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First Assignment -- Visioning Exercise

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First Assignment -- Visioning Exercise

Homework for PlanetMath board members and other key stakeholders:

To launch you into the next phase of the strategic planning process, we will start with a Visioning exercise in which you will spell out your vision for the future.

Close your eyes, imagine that is April of 2010. (Or if a one- or two- year time period feels more appropriate, tell us so. We recommend against extending your vision beyond three years, because technology and other unpredictable changes are likely to be, well, unpredictable.)

Envision that PlanetMath, as a result of its effective strategic planning and other hard work, has arrived at all of its goals. What does that mean? What does it look like? How has PlanetMath changed/improved? What funding streams have developed? In how many languages is the Encyclopedia now available? What does your online community look like? What new stakeholder groups have emerged? What is the average age of your users/community members? What kind of paid staff does the organization now have? Where are you housed? Who are your strategic partners? And so on.

Allow yourself to actually walk through this PlanetMath of the future. Is your role with the organization still the same? Visualize/experience the success of PlanetMath.

Write down what your future vision of PlanetMath is and be prepared to share it. IMPORTANT: Please complete the exercise by Thursday, Mar. 29.

Do not post the results of your Visioning until further notice; we will be assigning you a partner, with whom you will work through an Aligning of Vision exercise. (More on that later.)

If you have not already done so, please email us your email address and phone number, so we can communicate with each of you off-line in order to set up the next phase of our process.

Best,
Carl & Marnita
carl@wordsonfire.com & marnita@wordsonfire.com


I think the solution is one part arXiv, one part PlanetMath, one part reputation/recommender system, and one part commercial applied/editorial spinoff.

That is (in the spirit of being more methodical about CBPP in science and scholarly output) we need "free" posting/sharing of intellectual materials, open commentary/collboration/other forms of feedback, emergent quality control that is not restricted to just "global" notions of quality or fitness, and productive entities that can "scale up" and apply intellectual output and provide some revenue feedback to the "base public good" modalities of activity for support.

I think we are getting tantalizingly close to reaching this, on a variety of fronts as a society, and maybe here at PM...

apk

"I think the solution is one part arXiv, one part PlanetMath,
one part reputation/recommender system, and one part commercial
applied/editorial spinoff."

When I first saw this point, I was significantly in doubt about
the final component. However, upon reflection, I can see how
*paid editors* provide a service that is in many ways like what
*paid tutors* provide. I don't think that the service needs to
be "comercial" in any particular sense (e.g. "for-profit"), but
I do think that editorial work can be monetized. Both editing
and tutoring are not dissimilar to *blogging*, and there are
plenty of people who are paid to blog about this that and the
other thing.

One more significant quibble that I have with the proposed solution
is that it is way too old-school -- no mention of the scholium
system!

It seems pretty obvious to me how the two paragraphs I just wrote
can be tied together to make money -- namely, if someone pays a
subscription fee, they get to see scholia and connections that
have been made by paid editors. Otherwise, they just see
a bunch of miscellaneous drek.

On a philosophical note, I think that we should basically run
research support and student-learning support in tandem (like
a pair of oxen pulling our glorious vehicle on to the land
of eternal sun). As I said in the grandparent to this post
(I don't want it to be forgotten!), if we can *really* serve
the needs of students, we are meeting our mission; if not,
we are failing. But per the first sentence of this paragraph,
I think research support should be (at least morally speaking)
roughly synced up with education support. They are not so
dissimilar. Parallels and other connections that can be drawn
between the two domains will help our cause.

(Of course, there is a way to do "subscription service" as "open
source" too -- not by keeping the current set of scholia secret,
but by demanding that people pay to see the *next* set of scholia.)

> It seems pretty obvious to me how the two paragraphs I
> just wrote can be tied together to make money -- namely,
> if someone pays a subscription fee, they get to see scholia
> and connections that have been made by paid editors.

Were such a thing to happen, my reaction would be to work on a
free alternative to the proprietary content, much as PM itself
started as a reaction to Math World.

Well I already suggested in my own follow-up how a time-delineated
FAIF variant of this money-making operation could work.

In any event, it would be very hard for one person to provide all the
desired value-added editorial scholia on their own. Further, if FAIF
content isn't created, or isn't created at a sufficient rate, most
people will use the subscription-only and not-necessarily-FAIF
content. Indeed, this seems to be what is happening currently.

The "problem" (which has already some partial solutions) seems to be
the lack of any coherent effort to administer the development of FAIF
content. The "free math movement" is not clearly seen to be off to a
galloping start. Nevertheless, there are efforts in this direction.
The biggest problem in administering this effort is probably figuring
out a cash-flow arrangement. If the culture changed and
mathematicians were choosing to produce free content "by default",
then I think this content problem would be mostly solved -- society
already pays mathematicians to produce content.

And, as we have talked about for several years, this content is FAIS
if not properly FAIF. Suggesting two options:

(1) follow your "reaction" (as above, it can be in response to the
current situation), and try to produce a free alternative, so,
PlanetMath, Hyperreal Dictionary, etc.;

(2) try to change academic culture to make "free" mainstream!

These are, of course, not mutually exclusive, and they may
very well be mutually enhancing.

A critical issue, present implicitly in both (1) and (2) is
that content is not nearly enough! We need *infrastructure*,
both technological and human, for either (1) or (2) to work.
And, thus: another administrative problem, with its own very
partial solutions.

NOTE: I seem to be exaggerating when I talk about these things as
"administrative problems" -- what is actually going on, at least on
the tech side, is that there are many projects with their own
administrative branches, each pursuing (and not in a centrally
coordinated way!) some aspect of a solution to some very generally
defined problem. I am not suggesting that all of these projects
*should* be coordinated through one central authority (I'm no Anakin
Skywalker!). Nevertheless, I do think that an effort should be made
to come up with some coordinated understanding of the on-the-ground
efforts I've outlined above. This is a third area with its own
"administrative problems"! Luckily, this key(stone?) area does indeed
seem at least at first blush to getting a reasonable amount of
attention, and it is apparently the object of study of a reasonably
well coordinated field of scholarship. E.g. a book was published
by MIT press this past December called "Understanding Knowledge
as a Commons":

http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=11012

Other interesting links found in a Google search for the above:

(1) A nice-looking eight-page paper:
http://dlc.dlib.indiana.edu/archive/00001320/

(2) A mysterious ".org" site with big claims (I'll email them...):
http://www.knowledgecommons.org/

My strong suggestion is that we work very hard to work with and
integrate with this community/constituency. My hope is that these
sorts of folks are the ones who will want to take leadership roles in
solving the administrative problems I mentioned above, or who will
want to take facilitator roles to help others (us?) become leaders in
this area.

> Well I already suggested in my own follow-up how a
> time-delineated
> FAIF variant of this money-making operation could work.

If you are willing to keep editorial comments proprietary
for a time, why not other content? For instance, why not
just make (all or some of) the encyclopaedia entries be
proprietary for some time also?

> In any event, it would be very hard for one person to
> provide all the
> desired value-added editorial scholia on their own.

Well, duh, I wouldn't do it myself any more than Aasron tried
to make a replacement for Math World by writing all the entries
himself. The replacement I would have in mind would be some
sort of CBPP project which would add editorial annotations and
organize material.

> > Well I already suggested in my own follow-up how a
> > time-delineated FAIF variant of this money-making
> > operation could work.
>
> If you are willing to keep editorial comments proprietary
> for a time, why not other content? For instance, why not
> just make (all or some of) the encyclopaedia entries be
> proprietary for some time also?

The proposal I was referring to has nothing to do with
proprietary content. http://planetmath.org/?op=getmsg&id=14667
The model is similar to the one used (for a time, he has
since changed business models) by Roy Lisker for his Grothendiek
translation project: don't produce until the payment is known to
be on its way. A similar way of doing business is of course
often use by artisans.

> > In any event, it would be very hard for one person to
> > provide all the desired value-added editorial scholia
> > on their own.
>
> Well, duh, I wouldn't do it myself any more than Aaron
> tried to make a replacement for Math World by writing all
> the entries himself. The replacement I would have in mind
> would be some sort of CBPP project which would add editorial
> annotations and organize material.

In addition to the labor problem, there is also the question
of certification. Already of course you are talking about
duplication of effort. But if the CBPP project is not trusted
by enough of the main-stream, then who will use it? -- and who
are the creator-users who will build it? PlanetMath has, to an
approximation, succeeded in making a MathWorld replacement.
But making a replacement for the whole universe of non-FAIF mathematical research is a way bigger enterprise.

> > Well I already suggested in my own follow-up how a
> > time-delineated FAIF variant of this money-making operation
> > could work.
>
> If you are willing to keep editorial comments proprietary
> for a time, why not other content? For instance, why not
> just make (all or some of) the encyclopaedia entries be
> proprietary for some time also?

Because you've realized that making "too much" content non-open would kill the whole project. If your perspective is commercial, the FIAF content is a "loss leader"; if your perspective is the commons, you see the non-free content as a cash cow derived from "stuff most people don't care about" to support the stuff most people do care about.

And if one thinks about in-betweens rather than extremes like "totally open" and "totally closed", such as "embargoed for 1 month", one can see how the technical status of an artifact becomes more of a means of communicating the need for monetary (or some other sort of) support, rather than a total departure from the free/open paradigm.

apk

> > > Well I already suggested in my own follow-up how a
> > > time-delineated FAIF variant of this money-making
> > > operation
> > > could work.
> >
> > If you are willing to keep editorial comments proprietary
> > for a time, why not other content? For instance, why not
> > just make (all or some of) the encyclopaedia entries be
> > proprietary for some time also?
>
> Because you've realized that making "too much" content
> non-open would kill the whole project. If your perspective
> is commercial, the FIAF content is a "loss leader"; if your
> perspective is the commons, you see the non-free content as
> a cash cow derived from "stuff most people don't care about"
> to support the stuff most people do care about.
>
> And if one thinks about in-betweens rather than extremes
> like "totally open" and "totally closed", such as "embargoed
> for 1 month", one can see how the technical status of an
> artifact becomes more of a means of communicating the need
> for monetary (or some other sort of) support, rather than a
> total departure from the free/open paradigm.

Just want to clarify (again) that I was talking about a work-for-hire
model in which there is no non-free content, but people are paid
before or after the free content is produced, according to some
salary, subscription, or bounty scheme, called, in general, a
"commission".

I have to be honest here. One of the things I like about math, one of the reasons I switched careers and went into math, is to avoid answering the kinds of questions posed above and to avoid the kind of language that permeates the above post.

Math is very simple. There is a problem. It's abstract. One studies the problem and achieves some sort of understanding. One communicates ones understanding with others. This is a kind of joy and fulfillment.

I know that everyone's intentions are good here, but the above paragraphs are a complete turn off. They have nothing to do with mathematics. There is a big disconnect here. I went into math PRECISELY to get away from "Aligning of Vision" type exercises. I like math because words have a precise meaning, and because ones efforts and communications are very very real. I will not be participating in this exercise. I fear that you will fail to attract many mathematicians with this approach.

"The map is not the territory." - Korzybski, "A Non-Aristotelian
System and its Necessity for Rigour in Mathematics and Physics",
published in "Science and Sanity", 1933

Which is a nice quote I think, quite popular these days in various
versions, and this Korzybski stuff has at least a couple of
applications here.

1. Your non-participation in the "Visioning Exercise" either:

(a) can't be counted -- you aren't voting yea or nay on any of
the items of importance -- more importantly and more concretely,
you aren't publishing the ideas that you believe to be of
importance... which certainly doesn't mean that they aren't of
importance, nor does it mean that they are of importance -- in
a social sense, I mean. They can continue to be of importance
to you personally, of course. But from the point of view of
your peers, anything you don't share seems likely to remain
a mystery (unless it is independently discovered -- not
unlikely, however, not a sure thing either; I may have more
to say about this issue below).

(b) already manifests a "vision" or whatever term you prefer
for what Mathematics, and, by extension (it seems), PlanetMath
is about.

"I like math because words have a precise meaning, and because
ones efforts and communications are very very real."

(c) is, more likely, some combination of (a) and (b), in the sense
that, you have already agreed to share your vision for mathematics,
PlanetMath, and your own participation therein (while detesting to
call it a "vision"), but this object -- this statement, shall we
say -- is not as detailed as perhaps it could be.

2. Running PlanetMath is en oh tee NOT mathematics.
(More challenging is the notion that it is also not not mathematics.)
OK, what is it? It seems to be some blend of mathematical thinking
and thinking about how mathematical people think. Different
participants have been and will put different weights on these
two ways of participating. But certainly there are other things
in the blend. For example, computer programming. Which some
people -- even some very good programmers -- actually find to
be a tedious and annoying task. Marketing and schmoozing -- as
much as you might say you dislike them (I suspect that they are very
similar, incidentally), they seem to be an important part not
just of running PlanetMath, but of doing mathematics in general.
Now, from the point of view of someone writing entries in the
encyclopedia, or discussing mathematics in forums or corrections,
these affairs may seem to be far adrift in the "meta field" of
PlanetMath and of little direct concern. This may in fact be
true -- from the personal perspective -- and far be it from me
to impinge upon your personal perspective with my own. Nevertheless,
I will assert that from the "cybernetic" perspective, these
various "mathematically uninteresting" pursuits are very
down to earth, and are of some considerable importance. (And
actually sometimes they seem to turn out to have some mathematical
potential after all too -- but that's pure gravy!)

Now, I'm not saying you should participate in any kind of exercise
you aren't interested in. I think everyone will benefit from
your experience if you choose to share it -- but the language,
as you said, must be right. Perhaps one of your contributions
to PlanetMath can be finding a way to talk about relatively amathematical "community things" in a way that isn't anathema to mathematicians. It seems to me that this would be a lot of
work, but not impossible.

I'll close this out with a quote from Neil Gaiman (from
a wikipedia page talking about the "Map/territory relation"):

One describes a tale best by telling the tale. You see? The
way one describes a story, to oneself or the world, is by
telling the story. It is a balancing act and it is a dream.
The more accurate the map, the more it resembles the
territory. The most accurate map possible would be the
territory, and thus would be perfectly accurate and
perfectly useless.

He then says that "The tale is the map that is the territory."
This part, I think, is wrong, although I tend to agree with
the first part. I'd say that a tale is its own territory.
The stories we tell -- the statements we make -- will of
course rest on and bear upon past and future lived experiences.

And quite likely these lived experiences are best lived by
living them, but surely we can enjoy the experience of "talking"
as well as "doing". Anyway, talking is a kind of doing. But
if you don't want to talk about math or math communities, OK!
do some math instead, and we'll catch up with each other later.

hey! dont be like Nato all talk and no action,
mathematicians tend to be too clever for their own good, using
ingenuity to escape life,

philosophically speaking i feel it is the university system, that
keeps creative people in slavery,

"here solve this , if you succeed, you will get a little satisfaction,
and for a moment life will not hurt."

when actually you have the capacity to create and model and interact with the essence of mathematics, hell man this might even involve love!

i am not a stakeholder in here, just a visitor for a moment, but i love mathematics...personally...and intimately, and as i understood this vision quest , it is asking you to dare to lead, not just survive another day.

a vision quest is just like any other mathematical "puzzle" , start
with your intuition, with your feelings, slowly a pattern will emerge,
then observe the opposite as well, and when finally an understanding rises , it will be intimately yours, you have danced with it, personally.
and as is the case in many of the puzzles ,the way may not be so easy or clear , there may be surprises, but as always at the end of the process , it will look trivial, as if it was sitting there all the time ,and it is just you who shifted and shifted.
good luck :-)

I like the spirit of this post very much.
I think that if PlanetMath *can't* do this
within the next year or thereabouts, we really
are failing in our mission. On the other
hand, if we *can* do it, this is good evidence
of our continued relevance, since this is something
Google and Wikipedia aren't doing, probably won't
be doing, and maybe even can't do, at least, not
without starting to work more like PlanetMath
(which would be OK with me if it happens, but I
think we can pretty easily get there first).
Furthermore, by embedding the question-and-answer
material in a scholiumific (i.e. discursive,
"commentable") environment, we'll be providing
something way cooler than the sort of mechanized
learning environment Algeboy described.

The one suggestion would be to change the terminology
to "problem manager" rather than "problem assigner".
I think such a tool could easily be used for self-directed
study.

And I think making PlanetMath the place to go
to learn math would be really damn cool!

Joe, it's an old discussion. The ideas and the proposals are also old. If you are asking my opinion about useful allocation of resources, I don't have anything new to contribute.

What's wrong with allocating a bit of travel money for interested individuals to speak at conferences and visit math departments?

Content bounties, maybe. This could be divisive, but not necessarily so. At least the payoff would be tangible.

Let me just ask one thing: does it make sense for one to evangelize about planetmath if one has neither (1) a math background and/or (2) an open source/open content background?

I do agree with your point: it's easier to be negative than to come up with a constructive proposal.

Ray, thanks for reply. Your rallying cry, if one may call it that, clarified the situation. The context is a fundraising effort on behalf of the site. The intended audience of the exercise is individuals who would like to contribute to the effort. So, it is as Joe said. This isn't about mathematics and open content, it's about making planetmath.org ltd a going concern. In effect, you are trying to start a not-for-profit publishing house whose main product, initially, is a website and an online community. Fair enough. I am sympathetic, but wouldn't represent myself as a "stakeholder" (big time corporate weasel-word there - lots of negative connotations for me). Again, good luck with your efforts.

I have to admit it: I am lost. I made a somewhat critical post, and you made a somewhat defensive reply. I didn't understand your comment. Perhaps you misunderstood my intentions. I am not asking for a vote in anything; I don't want to vote on anything. I like PlanetMath (the mathematical aspect of the site). I enjoy reading the contributions, and occasionally making a contributions myself. I like the idea of making mathematics more accessible. It is a worthy goal. I like the anarchistic approach; that's what attracts so many participants. I understand that the goal of the current exercise is to recruit more participants for the website and the community. I wish you luck. I only wanted to indicate that the way you are going about it may alienate the very people who you want to "recruit".

I had a strongly negative "gut" reaction to the visioning post. In hindsight, I should have thought a bit more before posting and put a more constructive spin on my post. As for visions, how about this:

quality mathematics by people who are passionate about the subject in a way that encourages participation and collaboration

Hasn't that been the vision throughout? It's a simple idea, self-explanatory really. It's the reason why people contribute. The individuals orchestrating the "visioning exercise" don't seem to understand this. The whole exercise is coming across like a PR firm talking to corporate clients. I don't think such a "communication strategy" is going to be successful. I fear that it may turn out to be downright harmful.

I'm not sure what the goal of the current exercise is
(I did not come up with it) -- but I think the goal of
engaging Words on Fire (Marnita and Carl) is to make
PlanetMath more viable, both as a community, and as a
(nonprofit) corporation (but a corporation nonetheless!).

I don't think this goal is at all self-explanatory.
I do think that *complements* the goal of producing
"quality mathematics, by people who are passionate about
the subject, in a way that encourages participation
and collaboration."

But no, I don't think that is self-explanatory either.

Yes, it is something we can do (with varying degrees
of success, depending on many factors), but frankly
I do not understand what it means, or how to do it
best. I have some ideas; but these are definitely
research questions.

I say "no comment" on the original communication strategy.

The main point of my message was that running the PlanetMath
community and participating in it in a normal "non-leadership"
capacity are different things. I think the point of the
WOF communication (regardless of its strategy of deployment)
was to get people who might want to take some sort of
leadership role involved in a process of formulating that
role.

If you think the strategy is harmful, then I think ethically
speaking you may be obliged to point out and even champion
a better strategy?

Webwork was the one my colleagues used that is free.

From their website:

WeBWorK -- Copyright (c) 1995-1999 University of Rochester
All Rights Reserved

Permission to use, copy, and modify this software and its documentation for educational, research and non-profit purposes, without fee, and without a written agreement is hereby granted, provided that the above copyright notice, this paragraph and the following three paragraphs appear in all copies.

http://math.webwork.rochester.edu/docs/docs/

there are bound to be others like this at various other universities. Even Webassign began as a university project spun off into a company. I believe the Oregon state university uses a system too, so more digging would find others I'm sure.

Very well said Ray. I want to re-emphasize that the idea of the "visioning exercise" is really to think ahead about where you like PlanetMath to be a few years from now, and how we can get there. And the reason why it is done out in the open is really to follow our website's motto "math for the people, by the people". Since we're all users/contributors of this website, we are all in a way owners. I am sure most of us that contribute regularly think about things like: how is PlanetMath going to evolve, and where it will end up, what can we do to improve the currently existing website, etc... As owners of this website, we all should be provided a way of "voicing" our thoughts on how we want to build and maintain this "home", especially now that the "home" has grown much over the last few years, and the "upgrade" and "maintenance" fees have also gone up accordingly.

So this is our chance, as "owners" of this "home", to chime in and share with each other on how we can be responsible homeowners. All opinions are welcome, whether they are positive or negative. So stretch your mathematical imagination, and give this exercise a try!

I don't think that the ideas and proposals are all that old.
I put in numerous hours working on an NSF proposal this winter.
Some of that was new stuff. Anyway, even when an idea is old,
the execution of that idea may be difficult.

In the NSF proposal, there's a half-million dollar budget, which
is quite a bit of money. But there's no guarantee we'll get it,
of course. Perhaps WOF will help us find better or at least alternate
paths to the big bucks that are required if we're going to pay
people to do R&D. And as for how divisive *that* might be, I
suppose it is still an open question, but speaking for myself,
I'd love to be paid to do R&D for PlanetMath.

As for the evangelization question -- (a) I suppose they are
about as qualified to do that as a bunch of mathgeeks who know very
little about non-profits or fundraising are to work in that domain;
(b) "open content" is different, but not worlds different, from
other media -- and WOF does have a background working with other
media groups (including a community radio station here in Minneapolis
which I think is actually quite a lot like PM or Wikipedia in its
e.m.-wave-driven way); (c) their role may be less to evangelize about
PlanetMath than to "catalyze" PlanetMath's existing activities. But
they are also getting a crash course in what PlanetMath is all about,
and I think that will be pretty effective, with or without the
math background. PM is math for the people, even if the people
don't currently know much math :).

Is the PlanetMath product purely content and people?

We have both already, but perhaps we also have a certain amount of
exercise/training? For example. There is a product called "WebAssign" which makes homework assignments on-line, mostly math and science right now. They charge universities and students to access a database of problems and then assign them to students as homework. The homework is graded by machine. It makes money. There are some free products like this also.

What planet math does not have is an engine to run assignments. But what it has that these others don't is a community of users who really care about math and helping people solve math problems -- and more importantly -- explore math that they wouldn't find on their own.

To use a "big time corporate weasel-word" this is "value added." Here are some more weasel-words.

I think PlanetMath really is Math (and Physics). It is a "vertical" product and trying to make or assume it is "horizontal" product is likely to spread the funding very thin and ultimately hurt the "Job 1". (Maybe these are just Intel weasel-words, I don't know.)

For example, would contributors to PlanetHistory want to learn LaTeX to enter their content? No. So now you have to add a completely new input process to Noosphere which concentrating on PlanetMath/PlanetPhysics would not require.

So new/more revenue yes, but new revenue streams? ...that actually seems questionable because the streams may come with baggage that forces a strain on the existent product.

I think that making a problem assigner available online through PM
could be beneficial if it done in the right way, complementing other
resources, as opposed to being profferred as a cheap mass-production
substitute for something else. For instance, consider the following
scenario. Under the entry on chain rule, there is a link to the
problem assigner. Then a student who, after having read the entry
and studied the solved examples provided as attachments, would want
some further practise and assurrance that the concepts were understood
properly, could click on this link to obtain a few practise problems.
If the student answers correctly, that is some assurance that the
material has been understood properly; if not, maybe the exposition
needs to be reread; if, after rereading the material, the student is
still not able to understand why an answer is correct or incorrect or
befuddled how to proceed, it would always be possible to post a
question to a forum. Done such a way, including a problem assigner
would make PlanetMath even more useful.

> In effect, you are trying to start a not-for-profit publishing house
> whose main product, initially, is a website and an online community.

Of course, to the extent that we are a publisher (we do publish content), we are quite an unusual publisher at that since we give our content away for free! Were we to take the more usual route and charge people to view our content (either directly or indirectly by having institutions pay for access by their members) then we wouldn't be having this discussion --- the fees paid by users would pay for maintaining the site. However, exactly because we have eschewed royalities and are committed to our core values means that we are going to have to exercise some creativity in finding a way to underwrite the project which does not compromise what we stand for.
This is why we are talking to Carl and Marnita --- while they may not know much about math, they have real-world experience with organizations such as the free radio station which face similar challenges and so can give us sound advice.

Any organization, whether it be a publisher or a university or a scientific association, is going to have to make ends meet and underwrite its operations if it is to survive. As far as I can tell, PlanetMath is not exempt of the laws of economics so we have to build a sustainable economical basis for our operations. To be sure, the fact that we operate on a CBPP basis and run our operations electronically lowers costs. As Benkler explained, the former fact means that we do not have the transaction costs associated
with other modes of production whilst the latter mneans that we do not have to pay the considerable costs associated with maintaining a building. While this may lower costs drastically, it does not eliminate them completely. In particular, we will still have to
pay people to do things which are not being done adequately on a
purely volunteer basis like maintaining the Noosphere code or system administration.

> Fair enough. I am sympathetic, but wouldn't represent myself as
> a "stakeholder" (big time corporate weasel-word there - lots of
> negative connotations for me).

While the connotation might be negative, keep in mind that the denotation is significantly differrent from that of the usual one (one could even call is subversive). If we were operating like corporate weasels, then we would consider contributors as exploitable labor rather than stakeholders and this discussion would be occurring behind closed boardroom doors rather than in the open. Also, if the word
"stakeholder" is not so good here because it gives the wrong impression, I wouldn't mind using a differrent term which is less offensive or likely to confuse people as to the nature of what we are doing.

> What's wrong with allocating a bit of travel money for
> interested individuals to speak at conferences and visit
> math departments?

Nothing, assuming that there is money in the budget which is not
needed for something more urgent.

> Content bounties, maybe. This could be divisive, but not
> necessarily so. At least the payoff would be tangible.

At the same time, code or content bounties require the following:

* Money to pay the bounty.

* Advetising to get qualified people interested in the job.

* Someone to pick an applicant and administer the bounty.

In particular, the common theme here is funding, which is in short
supply here at PlanetMath. One area where Marnita and Carl can help us is in identifying potential sources of funds and introducing us to potential donors. However, for this to work, one needs to be able to explain what it is one plans to do with the money. An important rationale for this exercise is that it will provide exactly the sort of information which is of use in making a case for asking for donations.

> Let me just ask one thing: does it make sense for one to
> evangelize about planetmath if one has neither (1) a math
> background and/or (2) an open source/open content
> background?

Alone, not much sense. In partnership with others who have such a background, quite sensible. While they lack a background in mathematics, they have an excellent backround in fundraising and organizational matters as well as a lot of contacts which I, for one, lack.

Excuse me if my response is a bit too critical, but your observation did jump out at me:

> exercise/training? For example. There is a product called
> "WebAssign" which makes homework assignments on-line, mostly
> math and science right now. They charge universities and
> students to access a database of problems and then assign
> them to students as homework. The homework is graded by
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
> machine. It makes money. There are some free products
^^^^^^^
> like this also.

Perhaps you were not serious about suggesting this, but it
seems painfully obvious to me that such means of mass-produced learning would run counter to the attitude and philosophy of free inquiry that we all hope to foster:

> What planet math does not have is an engine to run
> assignments. But what it has that these others don't is a
> community of users who really care about math and helping
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
> people solve math problems -- and more importantly --
> explore math that they wouldn't find on their own.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against marketing, or even making money (I work at a bank myself), but I think we ought to first think about the audience we want to attract. At this point, if you answer "everybody", then I think that goal is a bit too unrealistic.

For example, if the audience is professional mathematicians, consider: would they interested in the PlanetMath encyclopedia itself, or just a publishing platform?

I don't yet want to rule out any "value added" things or "revenue streams", but in light of some of the skepticism already expressed in this forum, they deserve more careful thought.

And actually, to be honest I don't even know how to answer my own question. I do agree that we are unique in providing a community of like-minded mathematically-inclined members. But let me add my two cents: I think PlanetMath is also uniquely attractive for its multi-disciplinary nature; one can read encyclopedia entries on computational complexity and complex analysis by one contributor, and entries on category theory and statistics by another. In my experience, the potential for the integration of insights from different areas all too often seems to be avoided and discouraged in academia. Might we have something positive to develop in this area?

I hope that was a coherent post...

// Steve

If this (see parent and grandparent postings) solves the problem
for students (and, so, for educators), the other major question is:
what solves the problem for researchers?

I was just at a talk where "a new model for academic publishing"
was called for -- but the speaker said that he didn't know of anyone
who was seriously working on this stuff. I don't know about that --
but I would say that a serious solution would have to be a
comprehensive one.

Pitman's Math\Science Atlas is a step in the right direction, but
it isn't really a comprehensive solution -- nor do I think it is
associated with one.

Anyone want to play the uber-visionary and come up with a
proposal (or just find one on the internet to use)?

I agree. My comment was more along the lines of what if we partnered with textbooks/schools to provide interactive assignements on-line or something like that. I wouldn't charge the user for that but if a large organization such as a university wanted to host their assignments and have open math help provided both form their own instructors and others a community like ours would be ideal. And the lower cost to the university (no graders hired and/or the ability to reduce the work load on staff) makes partnering in this way attractive to universities, and probably highschools, as well. So this could be a revenue stream in the areas that PlanetMath is already strong.

In my situation, I was very mad to be forced to use the product at my university with my students because it was an added fee to them. I also found for the students there was a major obsticle in that the machine just says yes or no, no realy feedback about what is right or wrong or why. These are things a grader would typically provide. So here is where a community of math knowledge beyond printed words but interactive and forum like is a great resource for the student working an on-line assignement.

> Is the PlanetMath product purely content and people?
>
> We have both already, but perhaps we also have a certain
> amount of
> exercise/training? For example. There is a product called
> "WebAssign" which makes homework assignments on-line, mostly
> math and science right now. They charge universities and
> students to access a database of problems and then assign
> them to students as homework. The homework is graded by
> machine. It makes money. There are some free products
> like this also.
>
> What planet math does not have is an engine to run
> assignments. But what it has that these others don't is a
> community of users who really care about math and helping
> people solve math problems -- and more importantly --
> explore math that they wouldn't find on their own.

This sounds like a good idea to me and I think we should consider
pursuing it. Since you said that there are free products to
assign problems, maybe we could incorporate one of them into the
website. As for how this would happen, here is one possibility.
We figure out in some detail how this would be done --- what program
to use, how to fit it into our interface, how much work would be
required. Marnita would suggest some organizations which would
be likely to find this interesting and introduce us to them. Then,
we would approach those organizations with offer to the effect that,
should they provide a certain sum of money, we would implement this
assignment engine. Hopefully, perhaps after some bargaining, someone
would take up our offer.

Do you happen to remember what are the names of some specific
free assignment engines?

>
> To use a "big time corporate weasel-word" this is "value
> added." Here are some more weasel-words.
>
> I think PlanetMath really is Math (and Physics). It is a
> "vertical" product and trying to make or assume it is
> "horizontal" product is likely to spread the funding very
> thin and ultimately hurt the "Job 1". (Maybe these are just
> Intel weasel-words, I don't know.)

Sure, if one tries to spread the same amount of money between
more projects, then funds are going to be scarce. However, this
argument fails in situations where doing more things leads to
more overall income, so the share allocated to an item might well
be more than what would have been available had one only been
doing the one thing.

Even more, there are often situations where Job 1 isn't
economically viable by itself, so one takes on a Job 2 so
as to allow one to work on Job 1. As an example which might
be relevant, consider the situation of math and physics
departments. Any university worthy of the name is going to
teach advanced math and physics classes. However, a university
which only taught these subjects would likely go out of
business quite soon, because these subjects are taught at
a loss. When I was an undergraduate, there were only two of
us students in my advanced complex analysis course and, when I
was a professor, I taught advanced quantum mechanics to a
class of two. Moreover, these are not the sorts of subjects
which tend to attract the children of wealthy alumni.

How, then, can universities afford to offer these subjects? The
answer is because, as the very term "university" implies, they
are inherently horizontal institutions, separtment stores of
learning. The proceeds coming from teaching such subjects as
literature, law, and medicine more than compensate for the losses
entailed by offerring advanced science classes and make for a
solid base of rich alumni. Moreover, math and physics departments
earn their keep by teaching service courses for students of
engineering and medicine.

Another example of such a phenomenon which I only learned about
a few days ago was how Oxford University Press operated. For years,
they would sell scholarly books, such as their editions of classics
below market value because they made ample profit printing hymnals.
With a stable base of customers in the form of churches, they could
afford to do the scholarly community a favour.

Therefore I suggest that we consider the possibility of doing
something similar. It may turn out that number one job of making
quality mathematical exposition is not the sort of thing which is
good at generating revenue, in which case we might want to consider
taking on some additional bread-and-butter job to underwrite our
main passion. As for what this might be, two possibilities might
be problem assignment, as discussed above or maybe support for
people using Noosphere as an educational tool, as Robert Milson
did a few years back.

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