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• CommentRowNumber1.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009
[The following is a text that arose out of private discussion Andrew Stacey and myself had. Discussion of this text should take place here, whereas any stable effects this discussion hopefully bears should be implemented at the nLab entry <a href="http://ncatlab.org/nlab/show/organization+of+the+nLab">organization of the nLab</a>]

The n-Lab has been up and running for a few months now and seems to be doing fairly well. We think it's now time to put in place a more formal organisational structure.

Whilst the n-Lab was small, and while the group involved is small, then many
issues can be sorted out on a case-by-case basis and by whoever happens to be
involved. As the size of the Lab increases, both in amount of material and
number of participants, the number of issues increases as does the potential
for misunderstandings and conflicts. It would be best to have a formal system
in place at the start which everyone recognises before they get involved.

Also there are matters that need to be sorted out that affect the whole
set-up: things like licences and copyrights, and how to handle original
research. Other matters will no doubt arise later. Again, having a formal
structure in place makes it obvious how these should be handled.

We would like the n-Lab to be open and welcoming to new contributors. An
informal system, such as we have now, can be a considerable barrier to new
people joining as it is hard to find out how things work. We think that having
a formal system will make it easier for people to join in as it is clearer how
things work and where are good places to start getting involved.

Without a formal structure there is the danger that some things which are
"anyone's responsibility" will become in practice "no-one's responsibility".
For example, the n-Lab has several goals, one of which is to encourage active
research. Initially, and understandably, the focus has been more on
exposition. We should be looking for ways to encourage more research but this
could so easily get forgotten.

So we would like to set up some sort of group with responsibility for making
decisions. We are not sure exactly how that would work, nor who would be on it,
so we are looking for suggestions.

Let us make two things clear to finish with. We are not trying to create more
administration. The things that we have in mind happen anyway, or need to
happen anyway, but should be more co-ordinated. Secondly, this is primarily
should be an editorial board may be one thing that this body should decide
upon).

So, thoughts? Suggestions? Volunteers? Nominations?
• CommentRowNumber2.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009
One idea was that we compile a list of names called "steering committee" and "editorial board", where the first would list names of some people who declare that they are interested in taking responsibility of administrative tasks surrounding the nLab, whereas the latter would list names of people who would declare interest in looking after the development of the content of the Lab.

I am imagining this second list to serve roughly the purpose of the list of editors of a scientific journal. The names would both reflect to the outside an idea of "who is officiallyy behind" the thing, and to provide an internal means to come to official decisions.

Since the main resource for anyone on such a list should be an active interest in the nLab and in being on such a list, I'd like to ask those who do hereby to give me notice by private email.

Or else, if you think all this is a bad idea to start with, let me know here so that we can sort this out.
• CommentRowNumber3.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009

I suggest a steering committe, with inital membership open to all contributors who volunteer, making decisions by formal consenus. (I don't see the need for an editorial board, but I agree that that would be up to the steering committee.) Possibly something legal needs to be said about ownership of the domain name. In addition to the Café, Lab, and Forum, we may also need an IRC channel (or something like that) for scheduled discussions.

Also, I don't think that anything this momentous, if we actually intend it to exercise control over other contributors, should be decided only on the Forum. Most people don't read the Forum —unfortunately (not even John, David, and Jacques, I think). Not that I mind talking here, but I don't expect it to lead to anything more than a coherent proposal from four people to be publicised on the Café and Lab.

• CommentRowNumber4.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009

Toby wrote:

I suggest a steering committe, with inital membership open to all contributors who volunteer, making decisions by formal consenus.

Sounds good to me.

In addition to the Café, Lab, and Forum, we may also need an IRC channel (or something like that) for scheduled discussions.

I think Andrew has already created a separate part "steering committe" of the nForum which was supposed to be used for such committee discussion.

I'd rather not create yet another channel, for general reasons. My feeling is that three already is more than enough.

Andrew is really the driving force behind this steering committee idea. Somewhat unfortunately, right now he is on a vacation with only sparse internet access.

Most people don't read the Forum

Yes, I know. But on the other hand we did seem to agree that organizational issues, as opposed to scientific content, should be discussed here. Let's see if anyone drops by here from over at the blog. If not, I'll post a more visible announcement there.

• CommentRowNumber5.
• CommentAuthorEric
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009
This comment is invalid XHTML+MathML+SVG; displaying source. <div> My knee-jerk reaction to this proposal is not very positive.<br/><br/><blockquote><br/><br/>Andrew Stacey suggested that more people might feel like contributing to the nLab if it were more transparent who is “in charge of it”, so that it be clearer what may happen to the material one contributes in the long run. Together we decided to take some action to improve on this siuation. I’ll post a link soon.<br/><br/></blockquote><br/><br/>I am quite sure that anyone's reluctance to participate has nothing at all to do with a lack of knowledge of "who is in charge". If it is, should we care? One reason I participate is because I don't think anyone is in charge. If we introduce a "who is in charge", we automatically introduce a hierarchy. I REALLY DO NOT LIKE HIERARCHIES. I would probably stop contributing altogether if I felt I was a second-class contributor. Everyone who contributes anything should feel like they are part of an organic process. The beauty of these efforts is that structure evolves organically and is not imposed from some top down structure. I think we have a good thing going that has demonstrated its ability to scale. <br/><br/>I also don't think we should be discouraged by the fact that we do not have more contributors. The n-Lab is growing quite nicely in my opinion.<br/><br/>What is needed and I don't think anyone would argue is a group of people who are clearly designated as "Site Administrators". These people are in charge of technical aspects of keeping the n-Community functioning. If a technical issue arises, contributors should know who they can contact to get it resolved. In my opinion, if anything, poor server performance of the n-Lab is the largest deterrent for broader participation. It is extremely frustrating when you click "Edit" and have to wait several minutes for the edit box to appear, if it does.<br/><br/>Regarding an Editorial Board...<br/><br/>We are all members of the Editorial Board. I don't think we've reached a point where moderation is needed. If we get to that point, we can deal with it then.<br/><br/>PS: The fact that "Credit" and "Ownership" has even arisen as an issue somewhat saddens me. It marks a turning point that can eventually lead to a disappointing end to the entire effort. Did Bourbaki worry about "Credit" and "Ownership"? Those who are concerned about ownership are free not to participate. We should be ok with that. Principles are important. </div>
• CommentRowNumber6.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009

a group of people who are clearly designated as "Site Administrators".

Yes, I think that is what was intended.

if anything, poor server performance of the n-Lab is the largest deterrent for broader participation. It is extremely frustrating when you click "Edit" and have to wait several minutes for the edit box to appear, if it does.

Yes, I fully agree. I need to start looking for a different hosting company.

• CommentRowNumber7.
• CommentAuthorEric
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009
PS: I forgot to end by reminding that my rant was a "knee-jerk reaction" and my fears may very well be misplaced, but wanted to air them.
• CommentRowNumber8.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009

Yeah, I don't know. Is "site administrators" better than "steering committee"?

• CommentRowNumber9.
• CommentAuthorEric
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009
In my opinion (for what it is worth) "Steering Committee" implies more structure than is represented by reality.

"Site Administrator" is less imposing and is more indicative of the actual purpose.

Plus, please get rid of the obnoxious "Member of the Steering Committee for the n-Lab" ;P

Then again, maybe you guys do want to be Grand Poobahs? :)
• CommentRowNumber10.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009

Well, ‘site administrators’ and ‘steering committee’ seem very different to me. We already have site administrators: those with the password to the wiki, those in contact with Jacques about bugs, those with the password to the server. (I'm all three, but I think that I've been pretty benign.)

I'm also quite sympathetic to Eric's view that none of this is needed; that is partly why I suggested organising the steering committee as I did. (Formal consensus was developed by anarchists to avoid hierarchy and coercion but still get things done. That leaves the hierarchy of steering committe member vs everyone else, hence open membership.) I would also be happy with doing nothing.

But Urs's initial post is right that decisions can sometimes get made without a formal structure. If a decision-making structure is liable to develop, then it can be a good idea to develop a better one first. Despite all of its talk about ‘consensus’, Wikipedia would be very different now (and, I think, better, certainly more open) if it had adopted a formal consensus model early on. Mostly, I just don't want Urs and Andrew to form a decision-making structure without the rest of us. (^_^)

Regarding an IRC channel, the purpose would be if the steering committee wanted to hold meetings; the channel would be empty most of the time. Chat works better than a forum for real-time communication, or so they say (I never really got into IRC myself), and anything that makes official decisions should have an official record. But a new discussion thread on the forum for each meeting would probably also work.

Finally, since I'm the only one who said the word ‘ownership’ on this thread, I stress that I meant the narrowly legal question of who owns the domain name. (Right now, that's Urs. But it could be some committee, in the form of an unincorporated association.)

• CommentRowNumber11.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009

As you can see, Eric, from the ‘Moderator of the n-Forum’ subheading that I've got, Andrew gave me (as yet unused by either of us) spam-quashing powers on the Forum while he's away. So I could just delete the ‘Member of the Steering Committee for the n-Lab’ subheading.

Anyway, it doesn't mean anything until we recognise it, which I don't as yet.

• CommentRowNumber12.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009

Mostly, I just don't want Urs and Andrew to form a decision-making structure without the rest of us

Right, me neither. That's why this is being posted here.

I realize that the announcement is taken in a way that was not intended.

It seems therefore worhwhile to amplify that, actually, myself I'd be happy not to be on any steering committee, as all extra administrative duties just keep me from doing the work that I am genuinely interested in.

Maybe I am not even a good proponent of the entire idea. Andrew did convince me that it would be useful and at some point even necessary, but now I feel I'd rather wait for him to come online to make the point better than I can (given that actually I am absorbed with editing abelian sheaf cohomolohy, Dold-Kan correspondence and Moore complex, which is what I really care about :-)).

So, generally, everybody here should relax, nobody wants to make the nLab a totalitarian system. All we are doing is looking for ways to trick you all into doing extra work for the benefit of the nLab

• CommentRowNumber13.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009

OK, I'll wait for Andrew.

• CommentRowNumber14.
• CommentAuthorEric
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009
This comment is invalid XHTML+MathML+SVG; displaying source. <div> Hi Toby,<br/><br/>For the record, I think your views are very sensible. It seems that you've put more thought into these issues than any of us. I agree with your suggestion about "ownership". There is another use of the word "ownership" that gets tossed around in conversations like this though. That is, "ownership of content". When I wrote "'Credit' and 'Ownership'", I was referring to the latter sense. No one owns content on the n-Lab except n-Lab. If someone doesn't like that, they can feel free not to participate. That should be made clear to contributors. If you want ownership of content, you can create your own "wiki web".<br/><br/>I have very little experience with Moderators at Wikipedia, but what experience I have had has been ugly. I think I have only made one or two contributions to Wikipedia and both times my contribution was reversed by a Moderator. I gave up and now I do not even try. I am less opposed to a Steering Committee than I am to a formal Editorial Board.<br/><br/>Isn't there a way to have formal consensus without a Steering Committee though? I thought that is basically what we've been doing. If anything, I think we could put some thought into formalizing "formal consensus" and make the process clear and open to anyone to participate. In this way, I don't see a need for any unattractive (to me anyway) formal titles.<br/><br/>My suggestion:<br/><ul><br/><li>Clearly identified "Site Administrators" with contact information and clearly defined ways of communicating technical problems</li><br/><li>Clarified process of "formal consensus" for decisions about the n-Lab that is open to everyone who wants to participate (preferably without a title of "Steering Committee")</li><br/></ul> </div>
• CommentRowNumber15.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009

What we've been doing so far certainly isn't formal consensus. (See the link; it really is something formal.) The purpose of making it formal is to make it clear and open; nobody can come along and say ‘But I thought that we decided such and such!’ unless there's a record of it … and you'll know ahead of time how such records might be produced. What we've been doing is basically what Wikipedia did when it began and still largely pretended to do when I joined 7 years ago; now nobody pretends that big decisions there are made by consensus.

But you're right that a steering committee is antithetical to this idea; you'll find nothing about steering committees at the link. But you will find stuff about meetings, and that's the difficulty: how do we get everybody that's interested in the decision together at once to discuss it and resolve concerns? One possibility is to have people interested in that sort of thing sign up to join a steering committee, and let that committee have meetings … but I don't suppose that that's the possibility that I'd have thought of if Urs hadn't suggested such a committee already.

• CommentRowNumber16.
• CommentAuthorEric
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009
This comment is invalid XHTML+MathML+SVG; displaying source. <div> <blockquote><br/><br/>All we are doing is looking for ways to trick you all into doing extra work for the benefit of the nLab<br/><br/></blockquote><br/><br/>I don't think we should worry about this. "If you build it, they will come." I think you are already doing a fantastic job getting people interested just by being a role model. Your note to Bruce about it making life easier was great. <br/><br/>As I type this, there are 1476 pages. That is fantastic! The value increases the more content that goes up. You are already attracting some heavy weights.<br/><br/>It's not broken. Don't worry. Just keep doing what you are doing and things will work themselves out. </div>
• CommentRowNumber17.
• CommentAuthormetaweta
• CommentTimeJun 22nd 2009
Be sure to read this account of the trouble Eric Weinstein ran into with MathWorld.

http://www.ericweisstein.com/authors-rights/erics_commentary.html
• CommentRowNumber18.
• CommentAuthorEric
• CommentTimeJun 23rd 2009
metaweta brings up some really good points by pointing out that article.

At a minimum, maybe we should consider some kind of open source licensing to eliminate the possibility that the n-Lab gets caught up in legal wrangling down the road?
• CommentRowNumber19.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeJun 26th 2009

My most humble apologies for going on holiday! I shall do my best never to do so again ...

Mind you, it's meant that rather than answering things one by one I can answer it all in one go. Except that I don't have to as actually most of my points have been made in what all of you say. Let me gather things together in no particular order.

Plus, please get rid of the obnoxious "Member of the Steering Committee for the n-Lab" ;P

Apologies for that. I didn't realise that it would be so "in your face". Urs' designation was an experiment to see if a "closed" area of the forum was possible in case it was needed. Toby's is because I'm officially on holiday so someone needs to keep an eye on you lot. It's probably a CSS thing that makes it so irritating! If we need different roles on this forum then I'll tweak the CSS to make it less annoying.

Mostly, I just don't want Urs and Andrew to form a decision-making structure without the rest of us. (^_^)

I could read this in two ways. Firstly, it could refer to the fact that I started discussing this privately with Urs. Let me put everyone's minds at rest over that: I wasn't trying to start a coup, I wanted to give Urs the opportunity to kill the idea in its infancy if he thought it was a bad 'un. Once it became clear that he was open to the possibility, it was time to shift the discussion here, as we have done.

The second way of reading it is more in line with this discussion. This is absolutely what I'm talking about by forming a steering committee. Without a formal structure in place, decisions can get made all over the place and by all different people. Some in private, some in public. Without a formal system in place for making decisions, anything might happen and we'd never know quite what was going on. With something like a steering committee, if someone wants to make a suggestion then it's clear what they do and who has responsibility for making the final decision.

What is needed and I don't think anyone would argue is a group of people who are clearly designated as "Site Administrators".

No one owns content on the n-Lab except n-Lab.

Excuse me? Who decided this? Where is this written down? Is this in the "terms of service" of the n-lab? So if I create a libelous page, is the n-lab liable for it? In which case, who, exactly, is underwriting the n-lab? Who will have to pay the costs when someone sues for libel? I suspect that at the moment, Urs is actually in a fairly shakey legal position so it's certainly in his interests to get things like this sorted out. But this sort of thing is fundamental to the n-lab, not in a technical or mathematical way, but in a way that it defines the rules of the game.

At a minimum, maybe we should consider some kind of open source licensing to eliminate the possibility that the n-Lab gets caught up in legal wrangling down the road?

This is the sort of thing that the steering committee would be there to sort out. And let me point out that there are many different models for the steering committee. It could be simply an advisory body, drawing up proposals which are then voted on by the whole userbase. Or it could have executive powers over some bits with others being open. It could have open discussions or closed discussions. It certainly ought to garner opinions from all and sundry as part of its decision process. I'm not talking about taking power away from everyone, but rather making it clear how the exercise of power is to be done.

• CommentRowNumber20.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeJun 26th 2009

We are all members of the Editorial Board. I don't think we've reached a point where moderation is needed. If we get to that point, we can deal with it then.

It's not broken. Don't worry. Just keep doing what you are doing and things will work themselves out.

I'm afraid I don't share your optimism. I would far rather have systems in place for resolving conflicts before they happen rather than try to come up with the rules as they are needed. If you invent rules at the time then they are needed then you are, in effect, having to judge the issue because your rules will favour one party or the other and the party ruled against will feel that the rules were drawn up just to provide (weak) justification for ruling against them. If the rules are in place beforehand then no-one can (justifiably) hold a grudge. Good rules are not there to limit freedom but to enable it. One of my favourite songs has the line: "Freedom without justice grows up into slavery". Okay, it's a bit stark for this project but it's in the same vein as the point I'm trying to make. It's also underlined by the contrast between MathWorld and GPL. Weinstein ran into problems because he didn't put in place the necessary structure to protect the freedom he wished to grant. The GNU people, however, didn't have those problems because they did put that structure in place. Structure isn't necessarily bad!

am quite sure that anyone's reluctance to participate has nothing at all to do with a lack of knowledge of "who is in charge". If it is, should we care? One reason I participate is because I don't think anyone is in charge. If we introduce a "who is in charge", we automatically introduce a hierarchy. I REALLY DO NOT LIKE HIERARCHIES. I would probably stop contributing altogether if I felt I was a second-class contributor.

I deliberately called it a "steering committee" to try to downplay the "in charge" nature of it (and as I've said, it needn't be totalitarian). The intention is not to create a hierarchy but to create a transparent system that can actually get things done. However, I would also argue that hierarchies exist anyway, whether you like them or not. The difference is that these hierarchies are informal and vary from person to person. At one point Toby says: "(not even John, David, and Jacques, I think)". Here is a hierarchy in Toby's mind. It's not actually the one that I see in place on the n-lab: Jacques is certainly not involved in the content of the 'lab, and is mainly interested because it's a showcase of Instiki. John and David do not seem that involved either, at least not nearly as much as, say, Toby and Mike. I would say that this hierarchy is one carried over from the cafe and thus not one that a complete newcomer to the 'lab would share. It may be right to involve these people, I don't want to comment on that now, but all the more reason to formalise it.

I suggest a steering committe, with inital membership open to all contributors who volunteer, making decisions by formal consenus.

I've not come across this idea of "formal consensus" before so I'll need to look at that. The details of how this is done are secondary, though they should be something that is workable.

"If you build it, they will come."

Again, I wish I shared your optimism. There are so many different projects out there that we need to explain and make it absolutely clear what the n-lab is about and what people are getting involved with, otherwise they won't come.

Now let me say a little as to why I suggested this. It was partially in reaction to some things. One was Bruce changing the font. This made me think that there are somethings that can be done that shouldn't be done. Changing the fonts is pretty minor, but it made me aware of the possibilities and I'm not sure I like that.

But it's also partially because I'm worried that we might wake up in a year's time and realise that the n-lab isn't anything like what it was intended to be but no-one's noticed where it went wrong. There are several goals on the front page which aren't clear how to properly realise and if no-one is thinking about this then it won't get done. Then we really will get superseded by some other project (please, not google wave). And that really would be a shame.

• CommentRowNumber21.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeJun 26th 2009

I would also like to address the issue of "ownership".

Eric wrote:

PS: The fact that "Credit" and "Ownership" has even arisen as an issue somewhat saddens me. It marks a turning point that can eventually lead to a disappointing end to the entire effort. Did Bourbaki worry about "Credit" and "Ownership"? Those who are concerned about ownership are free not to participate. We should be ok with that. Principles are important.

and later:

No one owns content on the n-Lab except n-Lab. If someone doesn't like that, they can feel free not to participate.

If that is the official view then I'm afraid I will have to withdraw from the project. Which again makes my point about making these things clear and transparent. If I'd known this from the start, I just wouldn't have gotten involved.

I'm a professional mathematician. I don't mean that in any sort of hierarchical sense. I mean that I get paid for doing mathematics. Whilst I may feel deep down that mathematics is fundamentally free and not owned, I still have some restrictions imposed on me by the fact that this is my job. Someone pays my salary (currently the good people of Norway) and every now and then someone wants to be sure that they are getting their money's worth. I have to fill in forms saying what I've done in the past year. I have to point to things and say, "That bit of mathematics, I did that.". One of the key differences between the n-lab and Wikipedia is that on the n-lab we allow original research. This is actually the bit that I'm most interested in, and I suspect that Urs is quite keen on this as well. I would quite like a system where I could just point to the n-lab and say, "I'm a contributor to this project" and have them assess the value of my contribution. However, that's not the current system (and I suspect it's a bit too complicated for most bean counters to implement). So I need to be able to publish my work. If the n-lab owns everything I do on it, then I'm not able to publish it in a journal (or at least, the legality of it gets a bit complicated).

For example, suppose I figure that the page on Frolicher spaces is at a publishable stage. At the moment, I'd probably propose publishing it under my name and have acknowledgements to Toby and Mike for "helpful conversations" (I hope I'm not assigning the credit incorrectly here, you two, we can argue that later). Other pages would be a little more tricky, but a system in place which was clear at sign-up would mean that anyone getting involved would know what to expect at the outcome.

I actually started a discussion on this aspect, and if you chase things back you'll see that it's concerned me all along, but no-one else has seemed interested. But getting this sort of thing sorted out is complicated, technical, probably boring to most people, important, and just right for a steering committee.

• CommentRowNumber22.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeJun 26th 2009

Right, I'm off for the second part of my holiday now ... back in about a week's time.

• CommentRowNumber23.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeJun 27th 2009
• (edited Dec 31st 2010)

I don't blame you for going on holiday, Andrew, although it's bad timing that this discussion came up just as you'd left.

Mostly, I just don't want Urs and Andrew to form a decision-making structure without the rest of us. (^_^)

I could read this in two ways.

I meant it in the second way.

No one owns content on the n-Lab except n-Lab. If someone doesn't like that, they can feel free not to participate.

If that is the official view then I'm afraid I will have to withdraw from the project.

Of course, this hasn't been established. Everything that I write is (while technically owned by me in the sense that the world's governments have declared that I have copyright on it by default) free for all use. I think that this system is perfectly applicable even to professional research mathematicians (even though I am not one), since journals only need the right to publish one's work, not to prevent others from publishing it. I don't like copyleft (although it's certainly better than restrictive copyright), since there are many different copyleft licences for this sort of thing, and they are incompatible (and therefore not free by the GNU definition, even if GNU will not admit this).

Do we need a steering committee to decide this stuff? (I know Andrew's answer, so I'm more interested in Urs's and Eric's.)

At one point Toby says: "(not even John, David, and Jacques, I think)". Here is a hierarchy in Toby's mind.

Those are (together with Urs) the people who got the Lab started. It would be particularly rude to set up a structure that makes decisions and expect them to abide by those decisions without their agreement. I don't mean to suggest that they're in charge. On the contrary, I like the Lab better than the Café because John has already made clear to me the hierarchy there (for his posts, that is): he on top, everybody else below. As he would not even explain his criteria for deleting comments, I left the Café for a while and only came back as the Lab was starting.

In that case, it was particularly the lack of clarity that mattered. If Urs (or anybody else, but Urs is the one most plausibly able to try to pull rank like this, not that I think that he's likely to actually do it) started deleting entries (even employee, our one spam page so far), then I would be upset too. Like Eric, I don't like hierarchies, but clear rules for whatever hierarchies exist are even more important to me.

• CommentRowNumber24.
• CommentAuthorTim_Porter
• CommentTimeJun 27th 2009
I think Andrew's point about getting credit with the bean counters is a good one. I think that that may be a reason why there are few contributors from the UK, since the Research Assessment Exercise here has led to an incredible number of academic bean counters. (If it cannot be counted for the RAE don't do it is something you hear from administrators and senior management.)

May I point out another possible purpose in having some light organisational mechanism, although our current contributors seem to be handling the point intuitively. There are holes in the Lab which may last for quite some time before being closed (I am thinking of Daniel's message to the Café about gerbes. ) Should there be some light mechanism to help decide where we should be putting effort, deciding which holes have lasted long enough and perhaps which do not need filling! (For the latter, I wonder if normal subgroup will be filled. The entry might be banal e.g. a link to Wikipedia, or might discuss normal objects in other settings etc.) Is there a wish list page? This does not need a formal mechanism, but do we have any means of signalling important holes and trying to get them filled. Does that need a section on this forum for instance.

The legal question disturbs me. Setting up a formal structure can be useful, but on the down side, if someone does decide to sue, they then have somewhere to fire. (One method used to defeat attempts to have compulsory purchase of a site for development is to sell metre squares to so many people that it make lawyers hesitate to start that many orders for purchasing each. It does not always work, but if no one is visible then there is no-one to sue! (That may be ridiculous but is worth thinking out in detail.)

For original research I am in two minds. I feel (hope) one should be able to trust people (usually) to contribute to discussions initiated by someone and not to steal ideas. The other cynical side of me says that there will be people, and not always the less well known people, who may lift an idea and not give credit. (Grothendieck wrote a long and detailed document where he criticised some of his colleagues for not making reference to the work in a student's thesis. We all know of such instances.) When it comes to us acknowledging other contributors helps that seems to me to be very like publishing joint papers. We know when discussions with X have been so helpful that we should suggest that X be added to the list of authors if he/she wishes to be. For the moment that seems to me less of a difficulty.
• CommentRowNumber25.
• CommentAuthorEric
• CommentTimeJun 27th 2009
• (edited Jun 27th 2009)
This comment is invalid XHTML+MathML+SVG; displaying source. <div> Edit: I posted this before seeing Tim's note.<br/><br/><blockquote><br/><br/>I would quite like a system where I could just point to the n-lab and say, "I'm a contributor to this project" and have them assess the value of my contribution. However, that's not the current system (and I suspect it's a bit too complicated for most bean counters to implement). So I need to be able to publish my work. If the n-lab owns everything I do on it, then I'm not able to publish it in a journal (or at least, the legality of it gets a bit complicated).<br/><br/></blockquote><br/><br/>I don't see anyway to make that possible unless maybe you create your own wiki web and control access to it. Then it would have your name clearly marked at the top. If I were you, I would look to Urs as an example. <br/><br/><a href="http://ncatlab.org/schreiber/show/HomePage">Schreiber</a><br/><br/>His technical papers are quite distinct from what he puts on the n-Lab even if the idea germination occurred on the n-Lab. The n-Lab should be thought of as more of an "open" reference and not so much as a publication medium.<br/><br/>It sounds like we are in unchartered territory so it is good to see you outline your concerns.<br/><br/>I still stand by the idea<br/><br/><blockquote><br/><br/>No one owns content on the n-Lab except n-Lab. If someone doesn't like that, they can feel free not to participate.<br/><br/></blockquote><br/><br/>However, for your purposes, it seems a personal wiki web area would suffice nicely. If you do not want to contribute content to the main n-Lab area unless you can claim ownership of that content, then I would say that you should not contribute. However, I don't think the line needs to be drawn in the sand like that. You can contribute while relinquishing ownership, but then take ideas from the n-Lab and develop them further in your own private wiki web where you CAN claim ownership. Once you have a publication-ready document, you can simply refer back to the n-Lab as a bibliographic reference (maybe with a revision number). I really think your needs can be accommodated while maintaining the "no ownership" mantra on the main n-Lab grid.<br/><br/>I'm sure Urs is held to the same or similar scrutiny that you are in terms of "bean counters" and he seems to have found a system that works. In his case, it is even easier to justify his income because you can see all the blood sweat and tears required as he works through challenges out in the open. <br/><br/>At the end of the day, the n-Lab is a reference. In addition to being a reference for known standard material, it is a reference for material that is being developed in real time. In that sense, it is a place to do original research.<br/><br/>What I think might help you would be if Urs were to outline how he uses the n-Resources, i.e. n-Cafe, n-Lab, Private Wiki Web. Urs, how do you justify your use of the n-Cafe and the n-Lab? If his model is satisfactory to you, then great. If not, I can only say that no system can accommodate everyone 100%. </div>
• CommentRowNumber26.
• CommentAuthorEric
• CommentTimeJul 1st 2009
By the way, I just had a look at the page on Frolicher spaces. It is beautiful!
• CommentRowNumber27.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeJul 6th 2009

This discussion is getting a little off-topic. It's an important discussion to have, but without resolution of the original question then it is ultimately pointless. (That doesn't mean that it's pointless to discuss it now because I hope that soon we will have a resolution of the original question whereupon these discussions can be used as a starting point.)

What I want is to know is how are decisions made about the n-lab? I want this written down somewhere. Following this, I want a system whereby anyone can raise an issue that they think needs a decision.

My reasoning is that there are several issues that need to be sorted out before the n-lab gets much older. A few have been touched on above: ownership, licenses, and the like. I don't want these done in a haphazard manner. I don't want anyone left out who shouldn't be, just because they don't happen to read the right page at the right time or happen to be on holiday when some important matter is discussed (on the other hand, I would like some protection in the decision-making process from saboteurs).

Ultimately, I don't care what this system is. I suggested a steering committee but that was as much from ignorance of other methods than from any particular desire to have such a body. What I had hoped was that others would see the need for some sort of organisation and the discussion could quickly progress on to the exact form. This doesn't seem to have happened, but it maybe that the original proposal (of an actual steering committee) was too specific.

So let me get back to basics (as one of UKs most [fill in the blank] politicians put it).

1. Is there anyone who objects to there being a formal system in place for making decisions about the n-lab? If so, please spell out these objections.

2. If not, there still may be objections to certain types of system. What do you think that such a system must avoid?

• CommentRowNumber28.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeJul 9th 2009

I have no answer to (1); I'll leave that to Eric, maybe.

Here are some answers to (2):

• It should avoid being unknown to the users. It should be prominently mentioned on the HomePage, ideally also mentioned when new people sign up, and probably mentioned by email to all of the people that have written a fair amount already (even all of the people that have written anything not anonymously, if possible). That's easy enough to do if we decide to do it.
• It should avoid becoming closed. If there is a steering committee (for example), users should be free to join it later on (perhaps after a delay or at certain times), or membership should rotate, or so on; we shouldn't allow one committee to lock up control indefinitely.
• It should not have the authority to prevent useful contributions. (And since usefulness is subjective ….)
• I was present for the debates that invented banning (not blocking random vandals, but banning users who believed that they were helping) on Wikipedia, and I didn't know enough then to make an argument against it (not that it would have changed things if I had). Now there are so many rules that new users sometimes run afoul of them before they have any chance to learn them. (And yes, this is an argument for having a clear decision-making process. Wikipedia didn't then and, despite all of the layers of bureacracy, still doesn't.)
• It certainly shouldn't be able to prevent the founders from doing what they've been doing.
• It should not prevent people from experimenting. That is, it should not try to make decisions prematurely.
• For example, when Eric started Bibliography, he didn't have to ask anybody. And while it's good that we're now discussing using an external database instead, it's not clear to me that anything here would need a formal decision. For example, Andrew can create the database regardless of what anybody else does, and Eric can create the bibliography as long as Andrew doesn't become so belligerent as to sabotage it (which of course won't happen). They can even go through the wiki and insert links everywhere to both of their reference lists. Yes, it would be nice if there were a single list (to keep things simple) and we can't really have a dozen versions at once, so it's good that we're all discussing how to best do this. But a formal decision-making process is only necessary when people can't resolve conflicts themselves.
• I wouldn't want anybody to ever say ‘Ask the Steering Committee for permission if you want to do that.’ unless ‘that’ would actually be disruptive.
• CommentRowNumber29.
• CommentAuthorEric
• CommentTimeJul 9th 2009
The only thing I am opposed to is having a hierarchy. I think we can have a formal decision making process that does not require hierarchy, e.g. anyone could make a proposal to the n-community. This proposal gets introduced on all n-formats to ensure that all who are interested will see it, then there is some kind of a voting or rating or ranking process. If a quorum is met (which we could determine what defines a quorum) then any change could be implemented.

I propose that we make a proposal. Either here or the n-Lab or n-cafe (or all of the above). The proposal can and should develop organically with input from everyone who is interested. We should make a list of our concerns, e.g. ownership, collaboration, publishing, legal issues, etc. I think the n-Lab is a good place to work out such a thing or maybe we should create a new wiki web for n-Lab organization matters.

That last idea I think is a good one. Let's create a new wiki web site: nlabmeta. Or something...

That would be better than the forum for collaborating on proposals.
• CommentRowNumber30.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeJul 9th 2009

Along with nlab and all of the personal webs, a meta web would be reasonable. That could have information about how decisions are made, policies that have been adopted, and so forth. We should be careful about whether it becomes yet another place for discussion, however.

• CommentRowNumber31.
• CommentAuthorEric
• CommentTimeJul 9th 2009

http://ncatlab.org/nlabmeta/show/HomePage
• CommentRowNumber32.
• CommentAuthorEric
• CommentTimeJul 9th 2009
I wonder if there is a way to "rename" a page from one wiki web to another?
• CommentRowNumber33.
• CommentAuthorEric
• CommentTimeJul 9th 2009
Similarly, I wonder if you could "redirect" from one wiki web to another?
• CommentRowNumber34.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeJul 9th 2009

Okay, I think we're getting somewhere.

We certainly will need somewhere to record the decisions, and to keep things like "terms of use" statements and other policy documents. Whilst I'm happy with them being drafted on a wiki, I worry a bit about having them editable by all and sundry for all time. After all, I could edit the terms of use to read whatever I want and then do what I like with the content of the n-lab. At some point, these documents will need to be made immutable (ish). At the moment, Instiki doesn't have the ability to lock, or take a snapshot of, a page so these would have to transfer out of the wiki part (of course to somewhere on the same host!).

I still think we need some way to recognise when a decision has been made! That is, what constitutes a quorum?

May be we need to actually work something through in practice and see how it goes. I know that I have very little experience of decision-making processes to know how to meet everyone's concerns without trying.

So here's a proposal. On the meta-wiki we create pages for the various documents that we think we need: terms of use, copyright, licence seems a reasonable start.

Here on the forum (please keep it here, I suspect that Toby's point about yet another place for discussions was to forestall another rant from me!) we start discussions about each.

On the main page of the n-lab, we announce all of this. This could be put on the n-cafe as well, but I would recommend that the n-cafe announcement be worded in such a way as to discourage comments there.

Let me say something about my insistence on the n-forum as the place for discussion. Ultimately, it comes down to RSS. Although there are a number of issues that need decisions soon, after these have been sorted out then there probably won't be so many and it'll only be every now and then that someone proposes something. Since the forum is now fully RSS'd, it's possible to have a suggestion thread which everyone interested can bookmark. Then they get notified when there are new things to discuss but don't get bothered otherwise.

Actually, there's an idea in there that occurred as I wrote it. We have a specific discussion on this forum which is for proposals to be decided upon. It's not for discussions on those proposals - they get a new thread here - but for the initial announcement itself.

And we could have another discussion dedicated to finalising decisions. That is, when a particular discussion seems to have reached a consensus and it's time for a final decision to be made then something is posted on the "decision discussion" announcing this.

My basic issue is to keep it simple using RSS so that there aren't pages spread about all over the place that everyone has to remember to check. (I'm actually toying with the idea of making a filter to convert 'latest changes' into RSS just so I don't have to keep manually checking it!)

• CommentRowNumber35.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeJul 9th 2009

I don't know much about feeds. The atom feed for the Lab does not do what you want?

Also, although Instiki can't lock individual pages, it can lock entire webs behind a password.

• CommentRowNumber36.
• CommentAuthorEric
• CommentTimeJul 9th 2009
• (edited Jul 9th 2009)
One way to "lock" a page is to use a revision number. For example, if we created a "Terms of Use" page, then whenever we refer to Terms of Use, we also refer to the revision number. For example,

http://ncatlab.org/nlabmeta/revision/Terms+of+Use/1

This is what I had in mind for bibliographic reference in published papers to content on the nLab. You don't want to provide a link to the page, you'd want to provide a link to the correct revision number of the page.
• CommentRowNumber37.
• CommentAuthorEric
• CommentTimeJul 9th 2009
• (edited Jul 9th 2009)

I think we all can make decisions on a case by case basis where the appropriate place for a discussion should be. The n-forum is great, but occasionally the wiki is the most appropriate place to make a comment or address some issue. Sometimes the n-Cafe will be best.

I really don't see the point of insisting on where a discussion takes place.
• CommentRowNumber38.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeJul 10th 2009

Currently, to keep track of things about the n-lab I have to keep an eye on several different websites. One of those, the n-cafe, is particularly irritating because comments about the n-lab can crop up in the comments of any post. This may come as a shock to others, but I don't read every comment on the cafe, nor do I intend to.

I also don't read every page on the n-lab. Nor do I intend to. The RSS feed from the n-lab is essentially the "recently revised" page, possibly with details. That's too much information to quickly scan through and find the relevant stuff.

On the other hand, the RSS feed on the forum tells me exactly who's commented and on what. I can trust that discussions haven't wandered too far from their original topic (err ...) and so get a quick overview of what's going on. By using feeds I can gather everything into one place which makes the system much more efficient for me.

So I know I sound a bit like a broken record, but it's because I want to make the whole n-setup as simple and easy to use as it can be. Part of that means not having to check half a dozen websites just to find out whether 'apples' ought to be 'pears'.

• CommentRowNumber39.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeJul 10th 2009

We still need an explicit procedure for actually making a decision. Suppose we come up with a putative terms of service, or license to publish, or copyright waiver/disclaimer or whatever. What do we do then?

• CommentRowNumber40.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeJul 10th 2009

Well, Eric would have us advertise it everywhere and then get everyone to agree to them. Whereas as you, Andrew, would have us develop a procedure for making decisions, advertise that everywhere and then get everyone to agree to that. (And then adopt the ToS through that procedure.) So you've both got the same hurdle, except that Andrew only has to jump it once.

And me? I don't want ToS (at least nothing that people have to agree to accept, although I could see agreeing to have read some disclaimer, perhaps against warranty and liability). But I do want a decision-making procedure.

• CommentRowNumber41.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeSep 28th 2009

Okay, so we've sort of had a dummy run of this over the latest changes proposal. There are a few lessons to learn from that.

1. We really need some central aims for the n-lab. It seems that Zoran and I have very different views of what the n-lab is for. I should be careful how I phrase this as it is very much my interpretation of what he wrote, but the impression I got was that the community side of the n-lab is very much secondary to its content. Thus a proposal that might help make it easier to find out what's going on in the community got such a negative response because it would, he felt, make it harder for him to add content. I don't want to get into an argument here about who is right (or even whether my interpretation is right, though I guess if I'm wrong someone should say so just to make it clear), but we need a yard-stick to measure against so that we know who is more in line with the project and thus who should back down gracefully.

2. I have a suspicion that most decisions will get made by the "usual suspects" no matter what system is proposed. Clear aims will help both them and the rest. If the usual suspects can show how each decision matches the central aims, then their decisions are defensible against the accusation of arbitrariness, and the rest can safely delegate the responsibility knowing that the central aims are being maintained.

3. I've had a glance through the formal consensus stuff and it looks good, but as well as an aim it also seems to need a well-defined group. It talks about rotating roles, and everyone getting to know how the system works, and stuff like that. This sits a bit uneasy with the "everyone can join in" concept (which I'm coming round to, by the way). I think that those who view themselves as being part of the "founding fathers" might want a way to ensure that the system doesn't get hijacked. Of course, clear aims would be one way!

4. Okay, so to implementation. Now that I'm more involved with tech support than I was when we started this discussion, I'm even more against the idea of announcing in loads of different places. This is the internet! I'm quite happy to set up a feed aggregator on the n-lab site so that those who know nothing about RSS can get the benefits without doing anything. But there should be an announcement place. It could be a section of this forum, it could be a page on the n-lab (in which case, I would include it in the homepage, done like a query box so that it scrolled). Probably both. (It would also be useful to have somewhere that I can post updates and so forth, like the fact that we now have lots more arrows than we used to).

But we left this hanging a bit, and paid the price when it came to 'latest changes'! Let's clean this up.

• CommentRowNumber42.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeSep 28th 2009
• (edited Sep 28th 2009)

Regarding (3): That's why I suggested the steering committee, whose membership is increased (the same as any other decision would be made) by consensus of the current committee. That means a dictatorship of the steering committee, of course, which is why initial membership should be open to current contributors. (We could set some sort of cut-off, or even rule that some people can't join, but then I think that those people will have cause for complaint.) Thereafter, new people know that they are joining someone else's lab, and they know who is in charge; that is not much different from how it is for new people now, just clearer. (And it would be even clearer if we can also point them to the sign on the door, I agree.) And then they can join the steering committee if they fit in.

• CommentRowNumber43.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeSep 29th 2009

Okay, so let's take action. I'll start a thread where anyone can sign up for being part of the "primordial steering committee".

• CommentRowNumber44.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeOct 26th 2009

Hey, so which thread is that again?

• CommentRowNumber45.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeOct 26th 2009
This comment is invalid XML; displaying source. <p>Ah, so that explains it. You (all?) didn't see it! What happened?</p> <p>It's here:</p> <p><a href="http://www.math.ntnu.no/~stacey/Vanilla/nForum/comments.php?DiscussionID=86&page=1#Item_2">primordial steering committee</a>.</p> 
• CommentRowNumber46.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeOct 26th 2009

I suppose that the category "Steering Committee" was the obvious place for that discussion to go, but you forgot that that was a test category set up to see if the forum could have a private place where matters of deep import could be discussed away from prying eyes (such as those of our esteemed spammer). As you, Urs, were the only person allowed to use that category, the rest of us didn't even know that you had posted a discussion there!

I've now moved it to the general category so everyone should be able to see it. I've also moved a discussion that should have been in latest changes to where it should be, and also deleted the steering committee category until such time as it is needed, just to avoid further problems like this.

(I apologise for not noticing that you'd posted there, Urs. I only log on as admin when I'm doing some technical stuff, such as banning spammers, and don't tend to look at other stuff. When I'm logged on as me then I can't see in that Steering Committee category.)

Anyway, Urs' link should now work.

• CommentRowNumber47.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeOct 26th 2009
This comment is invalid XHTML+MathML+SVG; displaying source. <div> <blockquote> but you forgot that that was a test category </blockquote> <p>Oh dear. Sorry.</p> </div>