Wiki book

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1 Definitions

The term wiki book is ambiguous and means several things:

  • A collection of wiki pages about a topic. The best example are the Wikibooks from Wikipedia. Sometimes PDF versions are made available too.
  • A print book authored on the wiki and then post-processed for typesetting and minor adjustments. A typical example are the WikiReaders, collections of articles from Wikimedia Foundation projects on a certain topic, in the form of PDFs published for download and intended to be printed, and also to be sold in printed form.
  • A real print book prepared on the wiki, but heavily edited once imported to a word processor.
  • A collection of wiki articles assembled on the fly by a user into a PDF document.

See also open content and open educational resources (OER). Wiki books are a favorite tool for open content authors.

2 Why wiki books

There are several arguments:

  1. Wikis are good tools for mass collaboration (social computing) as well as for fairly large groups work. This idea seems to work in some Wikibooks projects.
  2. Books as "after thought". Some people create wiki pages about isolated subjects and that could grow into a collection of related subjects. Making a "book" out of these should be as easy as possible.
  3. Evolving tutorials. With a wiki one can test (and change in real time) tutorials. These could then be assembled into a printable textbook. E.g. with (lots) of extra work I could do this for my Flash tutorials. Already now we generate PDFs for handouts. In addition, one get get occasional help from users to fix small mistakes and broken links.
  4. Cross-references and references to external sources are easy to create and to manage in a wiki. In some word processors this is troublesome, e.g. Word (all versions) is a total disaster with respect to cross-referencing and other tagging.

3 Mediawiki technology

Mediawikis (like this one) or the Wikipedias rely on an infrastructure that is badly suited for producing books in any form. Firstly the wiki syntax is fairly complicated to parse. Worse, most Mediawikis include at least some (or hundreds) of so-called templates, e.g. {{incomplete}} will insert a banner on top of a page in this wiki. Still worse, there exist extensions to define drawings with some foreign code and that rely on complex external markup languages.

Until recently, we couldn't find any easy strategy to produce high-quality PDF or insure perfect export/import to text processing software. This may have changed with the recent Collection extension contributed by pediapress. Information on various Wikipedia servers is still fairly chaotic and many pages are not really updated. See for example the discussion about Paper Wikipedia, but that may change sometimes in the near future - Daniel K. Schneider 18:00, 23 March 2009 (UTC)

3.1 Strategies for creating PDF from Mediawiki

The PediaPress Collection / mwlib tool

Collection is an extension that you can install in your own Mediawiki. It will allow a user to organize personal selections of pages in a collection. Collections then can be structured with chapters, exported in ODF, DocBook or PDF using other extensions or ordered as print book through pediapress. Advantage of this extension is good quality of rendering. Disadvantage was on 16:20, 4 May 2009 (UTC), that unsupported tags (e.g. "pageby" and unsupported extension formats such as "dot" and "uml" will not render, i.e. you will see the source code and that is not want you want. Also, the PediaPress server may loose pages in the transfer. These problems can be fixed by installing your own server (done here)

Experience so far: I order two books from two of our mediawikis. The result was surprisingly good (certainly better than printer A4 PDF sheets). I certainly can recommend this, but before ordering a book, read the tips in the Mediawiki collection extension installation article - Daniel K. Schneider 17:24, 17 June 2009 (UTC)

Other
  • Extension:PdfBook is an extension that can generate PDF from a page with a list of links, e.g. a category page. All pages found in the link will be assembled into a single HTML page and then processed with the Htmldoc server script. Advantage of this extension is that the result will include most everything, including "weird templates" and rendering extensions. On the downside, the output is fairly ugly in terms of typesetting.
  • For developers. Alternative parsers (Mediawiki). A list of links, descriptions, and status reports of the various alternative Mediawiki parsers—that is, programs and projects, other than Mediawiki itself, which are able or intended to translate Mediawikis text markup syntax into something else.

3.2 Strategies for creating real print books

Using the collection extension
  • Help:Books (en.wikipedia). This page shows you how to create a book from Wikipedia articles in three steps. Books can be created in PDF form or ordered for printing on the PediaPress website.
  • If you configure your wiki to do so, you can export a book as ODF and then import to a word processor.
Copy and paste
  • Copy paste page contents into a word processor.
  • A variant is to generate a big HTML from several articles, e.g. with the Extension:PdfBook extension. Then, open this HTML in your word processor. Figures (including dynamically generated ones) should be imported that way.

4 Links to wikibooks and organizations that publish them

4.1 Wikipedia books

  • Help:Books (en.wikipedia). This page shows you how to create a book from Wikipedia articles in three steps. Books can be created in PDF form or ordered for printing on the PediaPress website.
  • Wikibooks “Wikibooks is a Wikimedia community for creating a free library of educational textbooks that anyone can edit. Wikibooks began on July 10, 2003; since then Wikibooks has grown to include over 35,021 pages in a multitude of textbooks created by volunteers like you!”, retrieved 18:18, 20 March 2009 (UTC).

4.2 Other organizations

There are lots of educational organizations that use wikis or similar CMS technology, e.g.

See also open contents and open educational resources

4.3 Publishing companies

  • WikiReader. Published some print books in German made from Wikipedia articles.
  • Random House will publish a synthesis of the 50'000 most popular german wiki articles.
  • PediaPress has an interesting model. You select the content from your favorite wiki and PediaPress takes care of typesetting, printing and shipping. See also Help:Books.

4.4 Wikibooks in educational technology

Orey, M.(Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved 18:00, 23 March 2009 (UTC) from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/

5 Various links

  • Wikinomics has some propaganda for the "collective intelligence" argument.

6 Bibliography

  • Mason, Bruce and Sue Thomas (2008). A Million Penguins Research Report, Institute for Creative Technologies, De Montfort University. PDF. Good reading about why a million penguins can't write a very good novel. This paper includes also further links to related blogs.
  • Ravid, G., Kalman, Y. & Rafaeli, S. (2008). Wikibooks in higher education: Empowerment through online distributed collaboration. Computers in Human Behavior, 24, 1913-1928.