Why on Earth Would We Ever Need a Thousand-Volume Print Copy of Wikipedia?
What would you do if I told you that there’s a group of people who are trying to produce a print copy of Wikipedia? Because it’s happening right now, and they want your help to get it done. To which I can say only this:
A team of developers who work on the open source book tool for Wikipedia are currently hosting a campaign on IndieGoGo geared towards producing the world’s first (and probably only) print copy of Wikipedia. Called the Wikipedia Book Project, they estimate that each volume would be about 1,200 pages thick, with a total of 1,000 volumes encompassing the vast amounts of knowledge contained on the site. The pages between the volumes will be continues, so it’s likely that the last page of the whole thing could be 1,193,014. The goal is to take it on tour so as to “allow everyone to explore the physical dimensions of Wikipedia,” which is all well and good—I’m sure it’s mind-blowing—but I still can’t help but think it’s one of the worst ideas ever.
There are a couple of reasons why I feel this way. One, having a fixed version of Wikipedia kind of kind of defeats the purpose of the whole thing. Part of the beauty of Wikipedia is its mutability: We don’t know everything there is to know about everything (hopefully we never will), and the constantly changing nature of Wikipedia’s staggering collection of knowledge reflects the fact that we’re learning so much all the time. Learning new things is one of the best parts of life; making the biggest and most accessible representation of that fact a fixed point diminishes it. After all, a lot happens on the Internet in a day, doesn't it?
Two, I worry about what sort of impact a print copy will have on the future academics of the world. Don’ get me wrong — Wikipedia can be a great place to start, but only when it comes to pointing you in the direction of actual sources. It is not, however, a viable source for academic works: Anyone can write it, which is awesome — but it’s also not awesome, because that means that it’s often incorrect (and full of terrible writing, to boot). But though kids and teens just cutting their teeth on how to conduct proper academic research are constantly told that Wikipedia shouldn’t be cited in their projects, it’s not stopping them from doing it anyway.
Third, there’s this: Good gravy, how many trees is a project of this magnitude going to kill?! The group says that it’s planning on planting trees to offset the extraordinary amounts of paper involved in the project, but those trees aren’t going to be fully grown for a very, very long time. Do we really need to kill all those trees just so we can look at a thousand volumes of Wikipedia and go, “Man, that’s a lot of Wikipedia!”?
But maybe this is all just me. If you’re curious, head on over to the Wikipedia Book Project’s IndieGoGo page to contribute. Here's their pitch: