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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
    • CommentTimeJul 17th 2009
    • (edited Jul 17th 2009)

    David raises an interesting point over on the cafe.

    I’m not completely convinced of nLab acting as both reference wiki and as a place to work out ideas.

    As I commented there, his main comment is related to our discussion on "original research". Maybe it's time to actually design a few icons for that (and other things).

    However, it is an interesting point. According to its home page, the n-lab is for both exposition and doing research. Indeed, I doubt that the two can be properly separated. However, it is possible for one to get swamped by the other - and if that happens it is most likely to be exposition swamping new research. That is, the desire to have "safe exposition" becomes such that new research is almost impossible to put up, or has to be put up in such obscure ways that no-one sees it (who does go round the private labs, by the way?). You never know, we may end up with a section of the n-lab with a "No Original Research" slogan over the door. To indicate it's pedestrian feel, we might call it, err, n-labipedia.

    I'm not raising this because I think that we need to actually do anything yet, beyond designing a few markers, but just out of curiosity as to how others see and use the n-lab. So here's a mini-questionnaire. I'll try to think of some virtual prizes for the first ten respondents. I've put some "possible answers" to start you thinking, but this isn't intended as multiple choice.

    1. What is your main reason for going to an n-lab page? Some possible answers:

      • to add substantial content
      • to clean it up
      • as a reference
    2. If looking up something categorical, what's your list of "places to look", and where is the n-lab on your priority list? Some possible answers:

      • Mac Lane (or other text)
      • Wikipedia
      • n-lab
      • dunno, guv, just hit 'search' in that box up there
    3. When adding something to the n-lab, how careful are you?

      • If I'm not sure, I put it in a query box
      • If I'm not sure, I don't write it
      • If I'm not sure, who cares? Toby will come along later and fill in the details.
    4. When reading something on the n-lab, how careful are you?

      • Don't believe anything unless I've checked it with Wikipedia
      • Urs has an honest face, I believe everything
      • Who cares? It's not as if the referee is actually going to read the article I write, is it?
    • CommentRowNumber2.
    • CommentAuthorEric
    • CommentTimeJul 17th 2009
    • (edited Jul 17th 2009)

    What is your main reason for going to an n-lab page?

    To understand what is going on at the n-Cafe.

    If looking up something categorical, what's your list of "places to look", and where is the n-lab on your priority list?

    Google. Often the n-Lab is in the top few search results.

    When adding something to the n-lab, how careful are you?

    Not very.

    When reading something on the n-lab, how careful are you?

    Not very. Even if refereed. I don't believe anything unless I rediscover it myself.

    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthorTobyBartels
    • CommentTimeJul 19th 2009
    1. I visit every page every time it is edited to see what happened. (I probably won't be able to keep this up in the fall.) If I can see that something needs cleaning or that I can write a good explanation of some point, then I do so. After that, I visit pages to write them or to add substantially to them (this time by plan rather than because it's there). And in the course of this, I also often visit previously written pages for reference.

    2. Like everything else, I start with Google, unless I remember that what I want is some place more specific. I pretty much know what is in Categories Work or in the Lab, for example, so I'll go there if that's what I want. If I think that it's likely to be in the Elephant or some other book that I have, then I'll go there too. But otherwise, I google, at least enough to learn where else I might go.

    3. I try to be honest about whether what I write is true or not, but I don't check references or recreate proofs for everything, so I sometimes make mistakes. Occasionally I'll be a little more careless if I know that somebody (that is somebody who'll catch any problems) is watching, but that doesn't work as often as it used to, now that Mike Shulman is gone.

    4. If I don't understand it (like much of what Urs writes or something like Frolicher space that's just long), then I believe it tentatively. If I do understand it, then I correct it if it's wrong. If it's on the border, then I try to prove it for myself and ask a question if I can't.

    • CommentRowNumber4.
    • CommentAuthorp_l_lumsdaine
    • CommentTimeOct 8th 2009

    As someone only just starting to become a contributor, I'm hopefully reasonably representative as a reader too...

    1. What is your main reason for going to an n-lab page?

    Generally, to look up categorical concepts that I can't recall the details of.

    2. If looking up something categorical, what's your list of "places to look", and where is the n-lab on your priority list?

    If I can remember a specific paper or book that mentions something, I'll look there. Otherwise I'll google, and usually end up looking at whichever of wikipedia and n-Lab has something, so often both.

    3. When adding something to the n-lab, how careful are you?

    As a new contributor, this is mostly hypothetical, but generally: if I were writing something original or speculative, I'd mark it as such; when writing something expository, I'd try to make sure I'm following established definitions/conventions, checking at least one respectable (i.e. published) source if I'm at all unsure.

    4. When reading something on the n-lab, how careful are you?

    About as careful as when reading papers. That is: I'll assume that definitions given are correct (i.e. agree with their usage elsewhere) unless I have a particular reason to doubt it, and I'll assume that facts/theorems are probably true, but I won't really believe them until I understand the proof myself. I'm slightly more skeptical of the nLab than of published papers, just as I'm slightly more skeptical of recent papers than of well-established papers or textbooks.

    • CommentRowNumber5.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeOct 9th 2009


    I found the imagery you proposed recently adequately descriptive for the nature of the nLab:

    you said the nLab is like a lab book . A big, community lab book that we keep lying around openly for everybody to browse through.

    For me internally that captures very well how I am thinking of the nLab and what it does for me.

    I was thinking about putting a snetence along these lines at HomePage. What do you all think?

    • CommentRowNumber6.
    • CommentAuthorTodd_Trimble
    • CommentTimeOct 9th 2009
    1. What is your main reason for going to an n-lab page?

    Sometimes it's to see what other people are saying in a discussion, sometimes to see whether I can help in any way. I also look at things Urs is hatching up.
    Something I intend to do more of is clean up my own messes (meaning things I started but didn't complete).

    2. If looking up something categorical, what's your list of "places to look", and where is the n-lab on your priority list?

    Generally books at home and google, but depends on topic, and depends on how quickly I think I can get to the desired information. If googling, I usually do not add wikipedia or nLab as part of the search terms (so no specific priorities), but if either shows up I'll look at either unless I already know what's there and don't care to read again. Sometimes I'll go to nLab specifically if I want to chase down some information written from a "constructively correct" point of view I have often come to expect from nLab.

    3. When adding something to the n-lab, how careful are you?

    Usually as careful as I can be, with a few exceptions; if I'm not sure then I'll just about always admit it on the page and ask for the opinions of others. Yes, query boxes are my friends. Before the discerning eyes of others, I do try to be careful as a general rule.

    4. When reading something on the n-lab, how careful are you?

    It depends. There are times when I'm not in a good position to carefully evaluate content, but insofar as I'm reputed to be one of the resident experts on a certain range of categorical topics, I'll often scrutinize articles which come within range of my knowledge base and see if they make sense to me. In other words, as in my answer to 3., as careful as I can be modulo time and energy limitations.
    • CommentRowNumber7.
    • CommentAuthorTobyBartels
    • CommentTimeOct 10th 2009

    @ Urs:

    Sounds good to me.

    • CommentRowNumber8.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeOct 12th 2009

    Okay, I added a line concerning "lab book" to HowTo.

    I also added a remark to the software-requirement standout box highlighting that one doesn't need to know MathML syntax to produce math on the Lab. (Recently somebody on the Cafe thought he'd need to "know MathML" in order to contribute).

    • CommentRowNumber9.
    • CommentAuthorTobyBartels
    • CommentTimeOct 12th 2009

    You mean HomePage. I messed with it a bit too.

    • CommentRowNumber10.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeOct 12th 2009
    This comment is invalid XHTML+MathML+SVG; displaying source. <div> <blockquote> You mean HomePage </blockquote> <p>True, I really do need to concentrate more when posting here. I keep posting wrong links. Sorry for that.</p> </div>