PlanetMath Administration (Main Document)

PlanetMath Administration (Main Document)

Administration of PlanetMath

February 9, 2018

1 About this document (jac)

I wrote this document to address what I think is an overwhelming need for improved communication among PlanetMath participants about activities, goals, and resources. It is early in its life cycle; however, I hope it can serve a useful organizational role as it develops. Over the course of the next couple of months, I intend to flesh it out with many additional details on goings-on around PlanetMath, and supplement it with links to other documents of administrative interest. At the same time, I have made the document world-editable, so that other PlanetMath users can add details or if necessary make corrections directly.

1.1 Formatting Convention (Wkbj79, jac)

In order to make it clear who said what, the following convention is used: In any section or subsection, the author(s) of that section will put their username in parentheses. Unsigned subsections of a signed section should be assumed to have been created by the main section’s main author. Contributing authors should feel free to modify existing sections, although major thematic changes should certainly be signed so that everyone knows roughly who said what.

1.2 References to Other Administrative Documents (jac)

This document will be a high-level map, and other documents will go into detail on specific areas. In general references to these documents will appear in the text, with URLs in footnotes. However, here is a short list of several documents that are either especially important or that just haven’t been integrated into the text here in the manner I described.

2 Administration (jac)

We should try to understand the terms better. When I say “administration”, really you could just think of a live updating map of what is going on in the project, but it should be both as detailed and as foldable as any individual wants, and capable of being viewed from on at least as many different sides as there are viewers.

In other words, this is what I have been talking about with the scholium system or “Arxana” all along11URL: – except that it is not just some abstract construction – the administrative map should of course be filled with actual details such as who is doing what and who is responsible for what, so that if anyone has a question about the project, either they will find an answer on the map, or they will find a good place to stick their question to get it answered.

Now despite my optimism that some version of Arxana will be available and consumable by the end of the summer, people have administered projects for millennia without it, and I think it would be very apt of us to look around for some older technology which we can use to build our administrative map.

I would like to suggest a simple latex file saved as a PlanetMath collaboration. Sections can be cut and added, content can be moved around or changed, questions can be inserted. Additional collaboration documents can supplement this one.

Thus, over the last few paragraphs I have done more than just make an abstract suggestion – I have kicked off an actual solution. Let me continue that briefly before I get on to my second question.

2.1 An Administrative Matrix (jac)

One of the key pieces of data about an organization is its tasklist. The tasklist is populated with tasks, which can be defined broadly or finely, and which can be finite or ongoing. Furthermore, each task can have subtasks, and this progession can continue, down through the minutæ of meticulous Fordism, or up into the ætherial realms of an organizational Mission.

But, we need not, at any given point in time, be so detailed. However, the tasklist itself should be complemented by some basic information about the tasks involved. For example, a task might be annotated with a description of its participants, its consumers (or “stakeholders”), its schedule, and its budget (or “requirements”). Other suchlike fields can be added as interest and expediency indicate.

Having described what I mean by an administrative matrix, I will now construct the beginnings of such a matrix for PlanetMath, as an example (see Table 1). Since I do not know enough about all the tasks or all the details of all the tasks going on at PlanetMath, this will not be particularly detailed. I will focus on tasks that I know something about, i.e., things I have been working on or following.

Please feel free to add or update with details on the tasks you have been working on, if you like. Mainly I am posting this for discussion: however, I would like to see a more industrial-strength version of this sort of thing put into play on PlanetMath soon.

label description schedule requirements
Arxana Make browser and interactive store, retrieve, display, edit features. Try to get clusions and occlusions working. Maybe add a few more tiny things now, but it seems like a higher priority to get elephant and noosphere stuff worked out first. Internally, this should follow our Elephant storage and query design; externally, it should follow the noosphere (re)design.
SLIME Can SLIME connect to a MMTN server? Can we once again use SLIME to connect to a regular server? Low priority to connect to MMTN. Get regular remote connection back up soon. Long-term goal may depend on getting MMTN set up properly. Short-term may depend on help from Nick Thomas?
MMTN Implement proper daemon system. Desocket for local connections (?). Write a Lisp client. Cf. chat client “erc” soon to see how it connects to Emacs. Understand the current system. Come up with trial application.
Elephant Chalk out ontology and seach interface well-suited to our apps. Locking and permissions. Start right away listing desiderata. Match our desiderata to the elephant docs. Help from Ian Eslick and pals as needed.
aserve Start with interactive web interface to elephant. Perhaps get a REPL soon, as a demo? Some time with the docs if we want to know what all this thing can do.
noosphere rewrite Survey to find featureset and reusable modules. Our rewrite must be done by August 20 for GSoC review. Would be good to talk more with APK as this develops. Would be good to have a central place to do the design and fill in pieces of code as they appear.
sys. admin. Persist configs and work files. Make laptops usably useful. ASAP. Internet connection. Superuser passwords. Physical access to the computers in question.
math/tech talk Prepare (and give) 15 minute talk on PM and HDM for Mathfest. Use a holistic perspective and try to convey mathematical connections/relevance. Must be finished by the beginning of August. May give a variant talk around August 8? Need a place to develop. Feedback from Ray, Aaron, others. Perhaps some background reading/references.
“main” for PM Keep maintaining this document. Survey various tasks that other PM people are working on, and provide annotated index here. So far this is a “whenever I want to do it” thing. But interestingly, or ironically, this sort of matrix/map (especially in an improved format) would be the sort of thing that would be good to update everyday. For this to work extremely well, it should be networked into people’s methods for participation, and have many participants.
content committee This is Chi, Alvaro, Ray, et al’s thing. I’ll want to watch and record what they are doing, or involve them directly in a suitable administrative approach to this effort. Would be nice to be updated of changes/progess, and act on them to have them reflected right away. Some degree of cooperation from other the content committee’s participants will be necessary.
networking Figure out possible places to get support for our efforts. Want to have a number of good options lined up by the end of the summer. Should build a more detailed schedule/plan of action. Phone (check); travel budget for West Coast trip; some sort of sanction from PM to act as its representative.
fundraising Figure out and share value propositionsPlanetmathPlanetmathPlanetmath with possible funders. (This is in some sense a projection of “networking”. Note that by building PM’s budget, our efforts may be better supported at PM; but this is not the only approach worth pursuing.) Want to have a number of good options lined up by the end of the summer. (Hopefully enough of a sample to see if our approaches are going to pan out.) Any individual working on this will need a PM sanction. Other than that, collectively we will want a coordinated plan.
FEM Make a print version of the PM encyclopedia. Ideally it would be rebuilt frequently. This project has been stalled for a long time: it would be nice to revive it this summer, but so far I don’t know of a specific plan or timeline. First goal would be to make one A major requirement that we noticed, but were not able to institute, was a system for unified notation among articles included in the print collectionMathworldPlanetmath. There are various other technical steps that we would want to make this work well.
Table 1: An example of an administrative matrix

Note that the format used here is pretty far from ideal, certainly from the point of data entry (since it would be nice to just be able to zoom in on the tasks and fields that one is particularly interested in updating), and also, at least in some senses, from the point of view of display (since it would be nice to be able to fold certain rows and columns out of the way).

One of the makes this effort somewhat difficult is that different labels (e.g. “noosphere”) may mean different things to different people, so there is, at least at first, some degree of collision between points of view on what a given task is about. I think the ambiguity can be resolved with enough creative relabeling.

Another more complicated way to resolve this sort of conflict would be to give each person their own matrix where they would be free to use whatever labels they like. But it would take a lot of work to reconcile this approach with the properties of “being an administration” as I have defined them above.

3 Roles of PlanetMath participants (jac)

A quick mental check indicates that we have at least these broad categories of participants:

  • President

  • Board Members

  • Site “Admins”

  • Content Contributors

  • Interns

  • Consultants

  • Bounty Hunters

In the subsections that follow, I will discuss some of the roles taken on by people in these categories – I do not assert that this discussion is in any way “completePlanetmathPlanetmathPlanetmath” – rather I’ll just say, we can come back and add details as appropriate, at any time.

3.1 Role of the President

  • Almost every web-related issue gets routed through Aaron.

  • Almost every financial issue gets routed through Aaron.

  • Most practical “beaurocratic” decisions are made by Aaron.

  • Many key “social networking” issues are routed only through Aaron.

3.2 Role of the Board of Directors

  • Less frequently, decisions are made by members of the board.

  • Given the fact that the board does not have public meetings very often, the ability of general members of the community to oversee or engage the board members vanishes to zero.

  • See the section below on Governance for more details.

3.3 Role of Site Administrators

  • There are some arcane and non-obvious rules and responsibilities that devolve onto persons with so-called “admin” status on the website: I do not know the structureMathworldPlanetmath of this continent, so I will not say any more about it; it may be important for issues like those that Chi has been talking about, may not be so important for the actual business of “running the non-profit”, but who knows?

3.4 Generic Roles of Community Members

  • Obviously the most frequent role engaged in by community members is developing mathematical content for the site. Currently most of this content is in the Ecyclopedia, but discussion of math topics in the forums also plays a significant role.

  • Media-wise, most “important” (at least, in the sense of being at all “persistent” and “public”) conversations among the powers that be get mapped through the cumbersome forum software deployed on PlanetMath’s home page.

  • Other than that, there are various unofficial and more (or less, in the case of the email list) transitory media

  • Various informal decisions and actions are taken by the quote-unquote “powers that be” around PlanetMath, which include myself and too many engaged PM contributors to list here – but note that these powers are almost universally “unofficial” powers (all binding decisions must go through Aaron or, possibly, the board).

3.5 Community Initiatives

  • content committee (otherwise known as “community guidelines”; I don’t know what the latest perspective is, but see footnote for reference to one writeup22URL:

  • maintaining this administrative document

  • fundraising and other outreach efforts

  • coordinating the PlanetMath membership situation (cf. section on Governance below)

3.6 Proposals for change (jac)

  • Well, I think that Aaron’s current set of responsibilities made handleable by more people. Not because he has in any way “done a bad job” – far from it – but because the rest of us have done essentially nothing, due to the existence of an administrative bottleneck that he just happens to mostly fill.

  • I would like to see somewhere an official record of the things people are working on – including me. This could eventually lead into either “job titles” or “volunteer roles” (such as they have at Wikipedia), which I think would do quite a lot to give PlanetMath more than one “official” public face.

  • Extending this (and this is something we have talked a lot about but I think left sitting for a long time), I would like to see a clear description of “members rights” – hopefully made with at least some serious participation by members.

  • I think that many of the problems around PlanetMath – probably most of the serious ones in my view – are properly administrative in nature (according to my definition above: we lack a good map!). But I think that this has repercussions for “morale” (among other things). Participants who do not have any institutional authority are not likely to do much in the way of outreach, for example – or to be able to do much.

3.7 Comments on Administration (Wkbj79)

Please add additional subsections if you wish to make further comments on what has been said in or about the section on Administration.

With regards to the first point in the second bulleted list above. It seems unfair that Aaron has had most of the burden placed on him.

As for jac’s “proposals for change”, why not add such an official record to this document? [Done or at least begun: see “Community Initiatives”. –jac] On a related note, information about the soon to be formed content committee is available in other collaborations and documents which are similarPlanetmathPlanetmath to this one.

4 Business (jac)

4.1 Basic Data on PlanetMath as a Business

  • The nature of the institution. We describe PlanetMath as being “a non-profit”, “a commons-based peer production system”, and “a community”. As the name indicates, “math” is the main focus. (Although if we follow Marnita’s advice, we may build several spin-off, partner, or child institutions.) At present, there is no permanentMathworldPlanetmath paid staff retained by the non-profit.

  • Legal status. The organization is (not without some technical snafus, at least potential ones) a tax-exempt charity based in the United States of America; and the content and code is made available worldwide under some “free” license or other.

  • Revenue streams. Subject to limitations placed on charity organizations, PlanetMath can receive donations, have financial sponsors, get federal and other grants, and sell a few things (but not too many).

  • Work productPlanetmathPlanetmath. The content of the PM site (encyclopedia, forms) and the code behind or adjacent to it (Noosphere, NNexus33URL:, Arxana, etc.).

4.2 Human Resources in a Mostly-Volunteer Organization

(And, in particular, how to have them without upsetting any apple carts.)

Experience indicates that paying someone for a service is not always a good idea. A volunteer might find the idea of being payed to work distasteful: “I’m doing this because I want to, man, not for money!”

The person speaking could be an ideologically motivated hippie or an ideologically motivated millionaire, but in either case, offering to pay them may seem like an attempt to rob them of their chance to give.

At the same time, many people do like – and most need – to be paid for some form of work. Different payment schemes can be more or less motivating for different people, in different contexts. I’ve known a number of people who have gotten paid a flat hourly rate and who happened to learn that they could get away with very little or no work on the job. Certainly even for wage-laborers, money is not the sole motivator. There is also something to be said for such things as pride in one’s work, a sense of growth and achievement!

Which further highlights the fact that a “payment scheme” is not going to answer all questions of personal motivation.

Speaking for myself, there are a number of different things I like to do – but I might not be as motivated if I was compelled for some reason to focus exclusively on one of these things. (At the same time, complete dissipation wouldn’t work so well either.)

  • Payments for administrative work. Since I might be get into a payed arrangement with PlanetMath that includes administrative work, I want to think about how to do this “right” – for my own personal, subjective, reasons. However, other people may get into similar relationships, so, it is also good to think about suitably general ways to make payment for services work in this community. (Cf. the section on Work Plan, below.)

  • Payments for coding work. In a setting in which most participants are not programmers, payments for coding may be the only way to get a sufficient flow of code into the organization. At the same time, I think the software projects associated with PlanetMath should be very carefully administered, especially so that knowledge transfer can make it possible for more participants to become volunteer programmers.

4.3 How to employ people in a non-profit organization (alozano)

This section describes an ideal policy for hiring.

  1. 1.

    First, an active board should be elected, that closely oversees the operationsMathworldPlanetmath of the organization (the current board at PlanetMath is sadly inactive in the community, except Aaron).

  2. 2.

    Second, the board needs to explain (or somebody needs to explain to the board) the position to be created, the duties, responsibilities, etc attached to the position. It needs to be stated clearly how and why such position needs to be created, and determine what is the salary (if a salary will be awarded).

  3. 3.

    If a salary is to be awarded, the board (or whoever proposes the creation of a position) needs to guarantee that the salary will be sustainable within the current (and foreseeable) budget and finances of the organization. Most importantly, since the organization is built in volunteer and collaborative efforts, it needs to be stated and explained the need of paying for such position and why the duties cannot be fulfilled by the volunteer body. The board also needs to determine the minimum necessary qualifications for an applicant to be eligible for such position.

  4. 4.

    The position needs to be approved by the board.

  5. 5.

    Once and if the position is approved, an application process shall occur. Since the company is a non-profit organization, the company needs to find the person most suited to fulfill that role. As in the case of “code bounties” the position should be made public, so everyone is informed about the job opportunity. It is of the outmost importance that the organization hires the person most qualified for the job.

  6. 6.

    The position shall be advertised in and by all reasonable channels. In particular, the board should advertise the position in channels where the most desirable applicants may hear about the position.

  7. 7.

    A reasonable period should be given for the position to be reasonably advertised. Once the period elapses, the board will review the applications and choose the best candidate available to fulfill the position.

5 Economics (jac)

Personally, I am hopeful, that in a time when “Y-Combinator” is becoming a household word (see Newsweek Magazine, May 21 2007), there is money out there to support even some of our most outrageous schemes.

But in this case, I think good things do not come to those who wait – they come to those who ask. And to ask a good question, you need a good formulation of the question, hopefully together with an illustrative example, model, or sketch.

5.1 Free/Libre/Open {Software, Content} Business Models

In case you are getting the name of this section is a bit awkward, I agree! I think people in the world of Free/Libre/Open Source Software and content (acronym: FLOSS) have not found very clear ways to talk about the economics side of what they do.

At the same time, there is at least one “economicsy” term that is in use to talk about the way people produce this stuff. The term is “Commons-Based Peer Production” (acronym: CBPP). The connection to economics is the suggestion that, for participants, their voluntary contribution to the commons is a rational behavior.

Whatever else the analysisMathworldPlanetmath behind this term may get into, I don’t think it has much to say about the ways in which commons-based systems relate economically to other systems.

I would like to simplify matters a great deal and point out that frequently the things that these systems are generating have public good-like aspects from the point of view of agents outside of the system.

This is important, since it says something about how money might be expected to change hands to support the projects. Specifically, public goods tend to be paid for, and regulated, by governmental bodies.

It would be great to get into a further analysis, but for now I am just going to list a few words of wisdom on the topic of FLOSS business.

  • “You can’t sell something you’re giving away for free.”

  • “The best way to make money related to free content or software is to sell services.”

  • “There are no restrictionsPlanetmathPlanetmath on selling copies of free content or software.” – this is relevant to, e.g., the FEM, if we ever get that together. (However, there may in fact be some restrictions coming from our legal status as a charity organization.)

5.2 Semantics of Cash Flow

(This might also be called the Cash Flow of Semantics. I haven’t gotten all the details worked out yet.)

These “brainstorms” are a tentative sketch, based on my thinking about Arxana. For some further thoughts along these lines, see my essay on political applications of the scholium system44URL:Ωand_economic_scholium_systems.

  • Every connection, every link, is an arbitrage opportunity. The moment I realized that, I was pretty excited – since a lot of what I think about is links. This is why Google Answers worked (for a while) – but since they stopped working, we have to be careful. Not every arbitrage opportunity is “viable” and one can fail to make money for myriad reasons, whereas one must wait until the check clears to actually make any money (and, OK, even then, there are expenses to worry about!).

  • By the time a link has been made, you might say that the arbitrage opportunity is already gone – but despite that fact, a new link may open up a whole “plane” of new arbitrage opportunities in the form of potential links, i.e. annotations, running perpendicularMathworldPlanetmathPlanetmath to it.

5.3 Ways to Make Money

  • One idea is to get people to pay us to customize Noosphere; but an easy complaint is that we have not been able to pay to customize Noosphere in the directions we want. The synthesis is to seek synergistic relationships – customizing Noosphere in directions we want, and having someone else pay us to do that!

  • There are a number of similar ideas related to “other” or “next-generation” software systems we have been discussing (Arxana, CodeMarket55URL: Given that a number of our proposals fall outside of PlanetMath proper, I think that we would do well to put together an “über-administration” that covers all of the things that we might want to share work on.

For any project or scheme for making money, I think it would be worthwhile for us to come up with what’s called a “value-proposition” (or, in some cases, an atlas of such propositions).

6 Governance (jac)

6.1 Bylaws (jac)

The organization was incorporated with bylaws that help it meet the legal requirements of incorporation66URL: These bylaws were revised77URL:

(I’m not completely sure whether the second draft of the bylaws was ever really “put into effect”.)

6.2 Board of Directors (jac)

The role of the board of directors is described in the bylaws mentioned above. However, it is not completely clear that the board has been following the protocol described in these bylaws. This suggests that a review and possible a reconstitution of the board and of the protocol is in order.

6.3 Member Rights (Wkbj79)

Members, especially new members, should be aware of what their rights are. One aspect that instantly comes to mind is freedom of mathematical expression. After all, PlanetMath is supposed to be “Math for the people, by the people.” A good example of freedom of mathematical expression is the Smarandache entries. A poll was taken on PlanetMath regarding such entries, and although most active members here have doubts about the mathematical significance of the Smarandache entries, the decision to keep them here was the right one. If this were a right that were clearly expressed, then such a poll would not have had to be taken.

7 Processing Results of Words on Fire Consultation (jac)

The new info we got from Words on Fire88URL: will certainly need to be processed somewhat; and indeed, following through on this is certainly an administrative function. At the same time, some of this content may be worked into the other sections of the current document.

7.1 Mission (quoted form WOF)

PlanetMath.Org’s mission is to build and sustain an engaged collaborative math community that is free and open for all individuals with a serious interest in mathematics.

This is the jumping off point for your mission. Before you can fully articulate what you do, you have to agree on this basic element of the organization. Everything you do flows from and to your mission.

7.2 Work Plan

Some version of this is in the WOF documents, and Aaron is currently putting together a working version this work plan.

8 Technology (jac)

8.1 Current Technology

8.1.1 Noosphere

PlanetMath runs Noosphere99URL: Understanding what this means is in some sense an administrative problem – and may also require some data archeology.

8.1.2 LaTeX

Noosphere is integrated with LaTeX.

8.1.3 latex2html

This is the current rendering engine for Noosphere.

8.1.4 Wiki

A goodly amount of project-coordinating information is available on the AsteroidMeta wiki1010URL:, although the wiki is not in very good shape and will hopefully be replaced soon. (An effort to do this is underway thanks to effort thanks to the Ghestalt team.)

8.2 Current Technological Efforts

8.2.1 Coding

Right now the primary coding efforts are related to work being done on Google Summer of Code (see the wiki page1111URL: _of_Code_Coordination for basic coordination information, and the project proposals submitted by our interns for further details1212URL:Ω%****␣40A05-PlanetMathAdministrationMainDocument.tex␣Line␣800␣****8884d?hl=en).

It would be nice if more communication was taking place between people working on code and other members of the community.

8.2.2 System Administration

As mentioned above, this is currently routed almost completely through Aaron.

8.3 Ideas for Technological Changes

There are many ideas for features around, including a recent compilation in another collaboration document on PlanetMath1414URL: and the huge ongoing feature request list from the wiki1515URL:

For the current document I am going to mention some of the ideas about technology that I think are most related to “administration” in the sense of this document.

8.3.1 Issues

This is a short sequence of points that develop a basic theme.

  • Keeping track of things. On all of the different task-areas mentioned here, it would be great to know who is doing what. Similarly with mathematics items in the encyclopedia – which items have been modified recently? Linked to recently? Viewed recently? What, in general, is going on? – The question seems too general, but in an administrative setting, we should be try to be most aware of the things people are most concerned about. What are the biggest annoyances? What are the best hopes we have for doing anything about them? And so forth and so on.

  • The multidimensionality of information landscapes. We might be interested in integrating data from some field of information, and we could put this data into some sort of aggregator (see below). But then, when we have a collection of aggregators, we’ll want to see which ones people are using. And if Alice realizes no one is addressing issues of concern to her, then she’ll have to think about which factors are relevant here. Why is does she care about something other people aren’t interested in? Or maybe other people are interested, and she is not using the right set of aggregators. Or maybe the aggregators are not pointed at the right dataflow. In either event, she will have to debug her own thought processes to find the answers – which will require other introspective data aggregators, and probably some field research. As the cycle continues, there’s more and more information to manage!

  • Network effects. Is any given task ever completed perfectly? Or will there always be problems that come up? I suppose it depends on how your point of view; I suppose my point of view is that these actually aren’t very good questions. In the physical theories, systems flow towards a lower energy state. They do not get to their destinations instantaneously, nor do they travel directly to the lowest energy state. To call this either “perfect” or “problem-ridden” seems to stretch the languagePlanetmathPlanetmath pretty thin. In human affairs, the things we call “problems” are often opportunities for greater efficiency that we notice. A quite general challenge lies in the fact that many interpersonal or technological arrangements could be made more efficient in many different ways. Any given event or class of events might have numerous criticisms associated with it – indicating improvements that can be made along many different dimensionsPlanetmathPlanetmath. The first step in facing this challenge is to find a way to get these critical remarks “networked in”, so that they can be processed further and not forgotten or neglected.

8.3.2 Proposals

  • The basic interface is might be some collection of data “aggregators”. Just the other day I was looking at the PlanetMath homepage, and thinking about how it would be nice to have it work more customizable (like Mac desktops or Google homepages… or GNU/Linux systems!), allowing users to select or even create new widget-like tools to inspect the data flows they are most interested in.

Title PlanetMath Administration (Main Document)
Canonical name PlanetMathAdministrationMainDocument
Date of creation 2013-03-11 19:32:23
Last modified on 2013-03-11 19:32:23
Owner jac (4316)
Last modified by (0)
Numerical id 1
Author jac (0)
Entry type Definition