Friday, November 07, 2003

The Web and Research

I received the following email from David Molnar, a Berkeley graduate student. He asks some interesting questions about the use of the web and research. Instead of just answering them immediately, I though I would share his email (with his permission) and let you think about it. Feel free to comment. I'll also address some of his points later in future posts.

Molnar's Letter:

I wanted to follow up on your comment about theoretical computer science and e-mail/IM. Also, use of weblogs.

  1. There's a piece of folklore about how IP=PSPACE was proved pursuant to some race between many researchers carried out over e-mail. I've once or twice found myself in e-mail races with other people on mailing lists when we're responding to something technical. Do you think the day will come when some major theorem is proved in an IM chat room? :)

  2. Weblogs as place for ideas. A friend of mine asked me if I thought researchers in theory would be interested in putting up a web page (actually, we were discussing a wiki) about open problems. My response was pretty much like what you see in Oded Goldreich's FAQ -- "well that's nice, but good research problems are hard to find, and people seem to reserve them for themselves or their close colleagues."

    The point: I find that I'm starting to use my weblog as a place to deposit ideas for problems that I just don't have time to pursue, or aren't in what I think is my main line of research. In the old days they would have gone into a notebook somewhere and no one would have seen them. Now maybe someone will pick them up -- and I think that's great (especially since I usually don't know how to progress). At the same time, I wonder how peoples' concerns about ownership of ideas will affect the way they use weblogs. What do you think?

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