A vision for collaborative mathematics platforms

Based on the extensive discussion at the Secret Blogging Seminar on tools for long-distance collaborations, Scott Morrison writes an introduction to source control with subversion for research collaborators.

In this post, Scott also offers, quite magnanimously, to setup and host subversion repositories for any mathematician who happens to want to start collaborating using subversion.

Which, to my mind, immediately prompts the question: why stop there? I've had ideas about setting up a free and easy to use platform for modern communication in the mathematical community before; but they were along the lines of duplicating wordpress.com's efforts; which isn't really something that pays off on your efforts. Reading this, though, raised a new idea.

Why not setup a server - preferably with a university data center as backing - which dispenses free platforms with the following contents:

  • Source control. Preferably option on subversion, git, mercurial - or some such selection of modern and wide-spread systems.
  • Wiki, Blog, Ticket system - a wordpress installation, with LaTeX, and a Trac installation connected to the source control system in use would do quite well.
  • Heavy access control: one of the worries I hear pronounced often is that running a blog with your mathematical ideas display the ideas to the world before you get to publish them, thus risking you getting scooped on your research. This worry would be, to some extent, ameliorated by serving things optionally over https, by having a decent and robust access control system, and by having draconian privacy statements for the site administration.
  • LaTeX compile farm - why not set this thing up so that it can build your papers for you? That way we really end up building the mathematician's sourceforge!

So, I guess this post is a call for volunteer implementers. I'll launch the ideas in the fora I have access to - I'm headed for a faculty retreat tomorrow discussing a research project which seems to include Web2.0 for research communication as a topic, and will see if I can propose the ideas there; and it's just the thing to discuss with the workgroup Information und Kommunikation of the DMV too. But just because I'm looking for people who want to run this in no way implies anyone reading this shouldn't.

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