Summaries please! (RE: We gotta break up these digests)

Ken MacLeod ken at
Tue Sep 21 18:29:19 BST 1999

Lisa Rein <lisarein at> writes:

> I think this is a ridiculous idea -- asking list participants to
> re-summarize their lengthy threads -- as if they would or even could
> (if they wanted to) take up even more of their own time to
> objectively and succinctly cook this stuff down to a quick paragraph
> or two that might be "useful" to people when they get around to
> reading it.

I agree that it's asking too much for participants to summarize their
own lengthy threads, but it's something that someone else could do if
they had the time.  Another person suggested a weekly summary posting,
similar to the one used on the Linux Kernel mailing list.  An idea I
like is to use a brainstorming or decision-making tool to summarize
different points made, and link them to each other.  One such
technique that is common are ``Mind Maps'' where you write the main
topic in the center of a piece of paper or whiteboard and then write
subtopics sourrounding the main topic, and further detailing out from
there.  I know there is commercial software for tools like this, but
I'm not aware of many freely available ones.

Being the XML list and all, I started an XML DTD for organizing a
MindMap (as an outline in the first draft, it could be extended for 2D
or deeper linking).  There's probably a few more hours of work needed,
including a stylesheet that can pull content from email messages, and
then someone needs to actually maintain topic pages.  The main idea is
that the moderator(s) pull verbatim comments from the participants, or
the moderator condenses or paraphrases the content, and organizes it
into subtopics (threads).  Since the moderator does not control the
information source itself (the mailing list) it is highly
self-regulating.  Here's the draft DTD:

-------- mindmap-model-1.dtd --------
<!-- $Id$ -->

MindMap Model #1

In this model there are four main areas of information:

 * The comment archive (mail)
 * The topic list (by order of creation)
 * The topic arrangment (by moderator)
 * Annotations to comments and topics

The comment archive is maintained as one mbox file, the remaining
three by one XML file.  The XML file also includes housekeeping
information in a header (moderators, dates, etc.).


 * Generally no more than 100-200 comments are received towards any
   top-level topic (ref: Slashdot).  With the focus on removing
   redundancy, with this format it is hopeful that the total number of
   comments will go down significantly.

 * A front end will be created to assist maintenance of the topic
   file.  In the short time it will be maintained by hand.

 * MindMap could be used towards any existing mailing list, newsgroup,
   or forum.

 * Comments can and often are categorized (pro, con, facts, etc.) and
   these could be noted as attributes on topics or elsewhere, but this
   version avoids specifying them or even providing a location for
   them.  Moderators should use words in the topic heading and content
   to categorize comments.

The Comment Archive

The comment archive is a unmodified copy of comments submitted by
readers.  The comment archive can be rendered as a whole using such
tools as MHonArc, HyperMail, etc.  Comments are indexed sequentially
in order of their receipt.  Topics and annotations reference comments
by their sequence number and byte offsets into the body, or by
reference to headers and byte offset into the header.

The Topic List

The topic list is generated from the comments archive, manually, by
moderators.  The topic list itself is unordered, they are arranged by
placement into the topic arrangement.  The topic list can contain HTML
markup for both titles and content.  The topic list is intended to
contain only commentary from readers, either verbatim or condensed or
paraphrased by the moderators.  Special linking tags are used to pull
content from the comment archive.  The topic list may contain
administrative, reference, or other headings as well.

All topics have a unique id `TXXX' where XXX is a number, in order of

The Topic Arrangement

Topics are arranged in a hierarchy or outline, which may be rearranged
as additional topics are added and focusing occurs.  MindMap gets it's
name from a similar manual system where the main topic is written in
the center of a sheet of paper or whiteboard and comments are grouped
and associated around the central topic.


The annotation area is available for notes from the moderators
regarding comments and topics, generally in response to questions or
concerns raised by readers about the handling of the topics themselves
or in explanation of handling.  Highly contentious subjects _about_
the moderation can even be raised to the level of topics.

All annotations have a unique id `AXXX' where XXX is a number, in
order of creation.


<!ELEMENT MindMap (Head, Arrangment, Topic+, Annotation*)>
<!ELEMENT Head (Title, META*)>
<!ELEMENT Arrangement (TopicRef+)>
<!ELEMENT TopicRef (TopicRef*)>
<!ATTLIST TopicRef

<!-- The list of Topics should have at least one topic that matches
     the Title -->
<!-- Constraint:  All <Topic>s must contain a Title. -->
<!ELEMENT Annotation ANY>
<!ATTLIST Annotation

   Type ( lit | para | cond ) "lit"


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