[R] Wikis etc.

Don MacQueen macq at llnl.gov
Fri Jan 6 17:38:27 CET 2006

I don't have any significant experience with wikis, but I have yet to 
use any discussion board that was anywhere near as useful to me, or 
as easy to use, as an email list.

Discussion boards have a web browser interface. Typically, they 
display at most a dozen topics at a time. Scrolling to get the next 
dozen is slow, as it requires a download from some web server. There 
is a huge amount of wasted screen space. When there is a topic that 
generates many messages scrolling through them is slow, as some 
discussion board interfaces show only 6 or 7 at a time. Search 
engines provided by the discussion board software are limited and 

In contrast, in my email client I can show about three dozen subject 
lines at a time, I can quickly scroll up and down through the list, I 
can quickly group all the messages with the same subject line with a 
single click of the mouse. I can easily and quickly store selected 
messages of particular interest to a place where I can easily find 
them again. My email software searches very quickly through a huge 
number of messages.

Then there's the question of administration and maintenance. Who is 
going to set up the wiki or discussion board categories? As far as I 
can tell (and that's actually not very far), either of them would 
require a lot more time and effort to set up and maintain than the 
present email list.

Yes, r-help has a huge volume -- right now, my R-help mailbox has 
almost 22,000 messages in it, 2004-01-02 to the present; its size is 
about 124 mb. Yes, there is a lot of duplication. None the less, I 
find it easier and quicker to scan the subject lines a few times a 
day for interesting-looking topics than it would be to go to a 
browser and have to navigate up and down through various categories, 
looking for interesting-looking topics.

As far as I can tell, the wiki concept is more along the lines of a 
reference library, whereas mailing lists and discussion boards are 
meant for people to ask each other questions, and give each other 
answers. If that perception is at all accurate, I would have to say 
that a wiki is by no means a suitable replacement for an email list. 
And when it comes to a choice between an email list and a discussion 
board, I have a strong preference for the email list.


At 7:04 PM -0600 1/5/06, Frank E Harrell Jr wrote:
>I feel that as long as people continue to provide help on r-help wikis
>will not be successful.  I think we need to move to a central wiki or
>discussion board and to move away from e-mail.  People are extremely
>helpful but e-mail seems to be to always be memory-less and messages get
>too long without factorization of old text.  R-help is now too active
>and too many new users are asking questions asked dozens of times for
>e-mail to be effective.
>The wiki also needs to collect and organize example code, especially for
>data manipulation.  I think that new users would profit immensely from a
>compendium of examples.
>Just my .02 Euros
>Frank E Harrell Jr   Professor and Chair           School of Medicine
>                       Department of Biostatistics   Vanderbilt University
>R-help at stat.math.ethz.ch mailing list
>PLEASE do read the posting guide! http://www.R-project.org/posting-guide.html

Don MacQueen
Environmental Protection Department
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Livermore, CA, USA

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