Public Domain Information on Science, Engineering and the Environment


Public domain (or PD for us open content geeks) is the absence of any copyright restrictions and licensing requirements – public domain content gives you absolute freedom in how you use it. This is important in, say, a wiki, where public domain content can be used as the basis of an article – as was done for many articles in Wikipedia, using old, out-of-copyright encyclopedia articles.

The Public Domain Review has published a Guide to Finding Interesting Public Domain Works Online, a great guide to finding public domain cultural works, in particular. But they’ve missed my favorites – the scattered works of the US federal government.

Appropedia is about science and technology – not necessarily the newest technology, but the most appropriate technologies and methods in construction, energy, water, sanitation, agriculture and other areas related to sustainable living. Guides and manuals, best practice, reports, impact studies, analysis – this kind of content is often found in governmental and intergovernmental publications, and while most governments’ works are copyrighted, in a few cases it is open content.

In particular, work created by officers of the U.S. federal government is generally public domain, by law. However, it’s not enough to searching in the*.gov domain, as that includes vast amounts of state and local government material which is not public domain, or even open-licensed. These pages also don’t use anything like the Creative Commons “mark” which helps search engines identify pages by license.

For that reason I’ve put together a custom search engine for the public domain – mainly searching the .gov domain while excluding a long list of non-PD .gov sites (more than 400 so far, most of them identified manually). It needs more work, possibly by an IP intern, identifying and excluding non-PD sites, and the onus is on the user to check the status of the material, but if you’re after public domain material of a serious nature, try it out.

Appropedia’s Public Domain Search:

Intellectual property (public domain) internship


Appropedia is seeking an intern to work on Intellectual Property. The focus will be on public domain content, and mainly US federal government online resources.

This would be particularly suitable for a law student with an interest in US and/or international IP law. Ability to use a spreadsheet might come in handy, and being more tech-savvy than that would be a bonus.

The main task is to help identify which web resources are and aren’t public domain. This information is used as the basis for the Public Domain Search – see the Beta version here (still a significant number of false positives):

This is an unpaid internship (the Appropedia Foundation being a non-profit organization) and you would be working remotely – unless you happen to be near a trusted member of the Appropedia community who can assist in mentoring you. (I’m near Jakarta, and others are in various parts of the US, Canada and the UK.) I’ve done the work on this so far, but we also have an attorney (Joel Scott) on our board of directors, with an interest in IP issues; and we’ve discussed this project with the Wikisource community, who may be able to lend a hand. You won’t be on your own.

If you are interested, please leave a comment either below or on my Appropedia talk page, and I’ll get in touch. (Or email me at my username, above, at appropedia dot org.) For more information about the search engine, see Public Domain Search on our wiki. The position will be open until it is filled, but we’d ideally like to find someone to start in this half of 2011.

Biofuel Content Initiative

Jatropha seeds are a source of oil. (Source)

One of the practical outcome of the MovementCamp, which finished a few hours ago, formed during the post-camp online discussions. Jason Smithson (who works hard on Appropedia tech) and Darren Hill (years of experience with biofuels) agreed to join forces (cue theme music of Battle of the Planets) and work on a Biofuel Content Initiative, the first of our Content Initiatives. Darren’s been working for some time on this, but is now bringing his work and his knowledge to Appropedia.

There’s a lot of work to be done, but it will result in an extremely useful resource on biofuels – the good news, the bad news, the little known but important facts – and their relevance for tackling climate change and for international development.

If this interests you, check out that Content Initiative page – or leave a note and tell us what area you’d be interested in helping to build.

Converting to wiki format just got easier


A very important task that the Appropedia community is taking on is converting valuable documents to wiki format, to make it part of the structured knowledge bank we’re building.

An key tool for this is wikEd, which can be used (by those with a Firefox browser) to convert formatted text to wiki markup.  And now there’s an even easier way to use it:  Just use the conversion box at Wikedbox. Paste in the formatted text, and press the “wikify” button above, which looks like this:  [w].  Voila – you now have wiki markup. Mostly it works very well, and saves a heap of time.

For more detail, see Using wikEd to convert formatted text to wiki markup.

Note that this isn’t enough to handle PDFs – we’re looking for people with access to Adobe Reader Pro who can help us with the first step (simple,  but you need the software) of converting PDF documents to HTML plus images.

How should we use original works on Appropedia?


I’ve been thinking about the way we use original content – content produced elsewhere, and copied to Appropedia. Organizations like Practical Action release their excellent content under an open license, and we use it while giving attribution, but how do we present it? We as a community (including me) haven’t been really clear in our own minds, and that results in the confusing and not-always-inviting messages on the pages of original material:


Original ported content
This page represents the original version of content ported from another source. The page has been protected to preserve this original content. Editable pages may include content from this page as long as attribution is given to the source


    The original content of this page, Water diversion (original), was taken, with permission for publication under the GNU-FDL, from “Beyond Dams”, authored by Elizabeth Brink of International Rivers Network (IRN) and Serena McClain and Steve Rothert of American Rivers (AR), and published by IRN and AR)

Now, we really want to invite people to edit this material, and Neil Noble from Practical Action tells me they would love to see contributions to their material as well. So how we make things more inviting?

For one thing, these notices need to specify either that the page is not open to editing (and point to an editable page) or they need to clearly invite edits. Putting the note at the bottom rather than the top will also make it less daunting.

But do we keep the original content somewhere in an unchanged state? I was leaning away from this, personally, but I’ve changed my mind. I’d like to propose the idea of flagged revisions and/or approved pages, e.g. “This page is approved by XYZ” (where XYZ is Practical Action, or Akvo, or an academic body from a particular university…) These original pages might be a good starting point or forerunner of those approved articles.

One thing we would never want to do though, is hide away the open edit pages. I would imagine that the open pages would be the “landing pages” and they might have a link on the top right, say, to an “approved” article. This priority is important, as Appropedia relies on the power of open content.

Universal Edit Button


“The Universal Edit Button is a green pencil icon wiki.png in the address bar that indicates a web page is editable. It is similar to the orange “broadcast” RSS icon ExampleRSS.png that indicates there is an RSS feed available.”

I love this: the idea that you can edit this page should be a regular part of browsing the web, just like subscribing to a podcast or blog. Expect to see this on Appropedia soon.

At the moment you need a Firefox extension to be able to see the button in your url bar, but in time, enlightened browser developers will integrate it in their code.