# MSE is run by answerers. Is that a good or bad thing?

One of the things I've always found extremely ironic about MSE is that the people with the least experience in asking questions and who have perhaps the least perspective on what it's like to ask questions - the ones with the least sympathy - are the ones who we let judge them. High-rep users moderate and close questions; yet a quick check of the first page of highest rep users reveals that they contribute <95% answers (and the only person who even gets close to that is Michael Hardy). Furthermore, it appears that most of them haven't had the experience of a significant number of unsuccessful questions. Medium-rep users are more likely to come back to the site, and so they are the majority of people with the power to vote and comment, essentially determining the success of a question - and again they are more likely to be answerers.

To clarify, the users with high rep often only answer questions, as it appears extremely hard to get rep by asking anything. There are a number of reasons for this:

1. A huge number of questions simply go unnoticed, and receive no upvotes. Meanwhile if you answer a question, one is usually very thankful and will upvote even if it's not really good (I've done this tons of time myself). If you are the only answer, you will probably automatically get an additional 15.
2. Fortunately the new +10 for an upvote on a question has helped this, but you also get less from asking questions in a literal sense. This is in part due to the acceptance bonus, which I mentioned earlier. There is also the lingering effect of when upvoting an answer was only +5, which IMO was extremely unjust. It takes someone who contributes to the site's knowledge base roughly 5 times as much volume of contribution/time to get to the same rep as someone who has only been answering.

Just from seeing what it's like to review a question, I can see how easy it is to just go with what everyone does and downvote things. It's easy to make up stories about how the person might react when their question is downvoted, that they will find it helpful, realize there's no need to take it personally and that that's just how the site functions, etc. But the truth is that in real world this just isn't how most people - especially low rep users - respond. I can never bring myself to downvote a question, and never have. But it is a feeling that someones who only answers could never understand.

• I think you don't know what you are talking about. Most contributors to this site answer questions they asked about years before this site even was thought of. This is a careless conjecture you've written. You aren't in any position to say that those who are answering questions on math.se haven't experience in asking questions! Maybe they didn't ask questions on math.se (because much of their learning precedied it), but no one learns without asking questions, and those who have learned most, probably also learned best how to ask a good question. and then, how to answer them. – amWhy Apr 29 '20 at 17:55
• You are very focused on the individual questions and the effect that a closure might have on the particular person who is posing a question, but I think that you are missing the larger point: the goal of MSE is to create a database of questions and answers. The primary interaction with the site is meant to be "I have a question; let me fire up my search engine. Oh! Here's an answer on MSE!. Upvote. Done." One-on-one tutoring is not the goal---that is what Quora, reddits, and Yahoo! Answers (among others) do best. – Xander Henderson Apr 29 '20 at 17:58
• It was a bit unclear to me what you mean by: "a quick check of the first page of highest rep users reveals that they contribute <95% answers". Perhaps you mean what percentage of all posts (by the given users) are answers? Here is a SEDE query with such stats: What percentage of all posts are answers (for top users) – Martin Sleziak Apr 29 '20 at 17:58
• No, a professor just marks ones lack of effort on homework as $0$, and flunks you if fail to turn in homework, participate in class, and you can't pass tests. That is as much of an experience in the real world as you can get. If one doesn't take their work seriously, they likely lose a job. Again: very real world experience. What is NOT real world experience is coming to math.se and expecting others to do your work for you, for free. Get real. Your question is nothing but a rant. And we are not here to all visit MH's profile, which has long been a rant. – amWhy Apr 29 '20 at 18:03
• I have to think about that. I wasn't aware of that about MH. Please can we not escalate this. Also why was my actual question in the body removed? – Benjamin Thoburn Apr 29 '20 at 18:06
• @amWhy it's a predicament because it's almost impossible to ask such a question without it sounding like a rant and to also include the details. Please, it is not meant to personally attack anyone MSE. – Benjamin Thoburn Apr 29 '20 at 18:09
• @BenjaminThoburn What you are saying is terribly opinionated, and you do not have any info whatsoever on which to base your stated opinions. It is one thing to say: "Sometimes it feels like, from the point of view, of me, an asker, as though ..." as opposed to claiming that your experience reveals some truth we must all accept. – amWhy Apr 29 '20 at 18:10
• @amWhy well, it is true that I don't know how almost purely asking or answering effects other people when downivoting, upvoting etc., but I am aware of how it has effected me. You can look at the top users and see they spend a small amount of time asking. – Benjamin Thoburn Apr 29 '20 at 18:14
• If you can reframe your question to not be accusatory, not claim to know the facts of the matter, but to express your own experience, that would be a great thing to do. But as it stands, your question is not a question, but a rant. – amWhy Apr 29 '20 at 18:15
• @amWhy I am sorry, it is difficult to speak of things without being emotional, as I am human. It is difficult to tell how other people will perceive your words and actions too. Will revise question/respond more later, I have to leave atm. – Benjamin Thoburn Apr 29 '20 at 18:26
• The original version of your question mentioned Michael Hardy, followed by an asterisk, and a sort of footnote. That footnote was edited away (I don't know why) and so perhaps that you want to delete the asterisk (or to get the footnote back). – José Carlos Santos Apr 29 '20 at 18:27
• I understand, more than you know, @Benjamin. Responses to answerers can be hurtful too. Feedback, in general, is hard to receive, when it is negative. Please do edit, because I think askers and answerers need to better understand each other. I for one never intend to hurt an asker. But I also try hard not to do an asker's work for them: I am eager to assist, but not replace, their own effort, because in the long run, doing others' work for them hurts them. Sometimes, in frustration, both askers and answerers blame the other, and that is not ideal. – amWhy Apr 29 '20 at 18:27
• @xander "Upvote. Done." well that is great. However, ironically, new users cannot upvote. – user12986714 Apr 29 '20 at 19:24
• @user12986714 I did not assert that this would be the typical experience of a new user. I said that this was meant to be the typically experience of any user. Certainly, someone without an account or with a new account cannot vote. However, the idea is that a typical user with an account will have wanted answers to $N$ questions, and have found answers to $99N/100$ questions via search. For the remaining $N/100$ questions, they write something up and (hopefully) get a handful of upvotes (i.e. enough to vote). – Xander Henderson Apr 29 '20 at 20:06
• They may also search for an answer, go "Oh, that's not quite right, but I can fix it!", suggest an edit, and gain 2 XP. Or they may even discover that they can answer a question that someone else has. One needn't have very many of these atypical interactions in order to obtain enough XP to upvote. – Xander Henderson Apr 29 '20 at 20:07

The point of asking a question here is usually to get an answer. Therefore, the question should be asked in such a way that it is likely to get good answers. If you'd be happy with a site where there are only questions, then fine let those that ask them run it as they see fit. But if what you actually want is answers to the questions, then the situation changes quite a bit.

In that sense I do not at all see what is strange about letting those that answer be those that guide how to ask a question. They will know best what it takes for a question to be answerable well.

Of course somebody might claim there are unrealistic expectations or what not but, I don't need to ask hundreds of questions to show that I can ask a question that is well received. A couple of examples should suffice. I don't ask often, but I did ask a couple of questions in different SE communities. Overall it worked out quite well. Alright, once I asked a duplicate, because while I did search it did not turn up what I wanted, but other than that there were not many issue.

The highest rep users may be predominantly answerers, but you don't have to be among the highest rep users to regulate questions. You only need 125 rep to downvote and 3k to vote to close. As you pointed out, questions and answers now generate the same amount of reputation, so I don't see any reason why people above 3k rep would be more likely to be answerers than askers.

Furthermore, closures operate on the basis of the rules and conventions of the site, which are the product of many people's contributions over many years, not just answerers or high rep users.

Finally, I would actually consider myself to be an asker, primarily. I also close a lot of questions. Writing a good question is difficult and most new users don't know how to do it. But this is why we have guidance built into the close messages. It may hurt a bit to have your question closed, but if it hurts so much that you can't read the guidelines and fix the question, then you may not be a good fit for participation in math.SE anyway. We're aiming for higher depth than that here.

• Although I agree with the sentiment of this answer, I feel that the attitude "...if it hurts so much that you can't read the guidelines and fix the question, then you may not be a good fit for participation in math.SE anyway" (which is the standard attitude on MSE) is not particularly healthy. I would rather people took 30 second to give specific advice (even just ask "what have you tried?"), before voting to close and move on if they want. But giving advice is important; learning by trial+feedback is better than learning by reading something. – user1729 May 7 '20 at 12:52
• …and I suppose one could argue that established users (irrespective of rep.) have forgotten what it felt like to first arrive here (I know I have) and therefore may benefit from listening more to new users. For example, most of the users who have participated in this thread have been here for over 2 years, but notice the insight of the user who has been here for 40 days... – user1729 May 7 '20 at 13:03
• Right now there are 600 questions in the review queue. If we take 30 seconds to help them all, that is 5 hours of volunteered time. We get hundreds of questions every day. It really is a matter of time. That's why specific feedback given to their question is literally given in the close message. Not everyone can receive individual attention because it just isn't practical. Expecting that is unrealistic. We have to develop systematic ways of dealing with this problem or it cant be dealt with at all. – Alexander Gruber May 7 '20 at 14:05
• @user1729: Damn if you do, damn if you don't. – Asaf Karagila May 7 '20 at 19:09
• @Asaf &Alexander I come with opinions, not solutions :-) However, I feel that it is important to me to feel that I have at least tried to help others. Simply clicking "close" does not make me feel like I have helped; it makes me feel like I have slammed the door in their face. – user1729 May 8 '20 at 9:03
• @user1729: Without taking a side there, others might feel that closing these questions will direct the effort to other people who actually did the due diligence of taking a look at what is expected of a good question. And that not closing these questions will take away the help from those who actually work towards it, and so maybe, one might feel, we should prioritise these people that put effort? – Asaf Karagila May 8 '20 at 9:11
• @AsafKaragila I would direct such people to read my first comment here. (I don't want to get into a long discussion here, so maybe we can decide that we've entered a loop?) – user1729 May 8 '20 at 9:21
• @user1729: Without going into a loop, at some point people get frustrated. Just like people like you are frustrated with the immediate closure response. And forcing someone to abide by your rules is unhelpful if you are not willing to abide by theirs... my point here is just that this is a complicated issue, and most people don't take enough time to try and see things from the other side. – Asaf Karagila May 8 '20 at 9:24
• @Asaf My saying I have opinions and not solutions was precisely trying to sidestep the issue of forcing others to abide by my rules :-) [I also want to say something about not changing the global nature of the site, but maybe changing the opinions of some of those few people I do meet. But I'm not sure how to express this.] – user1729 May 8 '20 at 9:44
• I mean hey, I get it. I give personal attention whenever I can, too, and surely it is better than just the close message. But unless you can think of a way to make that scalable, personal attention can only account for maybe 5-10% of questions, especially right now during this flood of new users copy pasting from online courses. In my view, closure is the only viable option we have for the rest. I would certainly be open to considering scalable alternatives, but nobody has ever presented one. – Alexander Gruber May 8 '20 at 13:47

"MSE is run by answerers." MSE is a network of question-and-answer (Q&A) website. If there are no questions posted on the site, there will be no answers at all. The converse is not valid: the site can no exist with only "answers." In this sense, questions are indispensable to the site.

But the roles askers and answerers play are quite different. Some users come to MSE just to help people by answering questions, and that's all they want. Consider, for instance, the user Brian M. Scott who has the No. 1 reps on the site. He has posted zero questions on the site before. By the way, he has cast only one downvote so far. (All the mentioned information is public.)

It is sometimes unavoidable by curse of knowledge that experienced users may fail to see/feel how hard it is to post a "successful" well-received question and have the RTFM attitude towards newbies. But that is a good (though may not very comfortable) chance for you to learn. Asking questions without suffering from (good or bad) criticism is worth learning.

One commonly seen frustration (like the one in a comment below) upon "a flood of askers" who ask short questions has a fundamental pessimistic assumption: they falsely assume that users who ask short questions because they are "wanting only for answerers to do their work for them". Even with good intention, such assumption significantly violates the Code of Conduct, which clearly states that

No name-calling or personal attacks. Focus on the content, not the person. This includes terms that feel personal even when they're applied to content (e.g. “lazy”).

This is one of the reasons why newbies often feel personally being judged and it causes unnecessary frictions.

If a post is not good enough, you could help them to improve; if you don't want to help, you could let those who are willing to do it. Writing a not satisfying question means that they have room to improve; it is not committing a crime.

• Genuine askers willing to work are often overshadowed by a flood of askers wanting only for answerers to do their work for them. Abuses on both ends of the spectrum. It is important to note that, and that many, many goodwilled-answerers have had to learn to temper their answers, depending on the goodwill of the asker. Also, you fail to note, that if this site were over-run with homework-completion-requests, it could not survive. Hence, many wise users have worked hard to lessen the "do my work for me" questions, so that good-intentioned askers get attention. – amWhy Apr 29 '20 at 20:51
• The first user is also responsible for answering a significant number of "do my work for me" demands (pretending to be questions). High rep is not equivalent to "good, sane, wise, or educationally helpful answering behaviors." – amWhy Apr 29 '20 at 20:57
• Brian is not responsible for anything but the quality of his answers. If you want to close a question that you think is not a good fit for the site, you have your right. But this is certainly not Brian's responsibility. As a well respected Professor emeritus, he is one of the most prolific writers in the main site who makes tremendous contributions under many tags. Saying him of "high rep", while it is a fact, is actually far underestimating his great contribution. – T. S May 1 '20 at 16:59
• Please do not personalize the exchange and tell others what they do, do not do, or should do. I made some edits to the comments. – quid May 2 '20 at 0:18
• @quid: Mind the context, please. It is not me who personalizes the exchange. You have access to the record. Please do not mislead the readers by saying so while in fact many off-topic comments under the thread especially those attack me have been flagged and deleted. And if you do want to signal a message that conversations should be friendly, moving off-topic messages altogether to a chatroom or leaving a neutral reminder message such as "please keep exchange on topic" would have been really appreciated. – T. S May 2 '20 at 12:24
• @T.S What is the concern? I wrote "I made some edits to the comments" at a time when there was exactly one comment written by you visible. Every reader can infer that this can only be the case if I at least also made an edit to a comment other than the one you wrote. (Indeed, I had made an edit to each of the comments visible at the time I wrote my comment.) It was thus completely clear (at least implicitly) that the comment was not only about your one comment. I would appreciate if you would tone down the accusations of misleading. – quid May 2 '20 at 12:34
• In any case your one comment most certainly did contain a "you should not" which is what I talked about. The two other comments also contained similar constructs, which were also removed. – quid May 2 '20 at 12:34
• One more note, I usually don't go around the site to micro-manage comments. However, if there are complaints, then I sometimes try to preserve the non-problematic part (or more precisely what I perceive as such) instead of deleting entirely (or entirely dismissing the concern raised). – quid May 2 '20 at 12:42
• @quid: "It was thus completely clear (at least implicitly) that the comment was not only about your one comment." I did not find it clear (and not even notice actually) that this message is also signaling the others. I think leaving comments without @ will only notify the poster, not others, which causes my misunderstanding. – T. S May 2 '20 at 12:49
• @quid: Fair enough. I believe I see what you mean. If a user finds offended by an off-topic comment which is a personal attack (factually or not), it is better to be silent or flag it so that the heat of exchange will never go up, which would be good for the site. – T. S May 2 '20 at 12:56
• Technically, it would also notify all those that decided to follow the post. I did not want to notify anyone specifically; if I had the option I would not even have notified you. (That said, I'd have been more clear to signal the general nature of my comment explicitly ) Somewhat in line with your most recent comment it can be useful to simply deal with some stuff silently. Like if I share an office and people complain to me about used paper cups being left on the table, I might just put them in the pin and maybe put up a sign and move on, rather than send out an email to everyone on it. – quid May 2 '20 at 13:06