Wikipedia readies for print encyclopedia sales

Wikipedia is likely to start offering print books of its most popular articles as the Wikimedia Foundation explores ways to diversify its funding and increase its reach.

A service known as PediaPress which allows readers to order bound printed collections of articles is already running on Wikipedia sibling project WikiBooks which develops textbooks and the commercial service which hosts special-interest wikis. That approach will soon be extended to Wikipedia said Angela Beesley Starling chair of the Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board.

“It’s possible that this is going to launch on Wikipedia this quarter” Beesley Starling said during her keynote speech at in Hobart.

The French edition of Wikipedia already offers an option to order high-quality prints of non-copyrighted images via a commercial third party but such approaches are not without risk.

“It has been fairy controversial as you might imagine” Beesley Starling said. “To some people this kind of crosses that line when you’re adding a link to a commercial company on every image page.

Beesley Starling noted that while Wikipedia had raised $US6.2 million in a recent fundraising drive other sources of income would be useful. Given its immense popularity another obvious way to raise funds for Wikipedia and associated projects would be to allow advertising but that approach has been rejected as too controversial.

“However the contra argument to that is that if there was funding from advertising and other sources the Foundation could do a lot more.” While advertising is off the table the Foundation wants to develop more collaborations with other “mission friendly partners” Beesley Starling said.

The Foundation also wants to encourage more participation in Wikipedia and to remove the lingering perception that content on the online encyclopaedia can’t be trusted. “Wikipedia often gets a bad reputation for being unreliable” Beesley Starling said despite repeated studies showing that its content is often more accurate than print competitors.

Simple vandalism problems are now largely under control thanks to the use of automated ‘bots’ on the site Beesley Starling noted. “It’s actually become hard for humans to manually revert really obvious vandalism. That sort of thing gets reverted by a bot before you get a chance to look at the page.”

Beesley Starling also revealed that the annual Wikimania conference was “hopefully” going to be hosted in Australia in 2011 (this year’s event is in Buenos Aires and the 2010 event is likely to be in Europe).