Wiki as A Time Saver for Researchers

coolspeech at hotmail.com coolspeech at hotmail.com
Sat Sep 11 19:48:52 EST 2004


Wiki as A Time Saver for Researchers

Dear All,

The intention of this message is to draw researchers attention to Wiki
as a potentially efficient new means for scientific/technical
communication/education/collaboration. The author believes the current
approach (papers) alone is not very efficient for idea exchange among
researchers.

Assume a learner new to a field has already read some classic textbooks
for systematic knowledge acquisition, and already had the framework of
the field on his mind, and is going to specialize on a specific
problem. At this point, he has to search for and read existing papers
on this topic, which can be an extremely painful hunting and digestion
progress. Whether if he just wants to get informed of as many previous
efforts on the problem as possible, or if he believes he has got an
original idea and wants to ensure the originality, he probably has to
undertake an extensive search with Google/CiteSeer for all papers
available online with a seemingly relevant title. He has to scan
through a screenful of downloaded papers. Even after doing this, there
can still be new papers found later to be relevant.

Papers are essentially individual units of information shattered over
the Internet, and the current approach to find them -- search engines
connect researchers to them via a keyword combination. Not to mention
that we can't be sure the wanted papers all contain such a keyword
phrase, the prohibitively enormous amount of search results can always
bury critical information.

On the other hand, web sites that have a well organized collection of
papers on a topic, as an information gateway alternative to search
engines, are easy to get out of date and miss the latest useful
discoveries for a topic.

The idea of using Wiki came to my mind last night. It can be useful in
both scenarios below:
(1) A newcomer to a field who wants to investigate all existing efforts
on a specific task;
(2) Experienced researchers who want to effortlessly keep track of new
ideas/solutions to a specific task (or any specific task in a field).

So what is Wiki? Wiki is an easy way to collaboratively edit online
documentation via a Web interface. A live example is Wikipedia
(http://www.wikipedia.org), which is an online encyclopedia on general
knowledge.

How can Wiki be used in scientific communication? Usually, what a
researcher discovers is a new idea, or an enhancement to an existing
idea. He can contribute this new idea to a Wiki page where all
historical efforts for a task are documented in an organized manner.
Readers interested in a specific task can directly go down to that
context and get all the relevant details about previous efforts. This
is like a precisely targeted advertising model which immediately
connects scientific authors and readers of the same specific research
interest. It also helps a new idea to quickly propagate to researchers
who set a "news alert" to capture all new efforts on a specific
problem.

How specific can a problem be defined? It's unlimited and up to your
needs. It can be far more specific than what categories are defined in
Yahoo Directory or Dmoz Directory.

If the Wiki way of scientific communication becomes popular,
researchers can save countless hours from "search", and put more time
on problem solving.

To generalize my initiative, the Wiki way is useful not only in
sci/tech communication, but also in any general domains where the
current state of the art of search engines can't return relevant and
comprehensive results.
Yao Ziyuan
http://www.babelcode.org
yao at babelcode.org




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