Two-way CRAN

July 26, 2011

(This article was first published on Stack Exchange Stats Blog » R tips&tricks, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

Sooner on later, every useR will manage to exhaust R’s built-in capabilities and land on CRAN looking for his dreamed needle in a haystack of 3k+ contributed packages. Probably most of you already know stuff like Task Views or rseek which make finding something relevant a bit easier than digging the full list or googling, however all methods will eventually lead to a CRAN package page like this:

CRAN page for rgl package

Sample CRAN package page

Ok, but what’s the problem? We have basic info here, sources, manuals, builds, dependencies… Well, let’s compare this to some modern application repositories like Android Market, Mozilla Add-ons or AppStore; we’ll immediately notice lack of any form of user feedback, neither as ratings nor reviews. And such stuff may be quite handy — imagine you have for instance found three packages doing certain thing; surely one of them will be fastest, one least bloated, one most functional and one will best integrate with the rest of your code, but you probably won’t be able to deduce this easily from manuals.  Or you’ve found a package from 2003 and you don’t really want to check whether it is an abandoned code dependent on a bunch of obsolete quirks or just a solid code that just didn’t require any modifications. Or you have been using foozifier for years not knowing that bartools’ functionWithConfusingName does the same 50 times faster using 1/1000 of RAM. Or you just thought you can’t baz in R, yet the only problem was that the bazzing package author thought it was called wizzing.

Moreover, this is also useful for package authors — comment is much easier and more reusable way of leaving feedback than e-mail, so you can count on more reports and thus catch more bugs and gather more good feature ideas.

What’s worse with this story is that this is more-less already here; it is called Crantastic and works pretty well, not counting the fact that it would certainly benefit from some more traffic — so, go there and check if you are registered user of all packages you’ve installed and start contributing; it really comes back!

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