In this generality the answer is obviously "yes", so what am I really asking? Well, imagine a node shows up in the new writeups box. You click and soon you are perusing the definition. Let's assume that you already know a little about the subject, you have some context. Then (always supposing the writeup is correct, and properly written) it's possible, and even likely, that you will learn things. All you have to do to follow links to the small number of terms you were not previously familiar with and Eureka!

But now assume that the node addresses issues about which you have very little prior knowledge. This time you have to follow almost all the links to get some context, and in the links you follow, you again have to follow almost all links. Pretty soon you have 100 browser windows open, and you have somehow found your way to people like that are the reason why monkeys throw their poop. Oh dear!

In the first case we see a hyperlinked database in its best possible light and in the second, it worst. If you have some knowledge then boosting it can be quite easy and what's more there is always the possibility of surprising and unexpected connections! But if you have very little knowledge then information overload quickly beckons.

So how do you learn about a subject when you are completely new to it? Traditionally, one learns in a linear way, by reading a book, or attending a lecture course. A teacher or an author steers you through, on a single path. On everything you have to choose your own path, and worse, because of the nonlinear nature of hyperlinks, you are soon following many different paths. How confusing!

So what is the answer to this? Perhaps people who have specialist knowledge in some area might think about creating nodes (or perhaps sequences of nodes) that give a "first course" in a particular subject. Notice that I am not talking about metanodes, not merely a list of nodes to look at, but a sensible order, some discussion around the nodes, and some extra examples to illustrate. Of course, this is a lot of work!

I would be very interested to see a discussion on this issue. So what do you think?

Unlike reading a book, or doing a class study, Everything2 is more like sitting in a big discussion group full of people in somebody's basement. There's an enormous fridge/bar lining one wall serving things like Bawls and expresso beverages, and people come in, find themselves a source of caffeine, flop down on a couch, and begin contributing.

Now, this is a large room. So we don't have everybody talking about the same thing...there's a Mao game going on in one corner, a fierce discussion on Cybernetic Totalitarianism and Open Source Programming in the middle of the room, and dem bones is circulating the room bonking people over the head with a foam bat for continuing to start personal discussions which lead nothing to the page.

Sensei's leading a cooking class at the bar, Sylvar and various others are having a poetry slam out on the back deck, and Yossarian's Chinese Spies are doing battle with the evil panda smurf mutants bred by Cow of Doom in Ideath's basement.

And as usual, with most gifted folks, none of the conversations stay totally on track for very long. Tangents work their way in (except for the mao game) and soon people are talking about monkey feces and Why Masturbating with Icy Hot is a Bad Idea and the Chinese Spies are arguing with Sensie over the correct amount of soy to use on steak, and it goes on...

So dive in, and prepare to be entertained, horrified, and brazed in a light garlic sauce.

Perhaps it's not a question of can I learn, but more a question of can I learn correctly? E2 by its nature is a dumping ground. The popularity issues mean that votes cannot be used to grade factual information on its correctness. Once you begin to have voting rights you can't even see a node's grade. Factual nodes by their nature don't get prominence.

You can learn about human nature. You can learn about arguments, sex, opinions but it's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some people shout louder than others. Some people sulk when they aren't listened to. Some people fight back when they think they are ignored.

Everything is not a university, it's not a library, it is more like a kindergarten where children's thoughts and shouts become disjointed, or a drunken party where the conversation turns to sex and masturbation, with the sober attendees sighing in the background.

To learn from E2 will take discipline. It will take work. You must think about what you read, evaluate it, check it. This is not a bad thing.

The answer to this question seems to me a continuation of the post I just made to An insightful post about E2 which I read on kuro5hin.

As Morgan77 has so metaphorically pointed out, E is like a big discussion group, although I would go further. We are trading, exchanging and giving away what we have created, and what we believe is worthwhile, fascinating, moving that others have created--and then discussing it.

The problem, thought smaller, is the problem of any database, any library, the web, life itself: we have to find our way pretty much on our own. And people do; they have as long as there has been knowledge, literature, music, science, philosophy.

This is the practical realization of Vannevar Bush's notion of the memex. Yes, one has to have a certain frame of mind--or lack thereof--to use this tool to its best use. But, as with any tool, any skill, with dedicated practice, and the model of respected teachers, we will learn--as we always have.

I have learned more about spelling, English grammar and punctuation on everything2 in nine months than in eighteen years of public and private schooling.* My vocabulary has leaped forward, my ability to create complex sentences that are interesting and easy to read has developed quickly; I am a better writer and more eloquent speaker for no other reason than hanging out here. I would say that you could learn a thing or two around here if you keep your ears open. **

* I was taught to read by my mother and continued on to educate myself in the literary arts. I read far more on my own than I ever did at school. Keep your children well supplied with books and burn your TV.
** Results may vary. Please consult your doctor.

Also Everything is a good research database. The difference is that here, you're getting clues you won't get elsewhere.

To give you an example: Together with a friend of mine I had to do an essay about "Go ask Alice". This is a book rather unknown in Germany. So no one had ever heard that it is known to be a fake ( like the other books by Beatrice Sparks ). However, after we read the node about it in Everything and got to know about the "fake rumor" we were able do some further factual research on it and came to the conclusion it is, in fact, most likely fake.

2nd example: My friends and I wanted to know what Fahrenheit's temperature scale is based on. We browsed through all our books, not one of them (and we have a lot of 'em, believe me) could give us a clue. Finally we found the info on Everything.

Recapitulating: I would say Everything isn't a by all means a facual correct encyclopedia but you get a lot of information you wouldn't get anywhere else (particulary not from ordinary or official sources). This gives you fodder for further research.

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