I'm a fairly new user to this site. I asked my first question a few days ago here:

Question about characteristics and classification of second-order PDEs

it received a few views; however, no-one as yet has provided an answer.

I'm just wondering if I'm the only one who thinks this site seems quite overloaded, in terms of the ratio of the number of questions being asked to those receiving answers?

The rate of questions flying through the home page that seem to attract no answer and the number of questions that have bounties (currently 52!) seem to indicate that the 'questioners' outnumber the 'answerers' by a large factor.

Are there any 'official' statistics that show what the current ratio is of the rate of questions being asked to the rate of questions being answered? i.e. is this site just accumulating an ever-increasing mountain of questions that will never be answered?

I guess the underlying reason for this question is that, based on what I've seen so far, I'm not hugely optimistic at the chances of my question (or any future ones) actually being answered.

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    First off, you asked a good question on the main site. And you asked a good question here on meta. Unfortunately, the site is currently also overwhelmed by answerers who want to earn reputation by answeringeasy questions, and either don't know enough, or don't want to spend the time, to answer very well asked questions like yours. Don't give up, because there will be high quality answerers that find your questions and answer them well; unfortunately, the wait for such answers may be longer than what would be ideal. – amWhy Nov 27 at 21:08
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    @amWhy thanks for your comment. Sorry if I seem to come across as impatient, but I'm just trying to get a feel for what the prospects are of my question being answered and what the typical waiting time might be. I should probably place a bounty on it, if it will help draw some attention. – Time4Tea Nov 27 at 21:18
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    You don't come across as impatient. You raise a very valid question that this site needs to confront. Your question here is excellent. I said "unfortunately" the wait time may be longer that what would be ideal because I truly believe it is unfortunate, and that good questions should not go unanswered. – amWhy Nov 27 at 21:21
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    I've started a bounty on your question. You can help me gauge how helpful the ensuing answers are to you, via comments, and if a great answer comes in, through accepting it. The bounty lasts for seven days. – amWhy Nov 27 at 21:25
  • @amWhy ok, thank you very much, I really appreciate it :-) Certainly, I will upvote and accept if someone gives a good answer. – Time4Tea Nov 27 at 21:31
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    In addition to @amWhy's spot-on comments, I think it's worth mentioning that historically the pde tag has among the lowest answer rates on the site. This is due to the advanced nature of the subject, as well as the high level of many of the questions asked in it. There are very few freebies. – T. Bongers Nov 27 at 22:01
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    @T.Bongers thanks for your input, that is interesting. I had thought that my question would be fairly low-level, given that I'm an Engineer and not a Mathematician. Many of the other questions on here seem way over my head! :-) – Time4Tea Nov 27 at 22:11
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    To go along with @T.Bongers' comment, I've taken graduate level PDE courses (as a pure math kind of guy), and there was a time in my career when I probably could have answered that question. At this point, I am quite sure that I cannot (at least, not without a fair amount of work). It is a reasonably basic question (a good one!), but the knowledge required to give a good answer is pretty specialized. Honestly, I wonder if you might get a better response from Physics (though it might be off-topic there as "too mathy"). – Xander Henderson Nov 27 at 23:44
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    Regarding @amWhy's comment about high-quality questions eventually receving well-written feedback from high-quality answerers, I have often wondered whether even that optimistic outlook might be hindered by the deluge of new questions preventing high-quality ones from ever being noticed by the right person. Sometimes it feels like a question has only a very small window of time to be noticed before it gets buried under a mountain of new questions and becomes irretrievably lost to the eyes of potential answerers... – Monstrous Moonshiner Nov 27 at 23:48
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    @MonstrousMoonshiner I frequently give up looking for interesting questions in the new feed, precisely for that reason. The gems are so few and far between, buried under a deluge of calculus and linear algebra questions that have been answered 10 or 20 times before. – T. Bongers Nov 27 at 23:50
  • @XanderHenderson ok, I will give it a try on Physics and see if anyone there can help. Thanks! – Time4Tea Nov 28 at 0:18
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    @T.Bongers What really worries me from the standpoint of the asker is whether a new question, after having been pushed to the bottom of the list, effectively loses any chance of having a response. Even when you look for interesting content through other channels like going through specific tags or browsing through related questions, a question generally has to get noticed to a certain extent before it will be linked with similar things. There's so much content to organize and display that I fear that the content that gets presented through any method is only the tip of the iceberg... – Monstrous Moonshiner Nov 28 at 1:14
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    You are not the first PDE-enthusiast to find the site unsatisfactory. I have had the impression that it's pretty much the same with all advanced topics, but I may be wrong about that. The alternative explanation would be that PDE people are particularly sensitive to the difference between their specialty and calculus/basic real analysis. But I fail to see how that could be true. I just can't explain (to myself) why PDEs in particular would be underrepresented here. – Jyrki Lahtonen Nov 28 at 8:40
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    Not saying it's impossible. May be we never attracted experts in that area? Can we recruit some from MO? – Jyrki Lahtonen Nov 28 at 8:41
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    I think that this site has a bit of an issue with advanced topics. MO is very strict with how they operate and lean pretty heavily on topics like algebraic geometry and category theory. As such, there are a lot of questions that just flap in the breeze here on MSE that might not be super well received on MO. Eventually, we might see a new math Stack Exchange site that caters to moderately advanced questions. I've felt for a while that the growing disparity between MSE and MO are detrimental to certain fields, PDE being one of them (along with certain flavors of analysis). – Cameron Williams Dec 10 at 17:03

It's not really that valuable (to you) to worry about "the site" being "overloaded". What's more important to you is how many people are watching the major tags of your question, in this case, and how busy that tag is. That is, what you'd really care about is whether the tag is "overloaded". What do you care if there are 1001 unanswered questions a day? I would assume (hope) that the people watching that tag (or any relatively "advanced" tag) are doing it so that they can filter to the questions they are interested in answering rather than trying to pick them out of a flood of uninteresting-to-them questions.

For , there are 366 watchers and 13,155 questions. The least recent question on the first page (at 50 a page by default) is from November 22nd, or five days ago. Compared to the tags I actively follow, and , the number of watchers seems low for the number of questions. I have no idea what an "adequate" amount would be, and it would obviously depend on the amount of effort typical questions required as well as the people watching that tag. At any rate, it seems like it would take a while for a question to get buried for the tag. In other words, it's unlikely that a "regular" of the tag will fail to see your question entirely.

The story is similar for "typical wait times". Certainly, a site-wide average would be useless. Even an average restricted to would be of questionable value (and I suspect it has a long tail). I've answered plenty of questions days or even weeks after I've seen them, let alone when they were asked. Sometimes it's because it takes that long to make a good answer. Either way, I feel no urgency in answering. My understanding of StackExchange is that the (nominal) emphasis is overwhelmingly on answers that are continuously useful to more than just the OP. While obviously unanswered questions are likely not that useful, rapidity of answering is not that optimized2.

Most of the highly upvoted unanswered questions (for the tags I follow) just seem genuinely hard to answer. From the comments, it sounds like your question is not in that category, so I suspect your question will eventually be answered, but I have little idea of when. If the answer to the question is important for you, you should be working on answering it yourself. If you do, you can self-answer the question. If you need a more timely answer and you're a student (though it seems like you aren't(?)), then I would suggest talking to a TA or tutor.

1 This is a made up number.

2 Though it is usually advantageous reputation-wise to be the first answerer assuming your answer is adequate.

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    But the site is overloaded, so why not call it like it is? – amWhy Nov 28 at 14:50
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    @amWhy: That's assuming that "overloaded" describes reality in the first place. I think Derek has a pretty good point that even if the site has a lot of unanswered algebra-precalculus questions, they're not preventing anyone from answereing the questions you (or he or I or the OP) find more interesting. – Henning Makholm Nov 28 at 15:39
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    Thanks for your answer. However, I think the first part is making the assumption that pdes are the only area of Math that I may be interested in. The reason that I might care about there being hundreds of unanswered question per day is because the effect is that a new question will only be on the 'front page' for a couple of hours before it gets 'buried', which limits its visibility. Part of the reason I asked this meta question is because I am wondering if it would be worth my time posting further questions here (in any area of Math), if the chances of it being answered are slim. – Time4Tea Nov 28 at 18:40
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    I will certainly try to answer the question myself. I am working on it and reading more into second-order pdes. I'm not a student though and don't have a tutor I can turn to. However, I will ask through some other channels and if I come across an answer then I will post as an answer to my own question. – Time4Tea Nov 28 at 18:43
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    @amWhy I'm saying one's experience with the site, including whether it appears to be "overloaded", is very dependent on what tags one is interested in. I did poorly phrase my first sentence though. I have no problem with someone "calling like it is", I just don't find statements about "the site" as a whole particularly relevant. Whether or not "the site" is "overloaded", I can confidently say that I don't consider any of the tags I watch "overloaded". – Derek Elkins Nov 28 at 19:47
  • Well I don't have time to really examine closely my favorite tags anymore, because I spend so much time reviewing posts, both questions and answers, more broadly. In the queues, and as they come in real time, and as problems are noted by other users. I don't feel I have the luxury to focus narrowly on a couple of favorite tags, o so I've chosen a priority, site quality, that I think over-rides my personal interest in specific topics. But I don't blame anyone for limiting participation to following a few tags of interest. I'm glad you do; but I think you also adhere to "doing no harm." – amWhy Nov 28 at 19:52
  • @Time4Tea I'm not assuming PDEs are the only tag you're interested in, I'm merely saying that the experience varies with tag. Also, it's possible pde is overloaded or is at least has a sparse set of answerers. As I indicated, I am interested in multiple areas of mathematics. I have no trouble keeping up with them. The only time I use the "front page" is when something manages to catch my eye in the few seconds I'm navigating to tag specific pages. I suspect my "workflow" is typical for answerers of more "advanced" topics. – Derek Elkins Nov 28 at 20:18
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    @amWhy I'm not sure what you mean by "doing no harm", but it definitely sounds like there's a problem and I'm sympathetic to it. I tend to lean toward more aggressive enforcement of quality, but I feel like an outsiders uncertain about the norms for tags far from the ones I follow. I think it is not obvious from the outside that large StackExchanges, like Math.SE, consist of multiple subcommunities. Viewing it as uniform doesn't make a lot of sense. It's possible to have very different experiences across multiple axes based on tags. – Derek Elkins Nov 28 at 20:33
  • I'm sorry if I was unclear; I was running out of "characters" so abbreviated more than I should have. I trust that you do pay attention to quality of posts and try to maintain it in the tags you favorite. And you are doing this site a service by that; we can each only do so much! What I meant by "doing no harm" is that, in your efforts to monitor for quality of the questions you focus on, you don't answer "crap" (which only reinforces crap and does harm). Hence I trust that you do no harm. – amWhy Nov 28 at 23:44
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    I think it's worth examining reasons why integrals, sequences and series, contest problems, elementary number theory, number theory yield the high upvotes for questions, answers, and both early and high answer rates, while other tags do not. It may be that followers of some tags want to answer, and accept, anything in their tag(s) of interest, while followers of some other tags show more restraint, answering good questions, but voting to close and delete the poor. And there are tags that may not be closely followed. – amWhy Nov 29 at 21:47
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    Let's make this site more inviting to a wider diversity of math folks than those interested in integration, sequences and series, number theory/elementary number theory, e.g., and it's kind of a chicken and egg question. Do we get experts in diverse fields first, hoping questions will be answered and continue to be asked, or do we wait for sufficient questions in a topic, in hopes to attract experts? My point is this: "If we keep on doing what we've always done, we'll keep on getting what we always got." I think we can do better than that. Let's shake it up a bit, @Derek. – amWhy Nov 29 at 21:51
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    Disclaimer: I do not mean to include "number theory", properly speaking. In set theory, there is a lot of time and effort spent in changing tags as necessary, when "set theory" ought to be "elementary set theory" (Thanks, @Asaf.) I don't see the same dedication among number theorists. So it is just as likely we'll see a question like "if $a\mid c$ and $b \mid c$, is it always true that $ab\mid c$ tagged as "number theory," as we are a far more sophisticated problem. The point is, rep-hunters scramble to answer what ought to be tagged "elementary number theory.", among other tags. – amWhy Nov 29 at 22:09

Regarding statistics, there is an Unanswered Tracker bot that posts in the Crusade of Answers chatroom that indicates that the number of unanswered questions on this site increases by about 200 everyday (except Saturdays).

Looking at this page, about 77% of all questions on MathSE have been answered.

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    i.e., perhaps proving the point: this site is overloaded?? – amWhy Nov 27 at 22:56
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    @amWhy Yeah, definitely is. It would be fine if those 200 new questions a day were hard to answer, but I'm pretty sure that it is more of an issue of not having enough knowledgeable answers on this site who want to take the time to answer. Shall we start an effort to recruit Crusaders? ;) – Mike Pierce Nov 27 at 23:02
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    @MikePierce How can I become a crusader? – Mohammad Zuhair Khan Nov 28 at 4:18
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    @Raptor answer lots of (good) unanswered questions! :D You probably want to choose a specific tag you know about, and have a look at the unanswered questions in that specific tag. Or you can look at the questions in this query, which the system considers unanswered, and verify that the answers to the questions there are correct. Hang out in the desolate chatroom too. :P – Mike Pierce Nov 28 at 5:43
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    I'd become a crusader if I were any good. – Shaun Nov 29 at 0:58
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    @Shaun !!!!!! You're wonderful though! Crusade however you can. :D – Mike Pierce Nov 29 at 19:41
  • Thank you, @MikePierce ! $\ddot\smile$ – Shaun Nov 29 at 19:59
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    @Shaun Another thing that can be done is downvoting(bad questions, and sometimes answers) which can help push down, and sometimes eventually deleted(which is why Saturday there is a drop) and upvoting good questions to make them more noticed and more likely answers. – Paul Plummer Nov 30 at 2:15
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    Shameless plug on giving incentives to answer old unanswered questions: meta.stackexchange.com/a/254753/248268 – Nemo Dec 9 at 11:33

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