Wikipedia spins off reference disc
Wikipedia's advocates like to tout its dynamic nature: volunteers can quickly respond to new developments and errors in the collaborative online encyclopedia by adding or changing entries themselves.
So it may seem odd that Wikipedia volunteers are now working on a static version on CD, a preliminary version of which was released earlier this month.
The goal is to extend Wikipedia to those with limited or no internet access. Success with the CD could ultimately lead to Wikipedia in book or other forms.
"Plenty of people do not have internet access. They have a computer and no internet, or just a slow internet connection," said Martin A. Walker, the Wikipedia volunteer who helped co-ordinate the project. "There are many times when you may be offline anyway. You may be at a camp or something like that."
The development comes as the Pew Internet and American Life Project reports that 36 per cent of U.S. adult internet users have consulted Wikipedia—eight per cent on any given day. The telephone-based study issued Tuesday also found Wikipedia usage higher among college graduates and younger internet users.
With Wikipedia, anyone may add, edit or even delete entries regardless of expertise. Although that has led to pranks when hit television shows mention Wikipedia or endless revisions when dealing with controversial topics like abortion, the site's dynamic nature allows volunteers to quickly step in with fixes.
Since its founding in 2001, Wikipedia has grown to more than 1.7 million articles in the English language alone.
The Wikipedia CD will have only a subset of that— about 2,000 articles, with a heavy emphasis on geography, literature and other topics that won't change much the way current events and controversial subjects might.
"We did shy away a little bit from deliberately taking on those topics," said Walker, a chemistry professor at the State University of New York at Potsdam. "This is a CD that is going to be around for a year or two."
The CD strives to be of higher quality than the online version, Walker said. He said volunteers have been scanning entries for foul language and other signs of vandalism, although they didn't have the time to thoroughly verify all the facts for the preliminary version.
Walker said the cleaner version should appeal to teachers worried about displaying pages that might contain unexpected foul language.
Many educators, though, have been warning students against using Wikipedia because entries aren't necessarily vetted by experts.
The CD is available through the project's website, wikipediaondvd.com,for $14 US plus shipping.
Despite the site's name, Walker insisted the contents must fit on a CD, noting that many home computers do not yet have DVD players. The CD works with Windows 98 and later, Mac OS X running on Intel-based Mac computers, and Linux x86 systems.