#227 Printing Wikipedia or How to Think Backwards

I recently hear a report on NPR about a German company that’s trying to raise money to print Wikipedia into about 80 m of books. That’s about 1,000 volumes at about 1,200 pages each; over 1 million pages. This is so stupid it makes my brain hurt.

Some of the people interviewed by NPR thought it was a fun idea and others disagreed. Of course, the tech people they interviewed thought it sounded neat from an artistic standpoint, but, ultimately thought the idea flew in the face of what Wikipedia is all about.

A couple possible supporters were librarians. They have been traditionally cautious about using Wikipedia as a resource and thought that having a print version my make it more trustworthy, somehow. Right. That makes sense. Sounds like blogging. Call it a blog and it’s not taken seriously. Print that same entry in a book and suddenly it becomes relevant and citable.

Why is this an idea? Why is it even a thing? What’s the point? By the time the volumes are printed a significant portion of Wikipedia will have changed and new articles will have been created. So, I ask again, what’s the point?

The creators of the project want to draw attention to the volume of information that is available on Wikipedia. That I get. They say that maybe more people will use the resource if it’s also available in printed form. That I don’t get. The entire premise of Wikipedia is that it’s a flexible and changing resource. It’s constantly updated and constantly improved upon. How many encyclopedia companies are still in business? Not many. There’s a reason for that.

This idea has backwards thinking written all over it. The German print company is trying to appeal to people that don’t want to use the electronic version. They want to give others a chance to use the resource that might not have access to a computer or the Internet. I understand some of that, but, in the end you can’t hold everyone’s hand. Some people just aren’t going to be able to play.

I deal with this attitude in archaeology on a DAILY basis. So many company owners, and even younger staff members, are so resistant to new technology that they’ll make the old methods work at any cost. Usually the cost is time, money, and efficiency. Until that starts to cost them business, however, they seem OK with it.

Printing Wikipedia is about as smart as hand-writing a bunch of forms you’re just going to digitize anyway. Who does that? Oh, right. EVERYONE.

At least it doesn’t look like this project will get funded. At the time of this writing the Indiegogo campaign has 31 hours left and they’ve only raise $12,530 of their $50,000 goal.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!