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Draft Strategic Communications Plan -- for your review

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Draft Strategic Communications Plan -- for your review

PlanetMath.Org 2.0:
A Strategic Communications Plan

Presented by Words on Fire Communications, Inc.

PlanetMath.Org 2.0:

PlanetMath.Org 2.0 is about increased collaboration and capacity. It can no longer stay in the same place, with limited resources, or it will not grow and thrive as an online community.

In the 21st century, boundaries are being blurred, between producer and user, manager and employee, top and bottom; communal environments are replacing rigid hierarchies. Whether we should thank web pioneers or the so-called “We Generation,â€� there is a new sense of communal ownership that is heartening. In a reversal of (or at least a queer twist on) the “Meâ€� trend in American culture, people increasingly are contributing to their communities for the simple satisfaction of having contributed. PlanetMath.Org must find the capacity to harness that impulse, to make it an engine for achieving its overall mission.

But, to move to the next level, PlanetMath must do two things:

 It must truly find and define its core reason for being; and
 It must continually extend itself outward to attract new stakeholders

Methodology:

In the preparation of PlanetMath.Org 2.0 Plan Words on Fire Communications engaged in a two-month process of research, review and reflection. Our process included:

 One-on-one interviews with key stakeholders of PlanetMath.Org
 One-on-one interviews with 3 online community experts
 Review of the PlanetMath.Org web experience
 Research and review of online math communities
 Research and review of additional online encyclopedias
 Review and incorporation of key stakeholders’ visions into strategic communication framework
 Review and creation of targeted media lists to key audiences
 Research of math associations/math educators to find best way to reach potential new audiences
 Research and review of Linux and RedHat business models for possible transference to PlanetMath

Situation Analysis:

PlanetMath is in the place that all adolescents must go through to become successful adults. Who am I and what do I want to become when I grow up?

Strengths

 Stakeholders love and are committed to “the commonsâ€� of PlanetMath.Org
 Only specialized mathematics-oriented collaborative community
 Noosphere is transferable to create/spin-off additional CBPP collaborative communities

Weaknesses

 Currently has little or no funding capacity for a host of essential support services to the organization, including: marketing, software enhancements, grant writing, relationship cultivation
 Lack of search engine optimization and key relationships leads to being invisible in the marketplace
 Lack of cohesion of priorities and objectives beyond the shared value of the “commonsâ€�
 Cultural barriers of participating stakeholders can prevent them from engaging in the long-term sustainability beyond their own needs/uses for PlanetMath.Org.
 Lack of clearly articulated mission
 The inherent limits of on-line community, lack of face-to-face communication

Opportunities

 Explosion in on-line collaborative communities means more people seeking collaborative on-line communities
 Explosion in on-line learning provides potential natural partners
 Open source model is gaining strength and prominence in the marketplace; Linux model provides pathway for PlanetMath to build financial sustainability through Noosphere
 PlanetMath has never done basic communications outreach

Challenges
 That PlanetMath.Org will not move forward because of lack of agreement of what PlanetMath.Org is and does
 In an economy where poverty is increasing there is serious competition for sponsor/donor dollars
 There are a number of math-oriented websites that at least at first-glance offer the same type of resources

Defining Differences

 PlanetMath.Org is a uniquely collaborative environment in which those engaged in the world of mathematics may “preâ€� publish work and get feedback
 PlanetMath is a space for identifying and cultivating emerging math talent/thought
 Peer-to-peer engagement

PlanetMath.Org Overall Mission and how it relates to the plan.

Communications is a core competency that PlanetMath.Org must acquire internally in order to drive traffic and participation on PlanetMath.Org. Before it can take on any additional activities, it must identify and communicate its value.

We were almost through with the strategic planning process before we realized the glaring omission that PlanetMath does not have an officially stated “mission.â€� As a mission defines an organizations’ reason for being, we have attempted a first draft of a mission.

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.

There should also be a secondary mission established specifically for the role of the Noosphere that is separate from the mission of PlanetMath.Org.

The mission of the Noosphere is to provide and continually upgrade and improve its open source easy-to-use fully functioning platform for commons based peer production

This delineation will be key as PlanetMath moves forward in building community.

Visions for Strategic Communications Plan:

PlanetMath.Org envisions that through the successful implementation of its plan that:

 PlanetMath is making major contributions to the state of online collaborative authorship

 PlanetMath is free and open to all who want to communicate about math, consistent with standards and rules established by the PlanetMath community itself.

 PlanetMath has a diverse and sustainable funding stream, including certain premium services (which will be accessed via linked websites to avoid antagonizing the community), tie-ins with products from corporate sponsors/supporters such MathResources’ Math Dictionary, foundation grants, and advertising..

 PlanetMath is the center of a constellation of related and interlinked projects, including other Planets, [premium tutoring—let’s talk about this] and other services.

 PlanetMath is simultaneously a publisher (of a free online encyclopedia), a learned society (where mathematicians meet to discuss math topics and get news of what’s happening in the math profession) and a school [ (providing fee-for-service tutoring for all levels of math-learners).]

 PlanetMath has become the outlet of choice for advanced researchers to submit their work for peer review prior to formal journal publication.

 PlanetMath has an appropriate mix of full- and part-time paid staff.

 PlanetMath has significantly upgraded its web architecture (Noosphere) and is funding research on such topics as autolinker development, scholium system research, and reputation system research.

PlanetMath.Org now must move from vision to reality. What you will find contained in the pages hereafter are strategies and an overview of the activities and resources needed to fulfill the stated visions.

Recommendations:

 Focus on upper tier of mathematics community
 Don’t try to be all things to all people
 Create a paradigm where Noosphere becomes the galaxy that all Planets align within
 Create a what PlanetMath Isn’t space (a la wikipedia)
 Play to PlanetMath’s strengths of having an online-publishing platform to provide opportunities/access to pre-publish and get “friendly-fireâ€� peer-to-peer review
 Develop complementary technology deliverables, e.g., podcasts and video conferencing special events
 Develop and find investors (social philanthropists) to help grow, build and market the Noosphere

Strategies:

 Establish PlanetMath Advisory Board, using advisory as a foundation introduce the work of PlanetMath, recruit prominent mathematicians, proponents of “the Commonsâ€� and leaders open source and related technical fields
 Create a “go-toâ€� destination for mathematicians with job-listings, personal area to assist keeping people in/linked to the community
 Leveraging “the askâ€� to heighten profile of PlanetMath to key organizations, including employers of mathematicians, financial services industry, technology companies, academic settings, etc.
 Develop “The Human Impact Storyâ€� of PlanetMath—tell how PlanetMath made a difference in someone’s life
 Create an annual “state of mathâ€� awards and presentation to be deployed annually
 Leverage Noosphere for consulting revenue
 Develop a high-end coffee table book of art, comics, etc. of math that could be sold through science museums, etc.
 Leverage online outlets to heighten profile of PlanetMath, including YouTube, MySpace, FaceBook, etc.
 Develop and leverage relationships with mathematic departments at a variety of learning institutions
 Establish relationships with math organizations/outlets
 Develop a subscription based premium-pay “Digestâ€� of PlanetMath
 Adopt “cooperativeâ€� business model so that individual collaborators recognizes the need for ongoing support for the community
 Aggregate/invite in smaller sites that just have one or two people, such as Pierre & David at Math2.org
 Create a MathMentors program that links emerging mathematicians with established mathematicians

Promising Revenue Sources:

 Establishing sponsor relationships with premiere businesses to outright fund basic operating of PlanetMath—must speak to aligned values and benefits to business
 Noosphere launch into market & consulting support
 Premium pay or free with ad view access
 Expand general online ad services
 Once a year online auction by and for PlanetMath participants
 PlanetMath Digest subscriptions
 PlanetMath annual corporate/education ask

Activities:

There are a broad range of activities implied by this plan, including:

 Database development and managements of potentially thousands individual mathematicians/organizations, as well as media
 Regular communications with a host of math journals, math departments, educators, sponsors and other stakeholders
 Regularly linking to websites
 Regularly announcing PlanetNews
 Presenting/bringing the world of PlanetMath to the media and general public

Resources Needed:

In all revenue models, in all instances, there must be capacity to continuously support the work. PlanetMath must find ongoing operating support of at minimum $6,000 per month to actually establish and maintain the relationships that PlanetMath must have to be sustainable.

Evaluation:

There are two different evaluations that must be executed to ascertain the effectiveness of PlanetMath.Org 2.0 Plan.

Short-Term Benchmarks:

These will need to be set as a team, once the plan is approved and adopted, but include the number and types of stories and outcomes that resulted from the ongoing communications efforts. We would expect those benchmarks to be quantifiable:

 Increase in number of active contributors from __ to ____
 Increase in number of registered members from __ to ___
 How many mentions in media/journals says “success?â€�
 Number of links from complementary web sites

Long-Term Benchmarks:

The second set of evaluative tools we will need to establish will involve answering questions such as:

 Are we reaching the right audiences through our communications efforts?
 Are the deliverables and services provided the right mix for the population we are seeking to attract?

Research:

Under separate cover, Words on Fire will provide PlanetMath.Org with:

 Targeted media lists
 A list of college math departments
 A list of potential funders with which PlanetMath.Org may not already be familiar, whose values and missions aligns with PlanetMath.Org.
 A brief list of potential sponsors


I definitely agree with Alvaro (alozano) on this. There is a *big* disconnect here. It is (or at least it should be) impossible to discuss PM's missions, goals, plans, etc. without more than a brief mention of mathematics.

There are some statements within the "strategic communications plan" with which I strongly agree; however, most of these statements are along the lines of "PM needs to have a clearly stated mission." Some of us on PM have been working on creating or clarifying our mission as well as other related topics, and I hope that the things that we have discussed can be implemented soon. In other words, as Alvaro said:

"Let's finalize the community guidelines and standards for entries, let's set up the membership system, let's vote for a new government body, let's create a content committee and start reviewing entries. All these steps do not require extra funding and they will make us move in the right direction."

I found some other statements in the draft absolutely puzzling. These include:

> PlanetMath is in the place that all adolescents must go through to become successful adults. Who am I and what do I want to become when I grow up?

> PlanetMath must find ongoing operating support of at minimum $6,000 per month to actually establish and maintain the relationships that PlanetMath must have to be sustainable.

> We would expect those benchmarks to be quantifiable:

* Increase in number of active contributors from __ to __
* Increase in number of registered members from __ to __
*˜ How many mentions in media/journals says "success?"�
*˜ Number of links from complementary web sites

The first one puzzles me most. Alvaro addressed the second one in his post: Where is this $6,000 per month coming from? As for the third, the focus here seems to be quantity and/or publicity, not *quality*. I would say that quality is more important than quantity and publicity. Just to be clear, what I mean by quality is "clarity and mathematical accuracy", which applies most to the encyclopedia. Alvaro mentioned these aspects in relation to the encyclopedia in a previous post:

http://planetmath.org/?op=getmsg&id=15170

It would be nice to have a lot of active people in PM, and it would also be nice if PM became highly recognized by the public as an online mathematical reference, but if what we have to offer is lacking in quality, then to me, the number of active people and the publicity are in vain. As Alvaro said, "If there is no good math in the website then there is no future and the strategic planning is useless."

Warren

I have no problem with the mission statement itself - we simply need to act on it.

I do, however, agree strongly with both of the preceding comments. The key to more acceptance, use, and recognition of PM is more and better content, and more control over the quality of that content. The most important thing we can do right now is to follow up on the suggestions that have been made over the past month or two and get agreement and processes in place to really review entries.

Yes, there are some issues around sex appeal - just look at the differences between Wikipedia and PM in terms of look and feel - but the real meat is in the content. The summer of code work can profitably be used to snazz up the user experience.

There are clearly some more serious coding and design issues that need to be addressed. Is there an opportunity to partner with (read: get funding from) the MAA or AMS? How about NSF - are there any grant dollars to be had to do this work? I think it's pretty unrealistic to expect that we can fund any reasonable amount of money purely through contributions.

Roger

> There are clearly some more serious coding and design issues
> that need to be addressed.

> Is there an opportunity to partner with (read: get funding from)
> the MAA or AMS?

For the pasy few years, we have been building our relationship
with MAA. As I see it, the way they could best help us may
not be so much by direct financial contribution as by indirect
means whose value nonetheless could be counted in dollars. In
particular, I have the following in mind the following:

* The MAA can help publicize PM amongst their membership.

* Once we work on the quality of content, they can help
legitimize PM as a mathematical reference.

* They can write letters of support to help us obtain funding.

Already we are part of the MAA math gateway and, as such, are
linked from the official MAA gateway page.

> How about NSF - are there any grant dollars to be had to do
> this work?

We applied for an NSF grant earlier this year. Since it is by
no means certain that we will recieve what we asked for, it would
only make sense to send variants of the proposal to other agencies
and foundations. I hope that Words on Fire can help identify a
suitable for our application.

> I think it's pretty unrealistic to expect that we can
> fund any reasonable amount of money purely through
> contributions.

I would ammend that with the clause "unless we first put sgnificant
effort into pubicizing PM and building relations with donors." For
instance, note that Wikipedia raised a million dollars in a fund
drive a few months ago. Therefore, I don't think it out of the
question to envision the possibility of having a steady annual income
of several tens of thousands of dollars annually from donations
alone. However, it will take significant work to get to that point.
After all, right now we have a donation page but only receive
piddling amounts. This is where I see the media contact list and
other activities mentioned in the report such as as annual awards or
auctions coming in --- they raise awareness or PM amongst the general
public and thereby bring us to the attention of potential donors.
However, it will take effort to contact media and arrange events and
the flock of faithful donors will not materialize immediately.

As for how to underwrite PM in the long term, my favorite option is
by selling goods and services related to PM. The underlying software
could certainly be adapted to applications other than co-authoring an
encyclopaedia. Already, Robert Milson used the program as is to
teach a class, but I see other applications possible. For instance,
I could imagine how an organization might use a modified version of
Noosphere (or even better, the scholium system) to manage internal
reports, memoranda, and the like. Therefore, there might be a market
for customization and support services. We have toyed with the idea
of selling a print version of the PM encyclopaedia; we might also
sell textbooks, handbooks, and monographs based on PM content to
fund the website. Another possibility is tutoring and consulting.
For people who want more help than can be obtained by raising
questions in a help forum, PM could help connect them with a tutor
(for students) or a consultant (for engineers needing help with
mathematical issues) and collect a modest commission for this
service. Again, as with the donations, none of these things will
happen immediately, but time and money will be required to set up
these services, to advertise them, and build up a following of
happy customers. The report also contains a few more suggestions
along these lines.

Because these plans will take time to implement and involve an
initial investment, I think that, for now, the best plan is to
concentrate on obtaining grants to underwrite work on the software
and building the organization. Once these come in and take care of
our needs for the time being, we can begin working on the long-term
sources of income.

Hi everyone,

To me there are two observations here that obviate the main objections of Alvaro and others:

1) There is a difference between the (math) content and running the organization to manage and help guide the site and community. We are focusing on the former with this developmental contract.

2) It is clear by now that we need to improve the content (at best, simply because we always want to be better!) There is nothing new in that observation. What is new is that we've finally realized we need an investment of new resources to do that (in any way that meaningfully departs from what we've acheived so far).

Yes, we need everyone we've got now to keep doing math.

And we need to develop standards, as we are doing with the discussion on the content committee. We should continue that.

But to *implement* many of the great ideas that have been discussed, and to reach out to new people, we need resources, and thus, strategies for getting them.

That is what the WoF contract has been about. Nonprofit consultants aren't going to tell us how to write better or more math. That should go without saying!

All of these exhortations along the lines of "we just need to buckle down and do X" ignore the question of why X hasn't already happened. Usually it is because (financial) resources are needed directly, or because is there is a lack of organization, which is indirectly due to a lack of resources.

The volunteer component of the site is a lot, but it is not everything. Who is going to volunteer time and energy beyond writing their own entries that they directly care about? The answer thus far is: not many people.

No one is saying we should stop taking the small steps we've already started taking. But those steps will stop when the reach the brick wall of having no resources to implement big things they need. We should be working towards both. This contract was about learning how to do the non-math stuff we don't know how to do!

As for the objection about specifics in the report, note at the end that the contact lists &etc. are to be delivered separately.

apk

> 1) There is a difference between the (math) content and running the organization to manage and help guide the site and community. We are focusing on the former with this developmental contract.

Ooops, that should be "latter".

apk

I suppose I have a duty to respond here, since I find myself in the position of being the only mathematician on this site who is not overtly hostile to the concept of strategizing. Mind you, that doesn't mean that I like this marketoid stuff; it just means that I am not totally opposed to it and I think it is worth attempting.

In the first place, I strongly agree that implementing a membership system and refreshing the governance of the corporation is an important matter which deserves at least the same priority as improving the encyclopedia, much less strategic planning. The problem with the membership system is that no one has volunteered to implement that infrastructure, and as for new governance, well, any reasonable notion of voting for new governance requires the membership infrastructure to be in place beforehand.

Believe it or not, I also agree that improving the encyclopedia is the most important long term task that we face. I just happen to disagree on the quickest way to bring about that improvement. My subjective opinion, backed by my years of experience working with PlanetMath, is that the present web site does not provide us with the technical tools that we need in order to make the best use of our limited resources. At one point, near the beginning of the project, I did believe that all we needed to do was build a minimally capable web site which was theoretically capable of being managed and developed by the community. Right now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that although we have come a long way in building an encyclopedia, we have not achieved everything that I had ideally envisioned that we would achieve. Since everyone here is a longtime member of PlanetMath and is well aware of the numerous shortcomings of our present encyclopedia, I will not endeavor to list those deficiencies here.

Now here is where our opinions start to differ. You have laid out your position, so I will lay out mine in the hopes that we can come to some consensus or at least understanding. You (evidently; please correct me if I'm wrong) think that the encyclopedia could be fixed if only we as a community would agree to work harder and cooperate better and set some standards and abide by them. My feeling is that this approach will never succeed, because the amount of work required under this approach exceeds the capacity of our community to supply it. This is a rather sobering realization to admit openly, and it is not too big a step to conclude from this that we should give up. However, it is possible that by improving the technical infrastructure of the web site, we can get more mileage out of our (demonstrably) limited volunteer base and reach the point where our community can maintain an encyclopedia that meets our standards.

I am not actually sure if this approach will work, but I have seen enough of the old way to conclude that directed planning will certainly work better than what we have been doing so far. I know for a fact that I myself could make good use of technical additions such as a more streamlined corrections workflow. I have been waiting for these improvements to materialize for a good many years and it is clear that progress along these lines can only occur via concerted and directed action. The purpose of strategic planning, then, is to make it possible to grow and maintain the web site in the way that we want. Content maintenance in particular is something that I do not see will be possible in the long term with our present code base, so that alone if nothing else is enough justification for us to be going in this direction.

Some emphasis/additions/clarifications ..

> In the first place, I strongly agree that implementing a
> membership system and refreshing the governance of the
> corporation is an important matter which deserves at least
> the same priority as improving the encyclopedia, much less
> strategic planning. The problem with the membership system
> is that no one has volunteered to implement that
> infrastructure, and as for new governance, well, any
> reasonable notion of voting for new governance requires the
> membership infrastructure to be in place beforehand.

Actually, the membership system is implemented, in the technical sense. The details in the "organizational" sense remain to be finalized. But I personally am pretty much ready to release this:

http://planetx.cc.vt.edu/pmbilling/

Notably, this did cost money to get done. Similarly, other things like it will cost money to get done. But they are do-able.

> You (evidently; please correct me if I'm
> wrong) think that the encyclopedia could be fixed if only we
> as a community would agree to work harder and cooperate
> better and set some standards and abide by them. My feeling
> is that this approach will never succeed, because the amount
> of work required under this approach exceeds the capacity of
> our community to supply it. This is a rather sobering
> realization to admit openly, and it is not too big a step to
> conclude from this that we should give up. However, it is
> possible that by improving the technical infrastructure of
> the web site, we can get more mileage out of our
> (demonstrably) limited volunteer base and reach the point
> where our community can maintain an encyclopedia that meets
> our standards.

Absolutely. I think the billing system is an example of this. When we release this (in the next month?), I hope it is the start of an ongoing rolling snowball of revenues and membership interaction. This groundwork can trigger many other things, including technical infrastructure and other facilities to improve the encyclopedia.

> I am not actually sure if this approach will work, but I
> have seen enough of the old way to conclude that directed
> planning will certainly work better than what we have been
> doing so far.

Note that it is not just planning, but planning for *what*. That "what" is an outside investment of material (financial) resources. We've done lots of planning. Now it is time to get some "fuel" to activate some of those plans.

apk

When I read this and similar postings, I get the impression that
they are based upon a questionable hypothesis, namely "working on
organizational matters takes away from working on content and
vice versa". The reason that I disagree with this thesis is that
a differrent group of people has been working on the organizational
end of things than the group working on the content end and that
people in each group would not likely work on the the other end.
Therefore, I don't see that there is really that much of a decision
to be made whether we choose to work on organization or content.

For instance, keep in mind that, independantly of the work on
fundraising, Chi Woo has drafted community guidelines and we are
working on implementing them. While I definitely agree that we
should finalize and implement these guidelines, I don't see any
reason to suspend work on the organization until these guidelines
are done and fully implemented.

> Where is this money going to come from?

If you look further in the report, in the section on sources of
revenue, this is explained. Moreover, in the presentation of this
report, Marnita provided more specific information and, in a week,
Words on Fire will have a specific list of companies and
organizations to whom we could apply for money.

> It is my impression that the document does not approach the issue
> of how PM is going to obtain the first increments in funding, what
> are the first small steps.

From talking to Carl and Marnita today, it seems that a promising
possibility is to contact marketing departments of technology
companies and discuss sponsorship opportunities. At the least,
the companies would give us a donation in exchange for us
acknowledging them on the website. However, for a larger
contribution, we might also be able to do more, such as make the
site more useful as a reference for their engineers or offer a
mathematical award named afer their company.

On the whole, while it may not say too much in this particular
document, Carl and Marnita are quite aware of the fact that we
have to start from where were are and work with the resources
we now have. In particular, it seems that in our next discussion
with them, they will have more to say about things which we can do
right now.

> Of course, this is an endless recursive argument, to improve the
> encyclopedia we need some coding and to improve the code we need
> some money...

Once one rejects the thesis metioned above, the paradox goes away.
The resolution is that we work on improving the content and
improving the code and securing funding the same time. To be sure,
since these things are interdependent, progress in one department
will depend upon progress in the other two departments. However,
that doesn't mean that the situation is impossible, only that it
will take time and that we need to coordinate activities. Whilst the
content may have a ways to go, it is at least good enough for a
proof of concept which can be used to convince people to invest in
upgrading the site. Granted that our opportunities may be limited
by the quality of content, but I think we should make use of them to
raise some funds which could be used to make long overdue bug fixes
and improvements which will make it easier to work on the content.

> Let's do/write MATHEMATICS people! If there is no good math
> in the website then there is no future and the strategic
> planning is useless.

That is all well and good, but let me add another sentiment:

Let's raise some MONEY, people! If there is no money in the
budget, then there is not going to much of a website and writing
content for it is useless.

The point of this is that both writing mathematics and raising funds
are important. I don't think it very meaningful to quibble which is
more important because both are needed. Moreover, as I said,
differrent people are concentrating their efforts on fundraising
than on content, so there is no real conflict of working on one as
opposed to working on the other. Given that we are making progress
on fundraising, programming, and content nowadays, I think that we
should continue working on all these things at the same time.

> You (evidently; please correct me if I'm
> wrong) think that the encyclopedia could be fixed if only we
> as a community would agree to work harder and cooperate
> better and set some standards and abide by them. My feeling
> is that this approach will never succeed, because the amount
> of work required under this approach exceeds the capacity of
> our community to supply it.

Hi djao, I am glad you joined this conversation.

As a matter of fact, no, I don't think that the encyclopedia can be completely fixed if "as a community would agree to work harder..." What I am saying is that yes, we need to improve the technical infrastructure and yes, we need to improve our funding, but what I say is that in order to improve our funding we will need to improve the encyclopedia first, by hand and at small steps which can be done by the community without needing fancy resources. If we keep waiting for this funding fairy that will provide all the money we need to pay a full time programmer then we will never get anything done. So far we have been able to take small steps with bounties and this is the only realistic scenario that I can foresee in the near future.

To be honest, if the MAA or the AMS or any other mathematical association would approach me and ask me for my current opinion: should we sponsor/fund Planetmath? I would not know what to answer and my answer could possibly be NO. Why? Because the content is unreliable as it is. There is no verification/certification system in place of any sort, and in fact, there are plenty of entries which contain inaccuracies and an unfortunate number of entries which are blatantly wrong, or useless. I don't want to seem overly pesimistic. There is good content out there, but the bad entries cast a shadow of doubt over the whole encyclopedia.

This is my main issue with the WoF document. It is my belief (and maybe I am wrong here, please correct me) that the WoF people are very knowledgeable in business strategies but have no mathematical background, and as such they cannot study the quality of the content or compare it to other online resources. As I see it, the accuracy issue is the first thing in my agenda and it is the first thing that needs to be fixed. As long as we keep obsessing about finding large amounts of funding before resolving other content issues then I find it hard to believe that any reasonable amount of funding will appear in front of us. Hopefully, I am wrong and some company will decide to take a risk on us and fund us. I just cannot count on this.

Alvaro

> When I read this and similar postings, I get the impression
> that
> they are based upon a questionable hypothesis, namely
> "working on
> organizational matters takes away from working on content
> and
> vice versa".

Hi Ray,

No, that is not my hypothesis. I believe it is very important to work on organizational matters and I thank all those who are working on that much more than me. I believe it is crucial that we work on the community guidelines (see previous posts of mine!), that we agree on an organizational/government structure, that we elect a new body and that we create a content committee. I am pro-organizational matters that are *realistic*, which we can achieve in the very near future and which will have a very positive impact on Planetmath. I am not saying "let's do MATH" and nothing else. What I am saying is that the WoF document seems the opposite to me: strategy and no math. Again, I think it is crucial that we pass a bunch of laws so that we create and agree on some standards for the entries. I just don't think that the WoF document addresses this issue and they seem to advocate only for publicity and pledging for money to a number of companies and entities. See my previous post in reply to djao's post: I believe that if we don't set standards for the entries first then we will not obtain any reasonable funding.

We mentioned this issue in the last phone conversation. We need to tell the public that we, the users and the community, know that some of our entries are good, some are excellent and some are bad, and some simply should not be there at all. As long as there is no rating system in place, or a certification/verification system, or a simple flag, or a live or die system, or a temporary tag, or whatever we choose to have, there will be a cloud of doubt over the whole encyclopedia. And an encyclopedia which is not reliable is not an encyclopedia, and I can't imagine that any respectable entity will fund us until this is fixed and out image is improved (I cross my fingers hoping that I am wrong). That's why I advocate to concentrate on small steps first, and small bounties in the direcion of creating some respectful image for the site. Yes, we will need some funding to even pay for these small bounties. I hope that the membership system will provide some money that will allow us to pay for these initial improvements.

Alvaro

There is a huge chicken and egg issue which you rightly point out. We need resources to improve infrastructure, but on the other hand we need to improve the web site in order to merit funding. I think the fastest way out of this quandary is to work on both problems concurrently. In the short term, we absolutely do need to improve the mathematics content of our web site. As I already mentioned, I believe such an effort is unsustainable in the long term with present tools, but we will need to carry it out, even on an unsustainable basis, for a short period of time while we are getting the corresponding technical and infrastructurial efforts off the ground. In other words, we plan to do exactly what you suggested. The goal is to time our activity so that the technical improvements appear one by one just in time to save us from being stuck with unmaintainable operations forever.

Having said that, there is no reason why the same set of people should work on both the content problems and the infrastructure problems. Indeed, as with all things, specialization will be key to success. For example, I imagine that certain people (like you and me) will work primarily on improving content, while other people will work on pursuing technical partnerships. I should point out that although you may think the latter task is primarily about money, the truth is that during today's conference call we spent as much time discussing non-financial partnerships as financial partnerships, and in particular it is likely that non-financial transactions such as code contributions will be a major source of progress and advancement.

It is true that the WoF document does not talk about mathematics. To be honest, I don't want them to talk about mathematics. Let the mathematicians worry about the mathematics, and let the strategy consultants worry about forming partnerships (both financial and non-financial). I do strongly believe that we need to form partnerships in order to grow beyond our present limitations. We cannot go it alone anymore unless we are happy being stuck with the way things are now.

> To be honest, if the MAA or the AMS or any other mathematical association would approach me and ask me for my current opinion: should we sponsor/fund Planetmath? I would not know what to answer and my answer could possibly be NO. Why? Because the content is unreliable as it is. There is no verification/certification system in place of any sort, and in fact, there are plenty of entries which contain inaccuracies and an unfortunate number of entries which are blatantly wrong, or useless. I don't want to seem overly pesimistic. There is good content out there, but the bad entries cast a shadow of doubt over the whole encyclopedia.

I agree this is a problem but it is only approximately half our problem. Yes, we should have some sort of content control in place (whether soft or hard), but traditional organizations also need to be more open to the grassroots, which does not function optimally in the way formal organizations do. Gems emerge, but only after polishing.

Traditional notions of "certification" or "verification" are immensely labor-intensive, and as we've seen with the journal system, subject to extensive abuse and error. We shouldn't reproduce that, of course, but we could still make use of some form of quality control. The catch is that to havea system of comparable utility to the traditional one, we need an injection of labor, which would ironically be just the kind of thing organizations like the MAA or AMS could bring forth, if they didn't ab initio eschew community efforts!

So we must work on them, while working on ourselves, as David said.

I'll point out in case you didn't see yet that, along the lines of "working on ourself", we have a Google Summer of Code internship with Pawel Jurczyk to study the application of reputation systems to PlanetMath. Hopefully that sort of thing can help us better "sort" the content we have and make clear the likely quality, which could open the door further down the road to having "reviewed" items by people at these major organizations.

Come to think of it, we should also consider discussing concretely proposals for implementing vetting systems that take advantage of the people we already have who are "credentialed". Then perhaps we can implement it when we have the money/manpower.

apk

> We mentioned this issue in the last phone conversation. We
> need to tell the public that we, the users and the
> community, know that some of our entries are good, some are
> excellent and some are bad, and some simply should not be
> there at all. As long as there is no rating system in place,
> or a certification/verification system, or a simple flag, or
> a live or die system, or a temporary tag, or whatever we
> choose to have, there will be a cloud of doubt over the
> whole encyclopedia. And an encyclopedia which is not
> reliable is not an encyclopedia, and I can't imagine that
> any respectable entity will fund us until this is fixed and
> out image is improved (I cross my fingers hoping that I am
> wrong).

> Alvaro

Once some form of QA is instituted, will PM continue to be "math by the people?" IMHO, many of us who contribute entries simply lack the mathematical talent or training to create entries of reasonable quality. Some also lack the requisite communication skills to do so. For example, entries that are not grammatical simply because English is not the author's native language are still not grammatical. Will people who can't measure up simply be discarded?

> Once some form of QA is instituted, will PM continue to be
> "math by the people?" IMHO, many of us who contribute
> entries simply lack the mathematical talent or training to
> create entries of reasonable quality. Some also lack the
> requisite communication skills to do so. For example,
> entries that are not grammatical simply because English is
> not the author's native language are still not grammatical.
> Will people who can't measure up simply be discarded?

Hi ratboy, no, nobody should be "disqualified" or not allowed to participate and write entries (as long as you have enough knowledge on a topic to write about it). Language and grammar problems can be fixed using corrections. However, people who do not know much about a given topic should not write about it. In any case, the site will probably evolve in the following direction: everyone will be still allowed to submit entries but not all entries (probably none) will go directly into the encyclopedia. There will be some sort of discussion page (like in Wikipedia) and a finalized or provisional version of entries. Or maybe some sort of rating system or certification/validation system in which other users will give a rating to a given entry, or to a version of a given entry, so others can see the 'score' of the entry and decide how much they trust the content on it. There is still much debate about what's the best way to go, but some of us feel that is important that we have some 'quality control' system in place. Mathematics needs rigor and if we cannot assure (in some way or another, and up to certain degree) the reader that some of our entries are rigorous then our efforts are in vain or diminished.

Alvaro

Remember the motto has two parts "math for the people, by the people". Having this QA piece set up and implemented on PM is in fact a way to reinforce the motto. It ensures that PM has good math content (math for the people), and it offers a friendly, non-threatening environment for people to contribute and exchange math (by the people).

I see your concern with regard to entries with grammar problems being targeted. I don't really think that this is going to be a problem. The PM approach to QA is (you may have already read about it)

1. a set of guidelines will be released to the public,
2. a content commmittee will be formed, whose key function is to enforce the guidelines.

The content committee does not really "go out there" and look for bad entries on PM. The way the content committee handles problem entries, as far as I understand it from the various recent community discussion meetings, is on a complaint basis (correct me anyone if I am wrong), and this is how it roughly works:

1. someone lodges a complaint about a certain entry to the content committee,
2. the content committee reviews the complaint and the entry in question,
3. if the committee decides that there is enough evidence to pursue the issue, it will then take action.

So, if someone has an issue with a grammatical mistake in the entry, the first thing would be, as Alvaro has pointed out, to issue a correction notice to that entry. Hopefully things will be resolved at that level, before having any need to get the content committee involved.

It is important to also realize that having good mathematical entries is one way to attract new users because they see that PM is serious and offers good quality math material. In addition and perhaps more importantly, having good content on PM is one way to retain existing contributors from leaving because they are frustrated and fed up with the lack of quality on PM.

Of course, any rules and regulations also come with the enforcement piece (otherwise there wouldn't be any need for rules and regulations). There will be penalties for repeat offenders. But the intent of having this QA in place is never to punish anyone, rather to encourage people to contribute good quality mathematics on PM.

In my opinion, the best way of meeting the conflicting demands of
popularity and quality control is as follows:

1. We rename what is now called "encyclopedia" as "commons" or some
such name. Anybody can post any material there as long as it meets
basic norms of scholarly conduct.

2. In addition, we have a number of distinguished subcollections.
One of these would be the new encyclopaedia section. For instance,
to qualify for inclusion in this section, an entry might have to
meet the following criteria:

* Have as its topic a well-established piece of mathematics.

* Have been reviewed by a certain number of people knowledgable in
the subject of the entry.

Not being included in the encyclopaedia would not be so big a deal
because the entry would still be accessible in the commons.

To do this well would require making significant changes to the
software, so is not going to happen in the next year. However, using
the existing software, we can make a workable approximation to this
situation.

1. Make new types for entry types such as "non-standard" and "new
research" to go alongside "theorem", "proof", etc. These would be
used for classifying material which may not strictly belong in an
encyclopaedia. (Already, we have "feature", but a few more types
would be desirable so as to better classify material.)

2. Set linking data so that these entries will not be linked to
encylopaedia entries.

3. Maybe set up a new view of the encyclopaedia (along the lines of
the current "browse by subject", "browse by title", etc, which
would not show entries whose types are the ones introduced in step 1.

I think that having such a distinguished subcollection ought to take
care of assuring reliablity of material whilst at the same time
allowing anybody to contribute.

I agree Ray. But I also think that our ideas can coexist. In other words, we will have this new paradigm where all entries are allowed, as long as they have some "flavors" of mathematics. But we would still need a set of community guidelines and a content committee to deal with problematic entries, and to act as an arbitrator, if you will, to settle conflicts.

Now, depending on where PM is heading in the long run, I think we may need to worry about whether this categorization by entry type would be point-sensitive. If PM is going to a place where no particular type is favored, then nothing needs to be done; all entries of all types are rewarded equally. However, if the focus of PM is going to be primarily a math encyclopedia, then one way to emphasize (and encourage) this is to vary point reward rules by entry type. If an entry is of an encyclopedic nature, it would be rewarded fully. If an entry is non-standard mathematics, it is worth such and such, etc... Of course, the implementation of this would take time (and possibly money). Personally, I favor the latter.

We will talk more about this on Wednsday. Basically, what I
outlined is what we already talked about for the last few
meetings. What I am calling "commons" here is essentially what
you have been calling "other place" all along.

Because I did not say much about community guidelines or content
committee in the post should not to be taken to mean that this
is a new proposal in which they would not be present. Rather, I
didn't talk about the social aspects of the system because my
focus was on the technical aspects.

In particular, I was most interested in outlining how some reasonable
approximation to a new system could be made by making minimal tweaks
to what we currently have. The reason for worrying about this is that, the way things are now, small tweaks about all that can be done
in the way of coding. While there is already work underway on
redesigning and rewriting the software platform, it looks like it
will be at least a year before the new system will be ready for use.

Your thoughts on points sound reasonable. Changing the scoring
mechanism so that it takes note of entry type should not be that
major a project, so it could be done alongside the other hacks I
suggested in my post.

As Robert Milson pointed out early on in the process, there is no mathematics in your strategy. There is a big disconnect here. See:

http://planetmath.org/?op=getmsg&id=14280

We need to concentrate FIRST on improving the encyclopedia.

I also chose not to participate in the process, exactly for the same reasons as rmilson explained in his post. The first draft of the words-on-fire strategy pays no attention to what I consider the first and foremost priority: improving the encyclopedia, make it more accurate, complete, comprehensive, etc, according to a set of rules and standards to be defined.

I can only find in this document a vague list of 'desirables', like a $6000 per month income. Where is this money going to come from? We have tried before to make such contacts with no success. If the encyclopedia does not reach and meet some standards of mathematical rigor, the funding will not come. Of course, this is an endless recursive argument, to improve the encyclopedia we need some coding and to improve the code we need some money... It is my impression that the document does not approach the issue of how PM is going to obtain the first increments in funding, what are the first small steps. It is clear what one needs and can do when the funding is up to $6000/month, but how does one get up there?

Again, I would advocate to take small steps first. Let's finalize the community guidelines and standards for entries, let's set up the membership system, let's vote for a new government body, let's create a content committee and start reviewing entries. All these steps do not require extra funding and they will make us move in the right direction.

Let's do/write MATHEMATICS people! If there is no good math in the website then there is no future and the strategic planning is useless.

Alvaro

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