There’s been slower progress than I’d hoped, but I’ve recently been improving the search and contribution interfaces.
I’ll open the prototype for wider use as soon as there’s some support for user-to-user review and interaction, and a fresh import of Wikipedia abstracts as starter data. Let me know how to reach you if you’d like to get more involved.
Here’s the presentation I did last Friday at the Books-in-Browsers conference.
I’ve added a few screenshots to the slides below to simulate the brief demo given. As you’ll see on slide 25, the name of the site at launch will be ‘Thunkpedia’, as the central organizing principle will be small ‘thunks’ of standalone reference information.
(Updated 11/2 with video.)
I’ll be speaking about Infinithree at the 2011 Books in Browsers meeting (#BiB11) in late October, put on by the Internet Archive and O’Reilly Media.
The title of my talk is, ‘Beyond the Encyclopedia: non-linear reference works’. Astute readers will find fresh details about project plans in the talk abstract:
Should an online reference work aspire to the ‘encyclopedic’ standards of printed volumes? How should reference text change when modern search is assumed as the primary interface? If opening the scope of a reference work to everything ‘true and useful’, what other constraints on contribution and exploration might prove necessary? Can a reference work that seeks to offer canonical information on many topics use the techniques of social news and social question-and-answer sites to encourage casual, incremental contributions?
What if Wikipedia before MediaWiki had started on TiddlyWiki, rather than UseModWiki?
The Infinithree Project (working title) is exploring these questions in the context of a new, Creative Commons-licensed reference work. Prelaunch discussion is occurring at http://infinithree.org. By October, public launch under a different name is likely, so all titles and themes subject to change after contact with the authordience.
(Welcome to all the new followers arriving after this HN thread!)
Emilio Velis (@dubsnipe) asks via the Tumblr question function:
As far as I understand, Infinithree aims to be a non-rigorous source of information, instead of a source full of data that has to be validated by a crowd. How about if the project aims to be some sort of an add-on or sister page based on Wikipedia URLs? For example, there is some useful information that can’t be on Wikipedia because it hasn’t been verified. It can grow itself to adapt to already existing Wikipedia articles, and hold more information (as long as it doesn’t turn into a trivia-only site).
Capturing info that Wikipedia can’t (yet) find a place for is definitely a goal of Infinithree. So with respect to Wikipedia’s exact rules, yes, Infinithree will be less rigorous.
However, we still want all info to be true and useful. That implies enforced standards - rigorous in new ways. I think of it like this:
‘Wikipedia is an Encyclopedia.’ (AKA ‘WP:ENC’ or ‘1st of the Five Pillars’.) That’s the banner under which Wikipedia launched, and the rallying principle Wikipedia has used to meet challenges along the way. (And if ‘encyclopedic’ is Wikipedia’s battle flag, notability/verifiability has been its shield, and deletionism its sword.) So Wikipedia has the ‘encyclopedic’ circle above covered.
But Infinithree has the benefit of a 10-year tail-start on Wikipedia. (‘Tail-start’ being the opposite of ‘head-start’, of course.) With a later understanding of mass collaboration, the primacy of search, and variations on the wiki model, maybe we can aim for new platonic ideals beyond the ‘encyclopedia’. Maybe new policies and constraints can yield reliability with less friction.
Infinithree will explore how wiki-nature and other ascendant mechanisms for online creation and curation can cover all of the ‘true’ and ‘useful’ circles above — especially the non-‘encyclopedic’ parts.
With that broad goal in mind, an organization based on ‘sister pages’ would be confining. So Infinithree will emphasize excellent search and contextual navigation, rather than any 1:1 mapping to Wikipedia articles.
Via the Tumblr suggest-a-post system, Inclusionniste writes:
Start with a multilingual version
I’m very interested about a “inclusionist” “encyclopedia”, but I would like to contribute in French, my native language.
I would love to follow the Wikipedia model, with focused sites for every language where there can be an editing community.
Making the core software accept contributions in many languages is relatively easy with modern frameworks and Unicode. Adapting the interface and core explanatory text is also very achievable, requiring a little more expertise and sensitivity.
But the deciding factor for Infinithree’s success in any language is the editor community: how it starts, how it grows, how it evolves.
I can directly collaborate with others in English, to help establish early patterns of quality writing and civil discussion. (I apologize for only being fluent in my native English!)
For every other language, help will be needed.
Perhaps each language can launch when a critical mass of contributors, speaking that language and understanding the project, declare their interest.
Some time in February, we’ll take advance registrations of interest, so people can be notified as the site opens. Based on your suggestion, I will encourage registrants to also declare what languages they’d like to use.
So please, let your fellow francophones (and speakers of every language) know about the Infinithree plan, and follow this blog and @infinithree for discussion and updates.
At Quora, I asked for suggestions about how an avowedly-inclusionist sibling of Wikipedia should work. Marius Kempe has offered a bunch of thoughtful ideas, including the recommendation that rather than any license, Infinithree consider putting all material into the public domain:
- Put the content in the public domain using CC0, or at least use CC-BY, rather than licensing it under the restrictive CC-BY-SA license - the SA clause makes it a hassle to reuse the content, as you can only add other content that is under the same license to it: the upshot of this is that you can’t even legally combine public domain material with SA licenses, as you cannot claim copyright to it! I am personally partial to CC0 over CC-BY for reasons I’ve described in , but either is better than CC-BY-SA.
I’m a fan of explicitly assigning material to the public domain – but bidirectional sharing with Wikipedia, and other sibling ‘Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (‘CC-BY-SA’) licensed projects, will be important for Infinithree. License compatibility allows material deleted from Wikipedia to be transplanted easily, and material initially developed at Infinithree to be migrated to Wikipedia when appropriate. Those reasons alone make CC-BY-SA the presumptive choice.
Also, my sense is that many free culture volunteers are most comfortable contributing to a project with the ‘attribution’ and ‘share-alike’ conditions in place. Their fear is that otherwise, proprietary/parasitic forks can dilute the project’s prominence while sending neither people nor improved material back. I tend not to worry about such things – thinking people will know and appreciate the true origin – but see this concern often in copyleft-related discussions.
(Separately, I don’t understand the suggestion that public-domain content can’t be mixed with copyleft/share-alike licensed material. Truly public-domain content is the ‘universal donor’ for authorship, allowing combination into derivative works of any license – isn’t it?)
Much needs to be worked out before the Infinithree site is open for contributions. Until then, this blog is to discuss possibilities and find collaborators – and you’re already helping with your question and well-wishes. Thanks!
My current inclination is that it should be possible to bring over Wikipedia content – but such content would only rarely be imported automatically or in bulk. The point is not duplicating Wikipedia but trying new models – more than just extra MediaWiki installs – to achieve broader and deeper coverage.
Infinithree will operate in the same social/legal environment as Wikipedia, and will need to exercise much the same care with regard to the rights of living people. Still, there should be room for innovation. “True, useful, and civil” is a potential standard looser than “notable and sourced from a traditional publication”
Did you have a particularly ‘Kafkaesque’ policy in mind? :)
Those are certainly kindred projects. Infinithree is still being defined, but here are some of my thoughts on how ∞³ should or must be different.
Deletionpedia was only ever a ‘morgue’ for deleted articles – with no option to start new material or improve old. That gave it an interesting ‘information rescue’ mission, but never the goal or potential for being a lively, independent site on its own. Similarly, being based on MediaWiki, and defined (in its very name) as a reaction to Wikipedia, limited its potential for exploring expansive new reference models. And now, Deletionpedia seems to have gone inactive for a couple years – and is no longer rescuing deleted articles.
Everything² is a bit closer to what I hope for from Infinithree – a broad conception of acceptable topics, and an identity independent of Wikipedia. (Indeed, Everything²’s roots predate Wikipedia.) But, Everything2 has no ambitions of speaking authoritatively, canonically, and in a shared voice about reference topics. Contributions are individually signed and are not collaboratively wiki-edited. Also, they’re not automatically under a no-muss no-fuss free content license, to promote the broadest possible use.
So neither of these projects aspired to be an expansive postencyclopedic reference work. Infinithree has that aspiration.
Wikipedia deletionism is like the weather: people complain, but nobody is doing anything about it.
I’d like to change that, working with others to create an avowedly inclusionist complement to Wikipedia, launching in 2011. My code name for this project is ‘Infinithree’ (‘∞³’), and this blog exists to collaborate on its creation.
Why, you may ask?
I’ll explain more in future posts – but in a nutshell, I believe deletionism erases true & useful reference knowledge, drives away contributors, and surrenders key topics to cynical spammy web content mills.
If you can already appreciate the value and urgency of this sort of project, I’m looking for you. Here are the broad outlines of my working assumptions:
Infinithree will use the same open license and a similar anyone-can-edit wiki model as Wikipedia, but will discard ‘notability’ and other ‘encyclopedic’ standards in favor of ‘true and useful’.
Infinithree is not a fork and won’t simply redeploy MediaWiki software with inclusionist groundrules. That’s been tried a few times, and has been moribund each time. Negative allelopathy from Wikipedia itself dooms any almost-but-not-quite-Wikipedia; a new effort must set down its roots farther afield.
Infinithree will use participatory designs from the social web, rather than wikibureacracy, to accrete reliable knowledge. Think StackOverflow or Quora, but creating declarative reference content, rather than interrogative transcripts.
Sound interesting? Can you help? Please let me know what you think, retweet liberally, and refer others who may be interested.
For updates, follow @infinithree on Twitter or @infinithree on Identi.ca.
The Infinithree Project is on the air.