A FLOSS Manual: How to contribute to Wikimedia Commons

“Oh Brianna,” you may ask, “What is that most interesting tome you’re reading?” Why, I’m so glad you did. It’s a Lulu-printed version of a short manual I wrote called How to contribute to Wikimedia Commons.

So, I spent the week before Wikimania in France. The purpose was to hang out at the FLOSS Manuals Inkscape documentation booksprint and also to hang out with my French friend (un-wiki related). As you may have guessed I am a big Inkscape fan. (Inkscape is the premier open source software for creating and editing vector graphics, i.e. SVGs.) But I definitely don’t know enough to really help out with writing documentation. I would be too busy reading it. So I decided to write some documentation to help people who might be familiar with Inkscape, i.e. accomplished or semi-accomplished illustrators and artists, but new to the complex and confusing world of Wikimedia. That is the aim of my manual, to be a self-contained introduction to contributing to Wikimedia Commons, without information overload.

So you can read the manual online at http://en.flossmanuals.net/WikimediaCommons/. You can also check out the editor’s view at http://en.flossmanuals.net/bin/view/WikimediaCommons/WebHome. FLOSS Manuals uses a highly customised version of Twiki — yes, a wiki. The most immediate difference between Twiki/FM and MediaWiki is that Twiki/FM uses a WYSIWYG interface that converts directly to HTML (which you can also edit directly if you really want) — no “wiki markup” intermediary. I thought it would bug me (Wordpress’ annoys me immensely), but I soon got used to it and didn’t find it slowing me down at all.

Twiki/FM is great for planned-ahead books with a small number of authors where the bulk of content is written over a known time period, but MediaWiki is definitely better suited to laissez-faire, largely unstructured book development by an unknown number of authors over an essentially unbounded time frame. That’s not to say that there aren’t a significant number of improvements that MediaWiki requires to really meet the needs of book authors and their enablers.

I also feel that Twiki/FM is a better choice if you want your manual to have an offline life, whereas MediaWiki is much better if you intend it to stay all linked-up on the web. The killer feature here for Twiki/FM is Objavi. It’s a wiki-to-pdf converter that uses CSS for styling and most importantly, actually looks great.

Basically double-handling is the killer. If you are doing speedy wiki-based authoring the last thing you want to do is have to edit a version specifically for print. It’s intolerable.

MediaWiki/Wikimedia is supposed to be getting its own whiz-bang PDF generator, via a partnership with Pediapress. So far it’s only enabled on a test wiki. The interface for creating a new “collection” (for Wikibooks, this will be usually equal to a book) is really awkward. But if admins get the hang of it and create nice PDFs for everyone else that will be nice. OTOH that won’t work on Wikipedia at all, where people will most likely creating their own custom grab-bags of articles. And unlike Objavi there is no way to specify print-specific style at all. Having said that, I just looked through a sample pdf (log in and click “Load collection” on the left, then follow the prompts) and it is quite impressive.

The issue that both Objavi and Pediapress seem to struggle with is that of images — their size and placement. Web-appropriate proportions just don’t suit normal portrait-orientation books. Someone should do a PhD on figuring out a good algorithm to convert them automatically. :)

Anyway! Back to my manual. It’s dual licensed under the GPL and GFDL, as GPL is the license ordinarily used by FLOSS Manuals, and I asked for GFDL licensing for obvious reasons. My hope is that chapters and similar groups will keep a copy to share with people who prefer book documentation.

I haven’t yet sorted out a pricing thing on Lulu, but I was hoping that it could be sold for cost + 2 euro (1 for FLOSS Manuals, 1 for the Wikimedia Foundation).

I also hope to see simple Wikipedia introductory manuals developed. English and Spanish ones in time for Wikimania would be nice!

By the way, this took five freaking weeks for Lulu to ship, so excuse me if I am overly excited. :)

01 September, 2008 • , , , ,



That book looks fantastic! I would love to set one up for Wikibooks as well. I wonder if you would be willing to help me out with such a project, since you’re the expert on it now?

Andrew Whitworth · 2. September 2008, 00:54


Dont worry, we (Wikimedia Argentina) are currently working on that. I wont be as fancy as yours, but we certainly expect to have somethin similar. Kudos on your manual, I’ll read it for a headstart on ours. Cheers.

Nahuel Kahles (a.k.a. Gizmo II) · 2. September 2008, 02:35


Andrew beat me to it! If that manual is GDFL, we’d love to bring it over. If not, we’d love to have you and those you worked with join Wikibooks.

Mike.lifeguard · 2. September 2008, 04:46


Cool to finally have a manual for commons :-) Is the layout of the lulu version the same as I get when I use “make PDF” on flossmanuals?

BTW, there is a short wikipedia manual, unfortunately it exists so far only in german (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Einmaleins-screen.pdf). Afaik a translation to spanish (and later english) is in the works.

elian · 2. September 2008, 13:01


@ Nahuel,
great! Will it be just Spanish or are you planning to work on both Spanish and English versions?

@ Andrew and Mike,
I am happy to help reproduce the manual in Wikibooks. As I stated in my post, it’s licensed GFDL+GPL. That’s part of the reason I want Wikibooks to support dual-licensing — I would rather keep this book parallel until en.wb has decent wiki-to-pdf functionality, than effectively fork it. But last I remember dual-licensing was mostly having cold water poured on it.

@ Elian,
“make pdf” from here just produces something equivalent to “print view” converted to pdf — not very pretty. The Lulu version should be more or less the same as what you get from Objavi.

pfctdayelise · 2. September 2008, 14:12


Good stuff Brianna !

@Elian. Guillom and I are currently writting a wikipedia manual in French. It should be published by PUG (University Press of Grenoble). I expect it will be published in January 09. It will be under GFDL.


Anthere · 3. September 2008, 02:02



Andrew & Mike – would you like to produce a book about Wikibooks in FM?


adam · 3. September 2008, 04:17


@ Anthere,

Awesome news! :D But I guess you and guillom are writing something closer to a full book, right? Maybe more similar to How Wikipedia Works ?
Mine is really just a brief introduction.

pfctdayelise · 3. September 2008, 10:12


Great and inspiring work, Brianna! Congratulations :)

Patricio · 5. September 2008, 02:49



Currently, we’re just planning on spanish, and that would take us a while… We’ll see as time goes by and by the looks of it, we hope to have them in time for Wikimania.

Nahuel Kahles (a.k.a. Gizmo II) · 6. September 2008, 04:16

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