Tricki available for viewing

It’s been a long time coming, but the Tricki is now on the point of going fully live. If you need convincing that this is a stronger statement than earlier and almost identical statements I have made on this blog, then click here to be taken to the site.

At the moment the site is read-only. This is for two reasons. First, we would like to give people a chance to spot flaws with the site as it now is, while it is still relatively easy to correct them. These can be anything from technical bugs to the content and organization of the articles. Any suggestions for improvement will be greatly welcomed: the best way of making them is to click on “Forums” at the top of any page on the site and to start or continue a forum topic. Of course, you are also welcome to make comments on this blog post.

The second reason is that I will be on holiday for the next week or so, and I want to be on hand when articles start coming in, in case work needs to be done in fitting them into the organizational hierarchy of the Tricki, or making sure that they are consistent with the Tricki house style.

An advantage of this final delay is that if you will have a chance to browse the site and get an idea of what it is like before contributing an article, if you have a topic that might be appropriate. If you click on “Help” and then on “Formatting on the Tricki”, you will discover that writing an article is extremely easy (at least if you know what you want to say). In particular, if you want to type in mathematical symbols, you just have to write them in TeX or LaTeX and enclose them in dollars. I hope you will agree with me that Alex Frolkin and Olof Sisask have done an amazing job and will enjoy using and contributing to the site as much as I have.

For now I am thinking of the Tricki as a place where I can “download myself”. In other words, I am trying to think of all the tools that I am familiar with and like to use, and to explain them all. It would take a long time to do that, but not as long as I would like, so to speak. I hope that many people from widely differing mathematical backgrounds will do the same, so that we end up with a site that crosses over from being one that is interesting to browse but clearly incomplete to one where you actually expect to find the answer to certain kinds of question. (At some point in the last two or three years, Wikipedia made that transition: if I want to find out the basics of a definition or theorem and Google it, I am now surprised if a Wikipedia article doesn’t show up, whereas I can remember when that wasn’t the case.)

If you are writing an article, please remember to think hard about how to categorize it. Also, it is worth checking to see whether a similar article exists already — if you click on “Navigate”, you will discover that there are many ways to find out what is on the site. There are of course a large number of dead links. These are there to try to map out a structure for the site, but the process of doing so is in its infancy: it is easy to find topics that are not included and clearly should be. If you haven’t got time to write an article, you can still help by thinking about the structure and adding to the dead links. If you have ideas about how to organize a corner of the Tricki but are not sure that they will be appropriate, then consider starting a Forum topic.

One final thing to remember: the Tricki is supposed to be about how to do mathematics. As a rule of thumb, definitions, statements of theorems, and even some proofs belong on Wikipedia, but ”techniques” and proofs that carry some kind of general moral belong on the Tricki. There are already many links from the Tricki to Wikipedia. I hope there will be many more (another way of helping is to add such links to existing articles), and that eventually the two sites will have a symbiotic relationship.

I hope it won’t seem too fanciful if I suggest that Polymath and the Tricki are two different manifestations of the same basic idea: that if we are prepared to cooperate more, then in theory it should be possible for research in mathematics to be carried out more efficiently. The form of cooperation that the Tricki is trying to promote is one where we all share our mathematical toolkits, presenting them in a way that is easy for other mathematicians to find and use. I hope also that it will make it easier to discover what is known and what is not known.

That’s it for this post — I hope you enjoy the site. It should go fully live early in the week beginning April 13th.

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17 Responses to “Tricki available for viewing”

  1. Tricki is up (kinda sorta) « Epsilonica Says:

    [...] I was starting to think it was some kind of vapourware, but the Tricki is up to view (via Tim Gowers ). You can’t edit yet, and it’s small. The articles there at the moment are well written [...]

  2. alex Says:

    It would be nice if there was a way to limit your browsing to articles that have a good amount of material in them. Its inconvenient to browse through a list of articles, and on clicking on them to discover they are all essentially empty pages.

    Perhaps much like wikipedia you could label some articles as stubs? And there should be an option to avoid stubs while browsing?

    • gowers Says:

      We have now introduced a way of labelling articles as stubs, and it shows up in links to those articles. I hope this will make browsing the Tricki a smoother experience. If you come across a stub that isn’t yet labelled, then feel free to label it as one: the criterion is that it should neither contain nor link to any serious mathematical content.

  3. toomuchcoffeeman Says:

    It would be nice if the commenter above did not require the moon on a stick ;-) Learning to forage is a much under-rated part of the mathematician’s training, IMHO.

    (this is not meant as sniping, in case it comes across as such)

  4. gowers Says:

    Alex, I’ll have a word with Olof and the other Alex and see if we can come up with an idea for this. The obvious idea — just manually putting in a warning that a link is to a stub-type article — has the problem that when a stub is turned into a proper article it is difficult to update all the links. But perhaps we could add a facility for finding all links to a given article, which would make that more feasible. But much better than that would be a way of labelling an article as a stub in such a way that the warning appeared automatically on all the links to that article. I’ll see whether O&A think that is technically feasible.

  5. Emmanuel Kowalski Says:

    If most of the links are dynamically generated from a database, it might be fairly easy (?) to add to the front pages some rough visual indication of the length of the articles which are linked, and this might be enough to give an idea of their stub-like nature.

    • gowers Says:

      There’s a forum called Feature Requests on the Tricki. I’ve added this useful suggestion there (which I am not technically competent to judge), as well as a request related to Alex’s comment above. I’m hoping that people will actually use these forums, as it seems to me a good way of helping the Tricki to develop in good directions and avoid annoying aspects that get worse as it expands.

  6. Tricki salutes Wikipedia « What Is Research? Says:

    [...] Tricki, Wikipedia, Wikis — vipulnaik @ 12:41 am Tim Gowers of Polymath fame announced in this blog post the release of a Prelive version of Tricki. Tricki stands for “tricks wiki”, and Gowers [...]

  7. Robert Says:

    This may not be part of the goal of the Tricki, but I’m curious if somehow provisions could be made for the autodidact? I see a lot of examples, but not a lot of exercises, and even less in the way of *specific* places where it may be useful. Obviously you can never guide usefulness, but when trying to become well-aquainted with a trick it’s essential to be able to actually *use* it. Another direction in the same vein is to allow linking of examples where *multiple tricks* might be used, either alternatively or together.

    It might be simply that my own goal would be to have a sort of “cheat sheet” to problem solving – like the heuristics in “How to solve it” by Polya, but at a much higher level. You’d want to try to develop the facility to see when applying certain tricks is useful *without any hint in advance* as to which might be. (Yes, I’m aware of the “how to prove it” books…).

    Yet another thought would be to show how applications of tricks and heuristics show up in the original definitions of new theories (how what was a trick might have turned into a field or a theorem). After all, not everything in maths today was always so formal, and any new research necessitates looking at things before they are crystal clear.

    Anyway, just my thoughts. Take them for what little they’re worth ;)

  8. Michael Nielsen » Biweekly links for 04/06/2009 Says:

    [...] Tricki available for viewing « Gowers’s Weblog [...]

  9. Stones Cry Out - If they keep silent… » Things Heard: e62v1 Says:

    [...] Tricki. [...]

  10. Qiaochu Yuan Says:

    Perhaps you might want to include an article explaining what it really means to solve mathematical problems. I’ve seen some comments elsewhere to the effect that people thought the Tricki was going to be a list of arithmetic tricks or useful technical results. I think it might be worthwhile to explain that, for example, solving mathematical problems is not a matter of finding the correct formula.

  11. Timothy Chow Says:

    You have probably already considered this, but even so I would like to hear the justification. What do you think about changing the titles to “I want to…”? So for instance, instead of “What kind of problem am I trying to solve?” the top level would be “I want to solve a mathematical problem.” Instead of “Techniques for proving existence” one would have “I want to prove existence.” This might convey the interactive, expert-system flavor that I think you were trying to convey. It would also help ensure a certain uniformity; right now the top level title is a question, the next level titles are “Techniques for…” and I see that other titles are “a good way…” (seems redundant—surely there won’t be many articles about *bad* ways to prove things? or will there? that’s an interesting thought).

    One problem might be that the “I want to” format might end up being too restrictive.

  12. Timothy Chow Says:

    I should have explored more of the Tricki before making my last comment, which I will now clarify by saying that I was specifically referring to the titles in the “What kind of problem am I trying to solve?” section.

    Also I see that the FAQ already addresses the issue of bad ways to prove things.

  13. harrison Says:

    I’d like to see a forum or subforum where Tricki users could request specific articles. As I see it, this would have at least three distinct benefits:

    1. Most obviously, if (for example) I don’t understand when Fourier analysis is useful in additive/Ramsey-type results, and the Tricki doesn’t have an article on Fourier analysis in additive combinatorics, I can request that an article be written, and certainly I’d be able to find the information I wanted more quickly than I would if I did nothing.

    2. People who know of a trick that should be added to the Tricki but, for whatever reason, don’t feel comfortable writing the article themselves could work with another contributor to collect examples or write the “meat” of the article. (This would, of course, likely happen eventually due to the open nature of wikis, but having a centralized forum where people could request help would speed up the process hugely — actually, I can’t think of a single large and active wiki without some form of “help request.”)

    3. Finally, it would likely contribute to building the large-scale structure of the Tricki; with easily-accessible records and discussions of contributed articles, it might clarify how everything “should” fit together.

    Just a thought,

    Harrison

    • gowers Says:

      In my other reply (below) I was wrong, but we have now introduced an “Article requests” heading in the Forums section of the Tricki. Suggesting articles would be a great way to contribute to the Tricki for those who do not have the time or relevant expertise to write them.

  14. gowers Says:

    Harrison, I think if you click on “Forums” you’ll find that you can indeed request an article — you just start an appropriate forum topic. Certainly we saw what you are suggesting as something we wanted the Tricki to be able to provide. And suggestions for articles are valuable, as they help the Tricki to grow. (E.g. one person might not think of an idea for an article but be able to write it when someone else suggests it.)

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