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I think that it is safe to say, at this point in the 21st century, that nearly everyone in the world knows about Wikipedia. Chances are, you use it on at least a weekly basis. The website completely revolutionized the ways in which we can access information, who can access information, and how information is spread and created. Wikipedia took the idea of the encyclopedia and spin it on its head. It would be hard to overstate just how pivotal this website has been in expanding the age of information.
For starters, the ongoing project is 100% volunteer based. There are no employees who work for Wikipedia that research topics and type up articles. Every entry that you find on this website has been created, composed, and edited by volunteers. In a way, this is a form of crowdsourcing. But instead of crowdsourcing funds for a shared vision or goal, Wikipedia crowdsources information and time in order to create the shared vision of a never-ending, limitless online encyclopedia for all to use, reference, and follow up on however they see fit.
The Wikipedia model changed the way we access and create knowledge –Which brings us to the next revolutionary component of Wikipedia … the fact that it is free to use. And when I say “free,” I mean in every sense of the word. There are no ads, no premium subscriptions, no pay walls, nothing. No matter how many times you visit Wikipedia, you will always have a nearly infinite amount of information at your fingertips without ever having to pay a cent. Wikipedia is a shining example of what the internet was, in my opinion, meant to be: an open and free resource for sharing and creating content and information.
If knowledge is power, Wikipedia is an extremely useful tool for harvesting it. Arguably, one of the most useful resources on all of the internet. But the Wikipedia revolution did not stop with this one site. There have been countless spinoffs and sister sites that have taken the Wiki spirit and applied it to other areas. For instance, we all know of the controversial website, Wiki Leaks, which was like Wikipedia but specifically for leaked documents, classified information, and governmental or institutional secrets.
Plus, there is probably a specific and separate Wiki website for just about every single interest, niche, hobby, TV show, book, city, movie, etc. Not to mention the site Wiki How, which is a database of resources aimed at helping people figure out how to do something – be it changing a tire, running for political office, or anything in between. The Wiki site that I want to take a look at today, however, concerns the liberation of educational knowledge: Wiki Books.
Take the Wiki model and apply it to free textbooks – Wiki Books is yet another sister site that operates in the free spirit of Wikipedia. In fact, it is even closer to the mission, I would say, of Wikipedia than many of the other Wiki spinoff sites, in that Wiki Books mission appears to be to arm the world with as much free knowledge and information as possible. The main difference, of course, between Wiki Books and Wikipedia is that Wiki Books specializes in providing users with free electronic textbooks; whereas Wikipedia is an ever-growing digital network of encyclopedia articles.
Wiki Books is likely to be an invaluable resource for students, professors, rogue scholars, and anyone who wants to learn more about a topic from a reputable and peer reviewed library of textbooks for free. There are quite a few similarities, though, between classic Wikipedia and Wiki Books – such as the fact that all content is peer reviewed and edited through the same model of crowdsourced knowledge. The central difference, however, is that Wiki Books appears to be a much slower moving project than Wikipedia.
This is understandable … it is much easier for someone to log onto Wikipedia and quickly do a fact check here and there on a topic that they are knowledgeable about. It is much rarer, I would think, to find someone that A.) knows enough about a certain topic and B.) has the time to read through an entire textbook in order to finish writing and editing, even in a peer-oriented collaborative fashion.
Maybe not the one go-to free eBook site, but definitely one to have in your bookmarks – That is the other thing about Wiki Books that you will either love or hate. Wiki Books does not simply link to downloads of already published textbooks. Every title that appears on Wiki Books is started, written, finished, and edited by individuals and peers on Wiki Books.
So, the textbooks you will find here are 100% Wiki Books originals. Books, by their very nature, of course, can sometimes take up to years to finish – therefore, you might be disappointed by the selection on certain topics. However, Wiki Books is a project, I think, that is more future oriented than most. Plus, if you have the time and interest, you can always contribute to the books yourself, which could be a bit of fun.
But there is only one surefire way to figure out whether Wiki Books is going to be for you or not … and that is to delve in and take a look at each of the components of this free eBook website for ourselves. So, without further ado, I bring you Wiki Books.
The site looks and feels just like Wikipedia. This, of course, should come as no surprise. So, you can expect the characteristically minimal and sparse site design, very text forward web design, nothing too fancy or flashy. I will be honest, if this were any other site that was not a Wiki site, I would probably have a problem with the fact that it is not very experiential and that it is, frankly, a bit bland to look at. But since I am already very familiar with the Wikipedia layout and aesthetics (it has already imprinted its brand identity), I am fine with it.
Site portal – The moment that you arrive on Wiki Books’ main page, you’ll be greeted by the same iconic Wiki home page layout, with a few changes. You’ll still find the 2 half circles of language selections, allowing you to quickly and conveniently access the correct archive for you. The difference here, though, is that instead of encircling a globe of puzzle pieces displaying various cultural symbols (as is the case on Wikipedia), Wiki Books presents a logo of 3 abstracted pages, creating the suggestion of thumbing through a book. Below this main site portal, you’ll also find a search bar – choose your language from a dropdown menu instead and type in your key word to find books on any subject you prefer.
Home page – Once you have selected your native tongue, you’ll be guided to an extremely organized electronic library of thousands upon thousands of eBooks. Not only does this site work to effectively help you browse titles by subject, it also serves as a convenient way to access many other related Wiki sites. You’ll find quick links represented by icons that allow you to jump ship and visit other sites, such as Wikiversity, Wikipedia, Wiki Junior, Wiktionary, Wikispecies, Wiki News, etc.
Sprawling the left-hand side of the page, Wiki Books also offers a sizeable and very helpful site navigation menu. Click on Help, Browse, Cookbook, Featured Books, Donations, Random Book, Reading Room, Community Portal, Bulletin Board, and plenty of other tools to help you enjoy and participate in Wiki Books as much as possible.
Inner pages and book formats – As far as the actual books themselves are concerned, each page looks just like a classic Wikipedia page. The idea, then, is that there is a Wiki page for each chapter of a given textbook. Look at each eBook as something like a self-contained, comprehensive, and extremely specialized collection of Wiki pages on a given subject. My only qualm is that it could be a little easier to jump between chapters (the “back” button is going to become your friend).
Content and Features
Wiki Books is geared towards only textbooks. Write, edit, read, and collaborate on as many books as Wiki Books has in your language. As of now, Wiki Books has 3,111 books in English (and many more that are still being finished). The site has plenty of community features as well, allowing you to communicate with fellow readers and writers.
Plus, the site has a wide array of subjects to choose from. Whether you are into philosophy, math, civics, computing, or languages (to name a few). Wiki Books will have something of interest to just about everyone.