J. Lucks’ comments regarding the arxiv.reddit.com

13Jan08

Julius Lucks (a UCB Miller Fellow and former Cantabridgian) left a very neat comment on my post `If Digg ran the arXiv.’ He points out that http://arxiv.reddit.com does already exist, and then goes into some of the issues involved with such a system. Because I enjoyed the read so much I’m reproducing it here as a post:

Hello,

I actually worked with the reddit guys about a year and a half ago to http://arxiv.reddit.com – check it out, it exists, and is functional.

However, as pointed out to me by Paul Ginsparg, this type of thing takes massive grass-roots organization to get off the ground. I spent quit a bit of time talking about this idea to physicists and mathematicians, and about 50% of them thought it would be great if it was already up and running, but 0% of them wanted to be the first ones to stick their neck out to start it up. Just take a look at PLoS ONE’s efforts to roll their own system like this – (link to a random PLoS ONE article that allows discussions and comments on their site) – it is not being used very heavily.

Another issue raised with arxiv.reddit.com was user names. There are arguments on both sides whether to allow anonymous user names or not. Within OpenWetWare (http://openwetware.org), we ended up deciding to require people to use their real name that they use to publish articles as their user name because it is a scientific organization that requires the same credibility. If you require that, the more conservative big-name scientists will not leave any comments for fear of being ‘wrong’, and people won’t be incentivized to leave comments because the big-name people don’t show up.

So you start out with a very skewed sample of the population using the site, and this brings up another problem: the system is a bit chaotic with regards to the initial group of people using the site. The initial users quickly form a community whose tone is completely set by them. Take reddit for example – since reddit was originally written in lisp, the first people to adopt it were enthusiastic lispers who were so excited to see a modern app written in their favorite language. It took a very long time (around a year or so) for enough non-lispers to join in the reddit thing to move the topics to a more balanced arena.

You point out additonal problems with this approach as well. The most crucial is one of longevity. Since it has lasted so long, the current arXiv system obviously works very well, and it would be hard to rationalize a change that might be just a fad. However, the arXiv IS changing to allow anyone who wants to try out these ideas in the form of a programmatic API with which you can easily build applications. Check out http://export.arxiv.org/api_help/ .

Thanks for the interesting post and discussion!

And thank you, Dr. Lucks, for your comments! Some other Web 2.0 Science posts on this blog that may be of interest: If Amazon ran the arXiv, If Google ran the arXiv, Rise of the Wiki part I, part II, part III.



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