. Early in the project we also had a series of "bookshelves" pages where books were organized into lists by subject manually. Certainly seems like a waste of effort now, but the bookshelves served us pretty well for a pretty long time.

A while back we decided to get rid of the bookshelves and replace them with a Category-based alternative. However, instead of using plain category pages, we decided to go with Dynamic Page Lists on our new Subject pages instead. So even though we are moving in a better direction, we still have plenty of excuse to keep sweeping problems in the Category: namespace under the rug. All that matters to us now is how well things appear on the subject pages.

That's not to say that organization of our category pages is unimportant, in fact it's very important since categories form the underbelly of our whole organizational structure. If they're messy, nothing above them will ever be as good as we need it to be.

So, I think it's very cool that people are working to make the category pages better, and I sincerely hope that the good work continues.

Monday, April 20, 2009


I'm pleased to be able to finally announce a pretty cool event. A group of education researchers from Old Dominion University have been awarded a grant from the MacArther Foundation to pursue usability enhancements to MediaWiki wikis especially as pertains to books and collaborative education.

A brief overview of the grant is available, I'm trying to get my hands on more information and will post it as I have it.

This group of researchers have been active on Wikibooks, which is where I met them and started working with them. Some of their books, Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education and Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment, have been highly successfully multi-semester class projects that serve as good archetypes of other such projects in the future.

This project, called "WITTIE", will not benefit Wikibooks directly, since some of the necessary controls on their experiments won't work in a large open site like Wikibooks. However, I am very hopeful that many of their results will be able to be implemented in Wikibooks, Wikiversity, or other education-based wiki projects after the grant period has concluded.

I'm working with this group as a sort of "expert" consultant and programmer. We're hopefully going to be either (a) finding and enhancing a set of existing usability extensions for MediaWiki, or (b) Developing some of our own usability extensions as needed. To that end, I am looking for interested coders to help out with the MediaWiki and PHP work that's bound to pop up. I am looking for people who are able not only to write decent code, but capable of mitigating the scalability, performance, and security concerns that come with public-facing collaborative websites. If you, or somebody you know fits the bill, I would love to get in touch. Please send me a comment here on this blog or an email if you are interested.

I will post more information, not only on the project itself but also on my hunt for a coder to help with it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Wikimedia Licensing Vote

The Wikimedia Foundation has started a vote to enable a migration from GFDL licensing to dual-licensing GFDL and CC-BY-SA-3.0. All Wikibookians (in fact, all Wikimedians) are encouraged to vote on this issue, and it's my personal hope that they all vote YES! Here is the voting page. You must have at least 25 edits before you will be allowed to vote.

A number of members of the Wikibooks community have specifically requested some kind of dual-licensing scheme to make our books more interoperable with other open-education websites. Some authors have attempted to use different licensing schemes on a per-book basis, although those attempts were generally thought to be against Wikibooks' terms of use.

Dual licensing GFDL and CC-BY-SA-3.0 will keep our material compatible with all the GFDL stuff still, but will also open compatibility to other websites and organizations that are CC-BY-SA-3.0 only. A large number of organizations, especially open-education groups, use CC-BY-SA licenses for their content, and previously Wikibooks was not compatible with these. Now, if the vote is passed, we will be and licensing will no longer be a significant barrier to the free use of quality educational materials.

It is my personal opinion that this initiative will be immensely beneficial to the Wikibooks project, with no significant downsides. If people would like to explore other opinions, get in contact with me and I will be happy to send you links to other information that you can use to make a decision.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Next Wikibooks Community Meeting

Mike.lifeguard has taken the opportunity to schedule a new Wikibooks Community Meeting, since the last one was such a success. The next meeting will be at:

Thursday, 9 April 2009
21:00 UTC
#Wikibooks on irc.freenode.net

All are welcome to attend. Mike has set up a planning/agenda page at Meta, so everybody can see what kinds of things we want to talk about.