Friday, April 27, 2007

Wikipedia without the Web

Fans of Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopedia, like its dynamic nature: volunteers can quickly respond to new developments and errors in by adding or changing entries. It may therefore seem odd that Wikipedia volunteers are now working on a static version on CD. A preliminary version 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 coordinate the project. "There are many times when you may be offline anyway. You may be at a camp or something like that."

With Wikipedia, anyone may add, edit or even delete entries regardless of expertise. Although that has led to pranks, or endless revisions of controversial topics like abortion, Wikipedia volunteers can quickly make repairs.

Since its founding in 2001, the reference 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. Volunteers have been scanning entries for foul language and other signs of vandalism, but didn't have the time to thoroughly verify all the facts for the preliminary CD. The cleaner version should appeal to teachers worried about displaying pages that might contain foul language.

The CD is available for $14 plus shipping through the project's Web site, 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. (info from The Associated Press)

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