Let's try this again.

For some reason I am not allowed to directly share this data (even though I think it is all accessible via data.stackexchange.com), but let me tell you roughly how the number of questions per day has evolved over the past year.

  • One year ago: ~200 questions / day.
  • August (summer vacation): ~130 questions / day.
  • October: ~200 questions / day.
  • November (close to the end of fall semester): ~300 questions / day.
  • January (winter vacation): ~170 questions / day.
  • February: ~300 questions / day.
  • Now (close to the end of spring semester): ~420 questions / day.

(And two years ago? ~70 questions / day.)

In total, about 130,000 questions have been asked on math.SE since its birth. Compare this to the two biggest SE sites after StackOverflow itself: 150,000 questions on ServerFault and 170,000 questions on SuperUser. Both of these sites launched in 2009, so they're both about a year older than math.SE.

Overall, it's clear that math.SE is experiencing a much bigger load of questions than it used to. Moreover, in my experience, the average quality of questions has gone down substantially as well.

What should we do about this?

I will post my suggestion in the answers.

  • 38
    $\begingroup$ Should be do anything about this?! $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 24 '13 at 23:36
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    $\begingroup$ I think what you meant to ask is «how do we make sure the questions we get get better?» raather than what do we do about getting more and more questions. That's what the answers are about, at least. You would probably not have posted this if we had doubled the number of great questions per day :-) $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 25 '13 at 0:04
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ What is the issue if we have more questions? If we want to increase the quality of questions (or) decrease the homework questions, we may want to consider a tag based reputation points awarding system. One of the reasons why homework questions and poorly posted questions get more attention is because these are low-hanging fruits to get reputation points. This will hopefully discourage users from answering or posting homework questions. $\endgroup$ – user17762 Apr 25 '13 at 1:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Mariano: Choosing to do nothing should be justified just like any other choice. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Apr 25 '13 at 2:08
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    $\begingroup$ The usual approach for stackexchange sites with high volume on a subject is to split off a new stackexchange site, right? So my modest proposal is to make mathhomeworkanswers.stackexchange.com, and make all math questions in the form of homework help off topic at MSE. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Apr 25 '13 at 3:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @zyx: Because I meant it satirically. If you mean it seriously, then by all means repost it yourself. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Apr 25 '13 at 3:34
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ The formulation of the problem, including the presumption that it is a problem ("what do to about ..."), should also be justified. Evidently there is a difference between "let's ban homework!" and the title of this thread. I consider it a huge improvement, and would have even if I were a homework-hater or an enemy of cut-and-paste questions, because it makes fewer assumptions and allows for more potential solutions. (@Hurkyl ) $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 25 '13 at 3:39
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx: I don't care about the downvotes. I simply don't think it's appropriate as an answer, since I meant it purely rhetorically to demonstrate the absurdity of a site explicitly devoted to supplying answers for peoples' homework problems, and thus to cast doubt on having that service at MSE. And I have little interest in championing it should people take it seriously. I don't think I would oppose the suggestion made seriously, although I tentatively dislike it: while getting rid of the cphq from mse would be good, it would mean losing the useful homework questions too. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Apr 25 '13 at 3:44
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ MSE is not devoted to supplying answers to any particular type of question, and does not acquire such devotion by answering CPHQ. Nobody is forced to answer anything they don't like, and with a couple of extra tags, essentially nobody (except one retagger per question, or so) has to read anything that is CPQ, CPHQ, or CPwhateverelse if they don't want to. Talk of on-demand answer services and closing policies is aimed at preventing answerers from being able to make their own decisions in case they want the ability to look at those questions and sometimes answer them. (@Hurkyl ) $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 25 '13 at 4:09
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @zyx: Talk of on-demand answer services is aimed at trying to prevent MSE from continuing down the road to being an on-demand answer service. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Apr 25 '13 at 7:04
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Yes, but the specific proposals the talkers make always seem to revolve around controlling the answerers in the manner I stated. And emotionally loaded or rhetorical language like cheating, questionable and answer service always seem to be pressed into service when the proposals are under discussion. @Hurkyl $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 25 '13 at 7:09
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx: ... and jihad and crusade and thought police and... $\endgroup$ – user14972 Apr 25 '13 at 8:00
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    $\begingroup$ Whereas the emotionalized descriptions like cheating (bad!), questionable activity (BAD!!), and unethical (worse!!!), were used to prejudice the discussion of the actual MSE practices and policies being considered. That's apart from the sliming of one or more users making opposing arguments as being ethically alien, morally sketchy, dishonest (the last expressed with a stack of $2n$ iterated negations for plausible deniability). $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 25 '13 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx You may not understand this as an anonymous user, but some of us post under our real names. When one googles our names, MSE comes up and the state of MSE will invariably reflect on us. I don't want to be associated with "that free homework answering service". $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Apr 25 '13 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx I'm not sure that everyone looks that closely at profile texts. But the suggestion is good. I think I might steal Douglas's idea. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Apr 25 '13 at 16:47

11 Answers 11


I have several concerns about the increasing load of questions on math.SE. The two primary ones are probably the following:

  • I am concerned that I see many low-quality questions that look like homework. I don't want math.SE to acquire a reputation for being a place where it's easy to get homework answers. There are enough places like that on the internet already.
  • I am concerned that the decreasing quality of questions will eventually drive away the users who answer questions. I would personally have already stopped using math.SE if I hadn't started aggressively filtering tags (e.g. the tag).

I think both of these concerns would be addressed by raising our quality standards for asking questions, as suggested by Eric Naslund here. His proposal:

Low quality questions which show no effort should be downvoted and closed outright. Comments should be added welcoming new users and explaining how to ask the question in a way that is suitable for Math Stack Exchange, and how to ask it in such a way that it is not closed in the future. No emphasis should be put on whether or not it could be homework, but rather on the quality of the question itself.

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    $\begingroup$ Note: I do not consider an introduction like "I have to solve this problem. Can anyone help? Pls" to be effort shown. A high-quality answer will, in addition to others, answer the question what have you tried? $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 Apr 24 '13 at 23:54
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    $\begingroup$ I think it should be possible to hide/ignore closed questions. And maybe even question that are downvoted (with negative score for example). That would make this a better solution to the problem. $\endgroup$ – Kasper Apr 26 '13 at 1:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Kasper, that could be detrimental in the following case: new user posts "low quality" question, which is immediately closed. Standard boilerplate comment is copy-pasted, and the user makes appropriate changes to bring the question up to quality standards. At this point, the question should be reopened. It would be harder for passersby to act on this if the question were invisible. $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 Apr 27 '13 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ Another concern, related to your second one, is that the increasing volume of questions (irrespective of quality) decreases the amount of attention/views each question gets. This means both that (1) the question-asker of a good/interesting question gets fewer potential answerers to look at it, and that (2) even a good answer gets fewer people to see/appreciate/upvote/correct/dispute it, so giving answers is slightly less satisfying. (This might be slightly counterbalanced by an increase in the number of active users, but I don't think that's happening to a sufficient extent.) $\endgroup$ – ShreevatsaR Apr 28 '13 at 4:27
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    $\begingroup$ This is a significant issue. I have found this site to be significantly less interesting than it used to be. The number of very low quality questions is a real turn-off. $\endgroup$ – Cheerful Parsnip May 1 '13 at 1:41
  • $\begingroup$ What about making levels for MathSE? I mean, M1 including elementary and pre-... questions and M2 including some higher and so on. $\endgroup$ – mrs May 1 '13 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ For me, Qiaochu's remark:".. will drive away..." surely fits well. I feel a bit as in the famous "broken window" situations. Still I'm going to ask and answer, but my enthusiasm decreases much more than it would happen by the (well familiar) experience of getting-used-to-something and sometimes I've to keep myself to not to submit destructive answers/comments - which is something I never experienced in my 13-years usenet-interaction. Because I like a high politeness standard(?correct word) in receiving but also in exposing myself to others (... a prerequisite in ... $\endgroup$ – Gottfried Helms May 3 '13 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ (... a prerequisite in a constructive, creative, friendly and humorous setting) I'm reducing my involvemet a lot here. Let it only be that simple fact, that you won't see any answer longer than a couple of hours on the first page of 50 questions. It's not the software, which helps to organize the reading through a growing load of sand in such a desert of material to find and organize your interesting threads. But that's just, for what software was invented: to organize loads of data to allow an focused and easy access. It seems to me intentionally that there is no discussion of improvement. $\endgroup$ – Gottfried Helms May 3 '13 at 18:17

We might start by asking:

How do we measure the quality of questions?

To me, it's the presence (or absence) of motivation and effort.

Using this metric, I frequently vote - up and down - on questions. For similar underlying philosophical reasons, I also frequently upvote answers to these questions that are "hints" and downvote those that are "spoonfeeding".

I also vote to close a lot of questions.

What else can we do? Most of us can only vote: up, down, close. I have waited for a few years for a "consolidated policy" to come together, and none has. Everyone is in disagreement!

So my solution is personal; I vote a lot. It's the only meaningful expression of my puny political voice on this site, and I encourage everyone else to do the same.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm fairly new on here, but this is a good idea. $\endgroup$ – user70962 Jun 6 '13 at 8:13

I think the best way to reduce the number of low-quality questions is to stop answering them. Unfortunately, many attract answers because they are relatively easy. As a solution, closing them has a couple of problems: it takes a while, so that the question often has answers before it's closed (and so a drive-by asker doesn't care), and it seems decidedly unfriendly to new users who just don't know what's expected.

To address these, I have a proposal for a new software feature: putting questions "on hold."

It should be relatively easy for any established user (2000 rep?) to put a question on hold; it must be accompanied by a comment explaining how the question needs to be improved.

While the question is on hold, it cannot be answered, and does not show up on the lists of recent questions. (Possibly, any existing answers are hidden as well?)

The question is taken off hold automatically whenever it's edited.

The idea is this: someone posts a typical homework-type question ("Prove that the identity map on a topological space is continuous.") An established user reading it can quickly add a comment ("Please expand on what you know about this problem and where you get stuck") and put it on hold. Then the asker can't get an answer until they attempt to improve their question. If they edit it, the assumption is that they made an honest effort at improvement. If it's found that it's still low-quality, it can be put on hold again, or if no effort is being made, the question will be closed in the normal way.

It should have friendlier connotations ("Your question is worthwhile, but here's some things we want you to do before we look at it") than closure does.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I really don't think this solves anything. Since taking a question off hold required virtually no effort, it would seem to have no value as a mechanism to enforce quality. And once the holding-game has been gamed, we're back at square one and voting to close. Should closures come in concert with comments explaining the situation? Yes, I agree. But beyond this courtesy I don't think we should worry ourselves too much about whether some user who just posted »prove Q is not finitely generated« thinks we're being unfair/unkind. $\endgroup$ – user642796 Apr 25 '13 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ +1: This is definitely a problem. Some other causes are people wanting to show off, or to one-up other, more appropriate answers. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Apr 26 '13 at 4:52
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    $\begingroup$ Besides being rather pointless, this is yet another attempt to limit other users’ ability to answer questions. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 26 '13 at 16:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Brian: It is a good thing to limit other users' ability to answer questions, so long as we maximize the limitation on the answers we don't want, and minimize the limitation on the answers we do want. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Apr 26 '13 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Brian: And it is hard to be sympathetic to a desire to allow people to answers questions that the site doesn't actually want to be here. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Apr 26 '13 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl: No, it is not a good thing. // The site has no desires at all: it’s users do, and these desires do not always coincide. The difference between yours and mine in this instance is that yours would limit my freedom to engage in the primary function of this site — answering questions — while mine does not limit your freedom to do so. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 26 '13 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ Of course your desires limit my freedom to answer questions. If I can't find a question I want to answer because it's lost in the sea of junk, then I can't answer it. If the question I want to answer isn't asked because the author avoided MSE due to having a reputation as a junk heap, then I can't answer it. If nobody reads my answer because people use MSE as a paper mill and only look at canned solutions, then I might as well haven't answered it. If my sense of academic integrity forces me to leave MSE, I can't answer any questions. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Apr 27 '13 at 5:23
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    $\begingroup$ How do you divine the desires of "the site"? In Qiaochu's recent question there are 23 +votes on a comment saying that even the least-obtrusive deviation from the status quo "would damage the site but anything is better than a closing policy" ; 26 votes for "your implication that cut-paste questions involve cheating is false and offensive"; and under another question, 13 for "ban proposals that ban valid mathematical questions". There is substantial fragmentation of opinion on many aspects of these matters. E.g., the pro-closing people do not agree on HW vs CPHQ vs (let us pray) CPQ. $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 27 '13 at 6:24
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    $\begingroup$ If you can't find questions you want to answer, and CPQ that would be deleted is on the order (by your estimate) of maybe 5 to 20 percent, how does that help you finally? Why the agitas about homework when under your most optimistic predictions, the efficiency gained in selecting material you like is fairly light, and less (in my opinion) than what would be gained by improvements on the titles, tags and references front. There is not a peep about those on meta from the people who seriously suggest that 75 percent of questions can be drowned in a sea of the 10 percent. @Hurkyl $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 27 '13 at 6:40
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx: I have no "agitas" about homework. Let me know when you decide to stop pretending that the people who are pushing for a small step towards a reasonable policy on low quality questions are anti-homework, let me know. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Apr 27 '13 at 9:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Kundor: I do not in general find that such information has any effect on how interesting I find a question. It may help me to provide a more useful answer, but for me the interest is inherent in the question. The interest may be mathematical, or it may be paedagogical, but it's in the question and not usually in the context. And I can find the interesting questions pretty quickly just by scanning the Questions page(s), even without filtering. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 27 '13 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx I'm not sure these gentlemen make unsubstantiated claims. There are people like Mark Sapir who outright state the would never visit MSE because of its treatment of homework. Asaf and Hurkyl are moderates. Hurkyl's response to Brian pointed to potential effects of laissez faire policy that might hinder him from answering questions. And please stop relating this stuff to grand politics. Sometimes, I think you describe everyone who disagree with you as the MSE equivalent of Dick Cheney. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Apr 27 '13 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl: I’ve not seen anyone make any such arguments. I have seen you misrepresent reasonable arguments. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 27 '13 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx: If you want to make MSE a paper mill to effect some form of civil disobedience (what's the right term when it's not directed at the government?), I suppose you're free to try, but I can't imagine you will get much support for such a crusade. It's interesting you try to distinguish essays from homework, because the canonical term for what you propose is derived from supplying essays ready to be handed in. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Apr 29 '13 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx Are you seriously claiming that there is no good reason to put a deadline on homework assignments? $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 30 '13 at 13:12

I think that being able to filter the question which are typically found as an exercise in a mathematical book, could solve part of the problem here. Some people would say that those question should be tagged as homework, but according to the topic, this is not true: What is a homework question?

It's homework if

  1. You're a student, and

  2. Your teacher told you to do it, and

  3. You're expected to do it on your own, or report any help you got on it.

And according to this topic: Proper use of the (homework) tag redux

I and many other users consider it inappropriate to tag another user's question as homework unless they have explicitly said it is homework.

Therefore, the questions tagged as homework are a (proper) subset of the questions typically found as an exercise in mathematical book. I think there are many reason to add a new tag, for example called "book-exercise" to cover this complete set of questions.

For example. it is considered inappropriate to tag another user's question as homework, but I don't think it would be inappropiate to tag another user's question as an book exercise. I think such a new tag would do a much better job in filtering these kind of questions.

  • $\begingroup$ Not all the questions copied verbatim from book exercises are bad and in fact there are some really interesting. +1 I like your idea, but instead of add a new tag I think it's better to add in somewhere (FAQ or meta), that questions which are from books must indicate the book they come from. For example a header: "This is question xx on page yyy from book Some Book by Some Author". That way, knowing which the book is, you can infer some more things, and if you woul add information to a question to indicate that it come from a book, why not spend a bit more to say from which book? $\endgroup$ – leo Apr 27 '13 at 17:08
  • $\begingroup$ There’s often room for argument as to whether something qualifies, but on the whole I think that this would help those whose primary goal is better filtering. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 27 '13 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ @leo: Not all ‘book questions’ actually come from specific books. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 27 '13 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott I was referring to the questions copied exactly as they are in the book. I thought that the whole answer was about this. You're right. $\endgroup$ – leo Apr 27 '13 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott Exactly, I think better fitlering is the most easy solution as it comes to problem of increasing number of question. I do think this is a problem as question get a shorter and shorter attention span. Those book-exercise questions have the luck of getting often more then one answer. Therefore they are likely to get much more views, then many of those more advanced questions. I think some of those questions will be already at page 2 within 20 min, quite sad IMO. $\endgroup$ – Kasper Apr 27 '13 at 17:23

This suggestion involves changes in the SE platform, so I am far from holding my breath.

I find it surprising that a site of this level of sophistication, and which clearly has plenty of employees tinkering with the platform on a nearly constant basis, does not provide viewing options for users. In particular:

$\bullet$ The "ignored" tags currently work in a rather anemic way: questions with these tags still appear on the page, only in very light-face text. This succeeds in creating some tendency for the eye to slide past them (but probably to a variable degree depending on the user) but does not increase the rate at which users can see desirable questions. I only ignore a few tags, but I would imagine that for users who ignore a large number of tags, each page would be a sea of light-face questions populated by little islands of actual questions. Why not allow, as an option, ignored tags to truly be ignored?

$\bullet$ Dually it would be nice if there were an option to only see questions with favorited tags.

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ It is possible to completely hide tags by checking a box in one's preferences. Someone has also made some scripts to only display favorites or to not hide favorite tags when they are used together with ignored ones. I will find a link when I am not on a tablet. $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 30 '13 at 23:18
  • $\begingroup$ @TobiasKildetoft, Were you thinking of this? $\endgroup$ – Antonio Vargas Apr 30 '13 at 23:20
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm, not only did I not know about this, I didn't even know there were preferences. That's what I was asking for in my answer above. Armed with this knowledge I was able to find and click on something tiny on my user page. Thanks a lot! $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Apr 30 '13 at 23:28
  • $\begingroup$ @AntonioVargas that plus the answer linked in the last comment to the answer you link. $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 30 '13 at 23:28
  • $\begingroup$ Although there is no built-in option to see only favorite tags, there is an option to see more questions with favorite tags, by opening the undocumented tab interesting. (See also here). $\endgroup$ – 75064 Apr 30 '13 at 23:50
  • $\begingroup$ @TobiasKildetoft I was not aware of the hide ignored tags feature. Plenty thanks. $\endgroup$ – user17762 May 1 '13 at 0:16
  • $\begingroup$ I just found that there is a way to see only questions with favorited tags: bookmarking favorite tags filter does the trick. One does not need to login to stackexchange.com itself; being logged in to Math.SE appears to be enough for the filter to work. The downside is that the results are displayed with default theme, rather than with Math.SE theme, and without MathJax processing. $\endgroup$ – 75064 May 5 '13 at 5:18

Simply put, my reply to

What should we do with the questions?


Answer them.

I don't think the number of questions here is too overwhelming. If you are horrified by what we observe here, check out Stack Overflow, where new questions might drop down to page two unnoticed between page refreshes ... We are here still in the lucky situation that hardly any question manages to stay unanswered (admittedly, there's but about a dozen of tumbleweed badges "awarded" each day)

A nice amount of questions also helps make sure that the range of topics remains broad enough to cover all levels (as intended)

  • $\begingroup$ And even if my definition of interesting were quite a bit narrower than it is, I could still honestly say that I find lots of interesting questions. Of course you find some of them first ... :-) $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott May 5 '13 at 15:30

As others have said, improving the quality should help to reduce the quantity. So how about adding a checklist on the page where you ask questions? You have to manually tick each point on the checklist in order to be able to post a question.

The checklist could include the sorts of things that new users tend to fail to do. "Have you checked to see if your question has been asked before?", "If this is a homework question, have you tagged it as such?", "Have you included information on your own attempt at answering your question?", etc.

The checklist requirement could then be removed at a certain number of points, so that regular users aren't stuck with having to do it manually every time. But it should help to filter out people who don't put any effort at all into the questions.

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ My understanding is that SE will only allow such things to happen if they happen across all of the SE sites (they value the experience being relatively uniform across the network), and this kind of policy would kill smaller sites. I think all we can really do is change our standards for voting and closing. $\endgroup$ – Qiaochu Yuan Apr 25 '13 at 6:42

One thing to think about is what has happened to MathOverflow over this period - there is a stricter discipline there now with a very clear focus on research level.

The first of the FAQ says

Mathematics - Stack Exchange is for people studying mathematics at any level and professionals in related fields.

It depends what is meant by the "quality of questions" - but I would suggest that if "at any level" is retained, that would include people without the mathematical knowledge or maturity to pose a perfect question in the first place.

So part of the issue is whether the level of demand on this site is such that it could usefully be split into a higher level and a lower level so that there would be three levels rather than the current two. The challenge of doing this would be to find moderators and regular answerers for the lower level site - while I note a number of regulars on here seem to enjoy the coaching aspect of making comments and framing good answers, they might not be attracted to a pool of "lower quality" material.

I would suggest that one of the of the reasons that MathOverflow is successful in quality control is that this site provides a good alternative place for people to go to get their questions answered.

In short, tighter moderation and quality control effectively adjusts the supply of answers. The other side of the question would be what to do with the demand which is so evident in the current volume of questions.

As an aside - Personally I am busier on other things, so less engaged here than I was - but also it is harder to find questions which are interesting to me.

  • 10
    $\begingroup$ One of the things that I like about MSE is that I can go from coaching someone through a very elementary combinatorics problem to helping someone fill in the gaps in an argument in a research paper in topology. I like the variety. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 27 '13 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ I don't see this problem. If you cannot coherently formulate a question, the math level may be too high relative to the poster, but there are still thing the poster could ask about. If someone has problems adding three and four apples but knows how to solve the equivalent problem for oranges, there is enough to work with. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Apr 28 '13 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott You were one of the people I was thinking about ... $\endgroup$ – Mark Bennet Apr 28 '13 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelGreinecker I don't have a personal problem with this. But it does seem to lie behind some of the dissatisfaction about so-called question quality. High school students might, for example, be asking questions about real numbers in the absence of any clear understanding of a rigorous definition - let alone the issues involved in a good definition of the reals. I wanted to point out that this might be the case, rather than to suggest that it is necessarily wrong. $\endgroup$ – Mark Bennet Apr 28 '13 at 20:59

Normally, one would see the growing volume of questions as a sign of success. I do not perceive a decline in the overall quality of questions and discussions on the forum. I think this site is doing a great job of fulfilling its objectives.


The first thing is that this site is open to everyone, I strongly doubt if there is an age limit (correct me if I am wrong). From grade school math to high school math to college math to post graduate studies and research works. This difference in level/difficulty can upset some people who are looking to involve only in a certain difficulty. If we take some statistics and find out that the community has a higher percentage of high school students for example, these students will (most probably) only be able to answer and post questions at high school level thus leading to a vast amount of questions in high school level which may render the community low in quality to some people, most probably of higher level.

Looking at the period of the year where the site receives higher traffic, I couldn't get any stats here from http://data.stackexchange.com/ but using a simple logic; if this site has a higher percentage of college students, one will observe that the traffic of their activities will depend on the situation of schools around the world. When school resumes, there will be low activity. Close to mid terms, traffic reduces and close to finals, the traffic explodes.

I am not saying that the only thing people come to MSE to do is school work but if this site has 60% high school + college students, then pick an average student from high school or college and ask him why he would be interested in a site like MSE. The first thing his mind would go to is probably homework or classwork or study for exam. in this situation, we all know how wild the media is these days, if one student finds out a trick on how to get his homework done here lazily, he will most definitely share this trink with his other friends and then the trend will go on and the percentage increases and quality reduces.

Moving up to a higher level with post graduate, research works and professors. in this situation, I would compare MSE with SO and SuperUser SE. These two sites involve a large percentage of members that have almost constant interaction with the subject of the community everyday of their lives. Take for example in the summer one would find less of high school and college students here on MSE because well, it's summer and everyone should be on break. But a user in SO or SuperUser didn't stop using his gadget and probably didn't stop coding and then wouldn't need an homework to encounter a problem or situation that will bring him to the club. The same goes to post graduates and researchers and professors here on MSE, Maths is no longer a school subject to them, it's now their life so their traffic on the site won't vary much from time to time. To some people Math is work, to some a burden, to some fun, to some it is their life and each and everyone of us must go through Maths in life to have a formal education. In this situation the question is; What percentage of the community do they hold?

If the percentage is high like on MO then it is good for everyone and most people will agree on the quality of the community. But if the percentage is low in comparison with school and college students then there may be a problem. there may be a problem because members in this higher level are the voices and leaders of the community and the community is seen through their eyes so if the community is filled with high school and college students who ask questions that is way lower than their level, they may tend to believe that the community has a low quality and this belief can spread.

In summary, it is difficult to find a solution that will make this community interesting for anyone as the number of users explodes without chasing away some users. One solution may be to split the site into various branches of Mathematics but then Mathematics wouldn't have a meaning. Another solution may be to enforce a tag that denotes the level/difficulty of the question as presumed by the asker. Of course these level must follow a well defined norm and moderators and editors will be able to correct a wrongly placed question. Just because the difficulty level of a question is easy shouldn't necessarily mean the answerer can't upgrade the level of his answer but must do so after having successfully answered the asker's question to his level of understanding. In this way, users who feel some questions are low in quality because of their difficulty can easily filter them out.

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    $\begingroup$ SE has an age limit; children under 13 (or is it 13 and under?) are not allowed (for liability reasons IIRC). $\endgroup$ – Qiaochu Yuan May 2 '13 at 0:19
  • $\begingroup$ @QiaochuYuan I thought as much. I just searched through the terms and it says $<13$. $\endgroup$ – user31280 May 2 '13 at 0:31
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    $\begingroup$ At least for me, the coexistence of different branches of math and the great variety in difficulty of questions is precisely what makes this site interesting. It is refreshing to alternate between tricky questions in area A (about which I know something) and basic questions in area B (about which I know very little). If the site were to be divided at all, I'd rather see it split by purpose, as reddit: they have /r/learnmath and /r/cheatatmathhomework. The former bans "Do this for me" posts; the latter takes everything. $\endgroup$ – 75064 May 2 '13 at 0:39

math.SE is experiencing a much bigger load of questions than it used to

I think the solution is specialisation. In particular, just as usenet used to have separate groups for statistics, geometry, algebra etc ... I think the general math.stackexchange.com branch is far too general, that it is handling vastly too many postings, and that it should be subdivided into more specialised groups such as:

stats.stackexchange.com   (which already exists)

The use of tags for things like probability and random variables and pdf etc etc etc ... does not alter the fact that these subjects belong in their own separate group.


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