Excuse Me, Could I Interest You In A Thousand-Volume Set Of Encyclopedias?

from the an-idea-whose-time-has-come-(again) dept

It's hard to believe that it was only two years ago that Techdirt reported that Encyclopaedia Britannica had stopped publishing its printed version after a run of 244 years; it seems like a report from another time. The idea of printing 32 volumes that supposedly summarize most of the key ideas of human civilization is plainly absurd. Obviously, you would need far more than 32 -- around a thousand, perhaps:
We all know that Wikipedia is huge. The English version alone consists of more than 4 million articles. But can you imagine how large Wikipedia really is?

We think that the best way to experience the size of Wikipedia is by transforming it into the physical medium of books.

In order to do this, we plan to print the complete English Wikipedia in 1,000 books and display them at a public exhibition.


All volumes will have continuous page numbers, so the last article could as well be on page number 1,193,014.
That's taken from an Indiegogo project page set up by the team of developers who work on the open source book tool for Wikipedia at PediaPress, which has created thousands of books from Wikipedia content. Here's how it will be done:
Until a few years ago, such a project would have been impossible. Thanks to advances in computing power, internet bandwidth, open source software and print on demand technologies, today we can programmatically transform content from Wikipedia into printable PDFs. The challenge will be to scale and refine our existing technologies to handle the size and diversity of the complete Wikipedia. Every article - including images - needs to be aggregated and preprocessed. Afterwards, the content will be rendered automatically in a three column layout and distributed across multiple volumes. (Kudos to our friends at YesLogic for contributing their awesome Prince renderer.)

The final layout files will be uploaded to the printing facility where 1,000 unique hardcover books will be printed onto more than 600,000 sheets of paper, manually bound, and prepared for shipping. The books will be transported to the exhibition on three fully packed cargo pallets. After the exhibition the books will need to be repackaged again for transportation to the next venue.
Assuming the Indiegogo project reaches its target (at the time of writing it's raised around 20%), the exhibition will be a powerful reminder of the extraordinary achievement of Wikipedia -- and this is just the English-language version. There are many other languages that have comprehensive Wikipedia holdings, as well as hundreds of smaller ones. The conceptual juxtaposition of these thousand tomes with the 32 of Encyclopaedia Britannica's last printed version is a reminder of how open, collaborative creation can scale in a way that is simply not possible with traditional, top-down approaches.

Wikipedia is inherently digital in nature -- it would not have been possible to create it in any other form. And yet I suspect that there will be some people attracted by the idea of acquiring a printed version once they are confronted with the massive physical presence of those thousand volumes of knowledge, just as previous generations were when Encyclopaedia Britannica representatives came calling with their wares. Of course, door-to-door sales might be a problem for the Indiegogo incarnation...

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

Filed Under: encyclopedia
Companies: encyclopaedia britannica, wikipedia

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  1. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 28 Feb 2014 @ 8:19am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I read them. Voraciously.

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