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Any Questions?

Nobel laureate Isidor Isaac Rabi:

My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: So? Did you learn anything today? But not my mother. “Izzy,” she would say, “did you ask a good question today?” That difference — asking good questions — made me become a scientist.

101questions Updates

[cross-posted to the 101questions blog]

The big changes:

  • You can upload files now. No more pasting links to external content. You no longer have to upload your image to Dropbox or ImageShack or anywhere else (an incredibly cumbersome step for a lot of people) just to get material onto 101questions. We're no longer restricted to YouTube's hardline interpretation of Fair Use either.
  • You can download files now. Click "Actions" on any uploaded first act and then click "Download." It's awesome. It downloads whatever file the user uploaded (it won't pull down content uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo) along with a text file with all the submitted questions.
  • You can get more responses more quickly by sending your link around. It bummed people out that they'd link to a first act and other people couldn't add a question unless they saw it randomly come up on the homepage. "You should be able to add a question to the page itself," they said. I resisted but I was wrong and now you can.

The small changes:

  • A pile of corrections to aspects of the UI that annoyed me, Amazon S3 integration, automatic comment subscription, a lot ground laid for the winter update.

101questions Updates

[cross-posted to the 101questions blog]

Here are the top-level updates for 101questions:

  1. You have better quality control rankings. I'm no longer listing the top ten most perplexing people on the site. We can bring that list back if we miss it, but my sense from conversations on this blog and at Stanford is that it was ultimately more divisive than useful. I've also split the top ten lists for photos and videos and added a "right now" option alongside the "all time" rankings, so we can see what's recently perplexing.
  2. You can bookmark questions now. Maybe your first act received eighty questions, but those eighty questions are really only composed of four or five distinct questions. You can now click a bookmark icon and put them in order from most common to least. You'll help other people (and yourself) get a better sense of the questions people asked about your first act. (See what I mean with US Bank.)
  3. Comments. You asked for comments. You got 'em.
  4. You can delete your own first acts now. Maybe someone's comment gave you a better idea for your timelapse video of grass growing on your lawn. Now you can delete the old one before you upload the new one.
  5. You have better access to the feedback on all your first acts. I'm really happy with the new "latest" tab in your profile. It has more information — you'll see questions and skips like before but also comments and bookmarks — in a cleaner layout.
  6. You won't be able to upload itty-bitty images anymore. The uploader makes sure your pictures are at least the size of the viewing window.
  7. I got rid of Facebook, Twitter, and G+ sharing. No one used them and Twitter uses them to stalk you around the web. So I got rid of them and replaced them with a "Copy Link" option that puts the shortlink on your clipboard. You decide what you want to do with it.
  8. Animated GIFs are now supported.
  9. You can search the site. Something that's a little fun is that even though you haven't tagged your first acts in any particular way, other users have. They're asking questions about your photos and videos and our search engine finds in those questions the semantic goodness it craves. (ie. "Everyone is asking questions about a basketball?" says our genial and dimwitted search engine. "Maybe this first act is about a basketball!") I'll be messing with the algorithm over time but ideally, at some point in the near future, you'll come to the site saying to yourself, "I'd love to motivate completing the square with a video of Australian rugby" (or something equally unlikely) and the site will deliver.

Add in a slew of of performance tweaks and other odds and ends and you have a site update that's been a long time in the making. If you see anything fun or funny, don't hesitate to let me know.

  1. San Francisco House, Scott Farrar.
  2. Costco TV, Megan Hayes-Golding.
  3. Bill Roll, Joe Kremer.
  4. Good Tip / Bad Tip, Joe.
  5. Little Boy Counting, David Wees.

My Own Listing:

Data Dump:

I'm obliged to Phil Wagner for helping me parse 30,000+ questions:

Most Common First Word

49%: How
18%: What
5%: Is
4%: Why
3%: Which

Most Common First Two Words

20%: How many
10%: What is
10%: How much
6%: How long
2%: How big

Most Common First Three Words

8%: What is the
2%: How long will
1%: What are the
1%: How big is
1%: How many people

Most Common First Four Words

2%: How long will it
1%: How big is the
1%: How tall is the
1%: How long is the
1%: How long does it

Here are some questions that interest me:

  1. How useful is 101questions as a proxy for student interest?
  2. For example, when we find that 19% of 101questions users skip The Ticket Roll, does that mean that 19% of math students will skip it also?
  3. When we scribble information all over our images in our textbooks (instead of presenting concrete contexts) how does that affect their perplexity?
  4. For which contexts is video useful? Is the Pyramid of Pennies more perplexing as a photo or a video?
  5. Does a tripod matter? How is a student's interest in a video affected if it features a slight wiggle rather than if the camera is locked down?

Niche questions, certainly, but they interest me so I set up two installations of the 101questions software at eagle.101qs.com and hawk.101qs.com to answer them.

What You Can Do For Me

If you are in a 1:1 classroom where Vimeo and YouTube aren't blocked, and you have twenty free minutes between now and the end of the year, you can help me answer them.

In the comments, let me know how many students you can commit and in what classes. I'll e-mail you a handout (looks like this) you can cut up and pass out to your students.

The rest should be smooth. Once the number of conscripted students clears a certain bar, I'll close the thread.

BTW: Nathan Kraft surveyed his students along similar lines. The results are fascinating.

2012 May 30: That'll do it. Comments closed. Thanks for your help, everybody.

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