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Wiki organization strategy

In looking over the Wiki organization and the project goals, one things strikes me: to meet the goals we will need to organize the information flexibly so that experts in particular domains can quickly find the deep information in the domain for which they are expert, and a broader high-level introduction to those domains which are new to them. Likewise, there will be engineers, software programmers, communication artists, bloggers, science reporters, etc. that may have no deep domain expertise at all and just a general sense of the scope of the problems. They may want an even higher-level jargon-free introduction to the overall landscape of problems.

Fortunately, a Wiki like Instiki is a pretty good tool for exploring the ways in which we can organize and present the information to meet these disparate needs. For instance, we can provide many entry points for the various constituencies we anticipate.

Currently there is a hierarchical structure that is defined by subject matter and referenced on the home page. I suggest the following changes to the existing overall structure:

  1. The home page will become the entry point for all newcomers to the site and we should assume a minimum of scientific/mathematical literacy here. The purpose of the home page will be to establish the credibility of the site and to get people to bookmark it and dig deeper. To do this it needs to be crisp and uncomplicated, yet make it clear where to go for more information.

  2. There should be several other target pages which will become the entry point for new visitors of specific types. These target pages will present the information in a way that is tailored to the preexisting domain expertise of the intended readers. The level of jargon will be appropriate, the specificity of the details will be appropriate, the assumed prior knowledge will be consistent, etc. The purpose of the target-specific entry points will be to introduce the visitor to the cross-disciplinary scope of the larger problem and to help them see how they can contribute to the overall project in particular ways.

    When domain experts pass links to their colleagues they will send them to the appropriate target page because that will be the best introduction for that audience. For example, a climatologist will pass around links to the page targeted as the entry point for climatologists, a programmer will pass links to the page intended for other programmers, a chaos theorist will pass links to the appropriate page.

  3. There should be reference pages which will become the starting point for repeat visitors of specific types. These will be the pages that will serve as bookmarks for reference and for those who are working regularly on particular sections of the wiki. In the beginning these will be fairly broad but as the wiki fills out they will be subdivided, i.e. over time chemistry might become biochemistry and water chemistry and organic chemistry, etc.

  4. We should use hyperlinking to minimize and largely eliminate duplication and allow multiple paths to the same information. For example, if I come to the site for the first time and I go to the home page, I can find out about the project goals, and from there find out how I can help, and from there find the list of types of help that are needed, and from there find the list specific to how biochemists can help. Or I can start at the same home page and find the overall problem description, and from there find the page which shows how chemistry is involved, and from there find the section targeting chemists, and from there find a list of ways that biochemists can help the project.

Let me know if this makes sense, and if you have any suggestions for improving this kind of structure. In the beginning there won't be too many different target audiences, we should stick to the 3 or 4 domains we already have helping (i.e. mathematicians, physicists, engineers, programmers, ???) and perhaps 2 to 3 more that we actively want to recruit.

If you were to characterize our current active members, what domains are they from in broad terms?

Comments

  • 1.

    It makes sense to me, but it may be a bit too much organisation to do right now. I think it would be a good idea to target just two audiences at the moment, 'readers' and 'writers' or 'visitors' and 'contributors'. So that would be your (1) which I like the sound of, and a simpler version of your (2) and (3) combined (and much advertised from the home page). I think (4) is implied by the fact it is a wiki.

    My only other comment is that we have been tagging pages with categories, which should help with organisation. Try going to the home page then click on All pages, then choose a category.

    Comment Source:It makes sense to me, but it may be a bit too much organisation to do right now. I think it would be a good idea to target just two audiences at the moment, 'readers' and 'writers' or 'visitors' and 'contributors'. So that would be your (1) which I like the sound of, and a simpler version of your (2) and (3) combined (and much advertised from the home page). I think (4) is implied by the fact it is a wiki. My only other comment is that we have been tagging pages with categories, which should help with organisation. Try going to the [[home page]] then click on All pages, then choose a category.
  • 2.
    edited January 2011

    I agree with Graham. The currently active members are sadly few in number and tend to be broad generalists who can understand most of what's on most pages. Or at least we can fake it. Or at least I don't get a sense that we're talking past each other and would prefer to be segregated. So I don't think there are lots of constituencies now. Just two: "us" and "them".

    To help "them", I think it would be easy and sufficient to write broad "overview pages" corresponding to the most exciting categories from our list of categories. I've listed some of the most exciting ones here:

    Open+projects#OverviewPages

    Creating these "overview pages" would enable us to take the long list of individual pages on the HomePage, move it off there, partition it up among various "overview pages", and add elementary discussions of the pages we have on each topic. For example, if we had a page about "Climate", it could say a bunch of stuff like:

    "Understanding the El Nino phenomenon may also require understanding various kinds of ocean waves, especially Oceanic Rossby waves and Equatorial Kelvin waves...."

    There are other, more boring categories like "meta" which probably don't need overview pages.

    If Curtis created such overview pages, I'd be likely to keep polishing it and improving them in my leisure moments, so that eventually they would become quite pleasant to read.

    They might also do well to contain a straightforward alphabetized list of topics, as we have now... but somewhere near the bottom.

    Comment Source:I agree with Graham. The currently active members are sadly few in number and tend to be broad generalists who can understand most of what's on most pages. Or at least we can fake it. Or at least I don't get a sense that we're talking past each other and would prefer to be segregated. So I don't think there are lots of constituencies now. Just two: "us" and "them". To help "them", I think it would be easy and sufficient to write broad "overview pages" corresponding to the most exciting categories from our list of categories. I've listed some of the most exciting ones here: [[Open+projects#OverviewPages]] Creating these "overview pages" would enable us to take the long list of individual pages on the [[HomePage]], move it off there, partition it up among various "overview pages", and add elementary discussions of the pages we have on each topic. For example, if we had a page about "Climate", it could say a bunch of stuff like: "Understanding the [[ENSO|El Nino]] phenomenon may also require understanding various kinds of ocean waves, especially [[Oceanic Rossby waves]] and [[Equatorial Kelvin waves]]...." There are other, more boring categories like "meta" which probably don't need overview pages. If Curtis created such overview pages, I'd be likely to keep polishing it and improving them in my leisure moments, so that eventually they would become quite pleasant to read. They might also do well to contain a straightforward alphabetized list of topics, as we have now... but somewhere near the bottom.
  • 3.
    edited January 2011

    I very much like all of your suggestions, Curtis. The Azimuth project started like the nLab, with a couple of people interested in a couple of topics and writing about it, this is the main reason why there is not a master plan or a welcoming tour. John said:

    the currently active members ... tend to be broad generalists who can understand most of what's on most pages.

    I don't consider myself to be a broad generalist, I get paid for designing and constructing software, that's my profession. Of course I also get paid for quickly understanding the world that the users of the software live in, so being able to quickly learn about some complicated topics and translate this understanding to software is part of my profession, too, but that does not make me a generalist.

    Sooner or later there will be and should be parts of the wiki that require so much background knowledge that I cannot understand them anymore.

    (If you think that quantum gravity is complicated try to write and maintain a software that generates telephone bills while the market stumbles into chaos due to the introduction of cell phones.)

    Comment Source:I very much like all of your suggestions, Curtis. The Azimuth project started like the nLab, with a couple of people interested in a couple of topics and writing about it, this is the main reason why there is not a master plan or a welcoming tour. John said: <blockquote> <p> the currently active members ... tend to be broad generalists who can understand most of what's on most pages. </p> </blockquote> I don't consider myself to be a broad generalist, I get paid for designing and constructing software, that's my profession. Of course I also get paid for quickly understanding the world that the users of the software live in, so being able to quickly learn about some complicated topics and translate this understanding to software is part of my profession, too, but that does not make me a generalist. Sooner or later there will be and should be parts of the wiki that require so much background knowledge that I cannot understand them anymore. (If you think that quantum gravity is complicated try to write and maintain a software that generates telephone bills while the market stumbles into chaos due to the introduction of cell phones.)
  • 4.

    Okay good, it sounds like the consensus is that we don't need as much work up front because we are only targeting two groups: current contributors, and those we want to help; and both groups will tend to have the ability and personality for learning and understanding information outside their primary domain. That's true of most smart people but I suspect especially true of those who will be the next group to join us as well.

    Down the road, as we get bigger we can specialize the entry points more, if and when that becomes appropriate to our new audience.

    Comment Source:Okay good, it sounds like the consensus is that we don't need as much work up front because we are only targeting two groups: current contributors, and those we want to help; and both groups will tend to have the ability and personality for learning and understanding information outside their primary domain. That's true of most smart people but I suspect especially true of those who will be the next group to join us as well. Down the road, as we get bigger we can specialize the entry points more, if and when that becomes appropriate to our new audience.
  • 5.

    Tim modestly writes:

    I don't consider myself to be a broad generalist, I get paid for designing and constructing software, that's my profession.

    And you just happen to study stochastic differential equations and algebraic quantum field theory as pleasant little hobbies...

    Okay, maybe you're not a broad generalist. But I don't think Curtis should spend his time right now designing multiple front ends for the Azimuth Project: one for biologists, one for physicists, one for chemists, one for programmers. It could be a great idea someday. But right now, it seems over-heavy.

    I think it's possible to write easy "overview pages" that almost everyone with a college degree in any scientific or technical field can read, which then point to more detailed pages.

    Comment Source:Tim modestly writes: > I don't consider myself to be a broad generalist, I get paid for designing and constructing software, that's my profession. And you just happen to study stochastic differential equations and algebraic quantum field theory as pleasant little hobbies... Okay, maybe you're not a broad generalist. But I don't think Curtis should spend his time right now designing multiple front ends for the Azimuth Project: one for biologists, one for physicists, one for chemists, one for programmers. It could be a great idea someday. But right now, it seems over-heavy. I think it's possible to write easy "overview pages" that almost everyone with a college degree in any scientific or technical field can read, which then point to more detailed pages.
  • 6.

    But I don't think Curtis should spend his time right now designing multiple front ends for the Azimuth Project: one for biologists, one for physicists, one for chemists, one for programmers. It could be a great idea someday. But right now, it seems over-heavy.

    So that simplifies things considerably. I don't want to do more work than necessary if our targets are going to be fine with "overview pages."

    We can always change things later on if this becomes important down the road. That's the nice thing about a Wiki.

    Comment Source:>But I don't think Curtis should spend his time right now designing multiple front ends for the Azimuth Project: one for biologists, one for physicists, one for chemists, one for programmers. It could be a great idea someday. But right now, it seems over-heavy. So that simplifies things considerably. I don't want to do more work than necessary if our targets are going to be fine with "overview pages." We can always change things later on if this becomes important down the road. That's the nice thing about a Wiki.
  • 7.

    John said:

    I think it's possible to write easy "overview pages" that almost everyone with a college degree in any scientific or technical field can read, which then point to more detailed pages.

    I like this idea, so we should have introductory pages that are easily found, understandable to a more general public, which link to more and more specialized material. But: most people seem to have a hard time recognizing that they lack the necessary background to understand, for example, some advanced material about mathematics. (Maybe because they learned in school that they only have to think hard enough to understand their math teacher.)

    Should we tell people that they landed on a page that requires some specific background knowledge and how?

    Comment Source:John said: <blockquote> <p> I think it's possible to write easy "overview pages" that almost everyone with a college degree in any scientific or technical field can read, which then point to more detailed pages. </p> </blockquote> I like this idea, so we should have introductory pages that are easily found, understandable to a more general public, which link to more and more specialized material. But: most people seem to have a hard time recognizing that they lack the necessary background to understand, for example, some advanced material about mathematics. (Maybe because they learned in school that they only have to think hard enough to understand their math teacher.) Should we tell people that they landed on a page that requires some specific background knowledge and how?
  • 8.

    most people seem to have a hard time recognizing that they lack the necessary background to understand, for example, some advanced material about mathematics.

    Should we tell people that they landed on a page that requires some specific background knowledge and how?

    We should. Since our target audience is scientists and engineers, I would hope that they're familiar with the general concept of 'prerequisites'. However, it still might be helpful to say what the prerequisites are.

    This could be a lot of work. I can imagine wonderful elaborate systems that I'm too lazy to implement, but we can try to make it easy for now. For example, if you write a page about some concept involving stochastic differential equations, you can say, right near the start "This concept is part of the theory of stochastic differential equations."

    Another suggestion: you, Tim, are writing lots of pages about "stochastic stuff". It would be nice if you could invent a category for these and label those pages by that category. I can help. It's not good to have extremely specialized categories right now, so maybe

    category:probability

    or if you want something more specialized

    category:stochastics

    It seems we'll ultimately have lots of pages that require some knowledge of probability theory...

    Comment Source:> most people seem to have a hard time recognizing that they lack the necessary background to understand, for example, some advanced material about mathematics. > Should we tell people that they landed on a page that requires some specific background knowledge and how? We should. Since our target audience is scientists and engineers, I would hope that they're familiar with the general concept of 'prerequisites'. However, it still might be helpful to say what the prerequisites are. This could be a lot of work. I can imagine wonderful elaborate systems that I'm too lazy to implement, but we can try to make it easy for now. For example, if you write a page about some concept involving stochastic differential equations, you can say, right near the start "This concept is part of the theory of [[stochastic differential equations]]." Another suggestion: you, Tim, are writing lots of pages about "stochastic stuff". It would be nice if you could invent a category for these and label those pages by that category. I can help. It's not good to have extremely specialized categories right now, so maybe category:probability or if you want something more specialized category:stochastics It seems we'll ultimately have lots of pages that require some knowledge of probability theory...
  • 9.

    Ok.

    There are two big topics needing probability theory: mathematical statistics (for data analysis) and stochastics (for models including randomness in the sense of Kolmogorov).

    Comment Source:Ok. There are two big topics needing probability theory: mathematical statistics (for data analysis) and stochastics (for models including randomness in the sense of Kolmogorov).
  • 10.

    'Probability', 'statistics' and 'stochastics' all sound like nice category names... I don't know which categories are the best ones for us.

    Comment Source:'Probability', 'statistics' and 'stochastics' all sound like nice category names... I don't know which categories are the best ones for us.
  • 11.

    I'd suggest grouping them into 'Probability and statistics' for now. Then you can break them into three separate parts when the number of articles get bigger.

    To someone who is learning they will all seem related since they are taught together at the basic levels.

    Comment Source:I'd suggest grouping them into 'Probability and statistics' for now. Then you can break them into three separate parts when the number of articles get bigger. To someone who is learning they will all seem related since they are taught together at the basic levels.
  • 12.

    I've been reading more of the Wiki trying to get a sense of everything that is there before starting to reorganize things.

    I want some feedback on two thoughts before I start:

    1. It seems to me that the information on the page Azimuth Project would actually make a better home page than what is currently there. It looks a lot more like what I would have wanted to find when I first came. So the question becomes: What do we want people to find when they first come to the Wiki? Should they see an explanation of the project and what it is all about? (that's my vote) Or should they find an information resource index (which is what the home page is right now and will be even when we split the articles into separate pages)?

      If it were my call alone, I'd move a lot of the introductory information on the Azimuth Project page to the home page, make the old Azimuth Project page more of a reference for the project that assumes you've read the home page, and create another page called perhaps "Azimuth Library" that can serve as the starting point for reading information about the big problems and potential solutions that would replace the content in the home page, and point to the overview pages for the various sections of articles.

      What do you think? Does this make sense?

    2. In the first pass, I'm planning on splitting the home page information and creating the overview pages first without any significant overview text, but with all the article references. Then I'll go back and take a second pass and write the appropriate overview text itself.

      I'd like to come up with a standard naming for the overview pages. I'm planning on just appending "overview" to the topic, like: "Action plans overview" to distinguish the overview pages which are intended as research branching points from the deeper individual pages. For instance, there is a page Action plans that already exists, but it is not an "overview" per se, same with Biodiversity, and many of the other sections. These appear to be more in-depth explanations of the topic that would be appropriate for a reference, branching off point.

      If anyone has other suggestions, or sees any problems with this, let me know.

    Comment Source:I've been reading more of the Wiki trying to get a sense of everything that is there before starting to reorganize things. I want some feedback on two thoughts before I start: 1. It seems to me that the information on the page [[Azimuth Project]] would actually make a better home page than what is currently there. It looks a lot more like what I would have wanted to find when I first came. So the question becomes: What do we want people to find when they first come to the Wiki? Should they see an explanation of the project and what it is all about? (that's my vote) Or should they find an information resource index (which is what the home page is right now and will be even when we split the articles into separate pages)? If it were my call alone, I'd move a lot of the introductory information on the [[Azimuth Project]] page to the home page, make the old [[Azimuth Project]] page more of a reference for the project that assumes you've read the home page, and create another page called perhaps "Azimuth Library" that can serve as the starting point for reading information about the big problems and potential solutions that would replace the content in the home page, and point to the overview pages for the various sections of articles. What do you think? Does this make sense? 1. In the first pass, I'm planning on splitting the home page information and creating the overview pages first without any significant overview text, but with all the article references. Then I'll go back and take a second pass and write the appropriate overview text itself. I'd like to come up with a standard naming for the overview pages. I'm planning on just appending "overview" to the topic, like: "Action plans overview" to distinguish the overview pages which are intended as research branching points from the deeper individual pages. For instance, there is a page [[Action plans]] that already exists, but it is not an "overview" per se, same with [[Biodiversity]], and many of the other sections. These appear to be more in-depth explanations of the topic that would be appropriate for a reference, branching off point. If anyone has other suggestions, or sees any problems with this, let me know.
  • 13.

    If it were my call alone, I'd move a lot of the introductory information on the Azimuth Project page to the home page, make the old Azimuth Project page more of a reference for the project that assumes you've read the home page, and create another page called perhaps "Azimuth Library" that can serve as the starting point for reading information about the big problems and potential solutions that would replace the content in the home page, and point to the overview pages for the various sections of articles.

    That sounds good to me. And I like "Azimuth Library".

    I think I would not have separate "Action plans overview" and "Action plans" pages, but rather just have "Action plans" with the first section being an overview.

    Comment Source:> If it were my call alone, I'd move a lot of the introductory information on the Azimuth Project page to the home page, make the old Azimuth Project page more of a reference for the project that assumes you've read the home page, and create another page called perhaps "Azimuth Library" that can serve as the starting point for reading information about the big problems and potential solutions that would replace the content in the home page, and point to the overview pages for the various sections of articles. That sounds good to me. And I like "Azimuth Library". I think I would not have separate "Action plans overview" and "Action plans" pages, but rather just have "Action plans" with the first section being an overview.
  • 14.

    Graham Jones wrote:

    I think I would not have separate "Action plans overview" and "Action plans" pages, but rather just have "Action plans" with the first section being an overview.

    Hmm, I could certainly make the overview pages be three-part:

    1. Overview - Brief description of the topic, perhaps one screen's worth.

    2. Subtopics List - A list of the subtopics with a one description pointing off to the sub-pages for the topic.

    3. In-Depth Section - This would be the information currently contained on pages like Action plans and Biodiversity that goes beyond an overview.

    Later on, we could split any that get too unwieldy into smaller sections.

    How does that sound?

    Comment Source:Graham Jones wrote: >I think I would not have separate "Action plans overview" and "Action plans" pages, but rather just have "Action plans" with the first section being an overview. Hmm, I could certainly make the overview pages be three-part: 1. Overview - Brief description of the topic, perhaps one screen's worth. 1. Subtopics List - A list of the subtopics with a one description pointing off to the sub-pages for the topic. 1. In-Depth Section - This would be the information currently contained on pages like [[Action plans]] and [[Biodiversity]] that goes beyond an overview. Later on, we could split any that get too unwieldy into smaller sections. How does that sound?
  • 15.
    edited January 2011

    Curtis wrote:

    Hmm, I could certainly make the overview pages be three-part:

    1. Overview - Brief description of the topic, perhaps one screen's worth.

    2. Subtopics List - A list of the subtopics with a one description pointing off to the sub-pages for the topic.

    3. In-Depth Section - This would be the information currently contained on pages like Action plans and Biodiversity that goes beyond an overview.

    I like that idea. Three suggestions:

    • Maybe the rather dry and ever-growing Subtopics List, which will mainly consist of annotated pointers to other pages (right?), should come third. With a table of contents it should still be quite easy to get to.

    • Both the Overview and the In-Depth section should be studded with links to other pages. We already have this, a little bit. For example, on the overview page Ecology, Graham mentioned ecosystems and ecosystem services, and included links to these pages. This is a way of providing a "tour guide" to our pages which is more inviting than a mere list.

    • It may make sense to write Overviews before getting bogged down in the considerable job of writing In-Depth Sections. But that's a matter of temperament, I guess.

    • If we've got an expert on subject X here, we can strong-arm them to help write the page on subject X.

    Comment Source:Curtis wrote: > Hmm, I could certainly make the overview pages be three-part: > 1. Overview - Brief description of the topic, perhaps one screen's worth. > 2. Subtopics List - A list of the subtopics with a one description pointing off to the sub-pages for the topic. > 3. In-Depth Section - This would be the information currently contained on pages like Action plans and Biodiversity that goes beyond an overview. I like that idea. Three suggestions: * Maybe the rather dry and ever-growing Subtopics List, which will mainly consist of annotated pointers to other pages (right?), should come third. With a table of contents it should still be quite easy to get to. * Both the Overview and the In-Depth section should be studded with links to other pages. We already have this, a little bit. For example, on the overview page [[Ecology]], Graham mentioned [[ecosystems]] and [[ecosystem services]], and included _links_ to these pages. This is a way of providing a "tour guide" to our pages which is more inviting than a mere list. * It may make sense to write Overviews before getting bogged down in the considerable job of writing In-Depth Sections. But that's a matter of temperament, I guess. * If we've got an expert on subject X here, we can strong-arm them to help write the page on subject X.
  • 16.

    A single sentence description of a subtopic, clarifying what it is about and/or saying why you should learn about it, seems a lot more inviting than a list, even if it isn't as good as a tour guide.

    Comment Source:A single sentence description of a subtopic, clarifying what it is about and/or saying why you should learn about it, seems a lot more inviting than a list, even if it isn't as good as a tour guide.
  • 17.

    We can easily take our bare lists of subtopics and enhance them with single-sentence descriptions.

    This is a good idea in addition to having some flowing prose studded with links.

    Comment Source:We can easily take our bare lists of subtopics and enhance them with single-sentence descriptions. This is a good idea _in addition to_ having some flowing prose studded with links.
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