September 28, 2005 4:00 AM PDT
Wikibooks takes on textbook industry
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existing textbooks never will.
"I like the idea of using it as a tool for kids to check and then post their own alterations," Hibbard said. "It might be a really good way to give kids a couple of lessons, not only about the particular content, but also about what's the nature of public information."
Brewer also buys Wales' argument that the Wikibooks model could eventually move publishing companies away from existing business models that depend on students buying expensive books containing more information than they will use in any given course and which take several years to produce.
"The idea of just going to a book that is always going to be a year or two out of date is...silly," Brewer said. "There are going to be faster ways of getting the newest ideas."
Representatives at two leading publishing houses did not respond to requests for comment.
Hibbard said he thinks textbook publishers will have little choice but to adapt as efforts like Wikibooks gain traction.
"They'd have to do something," Hibbard said. "They'd have to respond to the up-to-date (nature) of the Wikibooks version."
Certainly, Wikibooks has several shortcomings. One is its open nature, in which any registered user can edit existing entries. That means that any entry can be defaced or, more benignly, modified by someone who doesn't know what they're talking about.
Wales also acknowledges that some kinds of learning require multimedia beyond your basic wiki software tools.
"I'm learning German," Wales said. "You couldn't learn German just from a textbook...So I'm learning from audio CDs and games."
But he added that, over time, Wikibooks could be extended to include audio books.
In any case, while Wikibooks is small today, Wales argues it could one day be a relevant alternative to the traditional textbook model.
"It's growing exponentially," he said. "The bigger it gets and the more people stumble across it, the more people are interested in volunteering. So it grows in that way."
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