Wiki as a time saver for researchers

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The intention of this resource is to draw researchers' attention to Wikis as a potentially efficient new means for scientific/technical communication/education/collaboration. The author believes the current approach (papers) alone is not very efficient for idea exchange among researchers.

Assuming a learner new to a field has already read some classic textbooks for systematic knowledge acquisition, and already had the framework of the field on his mind, and is going to specialize on a specific problem. At this point, he has to search for and read existing papers on this topic, which can be an extremely painful hunting and digestion progress. Whether if he just wants to get informed of as many previous efforts on the problem as possible, or if he believes he has got an original idea and wants to ensure the originality, he probably has to undertake an extensive search with Google/CiteSeer for all papers available online with a seemingly relevant title. He has to scan through a screenful of downloaded papers. Even after doing this, there can still be new papers found later to be relevant.

Papers are essentially individual units of information shattered over the Internet, and the current approach to find them -- search engines connect researchers to them via a keyword combination. Not to mention that we can't be sure the wanted papers all contain such a keyword phrase, the prohibitively enormous amount of search results can always bury critical information.

On the other hand, web sites that have a well organized collection of papers on a topic, as an information gateway alternative to search engines, are easy to get out of date and miss the latest useful discoveries for a topic.

The idea of using Wiki came to my mind last night. It can be useful in both scenarios below:

  1. A newcomer to a field who wants to investigate all existing efforts on a specific task;
  2. Experienced researchers who want to effortlessly keep track of new ideas/solutions to a specific task (or any specific task in a field).

So what is Wiki? Wiki is an easy way to collaboratively edit online documentation via a Web interface. A live example is Wikipedia [1], which is an online encyclopedia on general knowledge.

How can Wiki be used in scientific communication? Usually, what a researcher discovers is a new idea, or an enhancement to an existing idea. He can contribute this new idea to a Wiki page where all historical efforts for a task are documented in an organized manner. Readers interested in a specific task can directly go down to that context and get all the relevant details about previous efforts. This is like a precisely targeted advertising model which immediately connects scientific authors and readers of the same specific research interest. It also helps a new idea to quickly propagate to researchers who set a "news alert" to capture all new efforts on a specific problem.

How specific can a problem be defined? It's unlimited and up to your needs. It can be far more specific than what categories are defined in Yahoo Directory or Dmoz Directory.

If the Wiki way of scientific communication becomes popular, researchers can save countless hours from "search", and put more time on problem solving.

To generalize my initiative, the Wiki way is useful not only in sci/tech communication, but also in any general domains where the current state of the art of search engines can't return relevant and comprehensive results.

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