FLOSS Manuals’ head honcho Adam Hyde explains:
The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) roll out of 100,000 laptops has begun. The exciting news is that the laptops now carry the documentation created in FLOSS Manuals embedded within the ‘Help Activity’. […] The manual was written in FM and then remixed using our remix feature, output to HTML and included on the laptop. Since all chapters are written in a modular way it was possible for the OLPC crew to add chapters from other manuals in FLOSS Manuals.
The main exciting bit is the OLPC Laptop Users Guide, which is also available to purchase. The Wikimedia Commons material really got tacked on the end. But still: 100,000 OLPCs going out into the world inviting people to contribute to Wikimedia Commons! It gives me a little spine tingly. Thankyou Adam and FLOSS Manuals for providing the platform and encouragement to make this possible. :)
I actually have real posts to write, but each night I sit down to write them it’s like 1am and really time for me to sleep. And thus it is this way again tonight.
Today I have been mostly wiki-busy informing people that Wikimedia Australia is now accepting members. It took us really months to get to this point, and it’s still far from perfect, but it was close enough that we wanted to push it open.
The response, in less than 24 hours, has been excellent. Obviously people are sick of the suspense! It is exciting, and also heartening, and maybe even a tiny bit scary, that people trust us enough that they commit to doing something ‘real’, parting with their money. It is scary because I want to make sure that we respect that trust, and do things that make them proud to be a member, inspire them to get involved, and keen to support us in the future — by time, money, or simply word of mouth.
You may recall not long ago I wrote about a FLOSS Manuals booksprint I had attended. It happened in July 2008, before Wikimania; I wrote about it in early September. While I was writing a book called How to contribute to Wikimedia Commons, I was actually being a hanger-on at the Inkscape booksprint. (In case you don’t know, Inkscape is a free software program for creating and editing vector graphics, ie. SVGs. It’s quite popular at Wikimedia Commons.)
Well, the Inkscape book has finally made it to its 1.0 dead wood form! That’s right, it’s available for purchase via Lulu.com for about $15.
Of course, you can read the book online for free and even edit it, but the cool thing about purchasing a copy is that the profits will go to help fund another FLOSS Manuals Inkscape booksprint, currently planned for the 2009 Libre Graphics Meeting in Montreal, Canada.
So if you’ve ever harboured an interest in learning to make very pretty graphics, and you would like to support the idea that free software needs free documentation, consider purchasing a copy for yourself or a friend, and help the dead wood 2.0 version get to the 65 (!!) chapters that were originally planned.
“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!
- Adam Hyde was interviewed on Radio New Zealand National about FLOSS Manuals (after some diversion about radio signals at the start). Kiwis have nice radio accents. :) I’m not sure what format “asx” is, but if you download this file, VLC can play it.
- Actively solicit book donations
- Look for “friends” and “partners”
- Focused collaborations
- Stable versions
- Make inroads into the classroom
- Core subjects
- Documentation and Usability
- Australia set to give the go-ahead for Creative Commons licensing, The Guardian (hey, I did mention that)
- The idea of a “New York City Free Culture Alliance” was floated on foundation-l, which sounds pretty awesome to me. I hope it goes ahead.
- Sydney has been selected to host FOSS4G 2009 (that’s “free & open source software for geospatial”). It will be “the seventh ‘formal’ gathering of the open source geospatial community and is expected to focus on the increasing importance of FOSS4G in the public and private enterprise”.
- Freebase, which I have mentioned previously, have announced the release of WEX (‘Freebase Wikipedia Extraction’). “The wiki markup for each article is transformed into machine-readable XML, and common relational features such as templates, infoboxes, categories, article sections, and redirects are extracted in tabular form. Freebase WEX is provided as a set of database tables in TSV format for PostgreSQL, along with tables providing mappings between Wikipedia articles and Freebase topics, and corresponding Freebase Types.” It’s not clear what date is on the Wikipedia dump they’ve used. But it could be a fun toy.
- Would-Be Wikipedia Replacements Stumble, discusses Veropedia and Citizendium, concluding, “[M]y recommendation is to quit wasting time trying to create a parallel database outside of Wikipedia. Instead, work within Wikipedia. Fix its articles and label them as such. It’s a win-win situation: You achieve your goal of improving Wikipedia but in a way that people will actually use.” Hm, somehow I don’t think Veropedians or ‘Citizens’ will see it that way. (The author opens with the charge that “they are now almost useless” which is a good indication he doesn’t have the same understanding of their lifespan and purpose as contributors. I think Wikipedia was also “almost useless” in 2002.)
- Document Freedom Day has now been announced for 26 March. It will “provide a global rallying point for Document Liberation and Open Standards.” It’s intended to be a counter-point to Software Freedom Day. (You can find it now in the free culture calendar, natch.)
- A Wikipedia Selection for schools DVD was produced for 2007, now suggestions are sought for additions or updates for the 2008 edition.
- Creative Commons now mark their free licenses with a seal designating them as ‘Approved for Free Cultural Works'. Although I find the seal itself a bit naff it’s a good concept.
- Finally, Wikinews brings you the latest in hot wiki wear, for just those times when you need your gear to back up your command, “JOURNALIST – COMING THROUGH!”