October 05, 2008


Printed Wikipedia

While traveling by train couple of days back, it struck me that how my brain has wired to check the references on Wikipedia. Much of the time I spend on wikipedia is mostly for amusement. It kicks off with a need to find something and then within few clicks I wander away from the original article. That's the beauty of Wikipedia - it's hard to get bored if you just want to read random stuff about a topic.

Old-fashioned that I am, the immediate thought that came to me was need for a printed Wikipedia. Now, by no stretch of imagination this a novel idea. In fact, it is already available in the market. It contains about 20,000 articles and sells at 20 euros. But, it is in German. :(

Now, for my pleasure reading, I am not looking for an encyclopedia with 20,000 articles. I want something in 300-400 pages, though this is not a non-negotiable size. Given the size it makes sense to have articles about a certain topic in this book, say Economic Ideologies. It will touch the ideas such as Communism, Capitalism, Socialism, etc in the depth which is just good enough to carry some interesting conversation with a guru of this field.

So, how do we go about it? Well, here is my genius idea.

There is a product called Wiki Slices from my prior company. I am not sure if it is still supported. You can enter a topic and it will create a slice of Wikipedia for you for that topic. It could probably be tuned to provide a slice of certain size (by word count or article count.)

There is a startup in India which offers on-demand publishing - Pothi.com. On-demand publishing means serving the long tail. It probably doesn't matter to them if a book is selling few tens of copies or hundreds or thousands.

Now blend these two ideas. If Pothi.com offers say 1000 books which are essentially the slices created by Webaroo's technology, Pothi is suddenly serving pretty large market.

And here is the kicker. Why should you be restricted at 1000 titles? Why not 10,000? Or 100,000. The Pothi team will initially seed few topics. Since Wiki Slices can be created by anyone, a user can create custom Wiki Slices. If others like that slice, they can just order a copy of that. There will be a very competitive list of Best-Selling Slices. I am sure there is some Web-2.0 jargon for this activity, just that I am not much in sync with fast moving world.

The author of the blog article on German Wikipedia wrote:
The real question, however, is why anybody would want to buy a printed and abbreviated version of Wikipedia. After all, you lose all of the advantages of full-text search and the ability to edit articles in this printed text.
Well, simply put, I don't care about searching the book, much less about editing it. I just want to READ the damn thing.

Now, where is my complimentary copy?

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Hello Shashikant,

We are CinnamonTeal Print and Publishing, India's first print-on-demand service for authors. I would like to discuss your idea with you and request you for your contact info.
Our website is http://www.cinnamonteal.in
Leonard Fernandes

You can get in touch via shashikant at google's mailing service. (This address is in the left panel of this blog.)
Hi Shashikant,

Excellent idea, in fact precisely the kind of idea we would like to see executed around our platform. Now we can go on and create such books ourselves and try to sell them or enable people with tools to do it themselves. I think second is the way to go but given that the DIY approach is not very mature in India, first one might have better stickiness. What do you think?
Yes, Abhaya. DIY is definitely advanced stage.
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