Jimmy Wales wrote:
Some of the main points that I think are important...
-- Wikibooks is something we can get very passionate about, but that
passionate vision is marred if we allow it to become a dumping ground
for stuff people don't want in Wikipedia, or a POV haven for nonsense, etc.
-- Wikibooks has a serious possibility to get independent funding, so
long as it remains focussed on its serious mission of textbooks. Such
funding can be used to customize and improve the software for wikibooks,
as well as to *purchase and liberate* textbook works that already exist.
Suffice to say: we can get funding for Wikibooks to radically change the
education world if potential funders come to the project and see a
serious project doing good work. We can not get funding for Wikibooks
if potential funders come to the project and look at it and see a bunch
of nonsense that we did not have the pride to disallow (random crap that
got pushed out of Wikipedia, for example).
Funders are eager to find solutions to important questions facing
education. They are not eager to fund videogame manuals and pokeman
trivia reference books.
-- Wikibooks needs to focus on actual courses because we passionately
care that our work *actually be used in education*. In order to get
textbooks adopted by real schools, they must meet curriculum standards.
It is as simple as that.
I could go on, but I think you begin to see... there are some basic
standards and concepts, but really we need to work together carefully as
a community to build detailed policies to implement these and other
natural and sensible guidelines.
A fair amount of that work is already done, of course, and it will be a
long and ongoing process.
I want to thank you for at least providing a pretty clear manifesto
(even though I don't think that was your intention here) of what you
think Wikibooks ought to be like and the direction it can and perhaps
I do want to say, however, that it has been a very, very, very hard
uphill battle to even find a strong vision of what Wikibooks was
supposed to be when it was founded, and what the "typical" Wikimedian
(if you can use such a term) thinks of Wikibooks that is outside of the
general Wikibooks development community.
This huge disconnect between the veiw of Wikibooks as a seed-project
wiki (especially as evidenced by the Wikimania proceedings), those who
see Wikibooks as strictly academic textbooks, and those who push more
for general non-fiction scholarship books (more my viewpoint) have a
hard time to find a common ground when one viewpoint or another comes up.
I will say that the current Wikimedia Incubator Wiki has provided a
legitimate forum to send people if they want to develop independent
projects, a huge number of which I've been involved with moving
(generally successfully I might add) to places that were more
appropriate for the content. I mention the Wikimania proceedings in
particular because they are clearly not textbook oriented or even book
oriented, and emotions ran very high when I tried to transwiki that
content. So much opposition was had that Brion Vibber himself went and
reverted just about every adminitrator action that was performed by
myself in a huge slap on the face without even trying to find out what
was really going on and why there was opposition to such content on
Wikibooks. That and having Anthere threating to block my account wasn't
too helpful either (it didn't happen, but I did exchange some rather
heated e-mails over the issue).
I could add things like Wikiversity, Wikijunior, the 1911 Encyclopedia
Brittanica project, and a Hatian Creole langauge translation project
(the last two now on Wikisource) that have also helped to blur a mission
of Wikibooks. If the idea is that Wikibooks is not to be used as a new
Wikimedia wiki project seed wiki (arrr, I don't know how else to explain
this!) this type of activity must simply stop. I will also point out
that almost all of these idea were home brewed on Wikibooks and were not
"dumped" on Wikibooks by Wikipedia editors, although Wikipedia editors
were instrumental in making the suggestion to use Wikibooks in this
manner for most cases like these.
All this said, I want to point out that I am not directly against using
Wikibooks for textbook development, and I do believe that even to
emphasis this viewpoint can and should be done right from the main page
and from other areas of Wikibooks as well. It is being done somewhat,
but certainly a stronger emphasis in terms of encouraging the following
of academic standards for the development of Wikibooks content could be
As far as getting independent funding for Wikibooks, this is an area
that is going to be a virtual landmine of political and social problems
for the project of an unprecedented scale. There is a potential for a
rather large amount of money to be made by some individuals, and it
won't necessarily be the individuals who have been putting up the most
amount of effort the for creation of content and editing of Wikibooks
material either. As soon as one person is starting to make money off of
content from Wikibooks (however that happens), there will be people with
hurt feelings to wonder why they too aren't getting a "piece of the
Wikibooks is right at the cusp of starting to make a huge difference in
how open souce textbooks and book-length material is created and edited.
I think you acknowledge that too, Jimbo, or you wouldn't be so active
in this project. Developments over this past year to identify
substantial Wikibooks and release them as *.pdf files have gone a long
way to show what can be done so far with even the existing individuals
who have been helping out so far.
As far as how to allocate financial resources to improve Wikibooks, I'm
not completely sure what the best approach ought to be. I will say that
the current approach being used to raise funds for Wikijunior is, IMHO,
a complete utter and dismal failure of the worst kind. That Wikijunior
has brought in some funds to be generally used by the Wikimedia
Foundation for purchasing servers and paying the light bill is a nobel
thing, but there is no reasonable way to provide accounting to say that
Wikijunior hosting cost $xxx and money from the Beck Foundation (or
others that I'm not aware of) raised $yyy. Promises were implied,
deadlines demanded (and met in a couple of cases), and herculan efforts
made by volunteers to help out. But their efforts were wasted in vain
other than in a general view that Wikijunior now a slightly better
project because of their efforts. However the money raised had
absolutely nothing to do with those efforts to produce Wikijunior in any
way, shape, or form, other than an intangible view that Wikibooks might
have been shut down without that money which nobody ever even claimed
might have been the case anyway.
Point being here that if money is used to try and purchase textbooks and
then host them on Wikibooks, it is going to take a very similar kind of
herculean effort on the part of Wikibooks volunteers just to get them
moved over to Wikibooks, proofread the content, update to current
standards and knowledge, and to reconvert them back to something capable
of being used in the print textbook industry. Simply buying the content
is just 10%-20% of what is needed to even develop the content and make
it available for use as a textbook through Wikibooks. A useful 10%-20%,
but only the beginning.
For a slightly larger "bang for the buck", I would try to encourage
something of a sort of X-prize type arrangement to encourage skilled
professionals to develop perhaps targeted textbooks of specific themes
and audience targets (such as a high school Algebra textbooks, for
example) that meets specific curriculum requirements. When a book is
100% complete, has gone through some sort of academic review to compare
against the standards, and is available in a pdf (or similar) document
format that is press-ready for print publication, that the participants
would be able to claim some sort of prize and decide how and where to
spend the money from the prize. Even if the money is mainly folded back
into the Wikimedia Foundation or some other charity like the
International Red Cross (decided by the participants), you would find
some keen interest and some surprising volunteers to help out and make
Think here something like what Nupedia tried to do in terms of its
review process, but using a Wiki-editing interface for the content
development in the first place. You could even have "competing" books
that try different approaches to the material for a real competition.
There are many other potentially useful ideas for spending money on
Wikibooks. Direct grants to school teachers to develop textbooks during
the "summer" instead of working as a construction sub-contractor?
Advertising campaigns of various sorts for the purpose of recruiting
volunteers? Setting up a physical book publisher of Wikibooks content?
I do have the attitude that the volunteers at Wikibooks have the
capability of creating the kinds of textbooks that you are looking for,
Jimbo. And that other than recruiting more talented wordsmiths we can
pull off the kinds of ground breaking shifts in the textbook publication
industry that have only been hinted at so far.
Robert Scott Horning