Talk:Science Hypertextbook project

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This sounds like a great idea. My only question would be whether or not all content for the textbook is under the w:GNU FDL (or compatible). If it is under the FDL, then wikipedia articles can be source material. If it is not, then I for one would not contribute to the textbook. --maveric149

Yes, in fact, I just put up the GNU FDL (1.1) tonight, and revised the "copyleft" article to point to it and the recommended FDL statement. I'm hoping that there will be some cross-fertilization between it and Wikipedia where appropriate... but I also want to respect what Jimbo, Larry, and The Great Wikipedian Consensus think of as "fair use" in that department. To me, that means I can port anything I wrote to either project (as could anyone else) but I'd want to use reasonable courtesy in any other uses. In short, I don't intend to grab great raw chunks of Wikipedian stuff for SimpleScience, and likewise won't grab other contributors' SimpleScience stuff for Wikipedia. My own, though, I shall gladly donate. :) -- April

You might ask Jimbo either by e-mail or on Wikipedia-L what he thinks of this, but it sounds great to me. I have no objections. It doesn't sound like a fork; it sounds like a complementary project that can supply and be supplied by Wikipedia (and Nupedia) with content. That's the way open content should work! --Larry_Sanger

The more I think about it, the less clear in my mind is the difference between a good hypertextbook article and a good Wikipedia article. What is the most significant difference, in your opinion, folks? Are 'pedia articles supposed to be more pedantic and obscure by comparison to textbook entries? Seb

My opinion is that the major differences seem to be in organization and approach. As far as organization goes, Wikipedia articles are supposed to be fairly well self-contained, while hypertextbook articles are supposed to be part of a logical "flow" from one subject to another, where prior reading of certain previous articles can be assumed. In approach, Wikipedia articles need to, most importantly, give a summary of the most important lines of thought on any given topic. Hypertextbook articles, on the other hand, need to explain the basics of the topic, with examples, breakdowns into component steps, et cetera. But that's just my thinking. -- April

This project sounds like a great idea! I've thought for some time that copylefted textbooks could be useful in education. It's also nice to see that people are being inspired by Wikipedia to create similar collaborative projects. Good luck!

-Joel Schlosberg

Moved to Talk:

Suppose my question is, what makes this different from Wikipedia? One thing I noticed about Wikipedia is that the science articles are some of the more "done" articles, I assume because a lot more people know about Mitochondria then some obscure historical person. So, how are you planning your articles to be different then Wikipedia's science articles? Not over using jargon while not dumbing-down is certainly one of the goals of any encyclopedia. - w:user:Eean

We're discussing this in the Talk page. Take a look. Seb (Now moved to Talk! -- April)

  • Since this has come up again, I'll try for a more comprehensive answer on why I thought a spinn-off project was needed for this purpose. Essentially: it would in theory be possible to educate oneself about science from the w:Wikipedia. However, it would, I think, be a rather haphazard process. You would have to know what topics to look for in the first place in order to get the most out of it, and I question whether a novice would know to look, e.g., at w:precession at all. Certainly some topics would lead to other topics, but the hit-and-miss approach risks that a good deal would be missed.
  • In addition, there's the question of prior knowledge. Many topics in the sciences build on other topics, to ever-increasing levels of complexity. Rather than throwing students into the deep end, I'm envisioning a more structured approach... first reviewing the basic concepts, then building on those to the more complex and/or less intuitive ideas. Plus, of course, there will later come elements which have no real place in Wikipedia - problem sets, question-and-answer boards, et cetera.
If unreasonable amounts of prior knowledge is required for a Wikipedia article, then something is being done wrong. That being said, I can now see how you differentiating yourself. - w:user:Eean

Hi April, Im the one who emailed you earlier today, I would have posted here but after a while of looking around could still not find it (obviously I am somewhat new to the Wiki). I am very excited about the idea of a Wiki textbook site and interested in contributing to it. I have felt for some time that the world needs free online textbooks. I am currently writing a physics book to sell at my local university bkstore and want to post the contents online with free access, and the idea of making it open for edits and additions sounds great. I just started an organic chemistry textbook page on Wikipedia but some kid told me that I cant do that and its under the deletion process ... I might like to use a lot of the existing information on Wikipedia for modules but be able to have a truly textbook-like structure to tie it together. I love the idea of a non-linear book where each module has the references that a student can use to get the background needed for any subject, as hypertext allows. If I got seriously involved in the project Id like to eventually move it to an easily-memorable URL and lay down the seeds for all kinds of online, open-content textbooks available at one source. I wonder if over time we could recoup costs by allowing schools to have subsets of the information in non-editable form, and pay us for the service. However my main interest is not in money but in the free flow of information. I am finishing up some courses at a university and think that it is ridiculous that students pay hundreds of dollars for books that contain information that is all commonly available. Thats a huge way to keep poorer people from getting an education ! I have a lot of dreams and fantasies about how this project could help people and lead to good changes in education at several levels (I realize that you are interested in primary/early college, I guess that that is about my goal too, one problem is how to present material in a flexible way so that very preliminary students could use it as well as advanced ones ... aka junior high vs doctorate ...) Get in contact with me if you are interested in chatting. Best of luck, --w:user:Karlwick

You don't need to worry much about where to work on such a project or how to pay the bills since we already plan on eventually using Wikipedia as a source of material to write textbooks. The trouble has been with finding a good name for such a project and to lay down criteria that would make it sufficiently different from what Wikipedia is (which is far more than a combo encyclopedia/almanac/gazetteer) so that it could flourish on its own.
I've already purchased the domain name for Wiktionary (a wiki-based multilingual dictionary/thesaurus) and Wikimedia (the future name of our parent non-profit organization that will be responsible for paying all the bills by managing donations and grants) and would also be more than happy to purchase the domain name for a Wiki/GNU FDL-based textbook project (so long as somebody can think of a snappy name - WikiTex might work or even the more verbose WikiTextbooks). A good name seems to be very important in starting a new project.
One thing that I can think of off the top of my head that would be fundamentally different between Wikipedia and a textbook project is that a textbook necessarily will have to be written in the POV of whatever discipline the textbook is being written for. So an article on evolution in a biology textbook would concentrate on the biological concept and not the controversy. It would also state certain things as fact that would otherwise be heavily attributed in Wikipedia (in conformance with our NPOV policy). For example, a geology textbook would state, as fact, that the earth is billions of years old.
However, this is really an advanced derivative project and I would like to first see how far Wikipedia can go before we seriously consider steering human resources away from the encyclopedia (there still is so much work to be done in many areas). We also need to work out how a hypertext textbook would function (I'm not yet convinced that it would be too different than the way Wikipedia already works - hence I fear some duplication of effort). NOTE: Jimbo Wales is the guy who currently is paying the bills so his would be the final word on any such project - but I'm certain he would be all for the idea (so long as the reservations I expressed above are met). --Maveric149

Hey -- I copied this and put it on my talk page along with my answer to your answer .... [Karl]

And Ill post it here:


I think that there are some basic ways that a Wiki textbook project would be different from Wikipedia.

One big difference is that an encyclopedia imparts general knowledge while a textbook leads a person thru a subject, helping them prepare for an exam or some other practical application.

Textbooks serve specific audiences for specific purposes? you have different learning levels as well as different goals. An anatomy book for a middle-schooler wont be much like one for a med student ?

A textbook is intimate. Like you said, sometimes it helps it to have a voice.

Importantly, a textbook also involves a higher level of organization than an encyclopedia ? a thread that ties the subject together. It doesn?t have to be linear but its not ?good enough? for someone wanting to learn the topics generally covered in Bio 101 to go to the Wikipedia page on biology and follow all the links ad infinitum.

Here is what I imagine for a wiki textbook site: a central database of modules like those found on the Wikipedia, and probably linked right into the Wikipedia. However we would need the opportunity to create parallel pages where people can have alternative ways to present overlapping ideas. The ?books? would be on separate pages, at some level of outline with links to everywhere inside. Compilers should be able to pick the most appropriate modules for their texts as well as modify existing modules for the purposes of their specific audience and purpose without necessarily changing the source page for all humanity.

The site should support multiple books on the same subject, and if this is to be adopted into the mainstream an author must have some level of control over the final work. What I mean is, if you tell some prof that the book he compiles for his class is open to be changed at any moment that is going to depress the rate of adoption. This is especially true for K-12. This comes into the area of multiple copies ? the prof has his copy set aside for his class. Everyone else could view and copy from it but have limited modifying privileges.

What do you think ?

PS About the name ? we can agree that this is important. I am going to throw out a crazy idea here ? maybe we should name the site based on what it does and will mean to an average person, like ? or ? or (brace) ? OK not the last one, people will think it is a pay site. It should communicate something about what makes it unique. Now, the term ?Wiki? to most people means nothing. It is also hard to say. Noone seems to understand it the until I spell it, they hear ?wickedpedia?. is my bet because it is easy to remember and draws attention to the first thing that makes it different than a traditional textbook, the fact that it is available anywhere. Opentextbook sounds too iffy, if its open maybe its no good (judgments aside, that is the idea many people will have). And if we throw around the Wiki word a lot it is going to obfuscate ? people will find out about the wiki soon enough without thowing it in their faces. Online learning is the key, not the tool that we use.

Hm. What you just described doesn't sound like a wiki at all. " Everyone else could view and copy from it but have limited modifying privileges." That's not good at all and is counter to the Wikimedia family's open nature. If we followed the concept that articles have one author and that others simply make small additions/corrections/comments then Wikipedia (our largest project thus far) would be like Nupedia and have fewer than a hundred articles. We already know such a scheme will not work so any wiki-based textbook would have to open for everyone to edit - just like Wikipedia and Wiktionary. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't have milestone read-only releases that have been "certified" by field experts (we have been toying with this idea for Wikipedia for some time now). It does mean that the development version should always be editable by everyone. Wiki is central to what the Wikimedia family is so it is important to at least try to incorporate "wiki" or at least "wik" into the name of the project. By the time the first textbook would near 1.0 status Wikipedia will be so famous that the "Wiki=Wicked or Wicca" bastardized cognate will no longer resonate in any but the most uninformed ears. --Maveric149

I agree that everything should remain openly editable. Also I agree that the term Wiki will continue to grow in recognition.

What do you think about the idea of having multiple/simultaneous versions ? Would it work to have multiple pages on the same topic yet aimed at different audiences and with different goals ?


Having different textbooks in each area (primary school, middle school, secondary school, vocational and college/university) is a worthwhile goal. But IMO it would be unwieldy to have a page by page equivalence. It may work but I'm doubtful. --mav

Thank you for your continued help. I may be getting ahead of myself, maybe its just better to worry about today and let the other stuff work itself out over time. One thing I do know, is that when I tried to start an organic chemistry textbook on Wikipedia a week or two ago it was deleted because Wikipedia is "not the place" for textbooks. --User:KarlWick

Yep. For two main reasons: Textbooks are not organized at all like a hyperlinked encyclopedia (with the goal of directing a person through a logical sequence of coursework) and textbooks have a POV which in inconsistent with NPOV. --Maveric149

When I came accross Wikipedia I thought that its underlying software and concept would be great for putting my physics book on the web. If other people have a similar idea I'd rather be part of the larger effort. Maybe my organizational or "visionary" ideas are not of use to you right now but if you can help me have a place to start getting stuff on the web, I'll do it, and it wont be bad stuff. (I dont have much IT background so it would probably take me a real long time to figure out how to do all of the technical part anyway). BTW I think that hypertext textbooks will eventually be even better learning tools than the traditional ones ... and am eager to start proving it. ---Karlwick

If you are eager to get to work then ask a developer via the mailing list to set-up with a blank Wiki. We can use what you have already to work out organizational issues and hopefully in time we can think of a snappy name that will help draw-in contributors. The worst thing that would happen is that nobody will be very interested in the idea and that wiki will be a lonely place (like our Sep11wiki). --Maveric149

From an email post to the mailing list:

The POV of whatever textbook is being worked on should be a "Discipline Point Of View." This means that if a textbook is on Biology then the POV of biologists should be in the book. There will be neutrality rules but they only apply from within whatever discipline the textbook is being written for. So for example a chapter on evolution would focus on the major differing views on the subject that exist from within the biological sciences but it would not seriously consider the POV of groups outside the biological sciences.

The reason why our encyclopedias have to be NPOV is because our audience is a general one. The reason why our textbooks have to be DPOV is because our audience is very focused (the biology student, for example) and we need to bring that student through the material in a logical and efficient way.

Same thing is true for a section of a medical textbook on abortion ; we leave out most of the history and the different political views on the subject and just talk about the procedure itself and maybe have a single paragraph at the end sating something about access to the procedure and that risks doctors face when they choose to specialize in this area.

So textbooks are inherently POV - that is why each time somebody tried to write a textbook in Wikipedia their efforts were quickly thwarted.

Textbooks are organized in a very different way than an encyclopedia and they also have a specific audience. These two things make textbook material completely incompatible with Wikipedia. Thus a separate project is needed (and probably a few tweaks to the software to make it easy to have chapters).


Also: The goal of an encyclopedia is to present a summary of the sum total of all human knowledge known about a particular subject. The goal of a textbook is to focus on one particular part of that knowledge so that students can learn about that aspect in detail. --Maveric149

As mentionned on the mailing list as well, I disagree with Mav. I consider a textbook will not necessarily benefit from being set from a DPOV. This acronym is just the perfect example of a POV opinion of what a textbook should be. Mav consider education must be first of all a "logical and efficient" way to teach students a way to quickly learn techniques. Other cultures consider this it not necessarily the primary goal of education, and that by focusing too much on a topic without trying to understand the big picture is not the best way to educate a human being. And the big picture cannot be understood if the reader stick to one discipline only. User:Anthere
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