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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 fr.wikipedia.org (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 • , , , , ,

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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 • , , , ,

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