Do you use Wikipedia? If you spend any time on the Internet it’s practically guaranteed that you will end up there eventually. Maybe you visited earlier today, or a few days ago? Just how often do you find yourself exploring the wealth of Wikipedia, lured by the power of curiosity?
This is an open letter to the Internet community and it is all about a clever idea for your to consider. Above all, I’m writing because I want Wikipedia to succeed. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to pry open your wallet (even though they really need it). Wikipedia is an experiment in idealism, and its survives solely through the participation of its audience. I have donated some cash and I have contributed some content, but these gestures don’t nearly reflect my full gratitude for the enrichment I have gotten for free. Stop and reflect for a moment, dear Internet person… perhaps you agree?
Well here is my attempt to give back a little bit more: a seed of inspiration sown amongst the grateful and curious. The power of this idea is you, the audience, because it is so much bigger than me.
First, let's step back a moment and recap just why Wikipedia is so valuable: It contains vast information on every subject, and it never stops growing. It refuses advertising and survives on donations.
Now is the future and the encyclopedia was the past. Now is the age of Wikipedia.
In the olden days an encyclopedia was an investment. It stood proud and ready on the bookshelf, in an affluent home or a library. Our modern replacement is superior in size and price, but inferior in a critical way: it is trapped on the Internet, stuck on a screen, and shackled to your browser.
It’s time to find a place for it on the bookshelf.
We can help out Wikipedia by inspiring a new source of funds. The new money would come out of profit. And the profit would come from a device. The Bookshelf Wikipedia. “Now you know everything”.
What is the device?
- It has a screen that displays pages of Wikipedia.
- It has controls that allow navigating between pages.
- It has a copy of the Wikipedia content stored within the device itself.
- It has wifi so it can connect and update its copy of Wikipedia.
- It is simple and easy to use.
It’s the biggest book that you could ever pull off of your shelf.
How would it be used?
- For quick and easy access to knowledge about any subject.
- To look for an answer when away from the Internet.
- To create an educational safe zone that is separate from the Internet.
- As a simple and stable device, so carefully made that it won’t ever crash.
Low-income populations. Schools and libraries. Mom and Dad. Techie nerds.
Where would it come from?
- Product design is community-driven asking for participation by the audience.
- Multiple groups design multiple devices, all competing with each other for attention.
- Manufacturing could be handled by a progressive tech company or a consortium.
- Funding could come from a prize challenge similar to the XPrize.
- A startup could manufacture the device, perhaps with the help of crowd-funding.
The Bookshelf Wikipedia is an endorsement of humanity, an investment in changing the world.
How would it benefit Wikipedia?
- Sellers would share their profits, contributing funds to the Wikimedia Foundation.
- The device would increase usage and accessibility, and attract new contributors.
- The device could suggest periodic donations based on usage by the owner.
Compare each product’s impact as they compete to give back to Wikipedia. Now that’s a race I’d be excited to see.
Your brain knows it can always find nourishment at the oasis that is Wikipedia. Let’s say thank you by having some fun, spreading the knowledge and being creative!
What can you do?
- Share this idea widely, the ball won’t start rolling without an engaged community.
- Start a conversation online or in real life: what do you think this device could be?
- Create an open-source project to design a Bookshelf Wikipedia.
- Get some crowd-funding to make the device yourself.
- Steal my ideas and change them around, if you believe your idea is better!
Be clever and be creative. My suggestions are just a beginning…
Get your creativity flowing and fantasize about the possibilities. I call it the Bookshelf Wikipedia, but it could also be:
- Cheap for the masses. Make it super simple and low cost for people with limited resources.
- Elite. Make it so gleaming and high tech that it looks like something from Star Trek. No ports or wires, recharge with induction, make it worthy of the fanciest bookshelf.
- Micro. Make it as small and portable as possible. An encyclopedia in your pocket.
- Voice. Make it tiny and voice-controlled with no screen, ask and answer. Maybe in a pen. Accessible to the vision impaired.
- Projector. Make a small box that projects the Wikipedia content onto a wall or screen. Voice or gesture interaction.
- Spycraft. Make a hidden device that can be used in secret. Think settling bar bets.
These are just a few ideas, and I’m betting you can think of even more!
Frankly, Wikipedia has been taken for granted for far too long, most of all by the technology community. I’ve been a programmer for many years, and there is no doubt in my mind that the intellect of every successful techie owes a serious debt to Wikipedia.
I’d consider buying any of these products, especially if my purchase benefitted such a revolutionary public resource. What about you?