April 25, 2007 9:27 AM PDT

Wikipedia woos the offline world

The world's biggest and best-known online encyclopedia is going offline for its latest offering.

The Wikimedia Foundation, the group behind user-generated encyclopedia Wikipedia, has announced it intends to produce a CD of about 2,000 of its articles. The CD will bear the moniker "Wikipedia Version 0.5" and cover areas such as the arts and sciences and subjects such as geography. It will come with its own search engine.

The Wikimedia Foundation said the articles were chosen as the best of the online encyclopedia and will be free from errors, bias, vandalism and marketing.

The foundation is planning to do further hard-copy releases with a more comprehensive list of articles in the future and hopes to produce more foreign-language versions too.

The English-language version is not Wikipedia's first foray into offline--a German version has already seen three iterations. And a version of the user-generated encyclopedia in Polish is in the works and is expected to come out within the next few weeks. It will have more than 230,000 articles and several thousand pictures.

The 2,000 or so articles that form the English offline version were selected by the Wikipedia 1.0 Team.

"The idea is what you might expect from a general encyclopedia with quality articles," a Wikipedia spokesman said. "It loses the immediacy of the online Wikipedia but makes the more solid information available to more people."

The hard copies are aimed at those with a thirst for knowledge, including schools that might not have easy Internet access.

"Not everyone is a comfortable, well-fed First World citizen with broadband," the spokesman added, "so a book or CD or DVD is an important idea. The current way it's done is by people picking good articles to put into the static version. This is a very early version, hence 0.5. There are various steps along the way to a final version with a lot more in it."

French company Linterweb will produce the hard copy and is also working with the Wikimedia Foundation on a French equivalent of "Wikipedia Version 0.5." The CD is produced using open-source software Kiwix, which works with Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

Jo Best of Silicon.com reported from London.

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