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?
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
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:
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.
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.