Subject: Mechanizing community information resources
From: Rich Morin <rdm@cfcl.com>
Date: Thu, 19 Sep 2002 12:31:33 -0700

The wiki discussion is OT to "Open Source shareware?", but I think it
is interesting and (in the long term) important to FSBs.  So, I've put
a new subject line on this response...

At 1:49 AM -0700 9/19/02, Karsten M. Self wrote:
>That said, as of earlier this year, I've launched, and am now building a
>technically oriented, documentation-focused TWiki at
>http://twiki.iwethey.org/.  Whether it takes off, or merely encourages
>similar activities at LDP or iBiblio ultimately doesn't matter.  What
>I'm trying to promote here is the process (though good content to feed
>to whatever successor emerges won't hurt).

There is a close relationship, as observed by Dr. Donald Knuth, between
sorting and searching.  Simply put, sorting can reduce searching time.
In addition, turning raw text (e.g., usenet chatter) into structured
information (e.g., wikis) can reduce ambiguity, noise, and errors.

Consequently, the "librarians" among us spend time developing indexes,
taxonomies, and other ways to make information "clean and organized".
This takes human effort, however, so there are limits to how much of
this can be performed.

As a result, Google tends to win at broad searches on arbitrary topics,
but the desired results of those searches are the "clean and organized"
web sites that the aforementioned "librarians" have put together.

Wikis and other collaborative systems can help in creating structured
information.  There is a certain discipline to a well-run wiki; topics
are discussed in localized areas, rather than splattered over a series
of inter-related "messages".

I have some problems with wikis, however.  Aside from the ugly naming
system (e.g., ThisOrThatTopic) and rather peculiar user interface for
editing (actually, interfaces; each wiki has its own!), there is the
simple fact that I have to go TO the wiki to use it.  In addition, the
discussion has no pre-existing structure; if I have a new topic, I have
to dream up names for my topic and sub-topics, find places to link them
into the rest of the wiki, etc.

So, I have been musing about ways to integrate wiki-like interaction
into a "browser" that actually sits on my own system.  Let's say that
I have used this browser to look over the information available on the
/etc/magic file.  If I realize that the information is incomplete or
erroneous, I should be able to enter a comment or question right there.
If desired, I could limit the distribution of the note (e.g., personal,
group, machine, site, developers).

In the FreeBSD Browser, I used a combination of mechanically-harvested
information (e.g., FILES, and SEE ALSO references, file system links)
human annotations ("this log file, if present, relates to that daemon")
and rules ("files in these directories tend to have man pages in these
other directories").  I would propose similar functionality for a new
system, but allow (cajole?) users into adding their own information.

In summary, I think that we need an integrated system to access OS and
related information (including documentation and metadata).  It should
provide ways for users to make (and, if desired, publish) notes on the
material they see.  It should be distributed and highly mechanized,
linking relevant information, bi-directionally and in a transitive
manner, to related topics.

Am I missing anything (:-)?

-r

P.S.  Writing explicit code to traverse these sorts of relationship
       graphs is probably the wrong approach.  The results are fragile
       and inflexible.  Consequently, I'm hoping to use OpenCyc (an AI
       system for exploring sets of facts and rules) in the future.
-- 
email: rdm@cfcl.com; phone: +1 650-873-7841
http://www.cfcl.com/rdm    - my home page, resume, etc.
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