[p2p-research] P2P platforms for wide ranging discussions beyond email?

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Wed Nov 4 22:58:20 CET 2009

Moving my reply over to this thread...

Stan Rhodes wrote:
 > Technology cannot solve all difficulties in organizing and providing
 > perspective on a body of information, nor all problems in inter-personal
 > communication.  Sometimes, the remedy is old-fashioned discipline in
 > presenting a viewpoint or mental model as concisely as possible.

On this point of "discipline", while your suggestion is ideal, in practice, 
it would be nice to have a technological system that helped us separate 
different aspects of thinking (or some sort of "discipline" in other terms) 
within a peer-to-peer context. Some people are better at some things than 
others. So for example, I could post something rambly, almost everyone could 
ignore it because they know I ramble, except maybe one person would 
summarize one point they cared about in a concise way, and the conversation 
could flow around that concise point by people who cared about it, perhaps 
with further iterations of refinements, maybe with another ramble by me at 
some point, etc.. Granted, email is not ideal for that, but it can be used 
that way, and sometimes is.

This is a sort of peer-based scientific-tending process. One big problem 
with how the scientific method is described in practice (hypothesis, test, 
report) is that it has no relation to reality in most cases. :-) Still, a 
broader view of the scientific method does include iterations, even if the 
method by itself ignores broader issues about creativity:
A linearized, pragmatic scheme of the four points above is sometimes offered 
as a guideline for proceeding:[32]
    1. Define the question
    2. Gather information and resources (observe)
    3. Form hypothesis
    4. Perform experiment and collect data
    5. Analyze data
    6. Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point 
for new hypothesis
    7. Publish results
    8. Retest (frequently done by other scientists)
The iterative cycle inherent in this step-by-step methodology goes from 
point 3 to 6 back to 3 again.

I'd suggest a major flaw in that outline is it assumes science is being done 
by individuals, like in school doing a term paper, with no substantial 
collaboration at any stage other than publication (maybe there might be some 
communications with just with a couple peers in the same lab). Much of that 
lack of communication is because of a fight over research dollars that 
poisons the scientific process in several ways.
   "The Big Crunch" by David Goodstein

So, what would a peer-to-peer scientific method look like with lots of open 
communications at all stages? And what tools could help with that?

In practice, what happens is somewhat stigmergic:
* blundering around in an area just learning and having fun, or otherwise 
sharing some new idea of current interest
* some ideas click together
* some more breakthroughs get made in cumbersome ways based on combining ideas
* breakthrough ideas get refined
* there is some testing, or even just library research, and then discussion 
of conclusions, etc.
* presentations get polished, and then spawn more blundering :-)

Where all stages can drop back to the blundering/playful start at any point.

While it might be ideal if all email communications can be in the first half 
of the last category (presentation of polished ideas), that's maybe 0.01% of 
the scientific enterprise in terms of time, even if important.

By trying to push all communications into that form, one risks shutting down 
the playful underlying layers. Now, that may be common in real science labs, 
but they operate under other assumptions than p2p (different funding 
assumptions, different reputation assumptions, different social organization 
models, etc.)

Granted, shutting down unauthorized playful research is the actual intent of 
much of academic bureaucracy in order to shut down any changes to the status 
quo, but we can try to resist it when we can: :-)

Recent examples:

"Professor David Nutt asked to resign after his claims that ecstasy and LSD 
were less dangerous than alcohol"

"... the same Boston University academic who turned me livid eighteen months 
ago when she fired Professor Michael Holick for writing a book. Holick's 
book simply questioned current dermatology dogma that sunlight is evil and 
she fired him: Boston University's version of academic freedom."

"Rhetta Moran, David Healy - and the language of academic bullying"
"One would have thought that the idea of "compatible" or "incompatible" 
research would be something that should interest an academic union. The AUT 
attempted to induce to me to go along with a sham process as well as a gag 
agreement while ignoring every principle involved. Their silence has been 

Now, that all is a different issue from how to use email as-is effectively 
to accomplish some specific goal, granted. But, in some ways, email, 
especially coupled with a citeable web archive of posts, is maybe the best 
we have. People can filter posts, people can cite things, people can 
summarize. Things could be a lot better though.

But, I won't disagree with your general point about the need for 
"discipline". I think the question is more, discipline at what point and in 
what context and of what type and by whom and towards what end using what 

> Many of us probably want "a better stigmergic platform than wikis or
> emails or web forums or Google Wave for creating public interlinked
> knowledge covering a wide variety of interrelated topics from a wide
> variety of perspectives, especially one that is interlinked with things
> like real time data acquisition, simulations, and digitized historical
> records." However, by definition, email is not that platform (if it can
> even exist), and trying to use email for something beyond its basic
> strengths invites a lot of frustration.
> I appreciate the desire to have a version history of assumptions,
> concepts, and thoughts surrounding a topic. I actually think it's doable,
> using semantic metadata with a starting database of something like
> Wikipedia or Zotero. For example, in my research, I've envisioned an
> "assumption map" that links models with their assumptions, and acts as a
> sort of key for the jargon of various disciplines in the behavioral
> sciences. I expect someone is already working on something similar to
> connect assumptions.

Thanks for the other references to Zotera and Posterous. Any link to any 
public work you are doing on making assumptions for models explicit would be 
appreciated, I've been talking about doing something related , both on this 
list (earlier post referencing Catton and modelling tools) and elesewhere).

I can post more on that if people are interested. Essentially, it is about 
linking simulations to structured arguments about them.

--Paul Fernhout

Paul D. Fernhout wrote:
> Stan-
> I'm sure there are many who would agree with you. Even me. :-) And that 
> one was especially rambling. :-)
> Yes, I agree that email is not a very good format for having complex 
> wide ranging discussions, especially ones linked to citations or brining 
> in what other people have said. The trouble is, blogs don't especially 
> solve that problem, even though they do have their role, including 
> bloggers commenting on bloggers (even then, I see posts on other 
> people's blogs like "your blog posts are too long." :-) Neither do web 
> forums address all of that. Google Wave is one step forward there, but 
> is also missing stuff. Same with Google Knol or Wikipedia.
> I've tried to work towards improved tools for discussions, or at least 
> the underlying technology, but usually get side tracked discussing 
> things instead.
>   "The Pointrel Social Semantic Desktop"
>   http://sourceforge.net/projects/pointrel/
> In any case, what we may need is a better stigmergic platform than wikis 
> or emails or web forums or Google Wave for creating public interlinked 
> knowledge covering a wide variety of interrelated topics from a wide 
> variety of perspectives, especially one that is interlinked with things 
> like real time data acquisition, simulations, and digitized historical 
> records.
> On "hand waving" specifically, that's exactly why I do put links and 
> quotes, since often points people make are in effect hand waving, with 
> no links to a larger literature of ideas and experiments and thoughts. 
> Again, though, how to do that well is not worked out well, and should 
> IMHO be the subject of more p2p research. Maybe that is something we can 
> agree on? :-)
> Related from:
>   "Project Xanadu"
>   http://www.xanadu.com.au/ted/XU/XuPageKeio.html
> """
> Project Xanadu is the name for Ted Nelson's hypertext work since 1960.  
> For the period 1988-92, Project Xanadu was owned by XOC, Inc., which was 
> a subsidiary of Autodesk, Inc., makers of AutoCad(R).  However, Project 
> Xanadu is no longer connected officially with XOC, Inc., or with the 
> software developed there. We foresaw world-wide hypertext, clearly and 
> specifically, even in the sixties when almost nobody could imagine 
> hypertext.  No one else did.  We knew millions of people would want to 
> publish hypertext on computer networks, and assuring this freedom for 
> everyone to publish was always part of the Xanadu vision.  Making it 
> happen was our commitment to freedom. However, contrary to legend, 
> Project Xanadu was NOT trying to create the World Wide Web.  The World 
> Wide Web is precisely what we were trying to PREVENT.  We long ago 
> foresaw the problems of one-way links, links that break (no guaranteed 
> long-term publishing), no way to publish comments, no version 
> management, no rights management.  All these were built into the Xanadu 
> design. That Xanadu design is not dead, just being redefined for today's 
> realities. We were right about the power of world-wide hypertext, as 
> anyone can see.  If only people understood that we were right about the 
> rest of the structure, which is necessary now more than ever.  And we 
> believe that same structure can be rebuilt, even with the Web as it is now.
> """
> I'm not endorsing the Xanadu design specifically, just pointing out that 
> people have for decades realized the limits of existing p2p-like 
> technologies, including email, and even before they became widespread.
> So, in any case, there is a deeper issue in your post about good forms 
> of p2p tools for complex wide ranging discussions, that it would be 
> great if people could address with better p2p technology (whatever it 
> was, rating, Xanadu transclusion, Engelbart's purple numbers, summary 
> layers, presentation layers, virtual threads, filtering by personal 
> choice of moderators and editors, or whatever).
> All the best.
> --Paul Fernhout
> http://www.pdfernhout.net/
> Stan Rhodes wrote:
>  > Paul,
>  >
>  > I do appreciate your enthusiasm, and I appreciate the very broad 
> scope and
>  > fuzzy nature of the p2p research group, but it's nearly impossible to
>  > explore issues deeply with these sorts of threads.  I consider these
>  > large, mostly digressive link-flood replies to be hand-waving that
>  > obfuscates any attempt at concise and possibly insightful discussion
>  > about issues.
>  >
>  > It might be worthwhile to consider using a blog for these long,
>  > digressive, almost stream-of-consciousness emails, while using the p2p
>  > research list to explore one or two very closely-related points 
> in-depth.
>  > Until something like that happens, I will have to bow out of replying to
>  > these sorts of emails.
>  >
>  > I only include the list on the reply so that anyone else who feels
>  > similarly will know they are not alone.  If I am in the extreme 
> minority,
>  > that's fine too.
>  >
>  > Cheers,
>  > -- Stan
>  >
>  >
>  > On Mon, Nov 2, 2009 at 6:53 AM, Paul D. Fernhout <
>  > pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:
>  >
>  >> Stan-
>  >>
>  >> You are right to be concerned about simple labels, and that's one 
> reason,
>  >> as a caveat, I mentioned the idea of moving beyond the paradigm of
>  >> "psychopath" to maybe something more useful, someday.
>  >> [snip]
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