Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.
Re: Opening Up... Dave, here's your reason.
Author: Matt Jadud Posted: 8/26/1999; 6:55:17 AM Topic: Opening Up Linux Journal and O'Reilly Msg #: 9929 (In response to 9911) Prev/Next: 9928 / 9930
Briefly, you can't search paper, and you can't read other people's annotations
You are making an assumption on this point, and that is that people know what to look for.
Search engines are only effective if you know what you are looking for. They are keyword based, or use some not-quite-there-yet AI algorithm for "concept matching." This is one of my problems with relying on on-line documentation - I can't thumb through it, I can't read it cover-to-cover. Instead, I have to know the words and jargon the author used for a particular topic. If I knew the jargon and keywords, I probably wouldn't be digging for the info online anyway...
Another problem with on-line documentation (and perhaps an open-source doc project fixes this) is that there is no standard for quality. Any bozo with a net connect can put text on the web today, and Alta Vista and Google will index it. If my keyword search happens to hit the right combination of words, I get a bozo's take on a problem or issue vs. an expert's. This is something you may have experienced when you were trying to install Linux - pounding the web for documentation, never finding exactly what you wanted; what you did find was probably technically accurate, but was it ever proofed, edited, revised, and proofed again before going to press? Be cautious about claiming reader feedback fixes these things, because I don't think they do - unless the author happens to be particularly open to criticism.
This remains my reason for often preferring texts to online docs. I can learn my way around it, get comfortable with it, take it with me and read it when I'm not working. It is a tool I can use off-line, when I'm not immersed in the immediacy of a problem. That, and it gets me out from in front of the electron cannon on my desk, giving me a break from the screen. For online docs, I really need two screens - one for docs, and one for work. But I don't have the dough to throw at that solution as a grad student right now.
Books are good. You may not be able to throw a keyword search at them, and it may be a costly process to produce them, but so what. There are some things I just don't think the net can replace (yet).
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