RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. A German-based group called PediaPress is trying to raise enough money to do the impossible. They want to print a copy of Wikipedia - yep, a print version of the constantly evolving, endlessly edited crowd-sourced online encyclopedia. To say this would be a massive project is an understatement. To say it makes sense, well, that's a whole different issue. NPR's Lynn Neary reports.
LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: A thousand volumes, 1,200 pages each - more than a million pages in all - about 80 meters of shelf space - that's what it would take to make a printed version of Wikipedia. The idea, says Christoph Kepper of PediaPress, is to let people see just how much information is in the online encyclopedia.
CHRISTOPH KEPPER: Nowadays, you just use Wikipedia every day without even thinking how large that might be. I mean, the English Wikipedia has 4.5 million articles. Nobody can imagine this number. It's only when you see this in print or in a physical form that you realize how large it really is.
NEARY: Kepper and his partners are trying raise $50,000 through an Indiegogo campaign. Their plan is to exhibit the book at a Wikimania conference in London in August.
KEPPER: We basically thought, OK, let's put up a big bookshelf and out the books into it and let as many people as possible access this shelf and interact with it and just get a feeling of about how large it is for themselves.
LEE MATTHEW: This is not an idea that I think is good.
NEARY: Lee Matthew is a blogger for Geek.com. He thinks a printed Wikipedia is unnecessary, a waste of paper and other valuable resources.
MATTHEW: I understand from an artistic viewpoint what they are trying to show. I think though that the beauty of what Wikipedia is gets lost when you try and print it. It's a constantly evolving thing. Trying to print something like Wikipedia that is constantly evolving into a print form just doesn't work for me.
NEARY: PediaPress is sensitive to the criticism that a printed Wikipedia would use a lot of paper. In fact, they plan to plant trees to make up for the paper they use. That makes Jordyn Taylor, who writes for Betabeat, feel a lot better about the project.
JORDYN TAYLOR: I totally get it. I totally get where they're coming from because, you know, when we look back at media history, we can look at old books, we can look at old newspapers, old magazines, but there's no way to go back and look at the history of the Internet. And I am imagining us teaching kids in the future about the history of the Internet and how are we really going to go back and show them what it looked like in the 1990s and the 2000s.
NEARY: In fact, the partners at PediaPress says they do think of this as a period piece. After it's shown at next summer's conference, they would love to find a more permanent home for it. Matthew Winner, a blogger and elementary school librarian, says he'd like to see that happen.
MATTHEW WINNER: This is public knowledge, so putting it somewhere on display where the public can access it, you know, New York Public Library or something like that where everyone has access to it, the Library of Congress, I think that's a wonderful idea. You know, we have the user data of how many people are accessing and interacting with Wikipedia online now. It'd be fun to see how many people are coming to see that print resource. And that's something that we will only know after it's printed.
NEARY: Winner says a lot of people, including many librarians, are skeptical of Wikipedia as a reliable research tool, but he thinks seeing the encyclopedia in print might change some of those attitudes. And Winner loves that at the exhibit next summer, they plan to have printers, kind of like old news wire machines, that will constantly create updates.
WINNER: I think that might even be more interesting than the Wikipedia printout itself just for us to watch how quickly people are interacting with the document.
NEARY: But one thing they can't do, says blogger Jordyn Taylor, is edit the printed version itself.
TAYLOR: That's the inherent fun of Wikipedia. You know, sometimes you stumble across a paragraph that definitely shouldn't be there and it's a little alarming. But I think that's sort of the, you know, you have to love Wikipedia, warts and all.
NEARY: PediaPress still has a lot of money to raise with its campaign which will come to end on April 11th. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.