After 4.5 years in development, Smart has been branded as 1.0. A big Thank You to everyone who contributed along the years.
The underlying concept is very simple: spreadsheets are a way to organize text, numbers and formulas into what might be seen as a natively numeric environment: a matrix. So what would happen if we loosed some of the bolts of the numeric-oriented organization, and tried to reuse the same concepts into a more formatting-oriented environment which is naturally collaborative: a wiki.
While I do encourage you to answer this with some fantastic new online service (please provide me with an account and the best e-book reader device available once you’re rich) I had a try at answering this question myself a while ago by writing the Calc macro for Moin.
Basically, the Calc macro allows extracting values found in a wiki page into lists (think columns or rows), and applying formulas and further formatting as wanted.
I believe there’s a lot of potential on the basic concept, and the prototype, even though functional and useful, surely has a lot to evolve, so I’ve published the project in Launchpad to make contributions easier. I actually apologize for not publishing it earlier. There was hope that more features would be implemented before releasing, but now it’s clear that it won’t get many improvements from me anytime soon. If you do decide to improve it, please try to prepare patches which are mostly ready for integration, including full testing, since I can’t dedicate much time for it myself in the foreseeable future.
In his post Quantity Always Trumps Quality, Jeff Atwood made a very interesting reference to an arts-related book:
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
If I tell you that you’ll get better at doing something if you do it repeatedly you’ll probably stare at me with a look of obviousness, but even then the correlation made above still feels a bit surprising to a lot of people. Why is that so?
I have a guess. In our society we tend to believe that art and innovation is something for the gifted, rather than the product of hard work. Just think of any great famous painter or musician and you’ll likely have in your mind the concept of a uniquely gifted genius, rather than someone that worked uniquely hard after a goal.
Perhaps that’s why we tend to forget long learned lessons. Some 23 years ago Frederick Brooks already pointed out in The Mythical Man-month that we should plan to throw away the first version of the software, because it most likely will be a poorly designed prototype that provides insight into the problem for the actual production version. Even then, it’s still rare to see the practice intentionally in use nowadays.