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Wikipedia tool lets you play the role of book editor

An interesting link came across my Twitter feed today. It seems that there’s a built in tool in the Wikipedia that lets you create books from whatever Wikipedia content you want.

This is still blowing my mind a little bit tonight. Watch this video about the tool while I get myself together.

That’s right, you can pick whatever articles you want and download them. Sure, the video is schilling for the print-on-demand service PediaPress, but if you go through the process of picking articles in Wikipedia, you’ll find that the encyclopedia also gives you the option to download — for free — a PDF or e-reader version of your book. The formatting and layout isn’t quite as nice as the print-on-demand product, but you can’t beat the price.

I made a book tonight just to give the tool a whirl. I made a book about one of my favorite subjects: post-apocalyptic fiction. Granted, I didn’t put a lot of time into expertly crafting a complete and thorough book on the subject (I was more interested in testing out the tool.), but I think it came out OK. Check it out in the Scribd embed window below.

Drawbacks? Well, the columns Wikipedia sets your text into are a little too wide for my aging eyes to track, and the end of the book is filled with pages upon pages of credits and licensing information. This is a necessary evil when dealing with a community-created and -licensed site like the Wikipedia. Besides, it’s only fair that all the contributors to the articles that I have borrowed get their credit — even if I never read the list.

The other drawback is that by creating a book like this, you’re freezing the Wikipedia in time. One of the benefits is that the encyclopedia is editable and can change quickly as new information becomes available or if it is discovered to be wrong or out of date. If you freeze it in book form, it becomes no better than any other encyclopedia. Want new information? Publish a new edition. (Although, I think the tool lets signed-in users of the Wikipedia save their list of created books, so I suppose it would be a cakewalk to just re-export your book later on.)

Imagining the Apocalypse