Great Principles Library
Peter J. Denning
Computing is evolving constantly. New principles are discovered; older principles fall out of use. An example of a new principle is the scale-free structure of network connectivity; and of an out-of-use principle is the guideline for vacuum tube logic circuits. To help monitor the evolution of the field and find new principles-based connections among technologies and fields, we contemplate a Great Principles Library, an evolving collection of materials, tools, and editorial process to support the learning, teaching, application, and cross linking of technologies and principles. We are planning a GPL that will be embedded into the ACM Digital Library.
The GPL would divide its materials into those for beginners, intermediate, and advanced users. The beginner category would include tutorials on the operation of principles, principle-stories written by those involved in the development or discovery of principles, and historical documents. These might be written at the level of Scientific American articles. The intermediate category would include documents that go into some detail about how a technology works, its physics, and methods of using it. These might be written at the level of an ACM Communications or IEEE Computer article. The advanced category would include seminal papers, source documents, and key research articles. These might be written at the level of a research journal or SIG conference.
The GPL interface would allow the user to see the matrix with topics on the rows and principle categories on the columns. Users could specify viewpoints such as engineer, scientist, designer, or student, and the interface would adjust by showing topics of most interest within the selected group. Users could click on principles (within a box of the matrix) and see the associated materials at the beginner, intermediate, or advanced levels. Users could also cross correlate, for example, display a list of all the technologies that use a given principle.
The GPL could be launched on top of Wikipedia. Great principles overview articles could be published in Wikipedia and linked from the GPL web site. Wikipedia already contains many useful articles that could be linked from the GPL web site. Members of the community would be encouraged to provide articles that do not exist. Thus the interface and the Wikipedia would provide a high level view, while the GPL web site would provide the deeper materials. As GP materials are collected into the GPL site, the coverage would gradually evolve toward the depth we envision above.
The computing field itself is constantly changing as new principles are discovered and older principles become less important or valuable. The GPL will therefore have to be constantly evolving to track the field. Therefore the GPL will have an editorial board responsible for maintaining the library, commissioning and adding new materials, indicating the relative importance of materials, and keeping the links between principles and current technologies up to date.