Today I depart for Wikimania, the annual international user conference for the Wikimedia family of projects. I don’t know if there will be wifi on my flight, but it doesn’t matter, because I’ll be reading some Wikipedia articles anyway.

Packed in my carry-on is a glossy red paperback courtesy PediaPress, a really fascinating new publisher that prints books using wiki content. The team at PediaPress was kind enough to send me a book created from English Wikipedia articles.

Creating Your Wiki Book

Being a wiki enthusiast and editor myself, this was a book about Wikipedia, made up of Wikipedia articles. Pretty meta, right? If reading about Wikipedia or other wikis isn’t your thing, PediaPress has an extensive catalog filled with arts, culture, history and every other kind of reference.

For my bet though, the most interesting part of PediaPress is the ability to create your own custom book made up of whatever Wikipedia articles are important to you. Using the Book Creator tool, you can curate your own wiki book.

The Future of Publishing

This sort of personalized content is easy to get online but is less common in the print world. I think that what PediaPress is doing with . These inexpensive, easily modified books created from wiki content have potential applications more serious than amusing book nerds like me.

I certainly know educators who would love to hand their students a textbook they’ve custom tailored to fit the desired curriculum. Like all Wikimedia content, these books also show great promise in areas where either there are no traditional textbook publishers or where they are too expensive.

The PediaPress book is as nice as any paperback I ever bought locally or online, and is actually pretty meaty at more than 300 pages. The book arrived in good shape and is a pleasure to read, especially for those (like myself) that have held out against the e-book reader phenomenon. Sometimes, there’s nothing like a good book in your hand.

Pete_handsThis is a big day for WikiProject Oregon.

While we are a truly collaborative effort among a diverse group, it’s no doubt that this project owes a great deal to the hard work of Pete Forsyth. Pete has been instrumental in the organization of WikiProject Oregon, especially in public outreach work. This very blog was his idea to begin with.

So it’s with great joy that we get to wish him luck as he heads on to a new opportunity in San Francisco as the Public Outreach Officer for the Wikimedia Foundation. For those not familiar with it, the Foundation is the non-profit that helps run Wikipedia and countless other free culture projects.

As his work with WikiProject Oregon clearly shows, Pete has a gift for reaching out to the public on behalf of Wikipedia. While all of us devote our free time to editing the free encyclopedia, Pete is one of the slightly rarer individuals who work outside the wiki to educate the public about the Wikimedia movement.

Now he gets to do that not just for Oregon and Wikipedia, but for the whole of the Wikimedia Foundation. Congratulations Pete!

WikiWednesday in September

WikiWednesday last September

I’m proud to be able to announce that we’ve got something slightly different in mind for the May installment of the Portland WikiWednesday.

In little less than a week, we’ll be serving up a short presentation and panel on the research techniques journalists and bloggers (or anyone really) can use to get the most out of Wikipedia.

Often maligned and misunderstood, Wikipedia is nonetheless a body of knowledge that can be a rich resource if used properly. I’ll be giving the introductory presentation myself, with a half hour to answer such questions as…

  • Can journalists avoid compromising standards and still use Wikipedia?
  • How can you find exactly what you’re looking for out of 2.8 million articles?
  • What clues can you look for to assess the veracity of articles and individual facts?

Afterwords, a panel of both Wikipedians and journalists will delve in to their experience with the site, and answer your questions about the nitty-gritty of working with Wikipedia in your research. On this panel will be:

  • Myself (Steven Walling), a Wikipedia adminstrator with years of experience and over 30,000 edits.
  • Pete Forsyth, a Wikipedia administrator with a special expertise concerning Oregon articles in particular, and a key instigator of WikiProject Oregon’s organizing and outreach.
  • Abraham Hyatt, former managing editor at Oregon Business magazine.
  • Dan Cook, former editor of the Portland Business Journal.

This is a little more structured than most WikiWednesdays, but the spirit remains the same. Whether you’re familiar with wikis or just one of the billions of people who use Wikipedia regularly, this should be an interesting and information look at research with the largest encyclopedia in history.

If you go

Where: AboutUs, 107 SE Washington, suite #520 (map)
When: Wednesday May 6th, 5:30pm-7:30pm
Cost: Free (as always!)
More: Calagator and Upcoming

It’s easy to forget just how old Wikipedia is, compared to many of the free culture organizations on the Web. One looming example of this has always been our use of the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL).
VoteYes!
Founded before Creative Commons, the GFDL was the only copyleft license that even came close to making our work free for others in a way that fit our mission.

But it’s never been a perfect fit. Far from it, in fact.

Clauses such as the invariant sections rule and the burden of printing both the full text of the license and a list of authors have seriously handicapped past efforts to republish works of Wikimedia projects. The GFDL is not really to be faulted for this, since it’s written with software documentation in mind, not an encyclopedia with thousands of authors.

But there’s a solution on the horizon. With the advent of Version 1.3 of the GFDL, we can now legally transition to the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. But the choice to move to Creative Commons rests not with our non-profit, the Wikimedia Foundation. It rests with the people who have licensed their contributions: namely, you. If you’ve got more than 25 edits to a Wikimedia project before the 15th of March, please make your voice heard by voting!

More information:

Over the years, I have seen numerous individuals and organizations in the SEO and SEM industry wringing their hands over what to do about Wikipedia. Some have simply ranted about the massive SEO success of the free encyclopedia. Others try some rather underhanded tricks to get their own “Wikipedia page.” (Hint: Want an article to stick around? Ask for one.) Here are three personal observations from a Wikipedian that I think my friends working in this field need to hear…

1. Wikipedia is not a marketing tool. Period. Anything you might do outside that mindset is an unproductive way to approach interaction with the site and its community. The benefits of an article or links can be substantial. But you’re not going to get either if you don’t think of how your actions benefit Wikipedia as an encyclopedia first and foremost. When you edit out of self-interest instead of altruism, you are not only being unethical. You’re being dense by trying to force Wikipedia to become something it’s not. If you can’t think of a way to link to your client or write an article that doesn’t help readers a lot more than it helps you, then don’t do either.

2. Getting angry at Wikipedia is counterproductive. Ranting and raving may feel cathartic, but it’s not going to help your business. Apologies if that seemed completely obvious to the smart people that I know are in this line of work. But you’d be surprised at whom I’ve heard blame their failure on Wikipedia’s success (not impressive to peers or clients), or get muffed when Wikipedia doesn’t respond well to their marketing efforts (see point one).

3. The best way to capitalize on Wikipedia is not to get in Wikipedia. It’s to learn from our successes (and failures), and to use these strategies for your own purposes. Understanding what makes Wikipedia successful and imitating those practices is not hard. Even on an infinitely smaller scale, valuable original content with a sensible internal linking structure will provoke the genuine inbound links you desire. Gleaning the best practices that Wikipedia has (almost entirely by accident) learned, and implementing them in an environment that you control saves you much time and effort, as well as avoiding the potential blow to your reputation if there’s a backlash.

What will not succeed in the long run is trying to leech off us. No amount of manipulating Wikipedia will make up for having a client no one cares about. Our community didn’t set out to dominate search engine results. We set out to write something worth reading. We don’t always fulfill that mission, but we try our damnedest. Do the same, and you’ll probably engender a similar result.

Conclusion? The real shortcoming of these two industries is not that they are filled with nefarious or lazy people. It’s that the laundry list of  “tricks”  for gaming Wikipedia has obfuscated the fact that a little honest work is the easiest way to get the results you want, both inside and outside Wikipedia. Perhaps it’s time you did some.

it's a day on, not a day off
This is just a quick notice for Oregonians that members of WikiProject Oregon will be at CubeSpace in Portland to help as best they can with Geeks Day On.

Day On connects nonprofit organizations that need advice and assistance with volunteers who are ready to help. Today’s inaugural project is Geeks Day On, a day of service during MLK Day, Monday, January 19, 2009 where geeks will offer free technology and Internet communications advice and assistance to nonprofit organizations.

Learn more about how you can get help or volunteer during Geeks Day On.

Update:

The wiki crew arrived somewhat late to Geeks Day On, but since we’re familiar with the MediaWiki-style editing of the site and there’s no news coverage to verify a Wikipedia article with (yet!), we built DayOn.org their own AboutUs page.

With 2009 underway, Brion Vibber and the rest of the great staff developers of MediaWiki at the Wikimedia Foundation have put their noses to the grindstone once again, rolling out one minor but distinctive feature on Wikipedia and testing another very significant one.

It’s the little things that make a difference

The first is the addition of friendlyclock. Once only a part of Friendly, an optional collection of JavaScripts that many Wikipedians use to automate common editing tasks, friendlyclock is a simple feature that adds an updating UTC clock in the top right-hand corner of the screen next to the usual links for logged in editors. Clicking it also acts as a purge of your page cache.

on the far right

on the far right

Friendlyclock may not sound so exciting, but once you spend even an hour or two editing, you’ll come to appreciate having both of those features handy. In fact, I’ve had a JS gadget enabled that does the exact same thing for months now. It’s just this kind of incremental but gratifying change to the software that shows how sensitive Brion and the Wikimedia Foundation has been to the needs of the core community over the years.

Important new functionality.

The second MediaWiki addition is a full extension that Brion announced Friday. Currently in beta on test.wikipedia.org, the aptly named Drafts extension is a serious advance in MediaWiki and wiki software in general.

It doesn't get much easier than this.

It doesn't get much easier than this.

At least once, everyone has written an extensive draft only to see it disappear when human error, a browser crash or saving problems cause you lose all your hard work. In fact, several months ago I saw this exact experience happen to wiki inventor Ward Cunningham when using a MediaWiki installation.

Needless to say, an inability to save drafts in a wiki without a live version being saved as well has been frustrating at times. A lot of other great platforms (such as WordPress) have drafts capability built in already. But as far as I know, there is no wiki engine with native drafts functionality.

From some test edits to the Sandbox I made, I can tell that drafts is a delightfully AJAXy addition to the ecosystem of MediaWiki extensions. Drafts can be saved via an easily accessible button and are saved every 120 seconds regardless. Not only can you save and view drafts from a particular page, but you get a special list of all your drafts.

I found the interface for viewing saved drafts extremely intuitive.

I found the interface for viewing saved drafts extremely intuitive.

When it comes to wiki software, and MediaWiki in particular, I tend to be something of a stick in the mud. I’m used to MediaWiki and I like it just fine the way it is, thanks. But Drafts is one extension that I think is inarguably useful, and makes up for a key weakness in wiki software to date.

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