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I haven't been a member on here for all that long of a period of time, but I would like to point out some things that I have observed that some may be overlooking. I have visited the site a large number of times before joining I would like to mention as well.

First of all, from the comments to most of the posts I have seen over the last couple of days on meta, nobody really wants to see anything from anyone new on MSE. Some are belligerent about it while a few others are perhaps less aware of their attitude, but it exists. I came here because I was already in the stack exchange community, a cross affiliation from my time I spend working with Ubuntu. I am also an applied math major and at my school that means taking grad classes regularly, so I'm not that far down the totem pole in that respect either. There seems to be alot of bitterness, especially regarding the homework problems situation. While I understand that many people may be looking for a handout it is unfair to assume that is the case for anybody asking a homework question, or help understanding or clarifying some aspect of a particular area. Some people do make an effort, just saying. Call me crazy, but I kinda feel unwanted here, and I may be, in which case I will gladly leave. MSE should be as much about camaraderie as about solving particular problems. I have seen many of my own friendships grow with peers as we explore some particular problem together. I would suggest that perhaps as a community, more "communing" could be done.
Anyways, if you read this far thanks, hope you'll consider what I've said if you've unfairly been a jerk to someone who didn't deserve it recently.

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    $\begingroup$ Your observation about "alot of bitterness" is correct. This is a function of time, so there's hope it reached its maximum already and will decay over time. ¶ I don't see why you personally feel unwanted, though. Clicking through to your main site activity, I found one question, which already had an upvote from me and was in my "favorites". (I tend to mark questions as favorites and then hope someone else answers... I'm lazy like that.) $\endgroup$ – 75064 May 5 '13 at 4:24
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    $\begingroup$ It is basic etiquette all over the world that when a stranger asks you a question, the reply should begin with some variation on the words "what have you tried?", "is this homework?", "what are your thoughts?", CLOSED, "do your own work", "you have not met our quality standards", or "mend your ways or don't come back". People on MSE sometimes forget that. If only those greetings were used more often, I think everyone could feel right at home. $\endgroup$ – zyx May 5 '13 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ And, of course, to get help from your professor, you should walk into his office, place your homework sheet in front of him, and silently wait for him to give you the answer. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl May 5 '13 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx Do you know the feeling when you are at a party, nipping beer and a stranger approaches you and says to you "Prove that every continuous function from the closed unit interval to the reals is uniformly continuous." What do you do in these situations? $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker May 5 '13 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ I have no problem with people asking OPs "what have you tried". I just wish they would do this more politely! (I find copied-and-pasted comment rude, but it is better than just silently closing the question...) $\endgroup$ – user1729 May 5 '13 at 13:41
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    $\begingroup$ I should also say that I regularly recommend my students to ask their question here. They do not want to because they see the community as too snobbish. I think we have a problem... $\endgroup$ – user1729 May 5 '13 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ In particular, the "does not meet our quality standards" comment makes me shudder, partly because of the bureaucratese, but mainly because it could be interpreted as speaking for me. $\endgroup$ – André Nicolas May 5 '13 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 That does sound like a problem. Here's a possible fix: suggest that they answer 2-3 questions before posting their first question. Nobody tells WHYT to answerers, and in the process they will get used to the site and also get rid of the rep=1 indicator. Answering questions here may be more useful anyway. ¶ #Tristen: Since your profile says "send me a line", I'll point out that SE sites have no direct messaging feature, and the email address you entered is not shown to other users. So, if no SE users ever contact you directly, it's not necessarily because they are antisocial. $\endgroup$ – 75064 May 5 '13 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729: I see your problem. But this is the way internet forums work. Whichever forum you join, you are well advised to lurk for a little while. Then you will learn about "house rules" and about the way the regulars post. If you just "crash the party", you may easily cross a few lines, and it makes sense that the regulars will let you know about your faux pas! I know that there are many "anything goes" chat forums in the web, but Math.SE is not one of those. I kind of like it that way. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen May 5 '13 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen I understand this, and I too like the rigid structure of MSE. I initially was surprised when my students told me that they were afraid to come here, but when I thought about it a bit more then I began to understand why. I do not think the structure is the problem. Personally, I think the site is too harsh to those coming here. My view of MSE is of a lecturer's or professor's office hours. In such situations the student has obligations but so does the professor. They should be polite and helpful, and so on...(cont.) $\endgroup$ – user1729 May 5 '13 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ ...and I wonder if MSE comes across as the professor who is unwilling to answer questions unless they are of a sufficient difficulty, or the professor who is constantly looking down his nose at students...I dunno. I cannot quite put my finger on anything specific, but taking a step back I think I can understand my students fears and reservations about this site. $\endgroup$ – user1729 May 5 '13 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ The difference is that when visiting a professor's office, you know who's gonna answer. Here it may be one of the bullies among upper classmen looking for his breakfast victim. I don't know the ideal way of resolving this, and my own feelings about this are continuously swinging. The resentment towards copy/pasted questions is genuine. May be it is also about fear? Fear of the site that was once largely populated by people taking math seriously becoming overrun by a horde. More advanced questions getting buried under the pile of calculus questions? $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen May 5 '13 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Jyrki: I have no trouble finding more questions that interest me and require non-trivial effort than I have time to think about — and being retired, I’ve lots of time to think about them. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott May 5 '13 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx Faculty are obliged to help their students; they are paid for it. SE network has no obligation to publish user-contributed content, such as questions. Their stated goal is to "build libraries of high-quality questions and answers". SE leaves the determination of what is a high-quality question to the members of each SE community. The members may reasonably decide that, e.g., "Find the inverse Laplace transform of $(3s+4)/(s^2-9)$" is not a high-quality question, and should not be included in the library. This is why they are given closing&deletion tools by SE. $\endgroup$ – 75064 May 5 '13 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ Whenever I'm new to any site I do a whole ton of reading before I do very much writing at all. Every site is a community, like a bunch of friends. There are inside jokes, ways of talking, etc. The best way to get involved is to watch and listen, then contribute when you know you have something new and valuable to contribute. On a site like this that means a lot of searching to see if someone has already asked an equivalent question or given a better answer. It's not just Math.SE that can seem cold to newcomers. Most forums I read are like that. $\endgroup$ – Todd Wilcox May 14 '13 at 19:44
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Some people do make an effort, just saying.

This -- along with some means of actually making this visible in one's question -- is all people have been asking for. We (meaning the "bitter" people) want people to ask questions like this, rather than like this.

The bitterness you refer to is that there has been a recent upheaval where it was realized that there's enough support for the opinion that we've allowed far too much junk on MSE to break the long-standing deadlock versus the opinion we want everything on MSE, and that didn't go pleasantly.

And so we're still in a transition period in the wake of that argument. I expect things to settle down as people get more acclimated to the change and can devote more effort towards working out the nuances of which questions require action and what that action should be.

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    $\begingroup$ Students can get stuck and have no idea how to proceed. For those who have been doing this a while, the idea of using a contour integral to find a Fourier Transform is almost second nature. However, for those just starting out, a gentle hint is all that is needed to answer the second question. Once they have tried the contour integral, they might amend their question with more specific difficulties. $\endgroup$ – robjohn May 5 '13 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ That's quite a self-serving summary of the "recent upheaval", but even if correct, the fact of a transition period (which I agree is taking place, at least on some matters) would suggest allowing the transition to take effect on its own and not posting threads whose apparent intent is to manipulate moderator elections. $\endgroup$ – zyx May 5 '13 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx: "threads whose apparent intent is to manipulate moderator elections"... what are you smoking and where can I get some? $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong May 6 '13 at 8:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Willie: I’m not convinced that this question was posted with conscious intent to manipulate the moderator elections, but it is certainly open to that interpretation and could have that effect whether intentionally so or not. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott May 6 '13 at 12:24
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    $\begingroup$ How is discussing whether something ought to be a topic for an election "manipulating" that election? Manipulation has a distinct negative connotation here (as in, involving methods that either due to legal or ethical reasons ought not be used). $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kildetoft May 6 '13 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Tobias: If you read the comments over there, you know the answer to your question. If you didn’t, your question is premature. (Whether you agree with those comments is a separate issue.) $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott May 6 '13 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott I have been reading the comments. And I don't disagree that the thread seems like an attempt to influence the election. But to me, using the word manipulation carries an implication of wrongdoing to some extend. $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kildetoft May 6 '13 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Tobias: I think that zyx intended the negative implication, and I think that it’s defensible, though — as I said in my comment — I’m not convinced that it’s correct. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott May 6 '13 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ (Are we getting derailed here?) TBH, I'm not even sure exactly what I'm supposed to be accused of, and haven't been particularly inclined to humor zyx and prompt for clarification. The (intended) extent of my "manipulations" was to throw out the idea of separating the moderator election from the PSQ topic(s), after having developed a concern that being a recent hot-button topic might cause it to influence the elections more than it actually deserves, and am surprised at the apparent negative reaction (unrelated (?) to zyx's accusations) to what I actually stated along those lines. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl May 6 '13 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott: I thought zyx was referring to this post here. If that's what he/she intended, it would've been clearer had he/she linked to the thread being referred to. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong May 7 '13 at 7:34
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    $\begingroup$ @WillieWong, I spoke of "posting threads" which in SE parlance means addition of new questions to the meta. So it seemed clear enough that it refers to something beyond this answer (which is also troubled, as it pre-empts large swaths of the discussions on meta by smugly declaring everything to have been settled, with only a few minor details left to be arranged). If you no longer stand behind your first inflammatory comment, you have the power to edit or delete it. It doesn't matter all that much how the comment votes go, but trolling for "this guy is crazy" upvotes doesn't help anything. $\endgroup$ – zyx May 8 '13 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott, I thought of explaining the remark with an answer in the other thread, but lacked the time and inclination. If this comment discussion is an indication of interest I might do it. The present answer is worse in some ways, and probably more worthy of comment, but is not out of line with the way site works. $\endgroup$ – zyx May 8 '13 at 22:12
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I browsed the list of new users and took a look at how they were received. Most did not post anything yet, but almost all of those who did received non-negative scores, and more often than not, answers. Even some less-than-stellar questions such as Find Laplace Transform of the function were answered. One question was downvoted and then upvoted twice: How can a matrix be Hermitian, unitary, and diagonal all at once

On the first two pages of "New Users" list I found just one user whose question was downvoted and closed (link removed, since the question was reopened).

Overall, I think the treatment of new users is not as rough as it appears from your post. (I admit that I have no data regarding unregistered users, who do not appear in the list.)


MSE should be as much about camaraderie as about solving particular problems. I have seen many of my own friendships grow with peers as we explore some particular problem together. I would suggest that perhaps as a community, more "communing" could be done.

Here I disagree. First of all, SE is not a social network. Even so, there is quite a bit of socializing going on in the main chat room, and it seems that a number of frequent users maintain contact via non-SE tools (facebook, email, skype, etc). Given that the channels for networking are so plentiful, it should be easy for us to stick to math on the main site.

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    $\begingroup$ The rest of your points are fine, but I disagree about the last paragraph. Math.SE is very much about social networking. At least for me (I don't have a facebook account and don't plan to get one). $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen May 5 '13 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ The community sense should extend from the common bond of interest in mathematics. $\endgroup$ – Tristen May 5 '13 at 11:07
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with your last comment. However, I actually disagree with your assessment of how new users are treated. Specifically, with regards to the question you cite which was downvoted and closed. Currently, the time stamps are: Question posed (10 hours ago). OP asked what they have tried (10 hours ago). OP provides satisfactory response (10 hours ago). This means, roughly, that within the hour the OP was showing a willingness to engage. And yet the question is closed! It does not make MSE seem friendly...(looking at the edits - moderator intervention? Seriously?!?) $\endgroup$ – user1729 May 5 '13 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ My point is, the default does seem to be "close". Even if this isn't the majority default, the fact is that it happens enough for new users (for example, Tristen, the OP here) to notice means we have a problem. $\endgroup$ – user1729 May 5 '13 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ @user1729 Tristen's observations apparently come "from the comments to most of the posts I have seen over the last couple of days on meta". The second comment under the question also states that. Sure, reading meta debates is not something I would recommend to new users. (Eric Naslund said something of the sort in his resignation post). $\endgroup$ – 75064 May 5 '13 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ @user75064 Ah, forgot about that part of his post. However, as I said in my comment to the question, whenever I suggest to my students that they ask questions here they do not want to. $\endgroup$ – user1729 May 5 '13 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ @user1729 I wonder if your students' reluctance has to do with Math.se specifically or online fora in general. Are they comfortable with asking at Yahoo Answers or Art of Problem Solving? $\endgroup$ – 75064 May 5 '13 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ @user75064 Just MSE. (And it isn't just a small subset of a single year group, and nor are they studying basic calculus.) $\endgroup$ – user1729 May 5 '13 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen Like editing Wikipedia, contributing to an SE site is a social activity. But SE is certainly not designed with social networking in mind; there is no way to send a message to another user, for example. So, if the OP finds the site not very social, it may be by design "This site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat." Of course I do not advocate going from "not very social" to "anti-social". $\endgroup$ – 75064 May 5 '13 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ I think sometimes there is quite a bit of chit-chat going on. I don't usually visit our chatroom (which is designed for that) because my time zone is what it is. But in the comments many jokes and anecdotes are shared, mutual cheering for each other takes place, professional courtesies are exchanged and such. Some would like the site to be all business, but we also like to add some levity given half a chance. Granted, the platform is not ideal for that, but it is good enough. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen May 5 '13 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ But conceding the point about the difference between social activity and social networking. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen May 14 '13 at 19:49
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Keep it short, this question Vector field on an odd sphere by this user https://math.stackexchange.com/users/52042/b11

He "pinged" me six times to answer his question. I had already given everything necessary in my first comment. After I said I had done enough, he serially downvoted me and Zev. This person sees MSE as an alternative to ever reading his book or working.

I think Asaf would know how to make up a list of probable students asking way too many questions.

The worry here seems to be about new users. Fine. With no visible track record, it would help to know the book and what material is in the chapter immediately preceding the question asked. This would tell me that the person asking has actually read the material immediately preceding the question.

Here is another winner, https://math.stackexchange.com/users/12796/victor Little interaction with me, I got weary early.

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    $\begingroup$ I sympathize: repeated pings of this kind are extremely obnoxious, apart from any integrity issues. There should be a way to walk away from a thread and never hear from it again. Hypothetically speaking: if you deleted your comment under the question, would the OP be able to ping you again? I could not find an answer in meta.SO thread on @replies. I know it's impossible to ping a user who never participated in the thread; I don't know what happens if the user participated but then removed their input from the thread. $\endgroup$ – 75064 May 5 '13 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ @user75064, I left it there. I won't say the pings failed to piss me off, but I did not have much trouble deciding what to do, which was to say that I had done enough. Years ago, I would regularly get caught giving some answer, then the OP (on MO or here) would say You haven't done enough, write more, and I would. Lately, not as much. $\endgroup$ – Will Jagy May 5 '13 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ I’m afraid that my reaction is So what? There are obnoxious people everywhere, and B11 is most unrepresentative of my experience. And I’ve little sympathy with complaints about Victor: he accepts answers, and he’s answered $13$ questions himself, with six acceptances. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott May 5 '13 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ Asaf doesn't know SQL (and has very little motivation to learn that too), so he is limited to the available data.SE queries, with the occasional minor modification. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila May 5 '13 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Brian, I was aware that you and I disagree on most MSE issues, certainly after your comments on Qiaochu's verbatim homework Meta proposals. I don't expect to convince many people of my viewpoint, but I do like to say it now and then. You hold the majority view, including the continuing moderators. Want to be moderator? It would involve less friction for you than for many others. $\endgroup$ – Will Jagy May 5 '13 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ I have had a lot of multiple-ping experiences (these are called help vampires on MSO) but this has been more the case with the eager, show-maximum-effort posters who are being held up as the model of good question etiquette. I am coming more and more to two ideas from experience on the site: -- not answering questions where there is any ambiguity about what is a complete answer --- and viewing "shown work" as a negative unless the OP wants the work analyzed (so if somebody does post their efforts, it is as logical as WHYT to ask, "do you want that examined or is it decoration?"). $\endgroup$ – zyx May 5 '13 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx, what is MSO? oh, and what is WHYT, perhaps what have you tried? I don't see any zyx on MO, do you use a different name? $\endgroup$ – Will Jagy May 5 '13 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ Meta Stack Overflow ( meta.stackoverflow.com/search?q=vampires ) and, yes, What Have You Tried. $\endgroup$ – zyx May 5 '13 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ Will, I am a frequent MO user but under a different name. Maybe the two profiles will get combined when MO changes to SE 2.0, maybe not. Since these sites are different religions, in some sense, I separate the identities. $\endgroup$ – zyx May 5 '13 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ I think we can save ourselves a lot of heartburn by simply recognizing why we are here on M.SE: because we enjoy math and people who enjoy math. I answer certain questions here because I love to solve the problems posed in those questions, and I love to interact with others on this site. As soon as it is no longer fun, I am done. I do not have a set limit, but when someone makes it clear that they are here because they do not like math, I will note their name and disappear. $\endgroup$ – Ron Gordon May 5 '13 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ Now, that same user has starting pinging people in other completely unrelated questions for help: math.stackexchange.com/a/382465/19440 $\endgroup$ – mrf May 5 '13 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ @mrf, there is also a Chat feature for MSE. This has, probably against system design, remained a single room where people drop in and later drop out. There are plenty of newcomers who put a question on Main and then bug people on Chat about it forever. $\endgroup$ – Will Jagy May 5 '13 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Ron: I sympathize, but I don’t myself actually mind helping those who don’t like mathematics if they’re willing to work at it. Some folks may remember a beginning calculus student whose name began with J who complained bitterly (and somewhat unreasonably) about the unreasonable expectations of his instructor and the author of his textbook but who posted a lot of questions and did actually persevere, if not always to very good effect; I can work with someone like that, though I could have done with less moaning. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott May 6 '13 at 3:44
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729, "They all hated maths, all claimed they were rubbish at it, and they are all going on to be maths teachers" - I now wonder how many "teachers" past and present were actually that way. *shudders* If you did manage to get through 'em, then good on you! $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician May 6 '13 at 10:46
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott: I think we are on the same page. I was complaining about the posters who do not want to work, but just want everything done for them. I totally enjoy working with people who are having a rough time grasping this or that concept, but are clearly giving it a go. $\endgroup$ – Ron Gordon May 8 '13 at 23:32
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I am sorry that you have not been feeling welcome here. I hope that this feeling will go away when you see how much "good" is actually going on here. And I hope that we might convince you that your feelings are mostly a misunderstanding.

You write:

...from the comments to most of the posts I have seen over the last couple of days on meta, nobody really wants to see anything from anyone new on MSE

Remember that we are all people here and we make mistakes. Some times our mistake is that we speak/write before we think. However, I don't see how comments given recently could give you the impression that we don't want to see anything from anyone new.

So let me be somebody who is now telling you that I want to see something from, in particular, new people.

There seems to be alot of bitterness, especially regarding the homework problems situation.

That is true, and again, the words spoken aren't always the best. As mentioned, we don't have anything against "new people", but it can be a bit frustrating when you see a question that just commands "do my homework". For me personally, there is an ethical problem here. As a teacher, I take cheating very serious, and I wouldn't not want my students seeking out someone else to actually do there homework. It is fine helping people with homework questions. In my opinion a student doesn't learn much from just being given a solution. Learning happens when the student has to think for him/herself. And it is hard for me to be a part of something if I have a feeling that it is ethical. If the word on the street is that "Over on Math.SE they just give the answer away, and I don't have to do anything. It is great, I don't even have to do my own homework anymore", then do I really want my name associated with that?

While I understand that many people may be looking for a handout it is unfair to assume that is the case for anybody asking a homework question, or help understanding or clarifying some aspect of a particular area. Some people do make an effort, just saying.

Yes! Lots of people do make an effort. I see plenty of good homework questions and I see a lot of good answers. No one (that I know of) is saying that all homework questions are bad in and of themselves. The problem is the question that shows absolutely no effort.

If I am to try and help you, then the best thing you can do is to tell me what the issue is. If you have a (homework) problem that you can't do, then tell me what it is about the problem that is causing trouble. If you have absolutely no thoughts about the problem, you could tell me what class the problem is from. Where did you come across the problem, and so on. Those questions, I would say, you should always be able to answer. And writing just a bit about where the problem comes from and a bit about your background ... well that is effort in my mind. I don't know your background. If you have never heard about the product rule, then it might not be that helpful for me just to show how you solve the problem using the product rule. I might want to tell you about the product rule.

Oh, and no offence taken :)

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    $\begingroup$ It has been a great pleasure to see how this discussion has played out. $\endgroup$ – Tristen May 5 '13 at 22:19
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Instead of "What have you tried?" perhaps we should write "If you show us what you have tried perhaps we can figure out how that can be the start of a solution." Oral statements have an associated tone of speech. Written statements lose the tone. A statement of some sort needs to indicate the tone.

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  • $\begingroup$ The words "quality standards" have a similar effect. To see how current practices are working, the daily closed list has examples like this ( math.stackexchange.com/questions/391115/convergence-tests ) and this ( math.stackexchange.com/questions/385739/graduate-linear ) . There is un-necessary antagonism and drama that can be avoided by silent methods like downvote, close vote, do nothing (and let others decide if they want to answer), add filterable tag. $\endgroup$ – zyx May 14 '13 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ @zyx I do not see how a downvote is helpful in such situations. $\endgroup$ – user1729 May 16 '13 at 10:10

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