Wikisource at a law conference and other ☍ links for 2009-06-20

Via Open Access News: a chap called Tim Armstrong at a conference for law school computing called Crowdsourcing and Open Access v2.0: Harnessing the Power of Peer Production to Disseminate Historical Records and Legal Scholarship:

This presentation expands the inquiry [of “[enlisting] anonymous collaborators online to help make legal research materials freely available”] to consider whether crowdsourcing tools can aid in the dissemination of historical records and, of particular interest to law faculty, legal scholarship.

[…] I will use two examples drawn from Wikisource, an open-access library of public domain (or freely licensed) works, to illuminate the power of “crowdsourced” efforts to archive and distribute historical and scholarly works. First, I will highlight the efforts of the Wikisource community to digitize, and make available in full text, the earliest volume of the United States Statutes at Large, a work not freely available anywhere else online. Second, by way of “walking the talk,” I will discuss my recent experiment in disseminating my own legal scholarship by the same means, yielding a product that seems superior in a number of respects to more familiar large-scale scholarly repositories such as SSRN.

Neat, eh? Slides are also available. And Tim also put up one of his own papers that he licensed under CC-BY-SA — it’s called “Fair Circumvention” and you can check it out as a PDF or as a Wikisource document or of course in a side by side comparison. Tim is also an admin on Wikisource.

Wikisource bills itself as an “online library of free content publications”, but that seems to me to be a vast understatement that doesn’t capture what’s special about it.

Wikisource, as far as I know (which is not very far, and I will happily accept corrections here), relies heavily on the file format Djvu (pronounced “deja vu”) and a MediaWiki extension called Proofread Page. “DjVu is a computer file format designed primarily to store scanned images, especially those containing text and line drawings. It features advanced technologies such as image layer separation of text and background/images, progressive loading, arithmetic coding, and lossy compression for bitonal images. This allows for high quality, readable images to be stored in a minimum of space, so that they can be made available on the web.” (So reports this example — Alice in Wonderland.) So Djvu is kind of like a version of PDF that’s been uber-enhanced for scanned text.

English Wikisource seems to lack a help page that explains its basic operations in a single page. Especially with screenshots. Or did I miss it?

Peter Suber pointed out the similarity between this idea and Open Medicine’s idea of simultaneously publishing articles in HTML and “wiki” (previously mentioned on this blog), but I think that is slightly different, as I believe Open Medicine intended to encourage further collaboration on the work, whereas Wikisource transcribes PDFs, but with the intention of staying faithful to the original. If you want to keep editing it, perhaps it’s time to move it to Wikibooks/Wikisource?

I like the idea of using a wiki as a repository, whether or not you intend to allow further editing, but I’m just concerned that MediaWiki syntax is not standardised and you get just getting locked in to another platform. Template proliferation may be another problem.

And, elsewhere:

21 June, 2009 • ,

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