Wikipedia and TV Tropes are some of my favorite websites. Sadly, every time you visit one of them, you risk being sucked in for hours. You look up one definition, and the next thing you know it is 3 hours later and you are reading about something completely unrelated to your original query:
The other problem with Wikipedia and similar sites is that they are not designed for quick lookup scenarios – they were made to be thorough and densely packed with knowledge. So if you are trying to use wikipedia to quickly figure out why some mathematical theorem mentioned off-hand in an article you are reading is significant, chances are you will have to do some serious skimming. Math and science articles are notorious for hitting you with complexity and jargon in the very first paragraph. Let me give you some examples – try looking up: Poincaré conjecture, Riemann hypothesis or the infamous P vs NP problem. If you just wanted to know “in layman terms” what these things are, and why they are important, Wikipedia probably will not be much help. Of course there is nothing wrong with that. Last thing I would want is to see my favorite online resource being dumbed down.
That said, I see a niche here for another site: a TLDR wiki site which takes Wikipedia (or other encyclopedic) articles and boils them down to one or two plain English sentences. Think of it as encyclopedic golf – how many words and sentences can your remove and still retain the meaning of an article and let the reader know why it is notable. And no, I didn’t just reinvent a dictionary because most dictionaries do not include complex topics like the ones I listed above.
The reason why this ought to be a community project is the fact that one person couldn’t possibly do this on their own. I feel that such distillation of meaning would take a collaborative effort of hundreds of users and it would be a gradual process. For example, I have no clue how to explain any of the concepts linked above in one paragraph or less. That’s basically the problem – these things are difficult to explain – which is the more reason why we should have a TLDR wiki. I guess this would be a good place to start when working on a definition for Poincare Conjecture, but it still seems too long.
What do you guys think? Is this a good idea? Horrible idea? Do you think it would take off?
This is just a random idea at this point. I have not set anything up for it because I don’t really have the marketing skills to give it that starting push, no place to host it, and hardly any time to babysit it and moderate it. I have seen hundreds of promising public wikis go down the drain because their small community could not deal with avalanche after an avalanche of spam. So for now I’m just tossing this idea around.