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  1. What is your opinion of flooved.com? They looked to me like a pretty good company, mainly because they look like they might succeed; also, I like what I see of their corporate culture, and they’ve been responsive to e-mails asking for explanation and clarification of their concept.

    Flooved is a British startup, working on a freemium model, onto which mathematicians and mathematics instructors (they have other subjects also) can upload math textbooks, lecture notes, and various study aids, which they get marked up and integrated into some sort of a “cloud”, and which students can then study together, annotate, form discussions around specific topics, jump from source to source on a specific topic, and so on. It breaks the textboook publisher’s monopoly, and is actually good for them, because it gives them (and us) analytics on how the materials are being used, relative popularity of different explanations for the same concept, and so on.

    What does everyone else think? The future of math textbooks (and lecture notes), or another dud?

    • CommentRowNumber2.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeMay 30th 2013

    I’ve been puzzled by the spam they’ve sent asking me to donate course materials. I’m skeptical, but maybe I just don’t know enough about their plans. You seem to have found out more information than their web site conveys, which is both good (they are responsive to questions) and bad (they haven’t figured out how to say this clearly on their web site, or aren’t trying to).

    For example, here’s their account of “how it works” for academics:

    Send us your content. It can be in any format. While email works fine, it can also be on on a memory stick or a disk.

    We will “tech it up”: index it, tag it with your name, university and topics to make sure that students will find it easily.

    That’s it: students can access it from all over the world.

    If you change your mind and want to delete it, or edit it, you can always contact us and we will make sure it is done in the shortest possible delays.

    What they’ve written here offers no reasons why this would be better (for anyone but them) than just putting course materials on the web.

    For students they say a little more:

    Sign up for free and get access to the best content from some of the best professors worldwide. We have a vast collection of academic lecture notes, study guides and handouts that we tailor around your needs (we speak a lot with universities and professors).

    Explore our great features: ask a question, make and share annotations or highlights, and so much more… The world’s your proverbial oyster. Most importantly, do some studying!

    Wave goodbye to the old fashioned textbook: education is now accessible, interactive and free.

    Question/discussion sites and annotations could indeed be useful, although I doubt this will be as revolutionary as they portray it to be.

    I may be biased by a superstitious belief that company names reflect the degree of thought and care that has gone into the company as a whole. To me, “floove” sounds bad and making the name a past participle “flooved” sounds even weirder. It invites speculation about who is getting flooved and what it means. When I got their spam, I hypothesized that flooving someone means convincing them to hand over materials for free so your investors can profit from them. (However, I have to give them credit for allowing contributors to retract their submissions if they decide they’ve been flooved.)

    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthorScott Morrison
    • CommentTimeJun 3rd 2013

    Nice analysis of the name, @Henry. I hadn’t quite been able to articulate my disquiet upon receiving their solicitations, but you nailed it. :-)

    • CommentRowNumber4.
    • CommentAuthorhamishbrock
    • CommentTimeJun 5th 2013
    I'd like to jump in here if that's ok and respond to @Henry 's comments (I'm a co-founder of Flooved and so happy to admit that my views might be considered slightly biased):

    "What they’ve written here offers no reasons why this would be better (for anyone but them) than just putting course materials on the web."

    I agree that what we initially wrote might not seem so but we think that there are multiple benefits in putting content onto flooved as opposed to just putting it online on your own personal website:

    For Students:

    1. Aggregating it on one site makes it much easier for students to discover relevant content.
    2. As we build features the content will automatically be enhanced (the next set of features are due to be launched in about 8 or 9 days).
    3. When we get lots of users they will be able to rate content, thus helping to promote better content to other students.
    4. We plan to tailor the search and discovery around a student's own course.
    5. Our platform makes it much easier for non-western students to find great content.

    For Professors:

    1. The obvious altruistic benefits of making your content accessible by more people.
    2. We are just starting to build an analytics dashboard for professors, this will allow every contributor to get feedback about their content as to how often it is used and what users think of it.
    3. Hopefully in the long term we will be part of creating a pedagogical metric which will benefit professors.

    "Question/discussion sites and annotations could indeed be useful, although I doubt this will be as revolutionary as they portray it to be."

    You may very well be right, but what we plan to do with annotations is to turn them into a question and answer style format, so it would be almost as if maths overflow was linked to content. This will take a while to become useful but as we get more users this could become a powerful resource.

    "To me, “floove” sounds bad and making the name a past participle “flooved” sounds even weirder. It invites speculation about who is getting flooved and what it means. When I got their spam, I hypothesized that flooving someone means convincing them to hand over materials for free so your investors can profit from them. (However, I have to give them credit for allowing contributors to retract their submissions if they decide they’ve been flooved.)"

    The etymology behind the name, is that it is dog latin for "River of Texts" Fluvius & Editio. The name is deliberately unusual as we want to:
    1. Make it into a verb (but possibly not in the context that @Henry on the blog used it ;-)
    2. It is aimed at students who we found are more likely to use and remember something with an interesting name as opposed to something along the lines of freebooks.com etc, this is also reflected by the general branding.


    I would would really appreciate any further comments and/or feedback anyone might have, as we are still in the early stages and we know that we are going to make mistakes but all we want to do is address these as quickly as possible to build the best possible platform.
  2. Something else I’ve been thinking about is that it might be possible to gamify the process of writing lecture notes via a plaform like Flooved, in a way which would not have been possible previously (I’m not sure how well Flooved could support this, but it seems like a fun experiment).

    You’re teaching a course in X. Students summarize and spruce-up the lectures (one lecture per student as a project), then they get posted to Flooved. The student sees their work being voted up (or down). The lectures are automatically associated to one another, and get conglomarated into one big file.

    Today, I might do such a thing via a website; but instant feedback and the possibility to feed into a cloud makes the whole project more fun, it seems to me. It feels like working on shareware rather than vanity posting.

    @Hamish: A thought: maybe doing what Fog Creek did, and letting instructors (and students) self-govern submissions along the lines of Mathoverflow (with moderators, admins, etc.), might be a good idea? Having a meta like Mathoverflow, where contributors could work out what would work best and how, and implement it (or a bulletin board like this one). Just a vague idea. Culturally, I think it would work for mathematics. It would free up time for Flooved employees also.

    • CommentRowNumber6.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeJun 5th 2013

    Thanks for the reply, Hamish. I just signed up for a student Flooved account and took a look at the content. Have any of the social, rating, or discussion features been implemented yet? If so, I’m having trouble finding them.

    With this account, all I see is a home page http://flooved.com/home with a list of 100 topics in mathematics and physics. Some are what I expected (Quantum Mechanics, Number Theory, Complex Variables), some are a lot more specific (Passive Circuit Components, Jordan Algebras), and a few are inscrutable (General Theory and Mathematical Aspects, which turns out to be computational molecular biology). A few of the topics need some cleaning up; for example, Cycles and Subschemes has two entries, one on what a cyclic group is and one on divisors in algebraic geometry. However, most of them seem pretty reasonable.

    The most confusing thing about the home page is the ordering of the hundred topics, which has no clear alphabetical or subject-matter rationale. It starts with Algebra, which seems alphabetically plausible, but for example Algebra, Number Theory, Algebraic Combinatorics, Topology, Geometry, Abelian Varieties and Schemes, Curves, Statistics, Riemann Surfaces occur in this order (with others in between). It makes it difficult to find what you’re looking for, especially when you aren’t entirely sure if it’s there in the first place. My guess is that the search bar is intended as the primary user interface, but it would be great to have a clearer arrangement of topics as well.

    Clicking on a topic leads to a list of PDF lecture notes under that topic, generally with between one and a dozen entries, and clicking on a set of notes lets you read it online or download it. There’s also a full-text search bar and a settings page that lets you change your password, but I couldn’t find any other options or features. Are there things I’m missing, or are they not yet implemented in beta?

    it would be almost as if maths overflow was linked to content

    The way I see it is that MO is already linked to all the content on the web. It could help Flooved grow if it were less of a walled garden. If students could link to, discuss, annotate, and rate other content on the web, then it would not only help the students, but it could also be a useful recruiting tactic for Flooved. Imagine writing to a professor to say “Flooved members have voted your lecture notes the most useful resource on the web for topic X. They are currently holding several reading groups and discussion fora on the notes, and you can see their discussions here. With your permission, we’d love to work with you to enhance the notes and better integrate them with our technology.”

    P.S. Many of the math symbols are missing in http://flooved.com/reader/1083#1 (at least when I view it).

    • CommentRowNumber7.
    • CommentAuthorhamishbrock
    • CommentTimeJun 6th 2013
    Hi Henry, thank your reply and more than happy to answer all your questions (firstly you mentioned that some of the maths symbols were missing on one of the books could you let me know which browser and operating system you use, also have you disabled java script or have any other custom settings?)

    Regarding topic ordering and general topic discovery, it is far from great on the front end and we admit not very well laid out. Currently all of the topics in the database are hierarchical but on the homepage they are displayed all on the same level and thus several of them make little sense. The very specific topics for instance are children of more general topics and some of the vague topics such as "general theory" only make sense in a tree structure as in "general theory" might be a child of "Relativity" which makes sense . We are currently working on designing this user interface.

    The idea is that the updated interface will allow the user to go through topics layer by layer so for example you would only see top level topics to start with and then click on them to see its children topics and related content and so on. We also haven't yet finished correctly topic tagging all of the content, by the time the new topic interface has been implemented this should be done.

    "If students could link to, discuss, annotate, and rate other content on the web, then it would not only help the students, but it could also be a useful recruiting tactic for Flooved. Imagine writing to a professor to say “Flooved members have voted your lecture notes the most useful resource on the web for topic X. They are currently holding several reading groups and discussion fora on the notes, and you can see their discussions here. With your permission, we’d love to work with you to enhance the notes and better integrate them with our technology.”

    Regarding the above comment, this is a great idea!
    • CommentRowNumber8.
    • CommentAuthorfred goodman
    • CommentTimeJan 24th 2014
    I took a look at flooved after some correspondence with the company about their wanting to post some (copyrighted) material of mine.

    After looking at their site, I am very unimpressed, and doubtful that they have a viable business model or that they presently are able to provide a valuable service.

    So far the bulk of their inventory is lifted from the MIT open courseware site, which is published with a creative commons non-commercial license. This is stuff which is already easily available and in fact much better organized and easier to find and access on the original MIT site (with all sorts of supplementary exercises, references, recommended readings, etc.)

    In fact the organization of this material on the flooved site is chaotic, since each chapter or section of the material they lifted from MIT is presented as a separate item, mixed with various other stuff from other sources, all on one level of their site hierarchy.

    The terrible organization of their site should be easy to fix, but their business model is not easy to fix: Eventually, flooved intends to sell advertising based on the content they are offering. That is, flooved intends to make money (at least pay salaries and costs) by taking advantage of material generously made available by MIT and other sources. I don't see why MIT would not consider flooved's use of their material as commercial use, and therefore not permissible under the creative commons license, but this is not for me to say.

    I would also like to know if various lecture notes which have been posted to university sites without explicit copyright or licensing notices, and which have been reproduced on flooved have been acquired by explicit permission, or whether flooved considers anything not explicitly restricted as freely useable in their quasi-commerical setting. If the latter, I would find this ethically questionable.

    The supposed added value from flooved is the ability to have a community discussion around their posted material, but I invite you to take a look at what they are currently able to offer and compare with math stack exchange, for example.

    What they are doing could be done better by the community.

    A lot of people produce a lot of good material, course notes, expositions, etc. and make it freely available. The problem would be to know that it exists, and to know what's especially worthwhile.

    A searchable compendium, for example a cordoned off portion of the arxiv devoted to lecture notes might better serve the purpose of making material locatable. Actually, at present google search is probably a better bet for finding stuff than is flooved.

    Lists of recommendations by serious students and knowledgeable people would be more important for sorting out what's especially good. This is something that the community can do and flooved cannot.

    And finally, the already existing mathoverflow and math stackexchange are and are likely to remain far superior discussion sites.

    Maybe they will eventually figure out how to offer some value. At present it looks like they are trying to feed off other people's work under the pretext of somehow contributing to open access.