The subwiki.org website contains a number of subject wikis in separate subdomain. Each subject wiki functions as an independent and separately managed unit. This article describes some general attributes of subject wikis.
What is a subject wiki?
A quick definition
A subject wiki is a wiki whose focus in terms of content and perspective is a specific subject.
The content focus: Most content on the wiki is directly related to the specific subject, and most material related to the specific subject is covered in the wiki.
The perspective focus: The organization of content, both within articles and across articles, is done keeping the needs and goals of the subject in mind. Thus, an article on the same topic may appear very different in different subject wikis, and may be organized or categorized differently.
What is a subject?
Subject wikis are currently at an experimental, pre-alpha stage, so the definition of subject is still very much in flux. Here are some possible general guidelines:
- A subject that deserves a wiki of its own should have a reasonable coherent mass of content, or a basic body of knowledge, along with its own distinct perspectives, needs and goals.
- The subject should have a strong core (giving character and cohesion to the subject wiki's content) with a large periphery linking the material to other subjects.
- Under the current setup, subjects as used in subject wikis refer to academic subjects with huge bodies of knowledge, whose core is not determined by topical news and events. For instance, Salman Rushdie and Harry Potter are not suitable for subject wikis, even though there may be huge boies of knowledge on both. Karl Marx is not a subject, but communist theory may be. The distinction can get muddled at times, specifically for subjects whose significance is historical or cultural.
- The core of a subject wiki should be strong enough that most of the links are internal. In other words, most of the questions that arise naturally from reading one topic article in the subject wiki should be answerable by reading other topic articles.
Can subject wikis have overlapping themes and content?
Overlap of content between subject wikis is a good thing, as long as each subject wiki has a different overall perspective and goal. For instance, topics in human behavior are of interest in economics, psychology, anthropology, history and many other subjects. Commonly used ideas within a broad discipline may get different kinds of treatment in its subdisciplines. For instance:
- The concept of a chemical bond is of importance in chemistry. The subdiscipline of chemical bonding, the subdisciplines of chemical reactions and their kinetics and equilibrium, the subdiscipline of energy changes in chemical reactions, the subdiscipline of analytic chemistry (testing of compounds), all look at bonds from somewhat different angles.
- The notion of price is of importance in economics. The subdisciplines of microeconomic theory (that focuses on market interactions between individuals transacting), macroeconomic theory, behavioural economics, evolutionary economics, and decision analysis all view this notion somewhat differently.
What should differ between different subject wikis is the kind of core and perspective offered.
It may also be possible to have broader level subject wikis -- subject wikis that cover a broad level topic from a general view and use generic organizational principles. For instance, there ma be a subject wiki on elementary organic chemistry, and there may be separate subject wikis on separate subdisciplines of organic chemistry.
How are subject wikis being created? Is there a broad "body of knowledge" principle?
As of now, there is no broad "body of knowledge" or "hierarchy of knowledge" used for the creation of subject wikis. Rather, individual subject wikis are being created experimentally. Once the experiment reaches a somewhat more advanced stage, we may introduce elements of hierarchical planning.
|Wiki||Main topic||Number of pages (lower bound)||Creation month||State of development|
|Groupprops||Group theory||5200||December 2006||beta|
|Topospaces||Topology (point set, algebraic)||600||May 2007||alpha|
|Commalg||Commutative algebra||400||January 2007||alpha|
|Diffgeom||Differential geometry||400||February 2007||alpha|
|Number||Number theory||200||March 2009||alpha|
|Market||Economic theory of markets, choices, and prices||100||January 2009||alpha|
|Mech||Classical mechanics||50||January 2009||alpha|
NOTE: The creation month need not coincide with the month of MediaWiki installation. In cases where the wiki was ported from elsewhere, the creation month may be earlier; in other cases, it may be later if the first edits happened long after installation.
Groupprops is currently the most developed prototype of a subject wiki.
How is an individual subject wiki designed?
There are several elements of choice in the design of individual subject wikis.
Granularity: what makes an article?
- Further information: Subwiki:Article
Each subject wiki must have a reasonable answer to the question: what deserves an article? In other words, there need to be reasonable guidelines to determine what kind of topics deserve separate articles. These guidelines are generally logical or subject-based guidelines, as opposed to guidelines based on timing, size and ease of maintenance.
The subject wikis are best seen as highly networked collections of individual articles. Every article, and every part of an article, has two kinds of goals: content goals and link goals. Content goals describe what content should appear in that part. Link goals describe what other material should be linked to.
Subject wikis may evolve, over time, detailed guidelines about what sections an article of a certain kind should have, and what the content goals and link goals of each section should be. Sometimes, certain paradigms of organization suggest certain content goals and link goals; see the next section for more on this.
Paradigms of organization
Once the overall focus has been determined, the organization of content needs to be determined. There are several organizational models:
- Subwiki:Type-based organization: Type-based organization -- articles featuring the same type of entity are placed in the same category. For instance, all countries may be in one category, all cities may be in another category, all lakes may be in another category. Type-based organization must usually handle issues such as the issue of subtypes (does something belonging to a subtype automatically belong to the type), the issue of recursive types (do types themselves have types?), the question of how to capture relations, and many others.
- Subwiki:Property-theoretic organization: Property-theoretic organization builds on, and extends, the basic idea of type-based organization. A property over a collection is something that any particular member of the collection either satisfies or does not satisfy. Property-theoretic organization focuses on properties as the key things being defined and uses methods to organize these properties and the relations between them.
- Subwiki:Relational organization: An array of methods used to capture different relations between definitions, facts and ideas.
Each of these forms of organization brings its own content goals and link goals to individual articles and sections of articles. For instance, Subwiki:Relations in definition article gives a description of what the relations section in a definition article should generally say. The specifics of how this is done depends on the specific organizational paradigm.
The default editing model for subject wikis is a model of editing only by confirmed registered users, who need to fill a short form to become registered users (we do this using the ConfirmAccount extension to MediaWiki). However, this model may be altered for individual subject wikis to models allowing editing by unregistered users to certain parts, in order to invite input and feedback from casual users.
A window into a subject wiki's organizational model
The organizational model of a subject wiki can become clear quickly by looking at the left-hand sidebar on the wiki, under the lookup header. This links to supercategories from which it is possible to browse downward to specific articles. The many items in the lookup header link to different organizational paradigms. Each of the paradigms may cover a certain subset of the content on the wiki.
How do subject wikis interact?
Each subject wiki has a different database of content, a different emphasis, and a different organization paradigm. Interaction between subject wikis is more at an informal stage.
Consistency or lack thereof
As more people get involved with subject wikis, it is possible that different subject wikis will be managed by people with no interaction with each other. In general, there is no need for consistency of conventions across wikis. rather, different subect wikis can offer different conventions, and thus different perspectives. Different subject wikis may have articles on the same topic with different takes (see also the earlier section on overlapping themes and content).
Different subject wikis can provide links to each other to cover ideas not covered in their own subject wiki, or for alternative, more in-depth perspective on ideas covered scantily in their own subject wiki. There is no reciprocity policy that governs or regulates such linking.
Common pool of templates
Templates developed on one subject wiki may be used on another. Examples are article-tagging templates, that stand on top of articles and describe the kind of article it is, with links to similar lists of articles. For instance, the generic property implication template on Groupprops has been copied to other subject wikis.
We may move in future to a central repository of generic use templates associated with a particular paradigm of organization, so that these templates can be imported en masse to a subject wiki following that paradigm.
Interaction with the outside world
- Further information: Subwiki:External linking
There is no uniform policy on external linking. The main goal of a wiki is to have a dense network with strong internal linking, so external links take a backseat. In general, such links appear at the end of articles. External links that accompany references (by pointing to the URL of the reference) are strongly encouraged. Independent external links to other online resources are also encouraged, but should be clearly demarcated from the internal links.