[R] Packages - a great resource, but hard to find the right one

Johannes Hüsing johannes at huesing.name
Thu Nov 22 22:14:57 CET 2007

Antony Unwin <unwin at math.uni-augsburg.de> [Thu, Nov 22, 2007 at 12:43:07PM CET]:
> There have been several constructive responses to John Sorkin's  
> comment, but none of them are fully satisfactory.  Of course, if you  
> know the name of the function you are looking for, there are lots of  
> ways to search ? provided that everyone calls the function by a name  
> that matches your search. 

I follow the suggestion to Google (mostly restricted by site:cran.r-project.org)
which gets me quite far.

> If you think there might be a function,  
> but you don't know the name, then you have to be lucky in how you  
> search.  R is a language and the suggestions so far seem to me like  
> dictionary suggestions, whereas maybe what John is looking for is  
> something more like a thesarus.

This is hard to do in a collaborative effort. One analogue is the
HOWTOs vs the man pages which I see in Linux. Some of the HOWTOs
are outstanding, the only problem they are facing is that they
tend to be out of date.

> R packages are a strange collection, as befits a growing language.   
> There are large packages, small packages, good packages (and not so  
> good packages), personal mixtures of tools in packages, packages to  
> accompany books, superceded packages, unusual packages, everything.   
> Above all there are lots of packages.  As the software editor of the  
> Journal of Statistical Software I suggested we should review R  
> packages.  

You mean: prior to submission? 

> No one has shown any enthusiasm for this suggestion, but I  
> think it would help.  Any volunteers?

I am still putting some hope into the R Wiki. To my dismay it
is also package oriented, not method-oriented. I tend to think 
that there is a chance of controlled documentation if somebody
set out an infrastructure going beyond the current one. Anything
like a classification of methods. 

Thing is, I may like to volunteer, but not in the "here's a 
package for you to review by week 32" way. Rather in the way that
I search a package which fits my problem. One package lets me down
and I'd like to know other users and the maintainer about it.
The other one works black magic and I'd like to drop a raving 
review about it. This needs an infrastructure with a low barrier
to entry. A wiki is not the worst idea if the initial infrastructure
is geared at addressing problems rather than packages.

Johannes Hüsing               There is something fascinating about science. 
                              One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture 
mailto:johannes at huesing.name  from such a trifling investment of fact.                
http://derwisch.wikidot.com         (Mark Twain, "Life on the Mississippi")

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