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Q1: What is your view on the purpose, aims and benefits of MO?

Q2: What are your specific aim, targets and benefits in participation at MO?

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    $\begingroup$ Somewhat (and only somewhat) related thread on old tea (especially to Q2): tea.mathoverflow.net/discussion/1477/how-is-mo-useful-for-me $\endgroup$ – Yuichiro Fujiwara Dec 24 '13 at 8:25
  • $\begingroup$ An arxiv article arxiv.org/abs/1305.0904 "What does MATHOVERFLOW tell us about the production of mathematics?" Quote: Thus the power of mathoverflow comes from developing collective intelligence through sharing information and understanding. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Chervov Jan 24 '14 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ "The use and value of mathoverflow" Joel David Hamkins jdh.hamkins.org/the-use-and-value-of-mathoverflow $\endgroup$ – Alexander Chervov Jan 24 '14 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ Hamkins refs a meta question by Dorais "how is mathoverflow useful to me?" that got deleted, 404. too bad =(, wonder what happened to it...? ok guess it is same as 1st link above from YF under different url... $\endgroup$ – vzn Jan 30 '14 at 5:33
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    $\begingroup$ "Stop. Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.", you are missing a third question. Perhaps "What is the capital of Assyria?" or "What is the average air velocity of an unladen swallow?" or maybe just "What is your favourite colour?" $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 4 '16 at 6:58

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A2:

I treat MO to some extent as a substitute for a large mathematics department with experts in all sorts of areas. My university is small compared to many, and with only a few specialised research groups, and I can't always find an expert to wander up to and talk ask about various things I need that are at arms length from what I know.

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    $\begingroup$ But, of course, we have to remember: MO is a question-and-answer forum. It is not a discussion forum, and it is not an opinion forum. $\endgroup$ – Gerald Edgar Dec 24 '13 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ @GeraldEdgar - edited. $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Dec 24 '13 at 18:41
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For me, MathOverflow is a relaxing way to learn some math. It's like walking into a bookstore and just randomly browsing the selection. Sometimes you come away empty-handed, but but just as often you're pleasantly surprised. And you might come across some stuff you wouldn't have thought to actually look for.

Since I've gotten so much from MathOverflow, I also try to contribute to it myself, out of a sense of balance. But in my mind that's secondary -- morally like a member's fee, or something.

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Semi-legitimate procrastination

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The purpose of MO is to provide a place for people to ask (and answer) research-level mathematical questions. The aim is thus to provide the best possible conditions towards this end, and the benefit is that having such a site improves the infrastructure for mathematical research.

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MO is for me a humbling education.

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    $\begingroup$ And a lot of fun! :-) $\endgroup$ – Joseph O'Rourke Dec 24 '13 at 18:32
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  1. It gives a unique opportunity to ask a question to a very large audience. In the usual conversations in a math department or in a conference, the audience is small. Here the audience is larger and much more diverse than even for a question published in a journal. And the feedback is usually immediate.

  2. Mathematics is my profession and also my hobby. I enjoy discussing mathematics with people. This is a nice outlet for such activity. Sometimes I learn new things useful for my research.

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I thought that it would be a good place to make available to a wide audience problems which I've been unable to make progress on despite years of effort. To my great surprise, the effort to alter my questions and make them easier led to my posing a question which I could actually answer partially.

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First let me say that these are very good questions.

My answer to the second one would be similar to many others, let me just add that MO has immensely enhanced my feeling of being a member of one of the most worthy communities in the world.

Concerning the first - I think MO is similar (in a minor way) to things like ethnic entities or languages which develop according to their own metapurposes that might be not known or even unreachable to people participating in their development.

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  • $\begingroup$ I too have this feeling. As an aside, I also have this feeling for the nLab (which is much smaller scale), and I'd encourage you, if you should ever feel inclined, to contribute there as well. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Jan 22 '17 at 4:28
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I use it to find out what questions people find interesting in order to gear my studies towards them. I search around for questions in things I am interested in and if no one is answering these questions, I take it as a sign that the area has interest but needs answers (and then check the literature of course). This gives me a better sense of "what are the hot topics" than the literature alone. (Plus if I know the answer, I answer it!)

Also, it's a good way to find out who the experts are your field. I keep seeing the same names answering all of the questions in my topic, and so I am going to that person's workshop this summer!

So I don't tend to answer as much on this site (likely because I am a graduate student and some of this is hard!), but still "participate" and get a lot out of it.

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I recently started with MO, but I see it as a brainstorming session in a way. I was specifically trying to see how others would connect a Rubik's cube and calculus, as I was having a bit of trouble. I received several helpful answers, and although many people posted an answer only to tell me that it could not be done or question who planted the notion that they were related, I have recently completed the essay, which I am very proud of. Thank you to everyone who posted something they thought might be useful (even if they weren't sure it could be done).

I really see MO as a way for people involved in math to encourage and help each other, which is why I was slightly confused to see several discouraging "answers" to my question, and to then have it closed simply because a few people with a higher reputation than me said it couldn't be done. As informed as they may be, I found that they can be mistaken.

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    $\begingroup$ Did you read the explanation of what this particular site is for, as opposed to math.stackexchange.com ? $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Jan 18 '17 at 3:00
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    $\begingroup$ If you see MO in terms of "brainstorming sessions", then I think you have badly misunderstood its fundamental purpose. In general, the StackExchange sites (including Math.SE) are designed for crisp interchange between questions (relevant for the target audience) and expert to-the-point answers, and not designed to promote freewheeling discussion. (I remember your question; unfortunately it was off-topic for our forum. Sorry if you felt discouraged, but you should keep in mind that MO is really a professional forum and thus narrow in scope; we have to turn down questions like this.) $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Jan 19 '17 at 2:22

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