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PROPOSALS FOR IMECHANICA

Mike Ciavarella's picture

Hello imechanica users: I launch a few ideas. Can we improve imechanica stealing ideas from successful web systems like google, amazon, wikipedia, myspace, youtube? Taking the best of the various worlds to improve our imechanica?

Imechanica is growing fast, as every blog, and more and more will have the problem of having too many entries, with no fixed quality. The result is that it is taken less seriously than, say, Nature. This means that it is taken mostly as a new system to launch adverts, quick ideas, but not to circulate "really serious" material. Imechanica, despite being more immediate than, say, Nature, is less taken for serious. Having noticed that top people hardly read imechanica or take it for place to publish results? This is perhaps not to be forever. Is it also because

1) it doesn't have reviewers to "filter" material to ensure good enough quality

2) it doesn't rank the quality or make any change even based on number of reads or any "ranking"

3) it doesn't adapt to any "citation index" or "impact" or success

4) its content is not improved by users like "wikipedia"

5) it doesn't give feedback on preliminary versions of research papers or even to proposals -- it doesn't even have special "sections" to post these two categories

6) it doesn't have feedback like when you buy in AMAZON or in EBAY and people suggest a vote for the quality of any other user


Of course, some of these points are adressed, but since imechanica is run by volunteers and people who are already overloaded to run it, I think it is good to have an open discussion before any major change. The purpose of the open discussion is to gauge interest, persuade buy-in among users, and get ideas for implementation. iMechanica is not funded by anyone. Everyone is a
volunteer. We need to be extremely cautious in asking for people's time.

My idea for example would be

a) let anyone experience the thrill of journal Editors and send to reviewers papers, get reviewers feedback, decide who is rigth

b) have a place were one can make "preliminary submissions". I mean both

b-1) papers. I have recently submitted what I consider a very good idea in friction, and perhaps I will submit later to Nature indeed. node/2995 or node/2983. So far, I received 340 read, but not a single comment. For a while, members of Suo's group have posted preprints on the same days when papers are submitted to journals (see taxonomy/term/85). Many papers got comments, but some don't. The comments have been very helpful to Suo's group. How to encourage people to comment on new papers?

b.2) research proposals. How much would be gained if people were better in writing proposals, and could explore their ideas discussing it with top people? I think they explored this for proposals in EU, and they got reasonably good feedback, as people want to improve their papers before final submission.

c) should an Email alert arrive to users about selected posts on subjects of their choice? For example, I don't use Imechanica regularly, but an Email every week with a selection of the most read posts and most active discussions would be useful

d) could a place where CV are put be useful? Like myspace for every user of Imechanica to upload their CV, their preferred papers, they web pages, etc. It is like having a subspace of Myspace.com into imechanica, but perhaps more. It can be done with hyperlinks, it doesn't need to repeat of course all this material in imechanica itself.

e) could a selected "papers" be created by predefined groups of users? Then refined by others like "wikipedia". If god papers emerge, let imechanica administrator submit the paper to Editors of journals automatically with the authors list defined by the people who contributed to the discussion?

f) expertise among users are diverse. Of course, some users are more vocal than others. iMechanica hasn't reached year 2 yet. Given time, it will have some vocal users on any aspects that interest mechanicians. Will this become too confused, so that we need to have a database for each subtopic of imechanica, like journal Editors when they approach reviewers?

Just a few ideas.  Maybe some are simple and some are too ambitious. Maybe some can be grouped, some can be done immediately, some later...

Regards

Michele Ciavarella,

Politecnico di Bari, Italy & Ecole Polytecnique France

Comments

Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Mike:  Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts.  The server is unstable today, and posts of iMechanica are inaccessible.  I'm sorry for the inconvenience.  Harvard IT people have been alerted

I'm writing notes as I read your post.  The notes are too brief at many places.  I apologize.

  1. iMechanica serves a different function from Nature, or from any journal for that matter.  There is no reason to maintain a consistent quality of posts in iMechanica.  We don't need to be highbrow or lowbrow.  We can be nobrow.  The user can simply post whatever on her mind that might interest a fellow mechanician, or can choose to be serious about every word.  It is her decision of the moment.  She does not even need be consistent.  (Consistency is a weakness of the mind, as Freeman Dyson remarked.)  In this regard, an iMechanica post is more like a hallway conversation than a journal paper.  I for one have no desire to create another Nature.  Nature is already there.  It's great but leaves most of our needs unserved.  Let's do somthing else.
  2. I can certainly point to quite a few ideas posted in iMechanica that look "really serious" to me.
  3. Do you mean "established people" when you say "top people"?  Many top young people are indeed active users of iMechanica.  Established people have fewer reasons to do a lot of things.  Many of them do not even come to conferences very often, unless invited to give a special lecture.  This said, I agree that young mechanicians will benefit greatly from the participation of more established mechanicians.  Let us discuss more about this topic and find a viable approach.
  4. Response to your point 1).  If a person is looking for "filtered" materials, he already has plenty:  he can read journal articles.
  5. Response to your point 2), 3) and 6).  iMechanica search box ranks search results.  The ranking algorithm is less sophisticated than that of Google.  The ranking mechanism can be improved.  More generally, iMechanica use Drupal, an open source project.  We need volunteers to look for and test suitable modules on Drupal.org.  As iMechanica grow, and users like to have more flexibility, we need to find a way to distribute the work to enhance iMechanica.
  6. Response to your point 4).  There have been several iMechanica thread on wiki.  Please take a look at them as you refine your ideas.
  7. Response to your point 5).  It has been difficult to create a lot of categories.  See a previous discussion on "Everything is Miscellaneous".

I next  add notes to your proposed ideas.

  • a)  I'm unconvinced that it is viable to create yet another review system.  Don't we all have too much to do?
  • b)  You have raised an excellent point:  How to encourage
    people to comment on new papers.  For a while, members of my group have posted preprints on the same days when papers are submitted to journals (see http://imechanica.org/taxonomy/term/85). 
    Many papers get comments, but some don't.  The comments have been very
    helpful to us in revising the papers.
  • c)  iMechanica uses RSS feed to alert users of new content.  Have you tried?
  • d) Some users place their CVs in their user profiles.  Here is an example: Wei Hong.
  • e) This is an interesting idea. See a long thread of discussion initiated by Eric Mockensturm on using wiki to improve papers.
  • f) database for subtopics.  You really like to review papers.   Journal editors should take note.

There are too many ideas to discuss.  It might be more fruitful if we can pick one or two more promising ideas and foucs.

Mike Ciavarella's picture

dear Zhigang

first a string of thanks: thanks for creating Imechanica, for keeping the original enthusiasm and the hard work to keep it in place (and we learned today how it is hard..), and finally to respond to my ideas, which are partly naif for you who know imechanica better than any other.

Some feedback.  

  1. I agree iMechanica serves a different function from Nature, and we do "something else", but who knows about the future? Didn't you say in another post that you cancelled the subscription to Science in your department?  So as you see things are changing, and imechanica has opportunities to replace some of Science and Nature, too.
  2. How to enhance participation of more established mechanicians with a viable approach. I guess "esthablished mechanicians have already too much work to form, mantain, and respond to the needs of their own group. However, they may be interested to some special functions which only imechanica can provide. Let's send them a questionaire.
  3. The point on Drupal, RSS, ranking becomes too technical for me. We need a review system, or a voting system.  We all have too much to do, but a vote is simple!
  4. On wiki, you can't tell me the conclusions so far? I'll look at Eric Mockensturm on using wiki to improve papers.
  5. Thanks for considering excellent point to encourage people to comment on new papers. It doesn't seem however either of us has an idea here!

I went down to 5 ideas.  Is this good enough??

Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Mike:  Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.  My responses follow.

  1. You are probably referring to an earlier post of mine, mentioning why I stopped subscribing to Science Magazine myself.
  2. It is indeed interesting to ask how iMechanica can provide value to established mechanicians, so that they will participate, which in turn will benefit less established mechanicians.  Let's discuss more about this point in follow up comments, and come up with specific ideas.
  3. You are too young to give up on RSS feed.  It will take you 5 minutes to set it up.  You will love it.
  4. People have different opinions about wiki.  Here are my two cents.  Everyone can create and edit in Wikipedia.  If we belive that it is important to have mechanics in wiki, it seems that we should start with Wikipedia, rather than start our own wiki.  To begin with, we ought to add Wikipedia entries on noted mechanicians.
  5. We'll have to spread this post by Teng Li on why you should comment on other people's post
Zhigang Suo's picture

Incidentally, you can also subscribe to RSS feeds of ijss, jmps, nature, science, new york times, or practically anything published online.  That is, practically anything published all all.  You can have all these sources, along with iMechanica, appear in one location on your computer, automatically updated, free of charge.  RSS feeds are much faster than going to individual websites.

Teng Li's picture

Dear Mike,

Thanks for your thoughtful post. iMechanica is blessed to have passionated users like you.

I'll try to address your five points as follows:

1.  As you said, iMechanica is different from Nature. This is clearly the case so far since iMech day one, and I think, will still be the case for a long time.  While iMechanica is growing, Nature is also evolving.  We are not intentionally competing with or trying to replace Nature, or part of it.  Just let both of us thrive, and let the users shape our future. No offense to people at Harvard and MIT. This reminds me an article on Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).  Harvard never tried to compete with MIT in engineering, but both of them can do very well, in different ways.

2.  We've had some established mechanicians who generously contributed to iMechanica in various ways, and many of us, especially young mechanicians have benefited a lot from their contributions.  How to motivate more established mechanicians to participate has been a constant topic since the very beginning of iMechanica, as I can remember.  We don't have silver bullet so far, but as iMech continues growing and iMechanicians demonstrate more creative ways to use iMech, our established colleagues will be more motivated.  Let's keep such discussions open. 

3.  As Zhigang mentioned, RSS is a powerfull tool, and not that hard to use.  If you'd like to receive email notification of content update, you can customize your email subscription in email softwares such as Thunderbird. Some other free web services such as feedburner.com are also availble.

4. For wiki, setting up a wiki is not a big deal nowadays, plus wikipedia is already there for our use. Again it's user participation. If you looked into earlier stage of iMech, we did have a wiki part.  But we didn't actively proceed along that direction, given the small user base at that time. We can definitely revisit this possibility in the future.

5. This is somewhat similiar to point 2 above, but with a much lower barrier. The number of comments in iMechanica has been constantly about twice of that of posts.  Thus it's typical that some posts (like this one) attracts many comments, while others have less or even no comments.  Dhruv made a nice point on attracting more comments in his comment below.

 

I'm not sure I have much to add here.  Frankly, I'm not sure that a whole lot needs to be done to improve iMechanica on a structural level. 

By its very nature, iMechanica is going to evolve organically.  I would caution against trying to steer that evolution too much.  

By the same token, if people have new ideas for things they'd like to try, they should go for it!  It might be a hit, it might not.  The community will respond accordingly.  

I do agree with Zhigang concerning reviews.  I'm already overwhelmed by them.   I was actually thinking of writing an iMechanica post about how scientists should have public "review queues" that would allow editors to see how many (or how few) papers they're currently reviewing.   

Thanks a lot Mike, Zhigang and John for the discussion. I think that this discussion is timely as we approach to the number of users -6,000. I would like to share my thoughts and experience about iMechanica. I believe that this is a very useful platform for free academic discussion, at least in addition to journal publications and conferences. For instance, if one has an idea for a proposal, just get a post. The comments on the post, I take them very positively, improve the quality of my proposal. I think for papers this is the same. In particular, before submission or during submission, the comments here help a lot. 

I like this free style here and I can see the serious/interesting posts do attract a lot of follow up and useful discussions. Posts of quality and interest drive the some sections. This is good. I can see the moderator system works. I think that "self assemble" mechanisms may be one of the best ways.

Another important point is education reach-out. I got positive feedback from undergraduate and graduate students about iMechanica. They do not have a lot of chances to attend professional conferences, but they are very good at internet and iMechanica is the platform they like very much. I think we need to encourage them to put posts and comments.

I think that iMechanica bridges journal publications and professional conferences.  This is not only the current wave, but also the trend.

Konstantin Volokh's picture

It is great that Mike made such an emotional post. This is what we need.

Concerning the specific points that he raised I would tend having the opposite opinion. I like that iMechanica "does not" do everything mentioned in Mike's list Smile

yoursdhruly's picture

I apologize for my absence from iMechanica - I was transitioning out of grad school into my first job!

While it does feel nice to idle in a vision of "iMechanica trumps Nature", I agree with Prof. Suo that this is not the true strength (or original purpose) of iMechanica. Having said that, Mike's more general point is a well made one: how can we improve this site?

I can see why the lack of comments can be annoying. The way I see it, I personally do not feel like I know enough to comment on most of the topics and I think I speak for most students when I say that. As Prof. Suo suggests, "established" researchers probably don't spend a lot of time (if any) at this site. For this, I have a suggestion:

When we post something we want people to comment on, it would be helpful to distill some background into the post so that the uninitiated (like me!) can learn a little to appreciate more fully what the post/paper is about. One could argue that all I have to do is google and I could get the information I need, but the onus, in my opinion, is on the writer of the post (if she/he wants more participation) to educate the rest of us. A quick paragraph or two would be of great educational value and also be more likely to stimulate discussion and questions from students who want to learn more.

It may be just me, but I still like to think of iMechanica first and foremost as an educational vehicle. Promotion of personal ideas, publications etc. is great too, but in my opinion, it must be preceded by an educational aspect to it.

Mike, all in all, it is good that we are having this discussion, and we should have it again. Thanks for bringing it up.

Mahdi Kazemzadeh's picture

Hi All;

First of all, I am very much pleased to see that the idea of improving iMechanica is still fresh and ongoing topic and we have this type of discussion running. I have been following the comments here on this topic since it has started but I didnt comment as I found it a bit different with what I thought iMechanica should be doing. We should all feel free to express our ideas but also we have to consider the advantages and disadvantages of our new thoughts if we wanted to make them practical.

Mike, you have raised few points which are interesting like "how we can get more established mechanicians involved"? Me and Dhruv (congratulation for the new job!) has thought about the similar point but for students and we have had an interesting discussion about how we could make it happen. I think having more established mechanicians here would benefit students as well. Please let us all know your proposals of how to do this.

I am afraid that I dont find your other points relevant to what I have in my mind as an improvements. I suppose sometimes you talk about change of the functionality of the iMechanica. This is an online and very up to date scienec which is travelling here and ofcourse it is a unique model of itself and I dont see the point that we should "steal some other ideas" as you have mentioned in your post. If your proposal has based on something else rather than what might happen in future, please comment which I would be happy to learn about. I want to emphasize and get to the point that we have to be very much conscious and careful of changes within the structure of iMechanca, I am not saying that the current structure is the most perfect but it needs little to improve. Still I think there are ways to try your new idea but here we have to take a good pace! It might be too quick to jump into future, I personally stand against it. As I said we have to discuss about increasing established scientists here.

We have lack of interest or replies, maybe good comments (not always). I see that you have pointed out this and I think we can take it from here and discuss with you about how to improve this. I have had some ideas about the students low confidence in writing comments which discussed before but Dhruv has a good suggestion for start as I just read it. Lets keep our discussion going which will lead to some specific ideas.

On the matter of having mechanics in wiki, I do agree with Prof Suo's concerns. I am not sure if it is needed there but why not start with wikipedia and have noted mechanicians posts there. I am happy to help if you would like to discuss this further. At the end thank you all for brining this interesting discussion up, let's keep it going.   

 

Pradeep Sharma's picture

Mike, your post provokes an interesting discussion. Some of the issues you raised were indeed tossed around in the initial days of iMechanica. At this point, in broad agreement with John and Zhigang, I am skeptical of adding new notions such as review-editor system you mention. Time is a big problem. I had intended to respond to your post the day it had come out and here I am responding a week later!

I believe that the most important need of iMechanica is get more people involved in writing posts and comments. I am not worried about readership. I think plenty of mechanicians visit iMechanica but significantly fewer make posts or write comments. New suggestions to increase such participation is vital for the growth and relevance of iMechanica.

The other aspect, that would be worthwhile to improve, is participation of senior mechanicians. I suspect that increased participation from senior folks may automatically vitalize further participation from emerging mechanicians as well. I personally have had little luck in this matter.

Mike Ciavarella's picture

Dear Friends

thanks very much for your interesting feedbacks.  Having being read by about 500 readers, I have had about 5 responses. I still think this is not a good ratio (1/100), but I accept your general suggestion to cut the points down to 2 simple issues:

1) how to increase the general readership even more

2) how to get senior mechanicians

Here I try some suggestions for this, as a second round of brainstorming

for 1) I suggest

1a) we need to "enter" into the traditional arenas, with sort of "traditional" commercial systems: for example, ask for conferences that if they want to get advertisement into imechanica, they will need to alert and distribute material about imechanica at the conference, put a logo imechanica in their web site, and a link to it. For this, we also need some merchandising, logos, depliants, etc.  I think you started some of this, with the imechanica "get together" at one conference. We need to do that on a systematic scale, "entering" most conferences, promoting conferences from the site, as well as asking for links.    We can even have a system to run conference web sites ENTIRELY within imechanica

1b) we can ask engineering departments web sites to also add links and logos of imechanica around the world, but also companies, etc

1c) enter some agreements with journals that some of reviewing cold be done entirely on imechanica openly (upon agreement with authors and reviewers)

For 2), I think we should ask "esthablished" mechanicians, in turn, to open each a forum of imechanica on a particular topic of their choice, or even on their name with no topic, and occasionally promise to respond to question arisen there. I think in the end, by invitation, very few will not agree.   I will start, if possible, by Nobel prize winners, NAE members, etc.  One good place to start could be the people in the panel of Grand Engineering challenge of NAE, listed in www.engineeringchallenges.org

Zhigang Suo's picture

Here are some resources if anyone would like to run a workshop to introduce iMechanica:

Dear Mike,

 

     It is an interesting conversation on the possible directions for iMechanica.  The one thing that is safe to predict is that it will grow, and evolve, and prosper.  It has already become a brilliant success.  I'm a little wary of trying to specify a formula for further growth.  Its a bit like someone said, iMechanica is organic (as opposed to hierarchical) and this implies a considerable degree of spontaneity, as the spice to go with the tremendous immediacy of the internet.  The main thing would seem to be to keep all options open, take some flyers on some new things, see how the readership responds and go from there.

 

     If this sounds a little too vague for some, then let me mention a couple of  specifics, one thing to try, and one to stay away from (in my view).  How about reviews of research or teaching websites, just like book reviews.  One can make a case that cellulosic technical books will be obsolete one day.  It all may be on the internet.  Get a step or two ahead,  promote this or at least explore it through iMechanica.  

 

     Now to the other suggestion.  There has been mention of the age demographic for iMechanica.  Most users appear to be young, striving professionals and students while there is less representation from older, established workers.  Is this a problem and should something be done about it?  My reaction is -- no problem.  iMechanica is for everyone, anyone can avail themselves of it.  Its success depends on its absolute openness, appeal and availability, don't tinker with that.  Don't attempt any fine tuning to any demographic or any specific sub-area or to anything else.  Everyone who wishes certainly will participate and it will be the better for it.  Eventually everything evens out anyway.

 

     That's my two cents worth.

Temesgen Markos's picture

The way imechanica has come in the last year and half is quite impressive and in my opinion most of the success has to do with the "open source" feel that it has. It is indeed important that we spread the "gospel" to other mechanicians. However we should also take care lest we appear to be trying too hard and end up looking like a corporate entity.

In the last month only, I have seen people from Ireland, Canada, The Netherlands, Australia, The United Kindom and ofcourse the US posting vacancies or graduate assistantships here. That shows that people believe mechanicians "hang out" here. I think we should concentrate on improving the friendliness of the website and in the mean time put links to imechanica in our own websites. I have noticed some people here have already done so.  Word of mouth is also another means.

That way imechanica grows with out the moderators adding additional committments to already busy schedules and with out the need for aggressive salesmanship. Individuals/companies we wish are represented here better come here and stay if they feel they have a stake in it (networking, business interests, satisfaction out of sharing etc) and not because they are obliged to.

Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Mike:  You can use Google to search in iMechanica.  You can also set up a Google Alert to send an email to you whenever your search turns up a new result.  Here is how.

Mike Ciavarella's picture

Dear Zhigang

I suspect my "second round" is diverging.   I know these suggested involve a lot of effort - 1a, 1b, and 2) all involve effort. Who is going to do it?  This returns to the concept that even behind a portal which in principle does collaborative effort, there must be a core of people who need to constantly work, and they all have many other things to do.  It reminds me of the story of YouTUBE, when one of the founders left the YouTube operation, as he trusted more his permanent job!!!  Zhighang, are you perhaps NOT following much your MOST interesting entrepeneurial operation, to keep your "boring" Harvard job???  ;)

See also my other post to collect a list of most useful sites, to start with iMechanica-look-alike like CFD is http://www.cfd-online.com/ which has sections of interest in turn with many useful links (CFD Resources Online , CFD Jobs Database ,  

CFD News and Announcements , CFD Books Guide, A guide to CFD literature. Includes bookdescriptions and reader-reviews, CFD Online Discussion Forums , CFD Events Calendar  ).  

Who can do this for imechanica?   Would it not be useful, instead of having all sort of posts put together in the front page, with the result that every single one becomes old very soon, and it is all a mess?

What about the other sites I find search in google using "engineering web portal" ?  useful links may be put, so that in turn they are likely to link to us, and we could enlarge the communities..

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