From time to time I’d like to link to a famous quotation. I then remember Wikiquote, a wiki-based “quote compendium” similar to Wikipedia, also run by the Wikimedia Foundation. Or I’d like to link to a famous text, and I visit Wikisource, an “online library of free content publications”, also Wikimedia project since years. But even when the quotation or text is included in Wikiquote/Wikisource, I most times leave depressed. This also applies to other Wikimedia projects, such as Wiktionary, Wikibooks, Wikimedia Commons, and even Wikipedia to some degree.
failed open content or just perpetual beta?
The reason has been mentioned by Gerard Meijssen at the Wikimedia Berlin Hackathon (#wmdevdays) a few days ago. He wrote that “Both #Wikibooks and #Wikisource do a terrible job promoting their finished product.” I’d like to stress that Wikimedia projects do not (only) fail promoting, but they fail delivering their products. That’s sad, because Wikimedia projects are about collecting and creating open content, which anyone should be able to reuse. But conrtent is not truly open when it is only available for reuse by experts. For instance, why can’t one just…
- …link to a single quotation in Wikiquote? (WTF?!)
- …highlight a section in Wikipedia and get a stable link to this selection?
- …download content from Wikibooks, Wikisource, or Wikipedia in different formats such as EPUB, LaTeX, MarkDown, OpenDocument etc.?
- …find out the precise license of a media file from Commons?
Most of these tasks are possible if you are an expert in Wikimedia projects. You have to learn a crude WikiSyntax, know about MediaWiki API and dozens of license tags, know about extensions, do error-prone conversion on your own, deal with full dumps etc. Maybe I am too harsh because I love Wikimedia. But if you are honest about its projects, you should know: they are not designed for easy reuse of content, but more about work-in-progress collaborative editing (and even editing capability is poor compared with Google Docs and Etherpad).
Gerard suggested to create another Wikimedia project for publishing but I doubt this is the right direction. There is already a feature called Quality Revisions for marking a “final” state of a page in MediaWiki. The core problem of reusing content from Wikimedia projects is more how to actually get content in a usable form (deep link, eBook formats, LaTeX… etc.).