There have been a couple of questions of of the form "tell me everything about topic X". See for example:

The first question got a number of great answers. Still I have a feeling that questions like this are too non-specific to be answered in a QA site and their answers are likely to be elaborate enough and require large enough effort that they would do better as a page on Wikipedia, if such a page doesn't exist already.

Also I feel that the askers of such questions are being lazy by not attempting to read Wikipedia/books and trying to learn things on their own before making demands on others' time. If they don't know where to start then their question should ask for references.

Mathoverflow FAQ says "Mathoverflow is not an encyclopedia". Should we adopt the same principle here?

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    $\begingroup$ we should not be an encyclopedia! Nor a machine for turning questions into wikipedia links. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 23:27
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    $\begingroup$ Isn't this what community wiki is for? Maybe not the second one, which is poorly stated, but the first one has attracted a lot of different information explained different ways (something Wikipedia doesn't typically do). Actually, why isn't the first one CW? I'd add an answer about hyperreals and quaternions if it were, since nobody addressed those. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 4:54

1 Answer 1


MO is already an encyclopedia when coupled with search capability. Its own (primitive) internal search, plus a search engine, usually suffice. A few years of accumulation and MO will have comprehensive answers to most of the questions that might arise in graduate school. It is at most a year before professors start listing MO as a standard resource/reference for algebraic geometry classes.

The same is in process for math.SE. So I think the question is how to crystallize the knowledge disclosed in postings, into useful aggregates not necessarily prompted by questions. Such extracts and compilations could be considered an encyclopedia of sorts. Without performing any aggregation there is still the quasi-encyclopedia of searchable Q & A content.

This is a separate matter from whether trolling and trawling CW questions should be discouraged. I suspect that opinions will vary widely on the latter which means it is here to stay.


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