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Re: [Axiom-developer] Front page esthetic

From: Cliff Yapp
Subject: Re: [Axiom-developer] Front page esthetic
Date: Tue, 1 Aug 2006 13:26:53 -0400
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On Tuesday 01 August 2006 12:11 pm, Bill Page wrote:
> Contrary to the intent of the wiki, it
> seems that almost all of the contributions to the Axiom web site
> have been by people who are also active Axiom developers and are
> quite familiar with using tools like CVS.

I suspect that is due to Axiom not being seen as "simple" to use, whether or 
not that's actually true.

> As I have said several times already, I am quite disappointed by
> the lack of active contributions to the Axiom Wiki. Perhaps people
> just do not have time or the motivation? I would be very surprised
> if the reason was because they found it difficult to do, although
> there does seem to be a considerable reluctance for people to view
> the web as a two-way media where they can (or even are expected to)
> contribute content. It seems to me that this is more a "cultural"
> issue than a technical one.

I would expect this to be true.  Also, remember there is the additional 
barrior of learning Axiom itself, in addition to the wiki mindset.  The tools 
are very powerful but like all powerful tools there is a minimum skill level 
which must first be obtained before they can be effectively used.

> In the last couple of years the only wildly successful wiki-based
> project that I can think of is Wikipedia.

And the skill level requried to contribute there seems to be ~= 0, and the 
topic list is much broader than mathematics and science.  It's amazing that 
it has worked as well as it has, but there is a VERY active and dedicated 
core group of people that fights off a continuing incoming stream of garbage.

> At the present time the 
> only explanation I have for this is that apparently the ratio of
> the number of people willing to contribute to the number of people
> who just visit for information is very small - maybe as high as
> 1 out of 100,000. This would be consistant with the success of
> Wikipedia and also the level of contribution that we see in Axiom
> Wiki based on our month access statistics.

Yes, I expect this is true.

> Anyway, I would very much like to hear from other Axiom developers
> about the issue of whether it makes sense to continue to try to
> maintain the main Axiom web site as a Wiki.

Some features of Axiom's website I very much like - for example, the Emacs 
mode pamphlet was uploaded effortlessly and a complete online set of 
documents in available formats was generated and downloadable.  The same for 
each incrimental edit.  This is the best such system I have ever seen, and 
IMHO it should be preserved.

The source code being online in axiom--test--1 I also like very much - it's 
extremely convenient to have it available in that form, and as the source 
code becomes true literate documents we effectively have an entire research 
library on our website :-).

The ability to have Axiom sessions which display well formatted output via 
graphics from user input is very good as well.  The SAGE project might be an 
even better outlet for this type of work - I haven't looked closely at it 
yet - but Axiom's system is certainly one of the very best on the web and I 
hope to see it continue.

I don't know how many of these features are due to the wiki nature of the 
website though.  As to the ability of anybody to edit and change pages - 
except for experimentation without on-computer software installation ala the 
sandbox, I don't think I see much benefit to this, to be honest.  Science, 
mathematics, computer science, and the other subjects Axiom deals with are 
not simple or casual pursuits for most people, and I think anyone capable of 
doing work significant to the project would also be able to handle 
interacting with a more "traditional" website structure, with 
one "experimental area" for trying out basic stuff.  Think about it this 
way - if some paper appeared on our wiki, from someone we didn't know who did 
not further contact or become involved with the project, how would we react 
to it?  My first reaction would be that the author probably wasn't all that 
serious about what they were doing (that might not be fair, I know).  Many 
people have put up good work on wikis, including Axiom's, (the Guess work 
being one of many examples) but those peopel are almost all known to us 
through their other work as well.  Also, if we want to use such a work, does 
posting it to the wiki implicitly release it as BSD licensed?  Who would do 
the quality check needed before it became part of the "main" code base?   It 
often takes quite a lot of work to spot a good "fake" paper, and that's why 
peer reviewed journals have the inertia they do.  Reputations must be earned 
for work to be taken seriously.  Tim's idea with an Axiom journal is a good 
one - I would expect that once established that venue would produce more 
usable work than a wiki would.  Sort of like the ToC effort - credible names, 
reputations, and authors are needed to attract serious published works.  
Serious developers would publish through that community rather than use an 
anonymously writable wiki, and so any wiki work ends up being seen as at best 
an amateur effort and at worst internet background noise.  Wikipedia has to 
work hard to remain useful, and their goal is only general information, not 
in-depth highly correct mathematical and scientific papers.

The Axiom portal, on the other hand, I do find very useful for 
individual "storage" of works in progress, relevant bits of information, etc.  
Is that a wiki-like system?

I don't pretend to have all the answers - just my thoughts on the subject.  I 
have a tremendous respect Bill for the work you have done, which has produced 
the best online mathematics website I have seen to date, and I don't know if 
my much less informed opinions are of use.


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