What do you want Better Explained?

First, a big thank you. I’m so excited that this site has been able to reach more people than I thought possible — I love hearing about and exchanging insights :).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://betterexplained.com/articles/what-do-you-want-better-explained/

More statistics. More math.

Thanks for the comment Julian, I have a few math posts in the works, on the Pythagorean Theorem and Calculus.

I like your project very much. I think it can reach the importance of Wikipedia one day.

Here is what I think are the important things, in no particular order:

  • be collaborative and scale to lots of users, both readers and writers
  • allow multiple personal viewpoints to a single topic
  • be easy and casual: put a low threshold for contribution, as we want to capture a-ha moments shortly after they happen.
  • be topic-centric, not time-centric: a-ha moments happen at a different time for different people.
  • allow primitive articles that elaborate over time (e.g. return and reedit), maintaining high signal-to-noise ratio in the process.

It seems to me that Wikis fit the bill best. We associate Wikis with Wikipedia, but the social rules that guide a Wiki don’t have to be the same. In particular, starting a topic doesn’t have to feel formal, and you shouldn’t fear that editors will come after you and revert/kill your contribution :wink:

What a Wiki doesn’t have is personal point of view. This can be remedied by modifying the software: I think the author should have ownership over the article. Anyone should be able to edit another version of it. Then the author can accept a change and incorporate it, or remove it. I don’t think any wiki software at the moment supports this, but we can add it. Or make it a soft rule to be enforced by community.

Alternatively, a less drastic change is to just expand on the current blog format: invite multiple authors and co-edit all articles. The issues that would arise out of the manual synchronization will help figure out how to scale it further :wink:

Sometimes I make something similar in Italian, on my blog (I call it “math light”). The main difference is probably that I talk about things I learned a lot of time ago, and which now I try to see in a different way.
In my opinion, here the wiki approach does not work well, since to explain better (opposing to state better) a work of synthesis must be made, and it is much simpler to do it alone. Of course it is great to have a “discussion page” (one of the strongest ideas in Wikipedia, IMNHO) so that people are incoraged to add thoughts and requests for clarification, but this may also be made in the comments of a blog.
Having multiple authors may however be useful: just leave each of them alone in writing her or his entries :slight_smile:

@Nikola: Thanks for the detailed comment! I agree that starting small and building up may be the way to go. If possible, I’d like to have any constraints “enforced” by guidelines rather than software. One thing I’ve learned in development, at least, is that what you start with is often different from what you end with :slight_smile:

@mau: Thanks for the feedback. I agree that the focus needs to be on better “explanations” vs simply restating existing facts.

Although blog comments exist, it’s hard to put much thought into them. One compromise may be to have a wiki page for every article for people to contribute their own insights (if it won’t fit in the blog comment), like a discussion page.

And yes, if there’s multiple authors I don’t plan on getting in their way :). Mostly proofing help and the like.

hey kalid ,one more model for your online communities like yahoo answers, people ask specific questions, some one answers it…

Good work

Hi Biren, thanks for the comment – I think a Q & A section may be useful as well, esp. if intuitive insights can emerge :slight_smile:

You are doing a nice job. You could work for howstuffworks.com I bet :slight_smile:
If you don’t want to do that, you could make this a group blog, get some help to increase the number of articles.
I like the idea of a ‘better explained’ wiki or something, too.

You might build off some outside resources, too, for example ‘computer science unplugged’ or the simulations at the colorado phet project.

I’ve always found encryption difficult to grasp.

@Doug: Thanks for the encouragement :). Yeah, not sure if howstuffworks.com is right for me (I’ve enjoyed the site a lot – I’m more of a “why” stuff works). I may set up guest posting & wiki as an experiment and see how it evolves. Thanks for the pointer to “computer science unplugged”, it looks quite interesting.

@Kevin: Thanks for the suggestion, I think that may be a good topic.

‘A visual guide to IRC’ will be really helpful to the new comers. Nothing like that exists so far and most other documents require relatively prolonged reading of nothing but text.

Hi Sridhar, thanks for the suggestion. Yeah, there seem to be many tech topics explained in an (unfortunately) very techy way :).

I’ll second Kevin’s suggestion of writing about encryption. Basic Unix scripting/regexp stuff would be interesting, too (though there’s probably a million guides for this already). Also, math stuff (I’m sorry not to be more specific).

Keep up the good work!

Hi Koloman, thanks for the encouragement! I’m itching to write more math stuff as I’ve been programming focused lately, but I think unix, regexes and encryption are all great topics to cover.

Hi kalid,

awesome work … i was wondering if i can translate some of your work into bahasa (indonesia).

let me know …

Yes, that’d be great! But please include a link to the original article. Thanks,


wonderful work …

Topic wanted …

1> Practical applications of game theory like negotiation
2> understanding infinity and different aspects of it like countable infinities …
3> layman explanations of computationally intractable problems and their groups like NP-COMPLETE , hard , et al and why they are important …

much much more which I can’t think of now …

@ Nikola - totally agree, this is a great blog/concept in the making … what wikipedia or other wikis don’t have are essentially those personal understandings or aha moments which ppl would like to share …

Sagar Mehta

Let me know if you need any help with writing Computer Science/ Mathematics articles …

Hi Sagar, thanks for the topic suggestions and offer to help! I think those are great topics, I have an older look at P vs NP here:


(It’s from college – I need revamp the article).

I definitely appreciate the offer to help, if you have an idea you’d like to write about, just shoot me an email (kalid@instacalc.com).

Also, I’d really like to find a way to encourage low-friction collaboration as Nikola mentioned, while allowing each author to retain their point of view. Part of the value of learning is that we each have unique insights that can help each other. Still thinking about this one, but may just play it by ear to start (and have guest posts/a basic wiki).