Printed Wikipedia as art

From Aaaaa! To ZZZap! exhibition
Last week, Brooklyn based artist Michael Mandiberg revealed “Print Wikipedia” - a project that visualizes the complete English Wikipedia through 7,600 printable books. Each book will be uploaded to print-on-demand website lulu.com where it can be ordered for $80. The exhibition “From Aaaaa! To ZZZap!” at the Denny Gallery in New York documents the upload process and displays 106 physical volumes as well as a wallpaper of the first 1980 volumes.

As you might know, PediaPress started a crowd-funding campaign (http://wikipediabooks.org) with a similar goal last year and it’s quite interesting to compare “Print Wikipedia’s” approach to our own:

  • We estimated that printing a complete edition of Wikipedia would not have a big impact on the environment, but Mandiberg’s idea to print a wallpaper of a bookshelf instead of thousands of volumes certainly silences all critics.
  • „Print Wikipedia“ uses mainly the text information from Wikipedia (at least as far as I could see). It does not contain images and tables. This makes book generation easier but leaves out a significant (and important) part of the content.
  • Offering the volumes via print-on-demand allows everybody to experience the size of Wikipedia first-handed and adds credibility to the project.

At PediaPress we approached the project differently: with German “Gründlichkeit” (thoroughness) we set out to create a tangible encyclopædia that could be experienced in its entirety by as many people as possible. Of course this lead to much more work (and cost) and after our Indiegogo campaign failed, the project went into deep sleep. My only (small) critique on Mandiberg's effort is that a picture of a bookshelf is not a real bookshelf. To know that there are 7,600 volumes (or 1,200 volumes in our case) is different from taking a volume into your hands, feeling its weight, and flipping through its pages.

Unless somebody with very deep pockets comes around and spends $500,000 the project will remain somehow fractioned. Aside from this Michael Mandiberg elegantly created a perfect visualization of the printed Wikipedia. Chapeau, Mr. Mandiberg.


The Impact of a printed Wikipedia on Trees

When talking about our Wikipedia book project, some people argue that printing on paper is "a waste of trees" and harmful to the environment. We do not take those accusations lightly. The environmental impact of paper is significant and must not be ignored. In this blog post, we want to explore the impact of our project and try to analyze the consequences.

How much paper do we need?

Wikipedia itself estimates that printing the complete English Wikipedia will take roughly 2,000 pages volumes. After a few experiments, we came to the conclusion that we could reduce this number significantly while still creating a legible and pleasing "encyclopædic" layout. 

We estimated that we could fit the whole English Wikipedia in about 1,000 A4 sized books with 1,200 pages each. As we print on the front- an backside of a page, this amounts to 600,000 sheets of A4 paper. Common 80g paper weighs 5g per sheet, so in total the weight of the paper amounts to a whopping 3 metric tons.

How many trees will be used for printing Wikipedia?

Now, let's try to estimate the number of trees used for printing Wikipedia with some back-of-the envelope calculations:

For the production of 1 ton of paper 2 tons of wood are necessary which again equals approximately 4 cubic meters. Now, let's assume that we have a pine tree that is about 45 meters high and has a diameter of 0.5 meters. This amounts to a volume of approximately 9 cubic meters of wood. Therefore, paper used in this project requires about 12 cubic meters of raw wood. So we are talking about roughly 1.3 trees that need to be harvested to print Wikipedia.

In reality of course, paper is not made from valuable tree logs (which are used for furniture or floors) but from inexpensive (and otherwise mostly useless) wood chips and saw dust.

What we will do to neutralize the effect of our paper consumption

In our project (and in all PediaPress books) we only print on paper from FSC certified resources. The FSC sets minimum standards for responsible and sustainable forestry. 

In Europe, sustainable forestry can be traced back to the 15th century. In the last 100 years, the area covered with forests in Europe tripled. From 1990 to 2010 the biomass of forests has increased by 30% according to the European Environment Agency. 

Responsible Forestry plays an important role in cutting CO2 emissions by cultivating, harvesting and especially burning wood instead of fossile energy sources. 

As only trees from certified forestry will be used for this project we can safely assume that every tree we consume for printing Wikipedia will be replanted. 

Nevertheless, we will make sure that at least ten new trees will be planted when our campaign is successful - just in case.


Visualizing The Work of 20 Million Volunteers

Today we launched a crowdfunding campaign with the goal to print and exhibit the complete English Wikipedia in 1,000+ books. Check below video to get the idea:

The Idea

A few weeks after we launched our book export service in the German Wikipedia, a user asked us to drop our arbitrary 500 articles limit. In our conversation with the user, we learned that he planned to print the complete Wikipedia. After doing some back of the envelope calculations and exchanging emails, we mutally agreed to drop his plan. But the idea was born and stuck with us.

Wikipedia and the book metaphor: Size in Volumes

The Wikipedia community uses books as a metaphor to compare the size of Wikipedia with its printed predecessors like the Encyclopædia Britannica. There is even a dedicated page which continously updates a visualization based on the current number of articles. Currently, the page estimates that a printed Wikipedia will fill almost 2,000 Britannica-sized volumes

Former approaches

In the past there have been a few attempts to create a printed edition of Wikipedia. In 2008, German publishing house Bertelsmann released an abridged version of the German Wikipedia, featuring about 20,000 abbreviated articles on 992 pages. 

Shortly afterwards, student Rob Matthews created a book containing more than 400 featured articles from Wikipedia on 5,000 pages. But even his effort covered only 1 out of 10,000 articles (0,01%)
In 2010, British artist James Bridle created a 12 volume (7,000 pages) set of books featuring all 12,000 changes of the article "The Iraq War" between 2004 and 2009 to illustrate the discursive ways of our culture.
And of course there is PediaPress, our own humble attempt to create a service that allows everybody to print a book from an individual selection of articles.

But however futile or inspiring these former attempts may have been; none of these approaches covered more than a tiny fraction of Wikipedia. A printed edition of the complete Wikipedia remained an intellectual pastime - until now:

Get involved in the exhibition of the largest printed encyclopedia ever

As written above, the idea for a printed edition was floating around in our heads for years, but we didn't know how to tackle the cost. Crowdfunding changed the situation and fits the Wikipedian community approach very well. So, when somebody brought this topic up in one of our team meetings a couple of weeks ago, we said "why not" and gave it a go. Maybe we can find other like-minded souls (like you?) who love books or are just as fascinated by the idea of an (instantly outdated) snapshot of our current knowledge according to Wikipedia.

We came up with some perks that will allow you to participate in the project and eternalize your contribution by adding your name or even a personal dedication to one of the volumes.

Check out our Indiegogo campaign, tell your friends about it on the interwebs and become a sponsor of this unique endeavour.  If you have tips or questions, don't hesitate to contact us. We are looking forward to meet you in front of a large book case at Wikimania London in August 2014.

PS: If you happen to know a manufacturer of huge book cases in search of a unique showcase for their product - let us know. 
PPS:  We have neither decided on the destinations during a travelling exhibition of the books nor where they're finally put to rest. Let us know if you think that your local museum or library is a good fit.


Voyage, Voyage ...

Good news for all travel fans: Our PediaPress service is now also available with Wikivoyage, the free online travel guide that -just like Wikipedia- is edited collaboratively.

After a tumultuous history, Wikivoyage went live today as the twelfth official Wikimedia Foundation project.

We believe that Wikivoyage + PediaPress are a perfect fit and celebrate this with the famous song by French singer Desireless:


The E-book Export Feature on Wikipedia

From the creators of PediaPress:

The E-book Export Feature on Wikipedia

While printed books surely offer unparalleled haptics, smell and decoration, there are some situations where e-books are just are good enough. That’s why our team developed a feature that was missing so far from Wikipedia’s Book Creator: Standard compliant (EPUB) e-book export. Owners of a e-book readers will probably appreciate the difference this makes compared to the PDF export: With EPUB you are able to reflow and resize the content of your e-book to your own liking.

An introduction to EPUB export
The news were broken earlier this week on the Wikimedia Foundation Blog. Next to some traditional media like CNN, NBCNEWS the news were broadly re-published and commented by various tech magazines like The Verge, Life Hacker or Gizmodo. Wired sticked to its 5 reasons why e-books aren’t there yet and cluelessly ignored the news, while some mobile and e-book centered mags, welcomed the addition enthusiastically. Even here in Germany the news were spread by some of the most popular IT news sites like Heise and Golem (even twice).  We weren't expecting this at all and are very happy about the warm response for this new feature.

Behind the scenes: 

brainbot technologies - expert in remix publishing  

The software was developed by brainbot technologies, the company behind the PediaPress service.
brainbot technologies builds software and services for the transforming publishing industry. Our fields of expertise are topics like e-books, multi-channel publishing, print-on-demand, integration of community content as well as content remixing, bundling and un-bundling. 
So, if you would like to benefit from more than five years of experience in creating and operating a worldwide on-demand printing and e-book service for a top ten website like Wikipedia, or if you would just like to invite us for a drink (e.g. at the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair): Feel free to contact us.


Custom Prefaces for Your Books

Starting today you can add a custom preface to your book. All you have to do is to navigate to our shiny new tab (aptly named "preface") after uploading your collection to PediaPress. There you can get your creative juices flowing and start writing.

Personalize your book with a custom preface!
The preface will appear at the beginning of your book. There is no limit on the amount of content that you can put into the preface. The price for your book will be adjusted by the estimated number of pages that you entered (by 4 cents per page).

You can check out the appearance of your preface in the book preview which will be automatically updated as soon as you edit the title or content field. You are free to use basic MediaWiki Markup to enhance the layout.

We consider the preface to be a part of the content of your book and use Arabic numerals (1,2,3,…) to count the pages. Only the table of contents will be numbered with Roman numerals (I, II, III, …). The chapter or article following the preface will always begin on a right (recto) page to distinguish it clearly from the previous section. This means that your book will always grow by at least two pages when you create a preface.

To remove the preface you have to clear both the title and the content field. You could use this for creating personalized gifts: Just create a headline and leave the content blank. This will basically create two (almost) blank pages. You can use these pages to insert a personal note or a dedication in your own handwriting.

Custom prefaces have been a "most wanted" feature both in surveys and helpdesk requests and we are glad that we are finally able to provide this new feature. How do you like it?


Collection Extension in Hebrew Wikipedia

Greetings from PediaPress to all Wikipedians who are currently attending Wikimania in Haifa.
Just-in-time for the beginning of the conference we are very happy to announce that the collection extension is now available in the Hebrew Wikipedia. This means that if you are fluent in the language of Canaan, you can now start collecting articles.
Right-to-left (RTL) writing really gave us some headaches and so far, only the PDF export works. A big thank you goes to all the local volunteers who reported bugs and helped us goyim understand what was going wrong.