I had a conference call with Scott Lathrop (director of TeraGrid's external communicaitons, education, outreach, and training) and a subgroup of the Cyberinfrastructure User Advisory Committee (CUAC) the other day. This subgroup is focusing on issues related to training, communications, education, and outreach.

We spent some time discussing strategies for expanding and improving on-line training for TeraGrid as well as the on-line documentation in general. Over the past year our external communications team has made tremendous improvements to the website, and they continue to do so. Is there a way to improve it even more, and make the information more fresh?

One approach we talked about was the use of technology such as is used for Wikipedia, allowing our team of experts and editors to be effectively expanded to include any member of the community. But can such an approach work for TeraGrid? Will the information be accurate?

Stanford's Roy Pea, one of our CUAC advisors, did an interesting experiment using the Wikipedia technology to engage a community of students to build a site for one of his graduate courses. He notes that common concerns to this approach include quality and accuracy, but these are challenges to address rather than fatal flaws to the approach.

Nature did a study comparing Wikipedia with the Encyclopedia Britanica in late 2005. Forty-two science articles - the Wikipedia version and the Britanica version - were sent to reviewers, who were not told which was which. Reviewers found on average 4 errors per article in the Wikipedia version and 3 errors per article in Britanica. In this Nature article, author Jim Giles writes:

Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopaedia. But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively.

So Wikipedia isn't quite up to the Britannica standard, but it's pretty close. My sense is that the Wikipedia approach to on-line training and documentation for cyberinfrastructure would give us much more up-to-date information, and would make the information more informative in many cases as domain experts contribute. At the same time, concerns from professional editors about quality have also been raised, and Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, has expressed the need to focus on quality at this year's Wikimania conference. I think for cyberinfrastructure, such as TeraGrid, the best approach will be to combine the strengths of our editors and writers with the input of the community. A "TeraWikiPedia" is likely to deepen and improve our documentation and online training much more rapidly - and allow it to adapt in near-real time. It will in fact mean we will rely even more heavily on our editors and writers to curate and polish the content.

I'd like to see us try the Wikipedia approach with a particular set of materials, such as our education, outreach, and training materials, to see how it goes. Based on our experience there we'll have a better idea of how best to harness the creativity of the community for all of our online content.

Non-sequitur of the week. Global Positioning System (GPS) - One of my favorite toys is my Garmin Legend Cx hand held GPS unit. Besides using it for navigation (thus never having to ask directions!), I "collect" two kinds of waypoints. One kind is what I'd call a souvenir waypoint - things that you don't need a GPS to find. For example, Tokyo Station. The second kind is much more useful - places I'd like to go back to, or point others to, that are not necessarily easy to find. My favorite coffee shop (41.89529N, 12.48019E), an excellent local artisan's pottery shop (48.68931N, 122.95795W), or a friend's office (35.27568S, 149.12085E). A fun thing to do with your waypoints is to mash them up into a Google map, which is an easy way to share them with friends. I use Mapbuilder to do this. In fact a couple of friends and I are using a shared map there to assemble our favorite waypoints (so we can harvest the benefits of one anothers' exploration!). Geeky? You betcha.


Blogger what said...

From gregor@mcs.anl.gov

I find the idea of using a Wiki for TG a real good one. I am very pleased about the great improvement of the documentation and the documentation team is doing a great job. Recently, while making practical use of the documentation I found multiple smaller errors, Sometimes I do not have the time to report them and a section editing feature would allow me to contribute in a more easy form either through a modififation, or the addition of a comment/discussion.
I have used wikis on smaller scale for organizing some projects (10 people) and it is a great way to get things started. One needs still the time to organize the information but that could be done by the documentation project.
One thing you may add is a section "Community Contributions" in which the community can upload or include information they find useful for review so it can be integrated in the documentation. Having said this, you may want to think about a group or attribute based authentication/authorisation enabled wiki.

There are 3 wikis out there that I find useful:

a) mediawiki
b) twiki
c) trac
d moinmoin

Which one to chose is a hard question to answer. the contenders may likely be twiki and mediawiki . Bothe with its advantegaes and disadvantages.

The following may help:

A final comment: I have swithed all my web sites to be wikis. Although not always an improvement, it helped to allow others to contribute. I use mediawiki because it is supported by ANL/UC. I probably would use twiki, but will not have access to the .htaccess which made me think I need to move my wiki away from anl to a paid hosting service.

9/03/2006 04:48:00 AM  
Blogger Marlon Pierce said...

I've also found a Wiki (specifically Media Wiki) to be very useful for collaborative project web sites. We basically use it as a place to park every piece of information generated by the project.

I haven't done a definitive study,
but Media Wiki is very simple to install and has a nice text editor.

Here are a couple of examples.



9/03/2006 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger Wayne Schroeder said...

The SDSC SRB team has been using MediaWiki (the wikipedia software) for a half year now for our main documentation and web site http://www.sdsc.edu/srb and have found that it works very well. It is easier for users to find information and it is easy for team members to update it. We also get a little help from users, altho not much really. We do get a little spam but it is easy to clean up and if it gets too bad we can take other measures to control it.

All in all, I think it is working very well for SRB and would work well for much of the Teragrid information. Of course, professional editing is always appreciated.

- Wayne -

9/05/2006 11:35:00 AM  

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