I’ve been doing some work on the idea of creating a free open kids simple dictionary. Two questions that have been central are:
- What open dictionary would be best to use as a starting point?
- How could this be hosted to best facilitate mass collaboration?
To look at the first question, I started by putting together a list of what’s available. As it turns out, there are not as many choices as I had thought. There is the WordNet/Princeton one, Wiktionary, Webster’s 1913 dictionary, and then a variety of adaptations of those. (If anyone knows of a gem I missed, PLEASE let me know!)
I then chose 10 words basically at random that should be in any good elementary level dictionary and looked them up in each of these dictionaries. The results are here. Ugh!
The bad news is that only a few of these definitions are at all usable for a kids’ dictionary. Almost all would need significant editing. (I’ve used Noah on the Palm, but have steered clear of it with schools because of the objectionable adult language. I didn’t really realize until now how completely inappropriate the general language level/readability is for kids though.)
Wiktionary and Webster’s 1913 are the most verbose and would need the most editing. WordNet and the Online Plain Text English Dictionary both seem more reasonable as a starting place. However, the amount of editing required will still be mammoth. We really will need mass collaboration to do this….which brings me to the second question.
In some ways, I would really like this dictionary to live in Wikibooks. This is because (1) I like Wikibooks; (2) I think Wikibooks is an effective platform for mass collaboration; and (3) I would like to bring more people to Wikibooks for the benefit of other projects there. However, there are some issues. One of the big ones is that as a school-appropriate dictionary, we would want at some point to “freeze” a copy to ensure that we are putting out a safe, accurate, high quality product. Wikibooks isn’t really set up for this (though wikis can be designed to accommodate this). In addition, MediaWiki doesn’t handle version control or forking (though it does handle revision control very well).
A tentative solution to this that I had thought of was to put it in Wikibooks and then at some point slurp it off to a database hosted on K12 Handhelds that would be restricted to a small group of editors for final editing and publication. Interestingly, this is similar to an idea that xixtas has proposed in a letter to the Wikimedia folks. He goes a step better though by suggesting that the “controlled” copies be hosted on a Wikimedia site www.wikijunior.org. I think this is a great idea for all kinds of reasons. I hope that Wikimedia gives this serious consideration. Of course with all the content being GFDL, I guess we could do this ourselves if we didn’t mind hosting it.
So that’s where I am with all this. Any thoughts?