Friday, October 27, 2006

A New Manifesto by Jimbo

A recent posting on the Wikibooks "textbook" mailing list by none other than the co-founder of Wikipedia and the current chair of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, Jimmy Wales, lists a manifesto regarding Wikibooks and its future. (my description of the post, not his)

This is a sort of follow up to the earlier post he did on the Wikipedia list where he tried to get people to try and think really big about what sorts of things could be done with Wikimedia projects if money was no serious object in terms of what could be obtained. Supposedly some people with some very serious amounts of money are thinking of doing some stuff like buying copyrighted works and then giving them to the WMF to be released as copyleft type content in some way. Copylefted textbooks are specifically mentioned here.

In particular, the concept was brought forth to consider what sorts of things could be added to Wikibooks to encourage the development of a standards-based textbook. As it stands right now Wikibooks does not offer any substantially completed content that is even trying to meet the curriculum requirements of K-12 educational institutions, and replies when back and forth about that issue in subsequent postings.

One thing that stood out for me in a reply by Sanford Forte, the current director of the California Open Source Textbook Projects, was that they have moved their actual development efforts to Wikibooks, and using their website mainly as an advertising and organizational tool. It doesn't surprise me as there are several other groups that are doing the same sort of thing, especially the South African FHSST (Free High School Science Texts) like the FHSST Physics book that was moved to Wikibooks a couple of years ago. In this regard, Wikibooks has become the #1 place to do this collaborative effort even though other efforts certainly are being done as well.

My counter argument (also posted on textbook-l) is that I am not entirely sure that you can get your best bang for the buck by simply purchasing copyrighted material. I contend that you can create new content for far less money simply by trying to offer incentives of some sort or teaming with the right people to help produce the content.

One thing that needs to be made clear here is the philosohpy that Jimbo has now for Wikibooks that is emphasizing the textbook nature of the project. I have been leading the "Wikibooks is for more than textbooks" philosophical school which at times seems to be running counter to the efforts of Jimbo from time to time. There is common ground that we can work together and certainly I'm not opposed to development of textbooks on Wikibooks. The whole idea at the very, very beginning was to provide a wiki environment to make textbooks, but I would argue that the mission was expanded substantially during the first year in particular.

For anybody reading this... I am curious about other wild ideas that could be developed, presuming that a wise spending of a large amount of cash could be used to enhance Wikibooks in one way or another. Hiring full time copy editors? Sponsoring prizes for books on specific topics? Buying existing textbooks?

A number of outstanding ideas have already been presented in multple forums on this topic, but it certainly is food for thought.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Beginning

This is going to be a rough beginning to offer opinions on the goings on with Wikibooks, the Wikimedia Foundation, and perhaps other things somewhat associated with the various goings-on with the free textbook movement, if you can call it a movement with just a handful of people.

I certainly offer my opinions on that is going with Wikibooks, but I'm posting here to offer a little bit of independence from Wikimedia servers, and perhaps to do some additional musing from time to time that clearly has a point of view that may seem a bit unorthodox.

At the moment, Wikibooks seems to have died down after going through a few months of massive changes in the nature of participants and administrative overhaul. Especially with the removal of the video game guides and Wikiversity. I'll certainly offer my opinions on both of those topics later on, but on the positive side Wikibooks seems to be a more mellow place now and considerably friendier to new users.

I've taken a Wikibreak as well, moving on to of all things, Wikipedia. That experience is interesting to say the least, especially when people are talking down to me like I am a totally clueless newbie. They also get an earful (or a strong rebuttal on talk pages) when that happens. I have some strong opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of Wikipedia, especially coming from somebody who is a sort of outsider to Wikipedia, but an "insider" for Wikimedia projects in general.

But my real love right now is writing books through a collaborative Wiki interface. I love the much more laid back attitude most participants have, as even the most extreme flamers on Wikipedia seem to calm down and deal with one another in a (generally) much more rational manner. That doesn't stop conflicts altogether, but those that do happen are more remarkable as a result.