The Wikipedia Foundation hopes to sell an English version of Wikipedia on CD-ROM and DVD before the end of the year.
Jimmy Wales, the president of the Wikimedia Foundation, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that there is still a lot of work to be done before it can be put on disk, but he expects it to be available by the end of 2005.
A boxed CD and DVD set of the German language version of Wikipedia has been available since last year. An updated version of the German Wikipedia was launched on Amazon.de this week, and the e-commerce site has received 8,000 pre-orders, according to Wales.
Wales said it was easier to put the German version of Wikipedia onto CD as there are significantly less pages than there are for the English language version. He said that English Wikipedia would "barely fit on 2 DVDs".
The Wikipedia community will decide what will be omitted from the CD, although many of the size savings are likely to be made by omitting or reducing the size of images and by getting rid of incomplete articles, known as stubs. Many in the community are already working hard to prepare the English Wikipedia to be put on CD.
"There's a huge amount of motivation [to put Wikipedia on CD]," said Wales. "There's a lot of work going on, for example, tagging images, working out what's good."
Before creating the CD it is important that all articles are checked to ensure they are acceptable. "We want one last level of review to get to a stable branch," said Wales. Wikipedia volunteers will also double-check articles to ensure there is no plagiarism or copyright violation.
"We already have a strong policy against plagiarism and copyright violation, but we'll be reading through things again and making sure everything's confirmed," said Wales.
Making Wikipedia available on CD is another step towards the organisation's goal of providing the world with a free encyclopaedia, said Wales. The online encyclopaedia has already reached a large audience, averaging around 500 million page views a month, and is trying to reach an ever larger audience by starting up language versions.
Wikipedia is available in around 200 languages, of which 19 language versions have over 10,000 articles.
A couple of months ago it was rumoured that some of Wikipedia could soon be hosted on Google servers. Wales said that it is "still talking to Google" and will hopefully be able to make an announcement within two weeks. According to reports on Thursday, Yahoo is also offering hardware and other resources to Wikipedia.
The main problem facing Wikipedia at the moment is lack of development resource. At FOSDEM last month Wales urged the assembled audience of open source developers to get involved with the work of the foundation.
The German Wikipedia CD is available for €9.90 (£6.80) from Amazon.de. The majority of this money pays for the production cost, VAT and the discount to Amazon, according to the Wikipedia Web site. The CD or DVD images can also be downloaded free of charge from various Web sites. It's not clear how much the forthcoming English version will cost.