[R] Wikis etc.

Jack Tanner ihok at hotmail.com
Mon Jan 9 19:33:40 CET 2006

Michael Dewey wrote:
>At 20:12 08/01/06, Jack Tanner wrote:
>>My hypothesis is that the basic reason that people ask questions on R-help 
>>rather than first looking elsewhere is that looking elsewhere doesn't get 
>>them the info they need.
>>People think in terms of the tasks they have to do. The documentation for 
>>R, which can be very good, is organized in terms of the structure of R, 
>>its functions. This mismatch -- people think of tasks, the documentation 
>>"thinks in" functions -- causes people to turn to the mailing list.
>Further to that I feel that (perhaps because they do not like to blow their 
>own trumpet too much) the authors of books on R do not stress how much most 
>questioners could gain by buying and reading at least one of the many books 
>on R. When I started I found the free documents useful but I made most 
>progress when I bought MASS. I do realise that liking books is a bit last 

I certainly agree about the value of books. After struggling with 
lme/glmmPQL documentation for a while, I found a copy of MASS, and it's been 
nothing short of illuminating.

Gabor Grothendieck <ggrothendieck <at> gmail.com> wrote:
>In addition to books, the various manuals, contributed documents and
>mailing list archives, all of which one should review,

I do not wish to disparage all these valuable resources. But it is apparent 
that they do not answer the (real or perceived) needs of those who ask the 
same more or less basic questions over and over on R-help. It doesn't help 
if one, or ten, or hundreds of newbies are told -- go thee and RTFM, 
because, by definition, there will be other "newbies" (presumably, until the 
entire human race consists of R experts).

>the key thing to do if you want to really learn R is to read source code
>and lots of it.  I think there is no other way.  Furthermore, the fact that
>you can do this is really a key advantage of open source.

Absolutely, the R sources are the highest fidelity representation of the 
knowledge on R. But there's also knowledge about the sources, e.g., why a 
particular function was coded that way, and why one would want to use that 
function over others that seem similar.

The wiki proposal is thus twofold: first, to take the key advantage of open 
source, and apply it not only to the code, but to the knowledge about the 
code as well. Second, to structure the experience of learning and using R 
such that the wiki is very prominent.

Unfortunately, the site is down at the moment, but there's a really good 
example of how wikified, task-oriented documentation can help an open source 
project: http://codex.wordpress.org/Main_Page .

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