Innovation and commerce on the French Wikipedia - WikiPosters

I recently learned of a most interesting project currently taking place on the French Wikipedia. It is called WikiPosters. At each image page on the French Wikipedia, an unobstrusive link is inserted that says “Get a poster of this image (new!)”. Clicking on it drops down a short menu that provides a link to purchase a poster of that particular image through the WikiPosters website.

The “purchase a print” menu on the French Wikipedia image page (link)

Ordering the poster on the WikiPosters website (link)

(And it works with SVGs!!!)

What’s interesting is that this project was organised by the French Wikipedia community, originally spearheaded by Plyd. The printer is a commercial printer. They make a small donation to Wikimedia France for each poster purchased, but they have no contract or arrangement with them. And why would they? Wikimedia France no more controls the French Wikipedia than the Wikimedia Foundation (or Wikimedia Australia :)) controls the English Wikipedia. It is right, I feel, that the agreement should be with the French Wikipedia community.

I emailed Plyd to get some more information about the project. He sent me an excellent reply that I have just copied below.

In my opinion, free knowledge should leave online-only.
Printers are ready to spread free knowledge,
demand of printed knowledge is big,
we have numerous valuable pictures :
let’s just link pictures and printers !

That’s what I proposed in 2007. A test-link “Get a poster of this picture” had a great success on (over 6000 clicks a day). Unfortunately, I did not spend enough time to get in contact with a first printer. But one year later, in May 2008, a French printer contacted me. He was convinced of the potential of such project and proposed himself as a pilot of the project. That’s how it really started. The project took long discussions on French Wikipedia, about how to respect free licences, about the donations the printers could do, about legal issues etc. We eventually draw an open partnership, without signatures.
Then, the pilot printer developed his specific Website that could receive links from Wikipedia. We made the menu and the generator of licence data to provide along with the poster.
The menu was activated for all accounted-users during one month and we just activated it for everyone yesterday. [that would be 2008-12-16]

Main points of the partnership :

We are impatient to know how many posters will be distributed…
If it works as much as I hope, there are many ideas for next steps :

I asked Plyd if he had had trouble getting the community to accept the idea. While it seems an obvious benefit to me, for contributors to a “non profit” project it can often be confusing that commerce might have any place at all.

Actually most (I’d say 90%) of the community was really defending the project, but some voices did not like the ‘for-profit’ aspect of the printer. We put a parallel with search engines on Wikipedia search page, the booksellers on isbn pages or the geolocalisation tools also provided on French Wikipedia. […] [T]he partnership does not require any donation. his is up to the printer. I think it’s a good point for the printer to help the project by a donation. In my humble opinion, his 1.50€ donation will more convince poster buyers, like the first 1000€ donation helps to convince the community.

[…] They (a really minority part of the community) did not like that some people could make some money from contributors work, without even telling them. This shows that the free licences important lines are still not fully nderstood by everyone. Fortunately, other Wikipedians helped me explain differences between commercial and non-commercial free licences.
I really appreciate that a large majority was supporting the project.

If the project turns out to be a success on French Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Commons community will just about have to look at implementing it. I think they would be crazy not to. Again it goes back to the mission — disseminating free educational content. What wonderful classroom posters would some of our SVG masterpieces make?

The tricky, or rather interesting, part, then, may be finding suitable printing partners in enough countries in the world. (Although WikiPosters does worldwide shipping, the cost is prohibitively expensive.) Interesting because understanding free content is difficult enough, let alone how to massage the caprices of an amorphous online community. The WikiPosters folk are brave — I commend them.

Purchasing statistics seem to be available (not sure how often that is updated), so it will definitely be an interesting thing to keep an eye on over the next few months.

The other interesting aspect is how Plyd managed to pull this off, that is convince the community enough to take part. It’s well known that the Wikipedia communities (maybe all online communities? maybe all communities?) become increasingly petrified as they age. Petrified in place, and petrified of change.

And why we may all rejoice at the joys of a volunteer-driven non-hierarchy (or something), we rarely recognise the missed opportunities of our leaderless groups. As an example, I think that Wikibooks may be floundering a bit without formal links to curricula, publishers and other open courseware folk. They are in a more crowded “open” field than many of the other Wikimedia projects and struggle to distinguish themselves. (On a side note, I wonder what will come of Neeru Khosla of an “open source textbooks” group joining the WMF Advisory Board. I could not help but think of Wikibooks, but it didn’t rate a mention.)

Maybe Plyd is one of those magical people who can draw people together and convince them to put aside their differences, like a wiki Mary Poppins. But I hope not. I hope he is an ordinary person and that his success in this “real world” endeavour, will convince other ordinary folk in all the Wikimedia projects, to think about how they might pursue “real world” engagements that, yes, disseminate our works effectively and globally.

17 December, 2008 • , , , , ,



Actually, my perception is that Plyd did most of the work by himself, and he did not so much “convince” the community but rather tested, piloted and implemented something until it worked, and presented each step to the community. The community, in turn, has let him do the job, and just (mostly silently) approved at the end.

This is to say that 1) Plyd was very committed to it and made a great job, and 2) the community had little to do with it, actually!

As often, the work of one committed individual goes far beyond what a million typing monkeys can do, and I think that’s also true for articles :-)

Korrigan · 18. December 2008, 03:55


That is really, really cool. Plyd is one of The Greats for this.

David Shankbone · 18. December 2008, 05:05


@Korrigan: well, thanks for your perspective. Still, I have seen many interesting ideas get shot down before they even had a chance to be tried, so even “letting him do the job” is a good thing to see. :)

pfctdayelise · 18. December 2008, 09:14


at least with posters, there’s room for the full text of the GFDL on the back. ;)

Angela · 18. December 2008, 10:09


This is a really awesome idea. I hope it expands to the rest of Wikipedia.

Lena · 18. December 2008, 15:22


And this is how the “community” (mainly users from the English language Wikipedia) reacts:



guillom · 20. December 2008, 19:23

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