There were several discussions about possible solutions of large increase in quantity of questions; with too many rather elementary questions. The possibility of dividing the site so that there is one site for elementary questions, one site somewhere between the first one and MO and, additionally, there is MO for research level problems. This was proposed for example in Hurkyl's answer here (now deleted). Some time ago there was proposal for postgrad mathematics site at area51.

There are several obvious problems with this proposal. (What would happen with reputation from this site? Which of the two - or more - sites, would be continuation of this one? Where is the line between elementary and more advanced questions?) The users who wish to see the more elementary question too would have to visit two sites instead of one. (But this one does not seem that problematic to me, since many people here already frequent several sites anyway.) The new site would also have to go through to whole process at area51, we would need to find moderators, etc.

So I don't really think that this proposal is feasible; but since it was brought up several times (I have mentioned two occurrences I was able to locate), we may at least discuss it briefly. (So that we are sure about the position of the MSE community on this and, if suggestion like this appears again, we can link to this thread.)

  • What do you think? Would splitting the sites have some merit? Can you imagine that this would help solve some of the problems we are facing now?
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    For the record, my proposal (which was meant rhetorically, and was only accidentally posted as an answer rather than as a comment) was for a homework / not homework split, rather than an elementary / advanced split. – Hurkyl Apr 27 '13 at 6:08
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    there's already artofproblemsolving, mse, and mathoverflow. I asked a similar question before: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/8396/… – AlanH Apr 27 '13 at 6:43
  • I posted some similar reflection on the other thread about number of questions before I saw this. If there is a capacity constraint on MSE and demand is higher than this, then means have to be found to keep within capacity - but this does not affect the level of demand, it just pushes it away. How to deal with the excess demand depends on what is driving that demand. – Mark Bennet Apr 27 '13 at 11:52
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    I do appreciate the desire to more easily find less elementary questions, but I don't know what we could do about that. – Alexander Gruber Apr 27 '13 at 12:05
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    I think MSE is excellent precisely because it caters for all levels, from relatively basic high-school stuff right on through to advanced postgrad and research questions. It all goes. (It works, I think, because of a sort of knock-on effect. High school student H has a question. It is answered by an undergrad U. Undergrad U came here because he also had a question, which was answered by postgrad PG. Postgrad PG came here because he too had a question which was answered by Professor P. Professor P came here because he has an ego the size of Mars.) – user1729 Apr 28 '13 at 14:12
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    What if a professor came here as a high school student? (Suppose it's a Harvey Friedman sort of phenomenon) :-) – Asaf Karagila Apr 28 '13 at 20:31
up vote 30 down vote accepted

The site is already split in a way, as MathOverflow handles research-level questions and Math.SE everything. To play devil's advocate, why would splitting it into essentially three sites be enough? Shouldn't it be split into elementary school math, high school math, undergraduate and graduate math?

So I don't think it is at all obvious where one would draw the line separating two sites. And my prediction if such a split happens is that there would be a lot of confusion on where questions belong, a lot of migration between sites and a lot of associated drama because people can't agree on where questions belong.

The major drawback to "beginnner" sites is the question "who are the experts there that can answer the questions?". You need a healthy number of users capable of providing good answers, if you don't have that it will result in low quality or even no answers, and the site will fail.

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    I suppose the response to your "who are the experts?" question is the presumption that the experts who want to talk about elementary topics would go there to be answerers rather than questioners. Re where to draw the line, wouldn't volume be the guide? – Hurkyl Apr 27 '13 at 9:06
  • From the number of upvotes it seems that most users agree with this answer, so I have accepted this one. – Martin Sleziak May 2 '13 at 7:02

Edit: as MadScientist notes below, the chances of the "solution" given in this answer is unlikely to be implemented widely.


I was going to fly this by the other Mods before posting this on Meta, but now we have a rather on-topic situation for the following, so here goes:

By Introduce sub-communities (or “Portals”) to prevent fragmentation it seems that something similar (but different) has been done on StackOverflow. If there's sufficient interest and demand, and considering the large and growing volumes of questions on this site, it is not inconceivable that we can convince SE to give us "portals". This does not directly address the "splitting" issue you posed, but provides a possible alternative.

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    Are these portals anything like wormholes, or do they just open cans of worms? :-) (+1 on the suggestion, by the way, I was wondering about this sort of feature) – Asaf Karagila Apr 29 '13 at 8:26
  • +1 It will be probably question for a separate discussion, whether to implement this here or not and what would constitute the portals, if want to create them. But it is great to know about such possibility. (And it seems a much more reasonable solution than the one I've posted in the OP.) – Martin Sleziak Apr 29 '13 at 8:31
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    BTW if someone wants to learn more about how the portals work, browsing through the questions tagged mini-site on meta.SO seems like a reasonable possibility. While doing that, I found Are more mini-sites coming? and How to build my own XXXX.stackoverflow.com Q&A?, which leave the impression that SE is not very keen on creating new mini-sites. – Martin Sleziak Apr 29 '13 at 10:19
  • I have always thought that this functionality is essentially served by tags. I rarely step outside the [group-theory] tag, and this suits me fine. I quite like it. I worry that splitting stuff up into portals will mean I will have to search around for group theory questions, which sounds like a bit too much of hassel... – user1729 Apr 29 '13 at 13:14
  • @user1729: actually, looking at how the portals work for facebook.stackoverflow.com, it seems that all questions will still show-up at math.stackexchange.com. The portal, say, analysis.math.stackexchange.com will show only those questions tagged with real/complex/functional analysis and related stuff. That is to say, the option of seeing everything is not removed, but the option of seeing only a well-defined subset is now available. – Willie Wong Apr 29 '13 at 14:17
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    I am not too keen on portals myself (it will be a pain to manage which tags go where); but I would personally prefer that to splitting up the site. – Willie Wong Apr 29 '13 at 14:18
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    @user1729: one can think of portals as a beefed up version of "show only favourite tags" instead of the currently available "hide ignored tags". – Willie Wong Apr 29 '13 at 14:19
  • So...portals are basically meta-tags. The analysis portal will include everything tagged [real-analysis], and everything tagged [complex-analysis]. So I can go on using my [group-theory] and will not notice a difference, but if I wanted to broaden out into [abstract-algebra] in general I could just go the portal. Okay. This sounds rather like the research "themes" that EPSRC (and hence my uni) are pushing at the moment...(but, unlike themes, I am unsure if I think portals are bad then...) – user1729 Apr 29 '13 at 14:25
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    The whole Facebook.SE thing is considered a failed experiment by most, including SE employees. I strongly doubt we'll see this feature used again on any SE site in the near future. – Mad Scientist Apr 29 '13 at 20:37
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    @MadScientist: ahh, thanks for the clarification. – Willie Wong Apr 30 '13 at 9:01

I think we should let things take care of themselves. There are indeed many questions being asked every day and the lack of upvotes on some really good answers speaks volumes about the volume of traffic.

But suppose we did the split the site into two- one for elementary questions(let's call it E), the other for more difficult questions(call it A). Then who will answer questions in E ? Most people past high school level will prefer to post in A and E may die out or become a place for high intensity of spam. We will lose the audience who can be classified as people belonging more to E. We better not split the sites. A site like the www.artofproblemsolving.com stands to gain from this move.

Rather than splitting this site, what if we began directing more elementary questions to sites which already have a userbase dedicated to answering them, such as reddit.com/r/learnmath and associated subreddits?

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    But apparently, many Math.SE questions would not meet the quality standard of reddit. "Not allowed: • "Do this for me" posts. • Posting of quizzes or lists of questions. • One-sentence posts." Also, my impression is that it's not the level of questions that's an issue (MSE is open to all levels, and had many nice elementary questions and answers) as the "do this for me" nature of so many recent questions. – 75064 Apr 30 '13 at 21:25

I think it would be a good idea to split MSE into:

  • Undergraduate Mathematics
  • Graduate Mathematics

Where undergraduate mathematics contains everything that is not at graduate level. So also highschool etc. Of course there will always be a grey line, but I don't think that is a real problem. I guess some questions should be allowed at both websites, but for the majority of topics it is very clear if it is on graduate or undergraduate level.

Please feel free to upvote/downvote if you agree/disagree. Especially if you downvote, please comment about which problem will arise with such a construction.

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    (-1) The problems that I have with this suggestion are IMO sufficiently spelled out in Richard Nash's and Mad Scientist's answer. – Lord_Farin Apr 27 '13 at 13:25
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    AFAIK the word undergraduate is often used in two different meanings; roughly speaking one of them is before acquiring bachelor's degree; other possible meaning is before acquiring master's degree. I guess you meant the first possibility. – Martin Sleziak Apr 27 '13 at 13:27

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