Friday, February 21, 2014

Wikipedia in print

As most books make the transition from print to digital, it is quite unexpected to see a giant moving in the opposite direction. Wikipedia, the well-known open-source encyclopedia, that was born in the digital era and has never known a printed format, is planning on becoming a physical book. Well, not just a book, because, with more than four million articles created by 20 million volunteers in the English version alone, we are actually talking about 1,000 books, 1,200 pages each. Fortunately, only one such set will be produced, and the goal is to present it at the Wikimania conference in London in August, and if there are enough funds, to send the books on the road on an international tour.

But as the growth of Wikipedia depended entirely on anonymous contributors, this project also relies on crowdfunding: anybody can donate money on Indiegogo to raise the $50,000 necessary to print the books. Is this a wise idea? Just the quantity of paper involved makes any mild environmentalist cringe. The rationale offered by the Wikipedia Book Project team is that they wanted to show the world how monumental Wikipedia is, and this cannot be done unless it takes a physical form. Whether or not this justifies the extravagance, it is hard to tell. Wired magazine disapproves. But, in the end, it will be the public who decides, and Wikipedia has lots of fans.

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