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There are lots of people working in this space. See for example https://www.force11.org/. Some of the issues that the article does not touch on involve the difference between annotating an article and editing an article. The idea of forking an article doesn't work very well because what you want is annotation not editing. Changing someone's words isn't really very useful unless you are editing and collaborating. Collaboration isn't really an issue, google docs basically solves this issue (or git+tex or whatever). Wiki provides a reasonable way to deal with this as well but doesn't really solve the annotation problem. In a practical sense we are still looking for something that can work like http://www.xanadu.com/ (amazingly there is now a demo). Nothing is going to replace the paper, we can make them better and make it easier to annotate and talk about them. One major issue is that to date the citation graph for all papers and works is still trapped behind paywalls. There is no magical solution for this, it requires us to build lots of infrastructure and work to bring the publishers along.

One thing the article does not mention is the need for better ways of documenting provenance for data.




Thanks for the link to force11. Any other suggestions?

I specifically don't like the idea of annotations rather than editing, because annotations expand and diffuse the literature rather than distilling it to excellent concise articles. In particular, annotations only address two of my six motivations (#4 and #6).

Within the hard sciences, what do you think annotation accomplishes that can't be accomplished through good editing?

> Nothing is going to replace the paper,

Ahh, a defeatist. You may say I'm a dreamer...

But seriously, I think this is a much more realistic goal than Wikipedia and ArXiv looked like when they were launched.


The problem is that wikipedia editors are not creating new knowledge, they are just organizing it. A sort of wikipedia for research would be very valuable as a separate project, but papers are necessary because they enable a technical conversation. One or more authors present their particular view of a topic, and other researchers join the discussion by writing their own papers. On the other hand, a shared page is an amorphous piece of information that is very difficult to use as a discussion medium. In this sense, wiki articles are much more primitive than traditional research papers.


You make an good and important distinction, and I'll back off my flippant suggestion that annotations are useless. However, for fixing the problems listed in my post, annotations are not a good solution for the reason I said above: they don't condense the literature. (The importance of this relies on the non-obvious empirical fact that the dispersed literature, even when nicely linked, presents huge barriers to learning anything outside your sub-sub-specialty; not sure how much this is disputed.)

Based on your comment, I'm now convinced that a wiki-only model is unsuitable.


> One or more authors present their particular view of a topic, and other researchers join the discussion by writing their own papers.

I am interested in solutions in this space, but for a completely different practical effect: democratic discourse.

See: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9245772


Annotation is one way to make citations explicit within the literature. So if there is a follow up paperer that says "we couldn't reproduce this part of the experiment" it shows up in the original source. Similarly if there is an update to a method in the paper then the original method can be annotated. While this second case does look like editing you don't want to get rid of it because often you need to know what the original method was to interperet the results of that paper. Similarly community commentary on a work is not well supported by a purely editing model. Consider the Talmud for example, you have centuries of commentary and annotations on the Torah as a rather absurd end of the spectrum where editing the original work would be outright forbidden. I actually think that most of the difference comes down to what we name and what gets its own URI, but editing seems to imply that the changes become embedded in the original text whereas annotation is something that sits beside or on top of the text and is its own discrete document, a link rather than a commit so to speak.




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