Wiki Project One for the Books

Last week, I stirred up more than a little controversy in covering the lawsuit filed by The Authors Guild against Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) for what it says is "massive copyright infringement." As I said then, and still believe, I've my doubts that either party is in the right. And it may not matter one bit.

Thanks to this feature at News.com, yesterday I discovered Wikibooks, an incredibly useful tool where textbooks, in their entire digital form, can be accessed, copied, and distributed for free using a method similar to that adopted by open source software creators such as Red Hat (Nasdaq: RHAT  ) .

Interestingly, the service has been around since the summer of 2003. In the ensuing two years, the project has created 11,000 of what Wikibooks calls "book modules" -- probably akin to chapters -- in a "multitude of books." Indeed, among the books I found were The Annotated Constitution of the United States and innumerable plays from our favorite bard, William Shakespeare. I even found Act II, scene VII of As You Like It in seconds, as well as the line that gave birth to the name The Motley Fool: "A fool, a fool! -- I met a fool i' in the forest, a motley fool ..." Now how cool is that? Very, I'd say.

But there's a broader purpose at work. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales told News.com that Wikibooks aims to make it possible to get the textbooks needed to study any subject, at any level, online for free. Talk about Rule Breaking.

What's so interesting is that Wikipedia, Wikibooks, and their parent, the non-profit WikimediaFoundation, are unlikely to ever offer direct investing opportunities. But the consequences of Wikimedia's constant stream of disruptive innovations could make it one of the greatest destroyers of market value the public markets have ever seen. Everything is a target: news, publishing, search, and even research. So, look out CNET (Nasdaq: CNET  ) . Beware Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) . Better duck, Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) . Get out of sight, Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) . Everything's about to change. Again.

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Fool contributorTim Beyerscan't imagine going to back to a regular encyclopedia.Wikipediais just too cool. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what's in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile, which ishere. The Motley Fool has an ironcladdisclosure policy.


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