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- Functions are a form of knowledge. Functions answer questions. A growing number of technology companies realize that and give access to functions through an increasing number of interfaces.
Virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, or the open source project Mycroft all give us access to functions.
- You can ask Siri how many teaspoons are in two tablespoons, and it will calculate the answer for you.
- Web search interfaces also provide access to functions for various queries.
- You can ask Google about the volume of a pyramid, and you will get a beautiful user experience where you can enter the necessary values and see how the function to calculate the volume looks like.
- You can ask Bing about the age of Sigourney Weaver, and it won’t show you search results or find the answer on the web, but it will run a function based off of knowledge of her date of birth stored within Microsoft’s knowledge base and today’s date and show you the result. In fact, it will show you a different result depending on if you ask this on the day this text is published and on the end of the week, as she is going to have her birthday this week. Congratulations!
But the experiences these companies provide, as beautiful and useful as they are, these are curated and selected by companies. If you look for a function that goes beyond what these companies offer, you are out of luck.
- Let’s take one example: did you hear about the QWERTY effect?
- There was some research that claimed that since for right-handed people it is easier to type the keys on the right-hand side of their keyboard, they have a more positive sentiment towards words that have more letters typed by the keys on the right-hand side than those on the left-hand side of the keyboard. Since the majority of people are right-handed, this translates into a measurable effect where a sentiment towards a text might be influenced by the ratio of right vs. left-handed letters in the text.
- Now, without commenting on the merit of this research, let’s assume you are a high school graduate, writing up your application essays for the college you dream of going to.
- Or someone looking for a job writing a cover letter. And you hear about this effect, and, you know, it can’t hurt, why not check what the ratio of right-hand and left-hand letters in your text is before sending it off?
If you are a programmer, you have the ability to write a function and run it on your text. But you know what? That’s a superpower! And if you don’t have that superpower, you’re out of luck. If the tech companies didn’t yet create that function for you to use yet, you have to go hunting for a Website or an app that offers you that function, and maybe you’ll be lucky, maybe you won’t.
Most of us hold enough computing power in our hand, or around our wrist, sometimes in our fridges and light bulbs, to easily compute the answer to a question like this, and to millions of questions more. But we can’t easily run the relevant functions on the powerful computing devices we own. We want to change that! With the wiki of functions we want to democratize this superpower. We want to make functions available to many, many more people. We want to show people what they can do with the amazing computing power that they have available.
And it is not just about using these functions ― this is a Wikimedia project: it is also about writing functions. It is about contributing and working together on making a large, comprehensive catalog of functions available to everyone.
- Maybe you know about a rare unit of measurement, or a seldomly used calendar, and want to provide a function to convert to the calendar or unit.
- Maybe you want to collaborate with others on functions to calculate the area that are spanned by geoshapes on Commons or OpenStreetMap.
- Or implement a function from a scientific paper so that others can easier reuse it.
We will create a platform in which a new community will collaboratively create, curate, and maintain a catalog of functions that are widely useful, where we explore a new way for everyone to share in a new form of knowledge.
This is why, even if the goal of a truly multilingual Wikipedia should turn out to be even more challenging than we expect, the wiki of functions will provide a useful stepping stone and will be an interesting project in its own right. And we are working towards making it happen.
Since last week:
- We have implemented a number of improvements to the first user interface for object creation ― particularly, the editing of multilingual labels is now MUCH nicer! Thanks to Arthur P. Smith for implementing that!
- We are currently aiming to tie in the type definitions into the object system, and to use the types for validating values and for creating generic viewers and editors.
- Also, the voting for the name is ongoing. You have made more than 170 proposals so far, and cast hundreds of votes. The first round of voting continues until October 13, next week Tuesday. Then the six proposals with the most votes will have a first round of legal review, and all proposals that pass that round will be taken to a second round of voting using instant-runoff.
What can you do?