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Collaborative Online Textbook Project

michael posted about 10 years ago | from the this-assumes-you-actually-want-to-learn dept.

Education 192

rocketjam writes " is a new project to create a free, open text book 'collaboratively written by anyone on the internet', using a Creative Commons license. Citing the free software development model and the philosophy that underlies much of that effort,'s introduction says this philosophy should apply 'at its most basic to the learning of science.' They hope the project will help to counter the current governmental trend of strengthening the scope, duration and rights of intellectual property owners while cutting back on the fair use rights of individuals. The current state of the project is available as a daily snapshot pdf file which contains the introduction to the project and 9 chapters mostly covering math at this time."

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WikkiBooks (5, Interesting)

slpalmer (6337) | about 10 years ago | (#9433960)

Why not collaberate this with the WikiBooks Project [] which is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License [] .

Are the two licenses incompatable, or are they just trying to start a competing product? This is a serious question, I've not read the details of either license, and I think competition is good for all involved.

On the other hand, if the licenses are compatable, why not borrow (attributed of course) material back and forth between the two.

It certainly seems (by looking at the two sites) that WikiBooks are quite a bit further along in the game.

Re:WikkiBooks (3, Informative)

jjhlk (678725) | about 10 years ago | (#9433993)

Competition might be good when all project involved have a lot of people (or money) behind them, but I think these free book projects are lacking volunteers.

Re:WikkiBooks (5, Interesting)

Theresa1 (748664) | about 10 years ago | (#9434125)

You'd be surprised how many people are willing to give up their time for free. Last time I looked the english wikipedia has around 4 thousand logged in editors. It has around 250 admins of which about 200 ish edit practically every day! for no money at all.

The thought of doing something worthwile is a bigger motivator than money for a lot of people.

Re:WikkiBooks (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9434244)

Unfortunately, thinking that one is doing something worthwhile does not mean that one is actually doing anything worthwhile.


Re:WikkiBooks (1)

anomalous cohort (704239) | about 10 years ago | (#9434503)

Do you get get paid for posting on slashdot?

Re:WikkiBooks (2, Funny)

daveashcroft (321122) | about 10 years ago | (#9434580)

I dont know about PAID, but you certainly dont get LAID if you post on slashdot! ;-)

Be gentle with me moderators!

Re:WikkiBooks (3, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | about 10 years ago | (#9434225)

How much money was behind Dr. Johnson's dictionary, and how many volunteers did it take to produce it?

Not every project can be improved by increasing the budget and the manpower.

Some of them are distinctly degrades by it.

When it comes to textbooks only the quality of minds is an issue, not their quantity.


Re:WikkiBooks (0, Offtopic)

johnnyb (4816) | about 10 years ago | (#9434252)

Mine's finished (see my sig). It's GFDL.

Re:WikkiBooks (2, Interesting)

Theresa1 (748664) | about 10 years ago | (#9434032)

"It certainly seems (by looking at the two sites) that WikiBooks are quite a bit further along in the game"

It has been going for nearly a year now, plus it has the link with wikipedia which means a plentiful supply of editors, so it's bound to be further along in the game

Re:WikkiBooks (2, Informative)

no reason to be here (218628) | about 10 years ago | (#9434096)

If use a license with a strong copyleft, then they are likely incompatible (i cannot get to the page with thier license right now b/c of stupid webfilters at work), but the two groups could probably come to a consensus (most copyleft licenses, I've noticed, don't differ from one another much). Also if their is some kind of forced contribution, ala the MPL, then there is a conflict with the licenses, which would leave WikkiBooks able to share, but not able to freely take.

If is using something ala the BSD license, then WikkiBooks can take all they want, but could be potentially left out in the cold.

Licenses are incompatible (5, Informative)

Alexis de Torquemada (785848) | about 10 years ago | (#9434198)

Are the two licenses incompatable, or are they just trying to start a competing product? This is a serious question, I've not read the details of either license, and I think competition is good for all involved.

The given Creative Commons license prohibits commercial usage of the material. The GNU FDL permits it - for example, the German Wikipedia [] is now selling printed copies of its first WikiReader [] book. This makes it impossible to import OpenTextBook content into Wikipedia.

The other way round, the GNU FDL requires that all derivative works permit commercial usage as well, which makes it impossible to put WikiBooks content into OpenTextBook (copyleft [] ). Fair use would be an exception.

Re:WikkiBooks (3, Informative)

Craig Shergold (19756) | about 10 years ago | (#9434223)

The two licenses are CERTAINLY incompatible. Prohibiting commercial usage of the materials is in express opposition to the great work of the GFDL folks, who far from prohibiting commercial redistribution, actually encourage such behavior with this phrase from the license: "either commercially or noncommercially."

That particular Creative Commons license totally bites. If I contribute to one of the books, I can't sell a copy of it when I'm done. Huh?

Re:WikkiBooks (3, Insightful)

iabervon (1971) | about 10 years ago | (#9434571)

You can sell a copy of your contribution, if you want. Since you're the copyright holder on your work, you can do whatever you want with it, and they don't seem to be requiring copyright assignment. Sure, you can't sell a book with everybody else's contributions in it as well, but that doesn't affect your use of your own work, and it means that nobody but you can sell a book with your contribution in it, either; you get the whole commercial market for your section, should you want to try to make money on it.

Re:WikkiBooks (2, Insightful)

arvindn (542080) | about 10 years ago | (#9434287)

Apparently there are licensing compatibility issues. I mean, nobody who contributes under either of the licenses wants it to be incompatible with the other, its just that the two licenses were created for slightly different purposes. Wikipedia doesn't use CC-SA mainly because CC didn't exist back then, and wikibooks uses GFDL because wikipedia uses GFDL. There's been a lot of discussion about moving wikibooks to CC-SA or allowing new books to use CC-SA, but I don't know what came of them. The attribution clause of the GFDL makes things slightly tedious for wikipedia, and its something they'd rather do without.

But I do find it bizarre that anyone would start a new project when wikibooks already exists. Really can't see how competition is good in this case. Maybe these guys don't like the wiki model. Good luck finding authors if they want everyone to use subversion. Not everyone is a programmer! Also notice they're using CC-BY-NC-SA where NC is non-commercial; definitely incompatible with GFDL. Even co-operation at a later stage with wikibooks would prove difficult.

Re:WikkiBooks (1)

Craig Shergold (19756) | about 10 years ago | (#9434606)

Recall that the CC-SA license (which is great) is a completely different beast than the *-NC-* variants. I don't know who decided that putting a non-commercial-only restriction on materials could still be thought of as copyleft, but it's damn near as bad as commercial-only in my book. (heh, book).

First Page! (4, Insightful)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 10 years ago | (#9433982)

And other posts, trolls, and crapfloods will make the editing of such a text a continual headache.

Re:First Page! (3, Interesting)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | about 10 years ago | (#9434062)

Well wikipedia seem to be quite good at countering those sort of trolls since the number of sane contributers outweigh the trolls so much so that the trolls end up not bothering. BTW, whoever modded the parent 'troll' obviously didn't read it very carefully.

Re:First Page! (1)

GoofyBoy (44399) | about 10 years ago | (#9434094)

>BTW, whoever modded the parent 'troll' obviously didn't read it very carefully.

Or she has a sense of irony.

Re:First Page! (3, Insightful)

nyekulturniy (413420) | about 10 years ago | (#9434076)

"And other posts, trolls, and crapfloods will make the editing of such a text a continual headache."

The same constant editorial process that has improved Wikipedia will improve Wikibooks.

However, one needs a critical mass after which the editorial process becomes constant and from diversified views. As of now, the other Wikimedia projects haven't hit them. I'm still defining basic entries in the Wiktionary, for example.

Re:First Page! (4, Insightful)

lukewarmfusion (726141) | about 10 years ago | (#9434084)

Bad moderation alert!

The parent post isn't off-topic; if you open a project up to public input and contribution, you'll also be open to those that want to contribute worthlessness.

The most dangerous thing I can think of is a user contributing materials that they don't have the right to use. A solid lawsuit might knock the entire project off its feet.

Most trolls or crapfloods can be easily found and deleted, but someone who contributes useful (but illegally used) information might never be detected. How do you account for such users and posts?

Re:First Page! (1)

Theresa1 (748664) | about 10 years ago | (#9434357)

Presumably a takedown notice would occur before any lawsuit.

Re:First Page! (1)

lukewarmfusion (726141) | about 10 years ago | (#9434419)

Except that the open textbook project could gain monetary benefit - and the copyright holder could make a claim to those benefits. Likewise, the copyright holder could sue for any lost revenue. I'd hope a takedown notice would be the first step, but we know that many copyright holders are not so kind.

Re:First Page! (2, Interesting)

lawpoop (604919) | about 10 years ago | (#9434454)

Before someone can submit, they must 'digitally sign' (read: click an [I Agree] button) a statement stating that what they are posting is their own original material, fully licensed under the CPL, etc. etc. That's how you prevent lawsuits: put the liablility in the poster's hands. That also shows any judge that you made an effort to prevent copyright infringement.

What's the exact difference.. (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9433994)

..between this and Wikipedia? I guess one could make an excellent maths book out of all the good maths articles from wikipedia!

Re:What's the exact difference.. (5, Insightful)

nyekulturniy (413420) | about 10 years ago | (#9434036)

It all depends on the level of the math! For those who are struggling to learn a subject, often a great deal of explanitory material helps get the concept down. An encyclopedia doesn't have the problems to solve. For people like me, the only way to learn math is to do math.

Re:What's the exact difference.. (2, Informative)

FooAtWFU (699187) | about 10 years ago | (#9434081)

Wikipedia is not what you're looking before. Wikibooks is. Both are projects of the Wikimedia foundation (which uses the MediaWiki software).

Re:What's the exact difference.. (4, Insightful)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | about 10 years ago | (#9434150)

For people like me, the only way to learn math is to do math.
That's the only way anyone can learn maths. It's not a 'learning' subject, it's a 'doing' subject.

Re:What's the exact difference.. (2, Funny)

jjjefff (525754) | about 10 years ago | (#9434250)

Of course, there is the occasional janitor who just intuitively knows very complex math. Geez... Haven't you seen Good Will Hunting?

Re:What's the exact difference.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9434462)

Or Dilbert's garbage man? He has lasers for Dogbert to borrow and use. :)

i can see it now (4, Funny)

bunburyist (664958) | about 10 years ago | (#9433996)

Ok kids, grab the latest CVS textbook binaries off the server and go compile your shell scripts, once or twice...then uhh edit your config scripts...check your dependencies...and then DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

Wikimedia's Wikibooks (5, Informative)

teslatug (543527) | about 10 years ago | (#9434027)

Wikimedia Foundation, the one that also hosts Wikipedia, has a similar project called Wikibooks [] . It also runs on the same MediaWiki software as Wikipedia, and the contents are licensed under the GFDL.

A little vague? (4, Interesting)

Sean80 (567340) | about 10 years ago | (#9434030)

I have to admit I'm not quite clear on what this is about. A textbook, huh? About what? Math? The first 9 chapters are "mostly" about Math?

Re:A little vague? (3, Funny)

FerretFrottage (714136) | about 10 years ago | (#9434100)

So something about that just doesn't add up to you?

Re:A little vague? (4, Insightful)

TheGavster (774657) | about 10 years ago | (#9434103)

I read the beginning of it, and it looks like the book will be divided into sections by subject (so I guess you can think of it as a set of books?). The style at the moment reads more like lecture notes than an instructional text (in fact, the formatting and writing style is almost exactly like lecture notes from the CS department at school ...). From reading the section on elementary algebra, I strongly doubt that I could have picked up how to do stuff simply by reading (I guess that's where your educational professional comes in). Its got a bit of a way to go before I would compare it to textbooks I've actually used for those topics.

Re:A little vague? (2, Interesting)

EvanED (569694) | about 10 years ago | (#9434216)

I agree. The calc section is only comprehensible because I know calc already. And they don't even cover limits, just pick up with differentiation.

I don't even see how to turn what they have into a coherent book; I'd start from scratch sooner than I would build upon what's there.

Re:A little vague? (2)

generic-man (33649) | about 10 years ago | (#9434639)

Class, your assignment tonight is to read chapters 1 and 2 in OpenTextBook. If you find any problems, please fix them and notify a WikiEditor.

Your project is to write chapter 10. It should be about Philosophy.

The books should have some focus (4, Insightful)

suso (153703) | about 10 years ago | (#9434031)

Good for them. But they should have someone experienced in professional writing to lead each textbook project. I would worry about bloat and lack of focus in the books. Some people might try to include to much, etc. Or each chapter that is written by a different person have different philosophical ideas.

Re:The books should have some focus (2, Interesting)

ezzewezza (84083) | about 10 years ago | (#9434093)

I couldn't agree more. As an English major, reading much of the documentation out there is hard enough. I can't imagine what will happen when people try to form a cohesive book. I guess I will just have to, instead of sitting in fear and bitching, actually contribute the skills I have learned in school. Hopefully there are other writers/editors out there who will do the same.

Re:The books should have some focus (1)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | about 10 years ago | (#9434095)

Good point. How is this going to be useful to educators who frequently have to follow a specific strict syllabus? And as for teaching English, how are they going to handle the differing requirements of British and American teachers? It'll be an interesting one to watch.

Re:The books should have some focus (2, Interesting)

no reason to be here (218628) | about 10 years ago | (#9434177)

Hell, how about the differing requirements of (let's say) Texas and New York educators. Both states have very stringent (believe it or not) well-defined standards, such that textbook companies cater and fawn over them, making special Texas-only editions of their textbooks and the like. The same holds true for any other reasonably wealthy, populous state (CA, anyone?).

On the otherhand, this kind of project could be great for states without much political, economic, social, etc. clout (MT, WY, WV, etc.) to get text books that weren't made with other state curricula in mind. /educator in Texas.

Re:The books should have some focus (1)

johnnyb (4816) | about 10 years ago | (#9434288)

Actually, this would be great for authors of textbooks to get educators from states like NY and TX to make customizations (i.e. - forks) that match their state's requirements.

Biology and anthropology section (1)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | about 10 years ago | (#9434294)

Or better still, what about when we get to biology and the creationist contributers start having a ding-dong with the more empirical thinkers? I hate to sound so negative though, this is a nice idea.

Re:Biology and anthropology section (1)

nelsonal (549144) | about 10 years ago | (#9434624)

Just put a section in on hypothysies on the origin of life and one section on evolution and one section on design (include panspermia here, too). That's what every other textbook does to solve the problem.

Re:Biology and anthropology section (1)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | about 10 years ago | (#9434679)

What? Creationism actually shows up in serious school textbooks?!

At the end of the semester ... (3, Funny)

stinkyfingers (588428) | about 10 years ago | (#9434037)

Where do I turn in my Open textbook for some much needed beach week money?

Re:At the end of the semester ... (2, Funny)

Doesn't_Comment_Code (692510) | about 10 years ago | (#9434155)

Sell it back for 100 times what you paid for it...

Oh no... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9434042)

Expect to see a fight. Do you have any idea how much money is made from the sale of outrageously over-priced textbooks? I fully expect to see our publishing corporate taskmasters to fight this. I would love to see universities and colleges actually start using these online books as the required texts for their classes.

Re:Oh no... (4, Interesting)

lukewarmfusion (726141) | about 10 years ago | (#9434147)

My profs often had no idea how expensive the textbooks were. One professor, bless him, found out that his recommended book was $70 and he immediately told us not to buy it (or return it if you had).

We used a lot of course packets, too. They get expensive when they're hundreds of pages, so many profs began just giving us links to the articles and letting us print them ourselves if we wanted them on paper.

Our University Bookstore was outrageous; if you can buy elsewhere, do it!

Re:Oh no... (1, Offtopic)

johnnyb (4816) | about 10 years ago | (#9434311)

Making money is not wrong. The price of textbooks is often because of the small print runs. However, I can see print-on-demand making these costs go down. The technology exists today through companies like and to make as few as 1 copy of a book for very low prices.

Of course, my book isn't expensive. In fact, it's the least-expensive book on assembly language that is available (see my sig).

I doubt many professors would switch (2, Interesting)

Smeagel (682550) | about 10 years ago | (#9434339)

For one, at least at my school which is fairly well rated (top 50 but not top 10), many of my courses the required texts are by the professors themselves -- being a cashcow for the professors. Do you really think those professors would want to lose the money they get (and intellectual control) from teaching from their own book? And on top of that, even if they use another professors book, wouldn't many consider it a backstab on their profession to edge away from their colleagues books and towards online books? I doubt professors will latch onto this very hard... And for anybody that doesn't know how expensive they currently are, I take a slightly overloaded course load every semester and pay approx $550 a semester for books. I'd be lucky to get 1/5 of that back when I sold them, which I never do.

Re:I doubt many professors would switch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9434408)

Sell them on or Amazon when you are done with them. I guarantee you will recover more than 1/5 of what you paid.

Re:I doubt many professors would switch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9434436)

I wonder how it would fly, if the professor sold the text (amateur binding) directly to the students for, say, $30. The prof. would likely face charges of academic misconduct (extortion).

However, if the prof. plays along with the system, he gets probably $1-$3 per book at most as royalty, the students pay $80 and Houghton-Mifflin (or whoever) gets a nice $50+ after distribution and other legitimate costs.


Might be tricky... (5, Interesting)

gphinch (722686) | about 10 years ago | (#9434048)

The thing about OSS vs. OS Books is that software requires individuals who have a knowledge of coding and developing software to write it, there-by limiting the number of yokels who attempt to contribute. With text-books, especially interperative subjects such as History or English, much of the material may end up weighted unfairly. Now the same could be said of traditional books, but with only one or a few authors, accountability is fairly easy. Perhaps this effort would be better served towards checking existing books' material for accuracy. But most of this arguement is nil when applied to this particular book, since in Math there are generally only right and wrong answers (the lower math that this covers at least).

Re:Might be tricky... (3, Interesting)

rlandrum (714497) | about 10 years ago | (#9434559)

I disagree. Poorly written information, or information that is biased will naturally be eliminated as people identify what it is and what purpose it has. The same is true with bloat. No one wants to read 5000 words about a war that last 3 days, when a mere sentance or two will convey the most important aspects. Diane Ravich wrote an excellent book called "The Language Police" about the state of current textbooks, and I thought, while reading it, that an open-source text book might solve many of the problems. Even if proprietary books are used in schools, having an open, unbiased version to compare against makes this a worthy project.

Yeah, right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9434053)

Books with just a few authors appear out of order and harder to read. With many authors, it will be worse.

An age old question (0, Redundant)

spidergoat2 (715962) | about 10 years ago | (#9434057)

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? If a book is posted on the internet and it's longer than one page, will anyone read it?

Re:An age old question (2, Funny)

maskedbishounen (772174) | about 10 years ago | (#9434088)

Is by "book" you mean "Playboy scans", then yes, yes, they will.

Finally (5, Funny)

Himring (646324) | about 10 years ago | (#9434075)

Finally, I can cut out that bothersome part where I actually have to type what I plagiarize....

Soviet Textbooks (4, Interesting)

Euphonious Coward (189818) | about 10 years ago | (#9434077)

The Soviet Union used to publish positively wonderful introductory textbooks, in multiple languages, written by heads of major institutes. In many cases, these texts are still the best book in their respective fields (e.g. electromagnetics).

These texts can still be found occasionally in used-book stores. They would make an excellent basis for a library of Free texts, if they could be liberated.

Re:Soviet Textbooks (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9434207)

In Soviet Russia textbooks liberate YOU.

Re:Soviet Textbooks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9434416)

Sounds interesting. Do you have any more information on these? Titles, authors?


Re:Soviet Textbooks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9434603)

The Soviet Union used to publish positively wonderful introductory textbooks, in multiple languages, written by heads of major institutes. In many cases, these texts are still the best book in their respective fields (e.g. electromagnetics).

These texts can still be found occasionally in used-book stores.

This is nice .. except .. aren't they in RUSSIAN !?

anon internet users being trusted to teach??? (0, Flamebait)

tannhaus (152710) | about 10 years ago | (#9434108)

I wonder which story will make it into this textbook first:

1. The gas chambers in Nazi Germany were designed by Microsoft. Bill Gates personally enjoyed taking vacations at Auschwitz.

2. The black panthers were a group of law abiding, fun loving people that were mercilessly harassed by the establishment.

3. The Berlin wall was torn down because it divided the German Parliament meeting rooms from the bathrooms.

4. Canada is the northernmost state in the United States.

Re:anon internet users being trusted to teach??? (0, Troll)

mindaktiviti (630001) | about 10 years ago | (#9434184)

2. The black panthers were a group of law abiding, fun loving people that were mercilessly harassed by the establishment.

This has cointelpro written all over it.

Re:anon internet users being trusted to teach??? (1)

tannhaus (152710) | about 10 years ago | (#9434404)

I am McCarthy's secret lovechild.

Cohesion = 1/Authors (3, Interesting)

Doesn't_Comment_Code (692510) | about 10 years ago | (#9434109)

I just hope they can maintain a strong cohesion with disparate authors. They have the potential to gather many viewpoints (a wonderful tool in teaching) of the same topic so that there are high odds of a reader understanding at least one of them.

At the same time, every truly great text book that I've read has come from a great author. That author has made each chapter build on the one before, and follow a similar form. In other words, buy the second or third chapter, you're starting to understand how the author thinks and writes, which helps you pick up the material faster. It will be more difficult to acheive the same flow - not impossible mind you (there are many good collaboratively written books) - but difficult.

Re:Cohesion = 1/Authors (2, Insightful)

Yewbert (708667) | about 10 years ago | (#9434533)

I just hope they can maintain a strong cohesion with disparate authors.

Good point. Seems that some of the 'purer' subjects wouldn't suffer so much from this effect - and I noted that they've started with math, which seems appropriate.

Suppose they move on to physics, mechanics, earth science, biology, physiology, psychology, philosophy, comparative religion, etc., - will every successively more 'debatable' subject be more fractious and harder to edit?

My other big question, that ties into this somewhat, is, "So they've got a textbook. Who's gonna use it?" (*feverishly clicks and R's a bit of TFA, fails to see any mention of the aims of the project*)

If it's really a "textbook," I'd presume a goal would be to have schools adopt it. My reflexive response to this is, GOOD - this process has gotta produce a better textbook than many of the hobbled, dumbed-down, error-ridden, poorly-written, BORING, watered-down-to-not-offend-any-political-stance excuses for instruction I was subjected to in grade- and high-school.

Which brings me back to the first thoughts, on the subjects that might be covered. It seems that those subjects most, uh, subject to wildly varying, uh, subjective viewpoints/beliefs would be MOST instructive if actual proponents of each (or a representative sample) viewpoint were to do their best at writing their own material, and then an honest, objective group of editors take the results and hone them into something actually INFORMATIVE about each viewpoint, weeding out the hidden agendas and subtle biases along the way.

Re:Cohesion = 1/Authors (1)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | about 10 years ago | (#9434602)

Indeed. It reminds me of the group projects we used to do in uni. I'd always insisted on taking everyone's contribution and editing it to ensure consistency.

Changing History (1)

knarfling (735361) | about 10 years ago | (#9434122)

I noticed that this seems to be just Math textbooks for now, but what about history? Right now, history is re-written with every new textbook. More "facts" are discovered, a new slant is proposed, or it is presented with a different perspective.

Will this make it easier to re-write history? or will it become harder because any changes will have to be submitted to a committee?

Maybe we should stick to Math and not put History Textbooks on the web right now?

Textbook? (3, Insightful)

aardvarkjoe (156801) | about 10 years ago | (#9434123)

Glancing at this, this really isn't much of a textbook. It's more just a collection of short definitions and notes. It might be useful as a quick reference -- perhaps as a review if your math is a little rusty -- but it doesn't fill the role of a real textbook.

It seems to me that the authors (or "project leaders," or whatever you want to call them) thought that an "open textbook" would be really cool, but failed to realize that just declaring something open doesn't make it write itself. They haven't even settled on a topic for the book!

Textbooks are a recompilation of research papers (4, Insightful)

GillBates0 (664202) | about 10 years ago | (#9434136)

with added insight, examples, explanations and suitable dumbing down for the intended audience of the book.

The best books are written (IMHO) by professors/instructors (AS Tanenbaum comes to mind) with ample experience in understanding the subject matter and explaining it effectively to potentially ignorant readers.

Writing a book is an art - just like technical writing is. That's one reason the documentation in OSS projects is seldom at par with documentation written by professional technical/document writers.

Anybody working towards contributed/open work is doing a Good (TM) thing, but I'm not sure the quality of books will be upto par with published books written by established authors. Note that I'm *not* questioning the intentions/knowledge/experience of the contributors - they may be the best in the field - but putting the knowledge down into words requires a certain amount of skill which I'm not sure many of them (us) possess.

Note that an encyclopedia (wikipedia) is different in this respect because it is essentially just a statement/collection of facts. Textbooks IMHO require more than a mere statement of facts.

Re:Textbooks are a recompilation of research paper (1)

johnnyb (4816) | about 10 years ago | (#9434355)

I think the big issue is that just like code, books need to undergo several rewrites because the first version usually doesn't cut it. I wrote my book over a period of three years. I would put it down for a few months and come back to it, and find all the ways in which it needed to be improved. That was followed by a rewriting of that section, much the same way we refactor and replace code to make it more beneficial within the system.

MATHematics (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9434141)

"maths" is plural, and doesn't roll off the tongue.

Re:MATHematics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9434215)

I always thought it was math's ( you know, like a contraction)

On the nature of books (2, Insightful)

InternationalCow (681980) | about 10 years ago | (#9434170)

What struck me most on their page (apart from the subject being mostly maths - why?) was the statement that they were "going for a book". What's a book, then? Apparently, they intend to publish something on paper. That costs money. How to get that in a F/OSS setting? Also, why should a book be on paper? They could be really innovative here, reinvent the textbook and have it available as an online, CVS-updated resource (i believe some other group does that already, I forget which one). How do we choose to define a book? If we really want this kind of endeavor to take off, methinks we need to rethink the definition of "book" and maybe also include web-based knowledge repositories as such. What's your take?

Re:On the nature of books (3, Informative)

johnnyb (4816) | about 10 years ago | (#9434391)

"Apparently, they intend to publish something on paper. That costs money."

Not much. You can get a book published and on,, and the other internet bookstores for under $500, assuming you have all of the talent to produce the content. Basically, all you _have_ to have are ISBN's ($350 for 10, I think) and a account ($150 per ISBN), and everything is taken care of. Well, you need to promote it :) But I'm just talking about getting a book into print. Not much to it.

Actually, if you don't care about which distribution channels you go through, you can do it through for free (they don't care if you don't have an ISBN).

Edited for Goatse? (-1)

goldspider (445116) | about 10 years ago | (#9434209)

Seriously folks, this sounds like a troll magnet! I'm assuming any textbook created in this manner would require HEAVY editing. Knowing this, can that textbook truly be considered a collaborative effort? Would it pass the Creative Commons lisence requirements?

Credentials? (2, Insightful)

manduwok (610836) | about 10 years ago | (#9434239)

Surely there has to be some sort of standard to measure each contribution (or contributor).

I'm a college student and would probably just get the info from one of my own textbooks...

And this is different from a wiki how? (1)

Warlok (89470) | about 10 years ago | (#9434241)

Seems like the only difference here is the Creative Commons License (which can be extended to wiki's) and the fact they want to publish a meatspace book (not sure why - it would be outdated the minute they snapped the content).

Anyone know.. (1)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | about 10 years ago | (#9434251)

what kind of software they're using to generate these equations? The fact that it's going into pdf format (a format that I happen to have an aversion to) and contributions are by email would suggest that this is going to be a lot harder to contribute to than a straightforward wiki.

Re:Anyone know.. (3, Informative)

double_h (21284) | about 10 years ago | (#9434305)

The introduction to the text explains all of this; it's written in TeX (PDF is just used as a common publishing format) with the graphics rendered via gnuplot or as an .eps file; it sounds like they're making it a priority to stick to free, open, commonly available formats and protocols (no Mathematica plots for instance).

Wrong way (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9434261)

Creating "linear" textbooks isn't the way to unleash the power of massively collaborative work. Wikipedia is it. We should instead extend Wikipedia.

With an appropriately extended Wikipedia system, we could do all that usual (in my terms called "linear") textbooks can't. Examples: give the reader the choice to read about the same topic in many, many different fashions, eg. one fashion for each experience level of the reader etc.

We could allow to append comments to chapters, we could use appended discussion forums to enhance each chapter by taking care of reader feedback, we could even make hyperlinked eBooks that are going more in-depth than any book physically available, but still much more browsable and understandable.

Calculus (1)

Selfbain (624722) | about 10 years ago | (#9434279)

Calculus in four pages? I hope they intend to expand on the areas they already have written as well as adding new material.

What, no SCO comment? (0, Offtopic)

tbase (666607) | about 10 years ago | (#9434281)

Ok, here's one... in 10 years, when this is actually in use in a fair amount of schools, SCO's publishing arm will find paragraphs in it that some well intentioned moron decided to copy verbatim from his textbook he bought at the used book store or on eBay (he is heard saying while typing, "well, I paid for it, didn't I?"). SCO Books(TM) will then proceed to charge college students a $69.90 (they're college students, after all) "licencing" fee to avoid being sued.

Great if educators use them (5, Interesting)

Darth Cider (320236) | about 10 years ago | (#9434296)

My bad experiences with college textbooks fall into two categories:

1. Overpriced and worthless
2. Overpriced

My first Fortran textbook, in 1975, read like a PhD dissertation and taught nothing about coding but cost a bundle. (I'm sure the author felt great pride that his book had been assigned.) The same trend has followed in almost every tech course I've taken, until recently--books seem to be getting better, more practical.

I've learned more from two weeks of Googling on some subjects than in entire college courses. Education has to change to accommodate new modes of learning, and open textbooks make sense. At least they introduce into the diploma-mill sensibility of college accreditation the egalitarian notion that ideas are what matter, not who wrote what.

Re:Great if educators use them (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9434481)

My experiences with free textbooks have fallen into two mutually exclusive categories:

1. Worthless
2. Pirated (sorry, I'm not paying near $80 for the fscking bat book. Even $50 would have been OK.)

Sad, but true. (n.b. I said textbooks, NOT research papers, intended-for-web content, course notes, &c., &c.)

Its hard enough... (1)

brsmith4 (567390) | about 10 years ago | (#9434318)

to find text books at a book store that are of acceptable quality. From what I've seen, these "open source" books have a long, long way to go before anyone can even consider using them for their studies. For now, a few make decent desk references. However, most of the material, as of now, appears half-ass written, with very little content and poor explanations.

This is not to say that i hope they stop, on the contrary, I hope they continue this work but that they start to focus on the details, rather than just filling chapters and adding sections that don't get written for months on end.

Corollary project: Computer Assisted Instruction? (1)

Hoodsen (751434) | about 10 years ago | (#9434337)

One thing this project and Wikibooks could benefit from is to develop open-source learning programs to go along with the text. "Learning by doing" is an important part of the education process, and fun little games, quizzes, and tests to go along with chapters in the open textbook would help students learn better.

The reason I am thinking of this is the book for the Logic class I took a couple semesters ago came with an absolutely fantastic CD-ROM. It taught the material, reinforced it, and tested you on it. It did such a good job I really feel I learned as much (or more) from that computer program than I did from going to class.

Well done learning aides like this for OpenTextBook could help give them the leg up they are hoping for on a lot of commercially done projects.

I just read the first chapter (1)

BillsPetMonkey (654200) | about 10 years ago | (#9434345)

And I have to say that I expected so much more. The snapshot is a basic introduction to algebra. Dry material, so enliven it a little. Make the book different. Make it count for chrissakes.

If I wanted another courier-font algebra book I's look in my granddad's attic (which is free too).

audience? (1)

dustinbarbour (721795) | about 10 years ago | (#9434353)

Are they shooting to get the whole of human knowledge down in a free textbook? How about they call it OpenTextBooks and have multiple bokos on multiple topics? And what are they shooting for as far as readability? Do they want 5th graders to pick up the math section and learn their multiplication tables or are we looking towards PhDs and such?

Target audience ? (3, Insightful)

Seculus (788503) | about 10 years ago | (#9434370)

The authors need to spend more time thinking about what the intended target audience is. In the current state of the book, I can't really think of any audience that could benefit from it.
For example:
To make it useful for students new to calculus, it would be helpful to discuss limits _before_ defining the derivative.
To make it useful for students comfortable with calculus, there is less need for motivating the derivative, but there should be lots of easily referenced results.
Online dictionaries are very different since the target audience is more or less defined as the people who would need to look up the term .. you don't expect too many precalculus students to look up the definitions in differential geometry.

Shameless Plug (5, Informative)

pete-classic (75983) | about 10 years ago | (#9434373)

If you find this interesting, check out my Free Curriculum Project [] and the Free High School Science Texts [] project (to which I am a very minor contributor).

Both of these projects use the FDL.


This is CLEARLY not for me. (1)

adun (127187) | about 10 years ago | (#9434455)

All I ever drew in textbooks were naked ladies and crude phrases. :/

To geeky? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9434499)

I think these guys/girls are to geeky for my liking. I mean, they don't even manage to state on their web page which kind of text book(s) they want to write. Economics? Biology? Comperative International Politics? No, wait, they of course do math. Oh well, you can only find this out if you download their pdf (pdf? So much for not using propritary formats).

Ok, they use TeX as input. Great - not. How do you turn most non-geeks off? Yep, you use TeX. Scientists might know TeX well, students (fewer and fewer) might know it, but what about the people maybe most qualified to contribute to such a text book, what about teachers? Have you ever compared the lectures created by a professor with that prepared by a teacher? If you did, you know why it is maybe not the best idea to rely on the scientific community and TeX geeks to write a text book.

A couple of ideas: (3, Interesting)

lawpoop (604919) | about 10 years ago | (#9434512)

After lurking the wikipedia and discussing it with a professor, here's what I think an academically-oriented online collaboration suite needs: extensive filtering and a reputation system. Articles must have a rating system, based on the author's historical reputation (like the slashdot karma bonus) and the rating of the article itself (actually a lot like slashdot). Casual browsers need a default 'high' filter so they don't see too much trolling and get turned off.

The reputation system should be based on PGP technology, so that the poster's claim to authorship is based on something of value, their pgp signature.

textbooks I've liked / learned from (2, Interesting)

timothy (36799) | about 10 years ago | (#9434537)

Two in particular I'd like to mention. There are probably a lot of great ones I'm forgetting and terrible ones which deserve to be well raked over the coals, but ... life is short.

1) Math textbooks by John Saxon [] . Few illustrations, but well written and helpful. As a genuine mathophobe, for me to like any math textbook is high praise. These are often used in home-schooling, while public schools get the books with more pictures and worse grammar ;) Of the few Eureka moments I've ever had wrt math beyond arithmetic, most have come from reading one or another of the Saxon books.

2) The Horance Mann Reader. Since the contents of the Horace Mann Reader are so old, I assume that the contents could be re-assembled via Project Gutenberg or similar ...

(No relation to this strange thing [] in which books are given to-the-decimal "reading level" ratings. What a crock of bovine excrement.)

I'm not terribly familiar with the HMR other than that I used to own a particular and quite old copy; maybe there are hundreds of different compilations by that title. However, the one I had and loved to read as a kid had all kinds of stories, some with a punchy moral, some simply adventure stories, some with endings I consider bafflingly ambiguous. (Like the one where a maurading giant caterpillar is killed with a spit-wet arrow, and the upshot is something like "There is power is a brave man's spit.")


Here's an idea (1)

s7uar7 (746699) | about 10 years ago | (#9434544)

Wikipedia and the like have shown that people are willing to give up their time for free to help other people. Rather than spend that time writing something that may or may not be read, why not spend that time actually helping someone one-to-one in a live chat?

For example, everyone who wants to be involved registers with their area of expertise, be that IT, cooking, or car mechanics, quantum mechanics etc and gets 5 credits, entitling them to ask five questions. For every 1/2 hour you spend as an 'expert' answering questions you get a credit. If you need to ask a question you get routed to the people who are online covering that area. Hey presto, instant online help without having to trawl through pages of Google results to find the answer. Just an idea, but if it existed I would certainly use it.

Free of textbook politics?! (2, Insightful)

bludstone (103539) | about 10 years ago | (#9434562)

If we could just get textbooks that are written on a competent level, many educators would be happy.

Currently, textbooks are written by commitee and have to be "acceptable to community standards".. IN EVERY COMMUNITY IN THE COUNTRY (being ethnocentric today, sorry folks.)

This causes textbooks to be written so incredibly bland and/or biased, that it makes them near-worthless.

I had a professor in college who was/is a fairly renowned individual on the "educational circuit." She would get invited to exorbatantly expensive and lavish dinner parties, by TEXTBOOK makers. Why? Because they wanted her to "support." The books. All they needed was her to say a single line of support, and they could put it on their textbook.

To her credit, she didnt cave, and watched what she said the entire night.

But it makes you think. The people who write these textbooks are not in it for the education of our youth, but for the high profit margins.

(Mostly middle/highschool textbooks, but still applicable.)

Free education? (1)

Woogiemonger (628172) | about 10 years ago | (#9434572)

You know, with MIT offering their classes online for free, and this service providing the textbooks for free, what's stopping us from getting a free diploma? The greed of the universities forces us to pay tens of thousands for simple proof. Ugh.

Ugh. (3, Insightful)

teamhasnoi (554944) | about 10 years ago | (#9434585)

I grabbed the pdf and instantly was turned off. This is the *dryest* read ever.

I appreciate the open-ness, but good god, it needs a writer who explains terms, gives real world examples, and doesn't assume that the reader is of a certain education.

I could see this being far more useful if you could choose skill levels, or progressively longer intros to the subject at hand. Maybe a drooling idiot mode just for me.

Entertain as you educate! Get people engrossed in what you are showing (not telling) them and they'll find themselves learning in spite of themselves.

Hell, this makes MAN pages seem like Neal Stephenson wrote them.

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