Living free Wiki textbooks

THIS EDITION of NetSpeak explores a free on-line textbook creation model based on the Wiki web technology.

As anyone who keeps track of Net technologies knows, the innovative minds that shape and control the Net's evolution have developed many products and services that facilitate collaborative endeavours. We have witnessed the blossoming of many Net-based collaboration tools that enable us harness the services/skills/knowledge/resources of netizens from different geographical locations.

The distributed computing model, which taps the idle computing power available on personal computers of ordinary netizens spread across the Net for accomplishing computing-intensive projects, is a typical example that demonstrates the potential of the Net in large-scale collaborative projects.

Wiki web is another Net technology that can be used for collaborative projects. Wiki is a web site with pages that can be edited by any one on the web any time. Many have the reservation that this will result in a web-landscape with unruly elements. But the phenomenal success of projects such as Wikipedia shows that intelligent/imaginative deployment of wiki technology can help wonderful achievements with minimum effort.

Wikipedia, in this column long ago, is a web-based project that attempts to create an on-line free encyclopaedia "collaboratively by the readers'' (

Volunteers from around the world regularly edit the site's pages and enrich its database continuously.

The resounding success of the project has resulted in Wikipedia's mentors floating other similar projects based on the wiki technology. One such recently started project that may alter the book-publication landscape is the `Wiki Books' (, which attempts to create textbooks, written collaboratively by people interested/knowledgeable in a subject.

Wiki Books Traditionally, book writing is considered a creative endeavour by one person or a group of persons with expertise in the area concerned. But one drawback of this kind of publication is that it does not have any mechanism for others to interact.

Incorporation of ideas/ views of persons other than the author during the book writing process, especially in the case of text books, can help create a more comprehensive and better quality product.

The project Wiki Book ( aims to create open content textbooks with the help of volunteers spread across the Net. That is, each page of a textbook created this way can be edited or augmented by anyone on the web. As a book created this way is monitored/edited continuously by persons familiar with the subject, the content is likely to be fresh and up-to-date — an organic, living Wiki textbook!

This is certainly an opportunity for academicians to come down from their ivory towers and contribute to the dissemination of knowledge among the masses. Another highlight of the project is that the books created on this site "are all released under an open content licence that means that they are free forever.''

Perhaps some of you may wonder how one can ensure the authenticity of the content and ascertain the authors' credibility.

This is certainly a major challenge on which the success of the project rests. But as the content is open, it will be under constant scrutiny by many and this by itself will help weed out irrelevant/useless content.

Apart from Wikibooks and Wikipedia, there are other projects by the same people who started wikibook. Wiktionary, a project to produce a multilingual dictionary (, Wikiquote (, a collaborative venture to create an on-line "compendium of quotations in every language'' are some examples. Another point to note is that the Wikibook project database is available for free download from the site which a user can browse offline. In fact this facility is available for all such projects.

One reason for the popularity of the weblog phenomenon is the availability of several free weblog hosting services like Blogger ( that can be used to float a weblog instantaneously. The highlight of these services, apart from being free, is that they enable a blogger to populate blog content by entering it through a web-based on-line form.

The free weblog hosting service `motime' ( is a recent entrant in this field. After signing up with the service, you can launch blogs of the type: (example: https://netspeak.motime. com).

The facility to directly add your favourite links, instant messenger and the like are some of the notable features supported by this blog hosting service.

For online references, you may try out `HyperDictionary' (https://www. that hosts such multiple dictionary services as `English Dictionary,' `Computer Dictionary' and `Medical Dictionary.'

There is also a `Dream Dictionary' that helps you interpret dreams based on "various dream subjects"!

Another tool worth testing is the `English Definition Dictionary,' an IE browser add-on, that enables you get definitions for English words from the on-line dictionary service, WordReference (, directly from the browser.

J. Murali

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