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Friday, May 9, 2008

Getting into high gear with Wikibooks

The semester is over, basically, so I'm starting to have more free time on my hands then I have for the past few months. The job hunt is progressing steadily as well, but until I get a job nailed down, I can't just sit around and stare at the TV. Free time is a good thing because it lets me get back (at least temporarily) to doing the things that I love to do.

I got promoted yesterday to committer for the Parrot project although a bug with the SVN auth is preventing me from doing any work there. I've sent out emails to some people and hopefully it will get resolved soon. As soon as it goes through, I'm probably going to create a branch and doing some prepwork for this summer project. I want to get things out of the way early in case I do end up with a job before the summer is over and I need to devote less attention to it.

If i'm not going to be spending my free time working on Parrot, I'm going to spend it working on Wikibooks instead. This is also a good thing, since I've been a little neglectful of Wikibooks for a while. I'm in full swing, and blowing through some projects that I've wanted to work on for a while. Here are some of the projects on Wikibooks that I'm working on now:

Subject Pages

The subject pages have been my pet project for a long time now, and I think the prototyping stage is coming to a close. Yesterday I officially deprecated the first bookshelf, the engineering shelf, and redirected it to the fancy new [[Subject:Engineering]]. I'm certainly no artist or anything, but I'm proud of the work that has gone into it. I would like to start moving through the rest of the bookshelves this summer. If I even did one or two per week, that would be fantastic.

I also started drafting a page [[Wikibooks:Subject pages]] to try and explain what's going on with all this. The page is young and clearly lacking, but it's a start.


Categorization has been a thorn in my side for some time now, and I have a number of reforms that I want to implement to start sorting everything out. Most categorization of books into subjects is performed through the {{Subject}} template, so changes made there will ripple and I won't need to look at every single book and page manually. Ideally, I would like to create a system where no user ever had to use a [[Category: ]] link directly. Instead, I would like to use a series of aptly-named templates to abstract away all the work and make things much easier. Along with that, I would like to write up some good javascripts that will make things easier still: "Select the book's subject from the box below". You wouldn't even need to remember what the templates or categories are called, you just select them from a drop-down box!

All the pages in the Category: namespace are messed up anyway. I want to reorganize them all and write guidelines for how they should be used in the future. The current method of "jam it in wherever it fits" really isn't working out too well, and we need a good unified plan to fix it all up again.

Tagging Books

Related to the two points above, I want to spend some time (probably with a bot) and try to tag a few books with templates that have been created recently. Some templates like {{Reading level}} or {{Prerequisite}} are invaluable for letting readers know at a glance what the level of the book is. There's nothing worse then getting into a book and realizing that you have no idea what is being said! Also, we've set up a bit of a hack where we are using category lists to try to count the number of books on the site. These use the alphabetical categories, so it's imperative that all books be categorized alphabetically. Lucky for us, we have a simple {{alphabetical}} template that we can use for this.

Writing Books

I do love to write, and I've been spending a lot of time working on my [[Parrot Virtual Machine]] book. It's a labor of love, and it's also a demonstration of my method of "learn by teaching". The more I write, the better an understanding I develop for myself. I've also got one book being voted on now to become featured: [[x86 Disassembly]]. I have a few others that are close and could become featured with a little bit of dedicated work.

Updating Policy

There is a lot of old policy stuff on on Wikibooks that is outdated or needs to be expanded. I want to spend some time on that s well. I also want to do some work on our help pages, our "welcome!" pages and templates, etc. Basically what I want to do is drop the barrier to entry, and make it a lot easier to get started at Wikibooks. This means that questions need better answers, resources need to be easier to find, templates need better names and easier syntax, etc. It's comprehensive and it's going to be difficult, but it's sorely needed. I created a template {{Update}} to mark pages that need to be updated, so I should be able to do this job in two passes (one to mark, one to update everything together).


Who could forget the logo? We really need to draw the whole logo issue to a close soon, and I am seriously upset about the way the Wikijunior logo discussion has been progressing. I suggested that we combine the two discussions, and derive a Wikijunior logo from the winning Wikibooks one. Some people didn't like that idea, but nobody really suggested an alternative to solve the problems. Time will tell on this.

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