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Perhaps this is just subjective nonsense. But after browsing through the site today, I somehow feel as though the average of quality of questions has gone down since when I first started using this site. It seems that questions can be split into distinct categories of "very advanced with a lot of good quality work shown" and "very simple, with almost no effort given" (with, shockingly users that aren't brand new). Has anyone else felt the same way?

Perhaps this could be objectively looked at by charting the average up/downvotes over the past years, and the average number of closed questions/total questions per day.

What could be the reason behind this?

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    $\begingroup$ If you browse some questions on meta tagged (statistics), you might find some relevant statistics. One of such posts is here, you might be able to find other related posts. However, I do not think that lower average score necessarily means lower quality. It might be simply the large number of questions, which leads to less people seeing (and voting on) each particular post. Problems related to the large volume of posts were also discussed in this post (among other things). $\endgroup$ Jan 10, 2016 at 6:24
  • $\begingroup$ For example, already in 2012 it was observed that the average score per answer have decreased. The explanation suggested in comments it that this has to do with the increasing number of questions. (Which, in 2012, was much smaller than today.) $\endgroup$ Jan 10, 2016 at 6:33
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    $\begingroup$ I would blame decrease in average score per answer on exponential increase in number of questions and the increase in demand for speed in attending each question: many at times choose to just downvote/discourage posts (I am partial to new users) instead of taking a moment to tell the user the need to post their attempt/knowledge in concerning topic (which is as simple as copy-pasting comment from templates meta post.) And I have noticed many users (often with 3500+ rep) who post poor quality post, and they probably are the only posts I downvote. $\endgroup$ Jan 10, 2016 at 11:18
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    $\begingroup$ See Ages of Man. $\endgroup$
    – Lucian
    Jan 11, 2016 at 6:45
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    $\begingroup$ I was actually thinking the same thing today, before running into this post on the suggested questions. I think the user pool of math.SE has become less advanced, and so has the quality of the questions-- independent of the average up/down votes. I find that questions I would ask here, sometimes now I have to go to math overflow to ask. $\endgroup$
    – Alex
    Jan 15, 2016 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ You could just substitute any SE for "Math.SE" in this question, really. $\endgroup$
    – shoover
    Jan 15, 2016 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ As the time between the present and when I earned my B.S. in mathematics lengthens, my skills decrease (I don't work in a math related field), possibly at the same rate that the quality of questions here is declining (which isn't to say quality is declining, just supposing for the sake of discussion), which could be a reason why I personally do not perceive a decline in question quality. Most questions are over my head, just like always. $\endgroup$ Jan 19, 2016 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ @ToddWilcox my BS was earned in 1979, which is a long gap, but still I try to keep up with the big problems, though I have trouble with lack of formal graduate level study. I am obsessed with Collatz problem...so I'm probably a big reason for the decline ... $\endgroup$
    – frogfanitw
    Jan 20, 2016 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ I can't speak for a change in quality (haven't been around for long enough) , but can say that the average quality is disappointingly low. If I watch the new question feed populate and browse them, I find myself getting irritated and miserable pretty quickly - exploring well-received questions from weeks or months ago is much more rewarding for me. It's just a shame there's so much rubble to get through to find the great answers. $\endgroup$
    – miradulo
    Jan 20, 2016 at 15:24

2 Answers 2

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I believe the true answer is: It's true and perhaps a little sad, but in the long run, not hugely important.

As long as there is a steady flow of high-quality questions, even if it's slowed, we're doing all right. And also very importantly, as long as the quality of the answers is good.

There is a piece of the Area 51 FAQ that is pertinent here:

To attract experts, you need a site where people are asking very interesting and challenging questions, not the basic questions found on every other Q&A site. Your goal is to make it clear that this is a professional site.

...

Remember, pro sites WILL attract the enthusiasts, but not the other way around!

Now that this site is well established (over half a million questions!) we have certainly attracted the enthusiasts, not only the professionals. (The excerpted text above is discussing what sort of questions your site must have to establish itself.)

The way to keep the site high-quality and keep it home for real professionals is, of course:

  • Ask excellent questions
  • Write excellent answers
  • Vote on questions and answers you found helpful
  • Vote on questions and answers you found unhelpful
  • Vote to close/delete any off topic, duplicate, low quality, etc. posts
  • Help new users learn to follow the guidelines of the community
  • Etc.

In essence, just be a good, contributing member of the community, and help to forward the purposes and guidelines of the site. That way the community stays alive and flourishing, and we all win.

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    $\begingroup$ Enthusiasts are fine. The posts by non-enthusiasts, on the other hand... $\endgroup$
    – user147263
    Feb 12, 2016 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ Don't we have Math overflow for the professionals now (and Math SE for the enthusiasts)? $\endgroup$
    – user400188
    Apr 21 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ @user400188 math overflow is for questions and answers around research-level mathematics. That's almost like an entirely different subject from the rest of maths. $\endgroup$
    – Wildcard
    Apr 21 at 0:54
  • $\begingroup$ @user, I should hope that most professionals would also be enthusiasts. $\endgroup$ Apr 21 at 2:35
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson As I understood it, that was the idea. Math Overflow would be for the professionals, and Math S.E. for everyone, which would include a lot of the professionals who they enjoy math at any level. $\endgroup$
    – user400188
    Apr 21 at 2:39
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Well, lately, I am noticing a lot of questions that aren't good. Indeed, some of them are of very low-quality all-around. A lot of them though, are from students who are just struggling in math. Now, I don't know what is accounting for the increase--it seems worse now than it did in the middle of 2020 when everyone was out of school for COVID. But pivoting away from whether MSE's questions have gone down [I answer yes] to what can be done [I hope that is alright with you], I do think things could be done better on a site-wide level.

1. What is MSE exactly? What does this site want to be? Is it primarily a site for experts to bounce ideas off other experts, where the end result is a repository of interesting questions and well-written answers. Or are we also an online math tutoring site where we help anyone as long as they seem to be trying. I'm not so sure we are clear which it is what we are. Those things also do contradict each other often I think. If we tend to the latter a lot, there are going to end up being in the repository a lot of banal questions and an associated long thread of comments to try to help the struggling student who wrote the question. Most of these are really only of interest to the person who asked the question. That's not to say that we can decide here that we are all for the former--high quality questions asked and answered by experts--and that will be that. A lot of people here are going to insist on helping the struggling students here instead of turning them away. Which brings me to my 2nd point...

2. What if we were to lower the threshold for a question to be closed, from 5 votes to 3 [while putting deletion at say 3+6--6 votes to close after deletion-- or 3+7]? And once a question is closed, commenting and voting is shut off too This seems like it would benefit everyone. A lot of the time, when a bad question gets asked, a few things seem to happen before the 5 votes to close acrue: a) The question gets slammed with downvotes. b) It gets answered in the comments anyway, giving the person asking just what they wanted, and giving incentive for more low-quality questions on MSE. c) A person or two comes along and sees the new user getting -4,-5,-6 votes and decides to give the question a "pity" upvote, so the result is a net positive in reputation. It's all like churn in the water for the sharks, and it really isn't good for anyone. Cutting the time that a bad question is left open would really benefit both sides.

And even if you are in favor of MSE being a math-tutoring site, this will still be a disincentive to the really low-quality questions from users who just want their homework question answered by someone else.

Anyways this is my take....

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  • $\begingroup$ Downvoting a closed question brings on deletion more quickly. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.... $\endgroup$ Apr 20 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ While I understand the majority of your argument, the last part of your second suggestion, "once a question is closed, commenting and voting is shut off too," seems poorly supported. "This seems like it would benefit everyone." It would make it difficult to convey to the author what might be done to improve the Question. Some Questions are probably unfixable, but in my experience there is some genuine interest in learning math behind the majority of Question's asked. So narrowing the functionality of closing and deleting would hinder a major aspect of our mission. $\endgroup$
    – hardmath
    Apr 20 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ @hardmath maybe you are right....maybe keep up commenting. But I still feel 5 votes to close is too many. Are there good questions with 3 votes to close? Yeah sure. Have I seen any? Not in a very long time! $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    Apr 20 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson If it were up to me I'd make deletion 3+7 as opposed to 5+3 as it is now.... $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    Apr 20 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ Meanwhile, I think the one thing that I said--shut off commenting for closed threads--is the one thing that people took away the most. It should not be, my main points is that a) we should be clear on the site objectives, and b) that low-quality questions need to be shut down sooner. I care a lot less about whether voting/commenting stays or not. $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    Apr 21 at 13:56

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