Ãœberpedia lives

In 2005, I suggested that an old-style publisher’s response to the crowdsourced publishing of Wikipedia should be to create a vetted version of it, to add value and publish the thing. Fred Wilson called it the Red Hat Wikipedia. I called it the Ãœberpedia.

Well, that’s just what is happening to the German Wikipedia thanks to Bertelsmann.

The idea is to use Wikipedia to capture the zeitgeist by selecting the most popular entries, Beate Varnhorn, the editor in charge of Bertelsmann’s reference works, said in an interview by telephone. “We think of it as an encyclopedic yearbook,” Dr. Varnhorn said, leaving open the possibility of new editions if the 2008 version is successful. . . .

Yet Bertelsmann says the project should not be judged as a re-creation in book form of what appears online, but rather as an attempt to harness the collective wisdom of Wikipedia’s users. “Most of the key words are related to current discussions,” Dr. Varnhorn said, whether the subject is the French first lady, Carla Sarkozy, “or a German best seller, a successful TV show or new electronic products — all key words you normally don’t find in a traditional encyclopedia.” . . .

Bertelsmann had a staff of 10 condense and verify the material found online, particularly the “most risky articles,” though Dr. Varnhorn spoke with respect of the amateur writers and editors on the site. “You find errors in the German Wikipedia, but they really try to keep errors as far away as possible.”

The material on the Wikipedia site can be used free under the terms of a license that, among other things, requires crediting Wikipedia as the source. Bertelsmann agreed to pay one euro per copy sold for use of the Wikipedia name, which will help support the site’s operation, according to Mr. Klempert.

But he added: “It is not about the money. It is a very good example of the power of free knowledge, so anyone is free to use the content and do interesting things with it. It’s a nice experiment to see if the Wikipedia content is good enough to sell books.”