Sir Tobias Osborne of the Quantum Boolean Functions has made the plunge and is trying out open notebook science: Tobias J. Osborne’s Research Notes.
Which reminded me of some dream software I’ve been thinking of writing (oh Time you Devil—why could you not expand to fit in all I want to create and do in this life!)
The basic idea is as follows. Blogs are great for a few reasons. One is they provide a journal system and date stamping system. Second they allow for commenting and this commenting can be done after some basic user authentication. But they are, it seems to me, not ideal for open notebook software, at least of the kind I want to practice. In particular I would argue that their lack of easy of editing makes them less than ideal.
For example if you’ve every checked out tiddlywiki, you’ll see what I mean. Tiddlywiki’s consist of a single file, which is easily editable. To edit an entry you simply double click on the entry and start typing. Control-enter to save and close the file. Open notebook software should allow for this ease of editing, for both the author of the notebook and the commentors on the post. (And it goes without saying that there should be good versioning going on here.) Tiddlywiki, however, is not particularly well suited for such access: last I checked it did not play very well with being accessed and editted (important) over the web. Further it’s not clear that it is well suited for multiple users, especially in a format where you may have “commentors” as well as “authors” and the line may morph between these. Another point is that comments being at the end of a blog post is both sometime appropriate and sometimes highly inappropriate. Linearity is awesome, but sometimes, just sometimes you want to center your comment on a particular component of the post. Thus it would seem to me that allowing comments inside of the post is important: often you want to riff off that point, not at the end of the “post.” Thus I would propose having “expandable” comments being posted within the body of the post itself. Imagine a small unobtrusive box (like the wikipedia link thingee) where if you click on it the comment at that place expands into the text. This seems to me a crucial improvement over normal blog software which, while totally changing how we can communicate, isn’t well suited for detailed and focused discussions which is what occurs more often in doing my own science.
The one thing that is stopping me from working on this (besides lack of time) is that it seems to me that one needs to think hard about multiple users editing a file at the same time. However I’ve seen a few new websites which allow multiple people editing at the same time which seem to have made progress on this problem. But clearly this is the one programming challenge I’d want to make sure I knew how to overcome before undertaking this challenge.