As we enter a new year, sometimes it's good to reflect. Users who have been here for awhile - what was the most notable change or changes you've noticed in MSE? How do you see the site changing as time goes on?

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    $\begingroup$ A lot... And for you? $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Jan 1, 2018 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila I was about to write something similar, as the amount of change this site has gone through during my time here is pretty large. But then, you have been here like 3 months longer than I have, so you have seen all of those plus potentially a few more. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 8:47
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    $\begingroup$ While I upvoted your comment @Asaf, your comment answers "how much has MSE changed....", whereas I think the question is seeking "how has MSE changed over time". I think "How much change over time on MSE" is a very different question than "how has MSE changed over time"... I think you and Tobias, and Zachary and even me are positioned to provide comments and answers answering the actual question posted here. "A lot" gives no indication of "what has, or how have, things changed "a lot". $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ It hasn't changed noticeably for me, but who am I to judge? I'm here only 8 months. $\endgroup$
    – user436658
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ I used to be excited about what other people had asked that day. Now I usually know what people have asked today. And it isn't interesting. $\endgroup$
    – user123641
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 2:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Robert: that probably means you should consider blocking some tags. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 6:30

4 Answers 4


At the start, when the question volume was lower, you could ask a question that was relevant to applied mathematics research, but not "sophisticated" enough for mathoverflow, and expect an expert to show up in short order with a full and useful answer.

Now, you ask a question and unless it's algebra-precalculus or elementary-number-theory, maybe you'll get a few question upvotes, but no answers. You can put a big bounty on it, and still tumbleweeds.

The high school students have never had it easier in their math classes, though :shrug:

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    $\begingroup$ Not quite true. Just a couple of days ago I got an answer to a real-analysis, analytic-number-theory question. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ @DanielFischer You know, thinking back, I've gotten answers even for the dreaded pde tag: math.stackexchange.com/questions/822482/… $\endgroup$
    – user7530
    Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, but that question was several years ago. Doesn't count as a counterexample to your second paragraph ;-) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ But unless they provide their effort and context these questions get closed. $\endgroup$
    – clark
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 0:24
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielFischer You two are funny... $\endgroup$
    – Alex Vong
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 0:56
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    $\begingroup$ @clark unfortunately that is only sometimes true $\endgroup$
    – user223391
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 1:10
  • $\begingroup$ I highly agree with this. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ @ZacharySelk And just to make the point clearer: Brownian motion tag has 36.8% unanswered questions (for pde tag it's 39.1%), while multivariable calculus has 25.6% unanswered questions $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Anoldmaninthesea. How do you find this kind of stat? My feeling is that maths questions arise from computer science are also less likely to be answered. $\endgroup$
    – Alex Vong
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexVong Go to tags, the one you're interested in, click on "new" and click on "unanswered" and there will be two numbers you can divide. Might be an easier way though $\endgroup$
    – user223391
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexVong that may be because there is a “cstheory” dedicated stack exhange that is, in my experience, quite active. $\endgroup$
    – user7530
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ I fully agree with you. In little more than one year, what I perceive is that the multiplied volume of posts, although being a clear sign of success, is mostly detrimental: many interesting questions get a couple of answers, as many valuable answers get a couple of votes. When you see a post with a dozen of votes (and hundreds of view), most of the times it is one of some years ago which has been somehow re-animated. $\endgroup$
    – G Cab
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ While I agree with the general sentiment, the statement is itself false. I personally spend the majority of my time on this site writing answers in other tags. As, it appears from the top tags on your profile, do you. $\endgroup$
    – jgon
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 5:29
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    $\begingroup$ @jgon Ok, I agree "no answers" is hyperbole on my part for rhetorical effect. "Significantly less likely to receive answers" is more accurate. $\endgroup$
    – user7530
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 5:51
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting. We've noticed a similar tendency in Biology.SE and had a discussion about it on our meta (biology.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3439/…). The general conclusion was that even if most questions asked on the SE now are quite basic, we were still doing something useful - but it is more outreach than professional communication. We still have a small community of professionals on there but generally if you have a doctorate relevant to your question you're likely to be the most qualified to answer it. :) $\endgroup$
    – arboviral
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 9:06

If you think of a group as having generations, then each "generation" changes what it wants, what it expects from the group. Usually while the previous generation decries their attitude and predicts the downfall of the group.

Sometimes they're right.

Perhaps think of the first generation of MSE users as pioneers, hardy souls setting out from the comfort of their forums and such to make what they could of this thing. They had wildly varying ideas of what the thing they were building should become, and lots of them quit within the first 6 months as it became obvious it was going to be something else.

But at this point, the first generation had built enough infrastructure to enable the second generation to take a different approach: let's call it the settling and civilization period. Common guidelines emerged, usage patterns for things like editing and closing were established.

Then... Hey, it turns out The West is pretty nice if you can get past the mountains without having to eat each other. So the third generation is immigrants. They weren't so focused on building things or demarcating the edges of civilization so much as they just wanted to be a part of this new paradise, and grab a little piece for their own.

Now the land-grab is over. So we got folks looking to be pioneers heading off past the horizon and folks who've been here since the early days jealously guarding their territory and a bunch of folks who sort of just see this whole thing as permanent. We got a bunch of bourgeoisie to try & find housing for, not that they'll really appreciate it, and it's kinda dawning on us all that we need a lot more infrastructure if this thing isn't going to implode on itself.

Meanwhile wondering what those new pioneers are up to, and if we wouldn't be better off following them...

Written by Shog9 about Stack Overflow, but matches my impression of this site as well.


It was chiller in the beginning,

Community roles weren't strongly enforced, and the overall attitude to newbies (who invariably forgot to do things like showing their work or repeating a question) was positive and constructive.

Most questions tended to be pretty advanced along with pools of pre-algebra and calc.

Then the great flood happened. I can't put my finger on when but some time in High School I noticed that there was a constant flow of questions usually of a simple nature (but hovering between CalcI to elementary PDEs) and it got harder to attract people with odd problems (a lot of mine in my profile end up being unvoted and unanswered as a result).

The community got rougher, strictly enforcing rules, and showing little interest in teaching this flood the ways of the past. I saw many a stack exchange noob banned, or torn apart in comments by users of high rep. The meta was filled with controversial posts about whether or not the community should behave the way it did, and how to adapt to this new found power and flow of interest, And the old Titans had messy arguments. Some of the (seeming at the time) Gods were faced with serial downvotes, shunned or banned, in the process.

When the dust settled everyone agreed on a newer and stricter set of standards. And whether it was good or bad, at least everyone AGREED.

In recent times, I've invariably grown to accept, (and actually like!) the new rules. If I post something I try my best to show work, show what has failed, and show that I have made an effort to search for answers so as to not pollute the site.

I answer questions much less frequently lately, the easy pickings seem hard to find and those that I am qualified to answer tend to be repeats of what is already said (often easily searched too!)

But I prefer to save my downvotes for what I consider true.. dog-shit. And I don't think I've come across much, so I let the others handle things.

I'd say the site has improved. Though its history is rich with conflict.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you be more dramatic? $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 12:42

I think people asked somewhat more philosophical or curiosity-based questions in the beginning, and questions nowadays slant more strongly towards homework, or at least people being confused about their math classes. Which is fine. Also I block a lot of tags so there's a lot of stuff I don't see.

Questions are also being asked noticeably much faster now. Again, blocking tags helps with this, but the pace used to be closer to MO's pace so it was easier for any particular question to get attention.

I don't expect things to change all that much in the near future.

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    $\begingroup$ I did not know that we could block tags. Would you please tell me how to do that? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 10:08
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, it’s quite strange how hard this feature is to find - go to your profile, go to “Edit Profile & Settings,” then go to “Preferences.” It used to be easier to do this; I don’t know why it’s gotten harder. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer. So, accessing this feature is another thing that changed in your time here. :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 10:45
  • $\begingroup$ @QiaochuYuan: I imagine the SE folks don't want lots of people blocking lots of tags because then you don't have a site, you just have a bunch of people talking past each other. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 22:51
  • $\begingroup$ @JoséCarlosSantos alternatively, you can do that by either 1) editing "Favorite Tags" from the main page. When you press the "edit" link, it will also show "Ignored Tags" below it, or 2) hovering the tag, then press the "star" icon twice". It will cycle from normal-favorite-ignored. Of course, to hide instead of greying them, you have to change it from the user's preference page. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew T.
    Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewT. Thank you for your help. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 19:14

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