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To quote an answer to a recent meta.MO question:

Here are some examples of people we would like the site to be welcoming to:

  1. Prominent mathematicians who are less "online" than the typical MO user.
  2. Current advanced graduate students.

Currently MO has a pretty bad reputation with both such groups. In neither case is this primarily about the relationship with math.SE Certainly the reputation of the site among graduate students in my department is that MO is too intimidating for them to use.

(It's not entirely clear to me what we can do about this reputation or exactly where it's coming from, but that's an entirely separate question.)

This is that separate question. How can we change the reputation of MO amongst "advanced grad students"?

Some recent discussion: Should graduate students be encouraged to participate in MO? If so, at what stage?

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  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps add a link to this recent-ish question, the answers to which might inform any newer discussion: meta.mathoverflow.net/questions/4704/… $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Jan 26 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ @YemonChoi Thanks! Will do. $\endgroup$ – dhy Jan 26 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking which tags would be suitable here. I was able to come up with site-promotion and new-users, although the latter does not seem to be that suitable. (That tag is commonly used for questions about newbies on the site, rather than for questions related to acquiring new users.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Jan 26 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ Link to the quoted answer: What do we mean by welcoming when we're a site aimed at researchers?. $\endgroup$ – jeq Jan 27 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ Back before Covid, I remember that MO had a booth at the JMM (=Joint Mathematics Meetings) at least once. How successful was that? $\endgroup$ – Gerald Edgar Jan 28 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak I like "new-users", but of course your experience and judgement is better than mine. $\endgroup$ – Ravi Vakil Feb 1 at 0:10
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I'll go against my best judgement and will reply to this with my own perception.

First of all, the best thing would be to ask graduate students directly. I don't know if there are any active efforts of trying to understand the phenomenon you describe, I don't know who would have to run such efforts in any case. But the thing is that what I've seen so far in these meta discussions is that it's mostly hardcore users discussing the merits of the community, this is bound to happend of course, but it's a bit hard to deduce why people don't stick around when you only poll the ones that did.

Now my own personal take as an 'advanced' grad student, whatever that means. I reiterate this is why I personally barely ever participate even if Ive visited the site almost daily for the past few years. It takes a lot for me to produce any input.

First of all, the format itself almost forces one to a particular style of conversation. The format, the moderation and the vibe itself of the site makes it hard to deviate into having an organic conversation between many people. It hard to go even so slightly off-topic. If I, as a student read an answer that I find relevant to my interests but that I don't understand fully although I know I would with a little bit of help to fill some gaps, it is a bit hard to hop in the conversation and interrupt the almost linear format of the comments to ask for clarification. I can't hijack a comment thread to make it about my own lack of understanding. Which leads me to my second point.

Asking a question in an open forum is not a conversation with coffee and snacks after a seminar, nor is it raising your hand after a talk. It's getting up on stage and facing the crowd. It's daunting and I believe it is natural that for most people just trying to break inside the mathematical community to be reluctant to post their questions in a forum like this. Some people can shake off saying something silly here years ago, but a lot would see it as a risk with negatives outweighing the positives. Of course one could post anonymously, but I believe this is discouraged here. I believe this is a factor anyway. I would've loved to post this from a fully anonymous account, for example.

On the topic of the questions themselves. It is a struggle itself to come up with good question, not to mention having the skills to make a dent on them. If I'm barely getting by with the work I do, it's a bit of a risk to give away a good question or partial work away for somebody to solve a couple-months-project in a few -sometimes- non even that illuminating paragraphs. I've seen people asking bits and pieces of the questions I plan for my thesis and it's pretty stressing. This is perhaps a very unscientific attitude to have, but at the end of the day it's a fierce competition, sadly. Often people try to conceal their questions by trying to abstract away the context, but this often leads to a poor question or poor answers that understandably miss the point.

Last but not least, and a bit of a summary of the previous points, is that the site has a reputation already. People here sometimes try to reason that the attitudes that resulted in this reputation have been mostly eradicated since the early days of the site, but when I google a question and I arrive to a 10 year old post and see somebody being a bit condescending or a bit rash with their answers then my perception is there. Nobody ever explicitly told me about the reputation of the site but it is true that most of the grad students Ive met through the years and institutions don't have a good look on the site, thinking of it as too intimidating in the better cases to outright unhelpful and aggressive in the worst. While it is maybe true that the community is overall kinder in more recent times there's still the odd comment that is not very helpful (not necessarily rude, or mean) with the reputation.

I know there are plenty of (ex)grad students who (were)are very active and thrived just fine, so it's certainly possible to be a part of the community at this stage of one's training. But for me and maybe others it just feels like it's not worth it most of the time. Maybe the community should decide if it's willing to make changes to attract more 'advanced' graduate students, or if its goals are in conflict with what people staying out would want to see.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for taking the time to share your view so thoroughly. $\endgroup$ – S. Carnahan Jan 27 at 1:17
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    $\begingroup$ If people here wrote answers and comments for an implied audience of graduate students, rather than an implied audience of PhDs, would that make a significant difference? That’s the biggest idea I get from your answer for the title question of how MO can attract more graduate students,. Or do you have other suggestions for that title question? $\endgroup$ – Matt F. Jan 27 at 4:41
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for the nice and thoughtful answer. Could you please provide some suggestions about the changes the community could make? Regarding the fear of asking questions, we can surely try to act in order to reduce the "facing the crowd" perception (and I think this was partially done in the last years). However, I do not see any obvious way to reduce the fear of "give away a good question or partial work". It can surely happen that a couple-of-months project is answered very quickly here, because there are many experts in several fields [to be continued] $\endgroup$ – Francesco Polizzi Jan 27 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ [...] But this is a risk inherent the scientific research: if you work alone, you feel isolated while, as soon as you talk about your work with your colleagues, someone might show you that your problem can become trivial when you look at it from a different point of view. I'm afraid that's what life is all about, and one of the skills that a researcher should develop is to transform this apparently negative situation in a positive one (by learning some new math, for instance). Of course, I'm aware that this can be stressful when one is completing their Ph.D. or just entered the job market. $\endgroup$ – Francesco Polizzi Jan 27 at 6:59
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    $\begingroup$ My best suggestion is making an effort to identify the issues with the graduate students that wont come, my experience is maybe common but only one at the end of the day. Addressing what I said, tho, @MattF's idea. might be worthy of the community's consideration. Maybe it would be good to signal that a question comes from a non expert, and similarly that an answer is intended for an audience of experts ( or not ). I dont know if this sort of transparency/honesty might make the experience easier. But I understand if this is not something the community at large would want to implement. $\endgroup$ – AT0 Jan 27 at 11:17
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that giving away a good question is inherent of this part of the job. I cant see any way of mitigating this from just within MathOverflow. Maybe something the community can do is somehow ( and I do not have a concrete suggestion for this ) make the risk more worth it. Im sure this site produces countless collaborations from q&a's , I dont know if this can be extra promoted in these situations. Just a thought. $\endgroup$ – AT0 Jan 27 at 11:23
  • $\begingroup$ If you don't like an answer or find it unhelpful, the onus is on you to ask for clarification. It doesn't always work out, but it's silly to fault the person who answered the question for not knowing your level of knowledge (and sometimes looking into an answer that you don't understand yet is a great way to learn new things). $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 28 at 10:33
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    $\begingroup$ @HarryGindi Well, I gave my perspective of why I think a lot of people that dont come here wont come here, its certainly part of why I avoid answering or raising questions. As I said a couple of times already, maybe the community is not willing to be extra cuddling or accomodating to relieve this sort of thing. Perhaps Im in the minority. $\endgroup$ – AT0 Jan 28 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ All right, thanks for the (life) advice. $\endgroup$ – AT0 Jan 28 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW, while I think there is some merit in points raised by Francesco and Harry, I'd just like to assure you that I found your answer valuable and (speaking only for myself) it does make me wonder if more can be done to lessen the barrier or the off-putting gradient. It is not easy to speak up if an answer or comment comes across (deliberately or not) as unhelpful or dismissive - years ago I felt a bit chastened for asking a reference question for the character table of certain finite groups and being told "do it yourself it's good for you" $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Jan 28 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ @YemonChoi Thank you. I think this is a good example of answers or comments that could be helpful in one context but not so much, or even pretty discouraging, in others. I certainly have witnessed similar things in questions Ive had and found here. $\endgroup$ – AT0 Jan 28 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ On a personal level, you should feel comfortable asking for clarification in comments. The comments are almost never a linear conversation, but a series of short conversations - you can just start a new one and ask for questions. People are almost never going to be annoyed by a question, and if they are it's easy for them to ignore it and move on. $\endgroup$ – Will Sawin Jan 29 at 0:22
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the nice answer. It's useful to have your perspective. $\endgroup$ – Ben Webster Jan 29 at 1:58
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    $\begingroup$ AT0 said "maybe the community is not willing to be extra cuddling or accomodating to relieve this sort of thing. Perhaps Im in the minority." I actually think you are in a massive majority, but one that is not very noisy. And I think many in the community would prefer to be extra cuddling or accommodating (not in a creepy way! :-). I also fully am convinced by what you wrote on other points. It would be really great to hear what others like you thought. Don't worry about being in some minority --- I want to hear it. If they are shy about doing it, perhaps you could just quote them? $\endgroup$ – Ravi Vakil Jan 31 at 22:57
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    $\begingroup$ Separate comment, also for AT0: Of course, the most vocal people are not representative, but also of course: you clearly can't know how nonrepresentative. If we want more smart people like you in math (not just you, but the hundreds you implicitly are a representative of), the onus is on us (the community) to attract people in! $\endgroup$ – Ravi Vakil Jan 31 at 22:59
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I don't believe MO can do anything to make most grad students comfortable posting here. It wouldn't be compatible with the culture of the site or how its users see it (and some of the comments on this topic and in the linked posts make this point rather blatantly).

Speaking as someone who has used MO intermittently almost since its inception but fundamentally feels uncomfortable here and always exhausts other known options before daring to ask anything, what has always driven me away is the sense of gatekeeping. (This isn't substantially better now that I have positions and publications under my belt.)

  • Answers typically get far more upvotes than questions, leaving the impression "Great answer to a stupid question" for most things asked.

  • Many times in the past, I have seen comments and answers that imply that the question is obvious or beneath them.

One gets the sense "Some of the world's top mathematicians are listening; don't waste their time." (I actually thought I was paraphrasing this from the site's guidance, but it seems that's something half-remembered from an answer.)

I understand that one sees MSE, it looks like a cesspool of homework help, and one wants to do anything to avoid that, to keep the quality of MO up, as it were. Great. But the cost of keeping a high bar to entry is, expectedly enough, that it discourages entry. I would venture to guess most mathematicians, and surely a greater proportion of students, see their questions, and possibly themselves as mathematicians, as too low-caliber for the site.

(I don't think it's a coincidence the most popular posts on the site are the "big-list" questions from the early days that engaged a broader swath of mathematicians, but it was decided somewhere along the line that that was not what the site's more dominant users wanted it to be.)

This is a reputational and cultural issue that I don't believe is "fixable" now, if indeed anyone would want to. [Edit: It seems to me that i]ts regular users wanted MO to become an elite institution and got their wish. It's no surprise that now even "the right sorts of people" are often too cowed to post.

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    $\begingroup$ In the early days there was a lot of effort put into encouraging people to upvote often, that does seem to have slipped. Getting back to encouraging more upvoting might be something we can do. $\endgroup$ – Noah Snyder Feb 6 at 3:16
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    $\begingroup$ "One gets the sense "Some of the world's top mathematicians are listening; don't waste their time." Your opinion is your opinion, your perception is your perception. I respect them, but please do not confuse them with facts or truths. $\endgroup$ – Francesco Polizzi Feb 6 at 6:12
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW, I do think "Its regular users wanted MO to become an elite institution and got their wish" might be extrapolating from particular areas that are (heavily) represented on MO, because this description does not at all fit the behaviour of e.g. Bill Johnson, Fedja, Nik Weaver, and various other (functional) analysts I have observed here. $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Feb 6 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ @FrancescoPolizzi: I think "one gets the sense" unambiguously signals that what follows is a subjective perception, which I am presuming is shared with at least some other people who do not choose to participate on the site, but I will try to take into account in any future discussion your useful admonition that I do not personally hold the key to universal truth. $\endgroup$ – jdc Feb 6 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ @FrancescoPolizzi: I honestly read your response as symptomatic of the dynamic I tried, however imperfectly, to describe. A poster asked about how the site could attract grad students, and I said what I thought scared grad students away was, beyond a certain culture regarding voting and a certain style of response, a sort of quality-control mechanism that leads to capable people writing themselves and their questions off as unqualified or low-quality; and your response was, in only mild paraphrase, "Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man." $\endgroup$ – jdc Feb 6 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ @FrancescoPolizzi I don't think your comments are particularly helpful if you are seeking to counter the argument that people find this site unwelcoming. $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Feb 7 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ As it is, I'm not able to claim "you are wrong," because most of what you have said amounts to taking issue with the tone of the original post. I don't, however, understand the claim I am accusing of you of being in bad faith. It's perfectly possible to be of the school "the institution is not in need of reform" and wear one's convictions on one's sleeve. I've taken you to be of this school based on your taking care to point out "there exist grad students" and your consistently defensive posture, but I don't know. $\endgroup$ – jdc Feb 8 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ @FrancescoPolizzi: I feel you are very invested in this site, and feel that my original response and everything since then constitutes an attack on the site, community, what have you, and feel the need to defend the site. It seems to me to roughly be your stance that things are fine and the site has been traduced, and that you want to stand up for it. I did not mean to imply anything about defending yourself. $\endgroup$ – jdc Feb 8 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ @FrancescoPolizzi I think it would have been a lot more professional to not try to tell the OP that they were wrong. Your behavior comes off as very hostile to me, and if you can't see why, then you need to look more carefully at it. Obviously the description of the attitude of MO users as a whole doesn't characterize everyone, and I think it's too pessimistic about the great body of MO users. But the constructive thing to do is to think about why the OP has that impression, not to just keep telling them that they are wrong and acting insulted. $\endgroup$ – Ben Webster Feb 8 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ More generally, a number of comments here and elsewhere (by a number of people) seem to be taking the perspective "Well, if [the grad students under discussion] ignored any initial negative feedback and kept actively engaging with MO, they would be better off." I do believe that this is true in some cases (not all). But whether it is true or not seems mostly irrelevant to me. The goals of this question are to increase the number of grad students and to better understand why the current number is low. The aforementioned perspective does not help accomplish either goal. $\endgroup$ – dhy Feb 8 at 23:17
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    $\begingroup$ I also doubt you'll find anyone who will admit they are happy with the massive gender imbalance here, female mathematicians participating under an anon-/pseudonymous account notwithstanding. (This is, I know, not a matter of elitism or career progression, but it probably has similar roots, so I think it at least partially relevant). Certainly, if people off-site are getting the impression that the people "running" the show (to the extent they exist, this is really just an emergent system) are happy with the culture there, then that is a meta-problem of perception. $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Feb 10 at 2:09
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    $\begingroup$ MO can be confronting, but the perception that the big shots on MO want it how it is probably only contributes to the reticence of eg grad students, even when it's not true. Certainly there are outspoken people who see no or little problem with the system as-is. There are also people on MO with. IRL reputations who would like things to work better, but who may not be making as much noise. How we can change the perception, as well as try to overcome the participation hurdle, is important. Thanks again for speaking up. I hope you get my drift, and don't take it as a "not all MOers" fobbing off $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Feb 10 at 2:16
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    $\begingroup$ @FrancescoPolizzi it's not a mystery to me why the perception exists, I can see how a person could quite reasonably form such a view. I just wanted to try to reassure jdc that some people are pushing back against what might be causes, because they really do want to improve the chances of grad students feeling comfortable in participating in MO. I can only speak for myself, but I could definitely have put a bit more work in the past into my role in community-based moderation, to foster a sense that while some Qs aren't welcome here, many more—and their askers—really are. $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Feb 10 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRoberts: I do not know, probably we have different sensibilities. I agree that occasionally there can be some unfortunate behavior (as happens in all big communities), but still I do not see how there can be the perception that the community as a whole has an exclusivist point of view. I looked at many posts, and it seems to me that nowadays the great majority of reasonable questions asked by new users are well-received, and that there is an evident effort to welcome new people. But it is surely possible that my check missed the point. $\endgroup$ – Francesco Polizzi Feb 10 at 10:21
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    $\begingroup$ @MattF: I wrote a short answer $\endgroup$ – Francesco Polizzi Feb 11 at 11:27
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This is a very difficult question. However, I think that we could attract more graduate students (actually, more people in general) following three lines of action. Many of these things have been already said by a number of people in previous comments and answers, however I think it may be useful to collect them here.

  1. Clarity and guidance: it is important to improve as much as possible the customization of the modal window for the first-time askers. This is discussed very well here, but perhaps something more can be done.
  2. Welcomingness and tolerance: in order to overcome the participation hurdle, we should make an effort and be patient with the new users, showing them that we appreciate their good questions, even if they are not expressed in a perfect form. When appropriate, we should suggest that the more experienced members of the community use constructive comments and editing rather than downvoting. If we set an example, we encourage people by our behaviour to behave or act in a similar way.
  3. Advertising: we must overcome years of "MO is intimidating", so it is important to make an effort and promote the site among our students and colleagues. We should point out that the community is working hard in order to maintain a professional and inclusive environment, and that nowadays MO is for everyone wanting to ask good questions and to learn new Mathematics.

I do not know if it is currently possible to do much more than this in order to encourage active participation. Furthermore, we should keep in mind that, in many situations, passive participation is a much more common behaviour than active one. It is perfectly possible that many people are happy just browsing MO or finding MO answers by googling their questions, and are not interested in having a personal interaction with the site (to make some analogies, there are many people that like to watch soccer in tv, but are not interested in playing themselves, or that are passionate about politics, but not actively engaged with any party). After all, in 10 years of MO we collected a huge amount of material, and the answer to many natural questions is already there and easy to find.

In fact, when the lack of participation is not dependent on our behaviour, I find much more difficult to make effective proposals.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for writing this up as an answer. I think that despite various disagreements along the way, there is a lot of common ground presented here. $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Feb 11 at 16:58
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I'm writing this answer as a (pseudo)-grad student who is comfortable using the site, having no real publications or positions under my belt.

Disclaimer: Generally I try to avoid using the pronoun 'I' excessively in MO posts because it distracts from the mathematical content of the post, but I will be abusing it in this post and writing in a more informal style to emphasize that these are just my opinions, man.

First off, I have immense respect for the communities I've interacted with on this site -- initially I pestered the set theory and model theory communities and more recently the category theory bunch, and both groups are rife with experts on the cutting edge of their field and include several heavy-hitting names I couldn't interact with directly anywhere else (except maybe at a conference, but I've never been to a conference and social distancing and all that.)

I wouldn't be nearly where I am today as a mathematician without their contributions to my questions and this site in general. All said and done, I think MO falls easily on the 'good things' list in life largely because of the contributions of experts like the ones I am about to constructively criticize, so please take the following commentary in the least insulting light possible.

The talk of 'gate-keeping' in jdc's post struck a nerve with me, and I think there is a good amount of truth to it. The fact that I like this site has heavily to do with the fact that I am a masochist; I only play video games on the hardest mode available (even if I end up breaking controllers and destroying whole systems), I purposefully don't prepare for lectures or talks to force myself to come up with them on the spot, and I post to MO knowing that I might get a dunce cap strapped to my head while someone tries to make me read hieroglyphs out loud to the world.

I think this sort of 'trial by fire' is one of the best ways for a person to quickly up their game, and MO is a paragon for this sort of mental honing stone in mathematics. I can't count on both hands the number of times I've been embarrassed because I said something dumb to an expert on MO, but I also can't count on both hands and feet the number of times I've had my own knowledge dramatically improved by these experts responses to my dumb questions. I do get the occasional "f*** off and read a book" vibe from the communities I interact with here, but sometimes that is appropriate -- MO is meant to be a repository for research level questions, and if the answer to a question is non-specific (not a single lemma) and covered at large by a well-known text it is appropriate for the questioner to leave and do some reading before they come back to ask a more specific question.

The only type of interaction I've had on here that is totally valueless is the dreaded 'anonymous downvote with no explanation', in particular if it is within the first 10-20 views on a question that isn't obviously stupid or too low-level. I had this happen a few times early on, and if I were the sort of person to take discouragement sitting down it may have dissuaded me from further participation; fortunately for me haters are motivators, so these anonymous and useless interactions only drove me to improve my questions further and make sure the community at large saw the value in them. I think that the dunce-capping and hieroglyph-reciting mentioned above, while unpleasant, serve an immediate and beneficial purpose for the site and to the users of the site -- the anonymous downvotes with no explanation do neither, and stand to cause harm to the sites reputation and the psychology of its newer users. I thusly propose that we collectively cut that s*** out, and that we collectively endeavor to make the dunce caps as small as possible when they are needed.

There is something to be said for keeping the front page neat and free of homework or lazy questions, but I think the flag/vote to close system does a good job of handling those issues. It was mentioned recently in the discussions on these questions that there was an old, informal policy of giving one downvote to obviously misplaced questions so they wouldn't appear on the home page*, then leaving them at one downvote until closure. I support a return to this informal policy, along with a short comment explaining that the downvote was given for this purpose and a recommendation for where to take the question, whether that be MSE, a professor, or where the sun don't shine (for the occasional advertiser.)


*Martin clarified in the comments below that the threshold for a question not being visible is $-4$, not $-1$.

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    $\begingroup$ +1: Thank you for your perspective (and for the sentence beginning "The fact that I like this site has heavily to do with the fact that I am a masochist...," it made me laugh.) $\endgroup$ – dhy Feb 8 at 23:20
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    $\begingroup$ One downvote is enough to keep a question off the front page? I thought it took more than that. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Feb 9 at 3:48
  • $\begingroup$ In this precise moment, I see a question with score -1, one with score -6, one with score -4 and one with score -3 on my front page (in the "newest" section). $\endgroup$ – Francesco Polizzi Feb 9 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ (It's not about MO or the main question, but: Regardless of the motivation for giving lectures or talks without preparation, it's not nice to the audience.) $\endgroup$ – Matt F. Feb 11 at 0:43
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    $\begingroup$ @FrancescoPolizzi As far as I know, this is the only place where low score hides questions: mathoverflow.net They won't be hidden if you're here: mathoverflow.net/questions (regardless of whether you use the newest tab or the active tab). More details can be found here: How does Stack Overflow determine for how long to keep a question in the main page? - the threshold is -4 on main and -8 on meta. Negative score is also a factor for roomba. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Feb 11 at 11:45
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak oh, so the threshold is -4 ? Well, there goes the "one customary downvote to make it less visible" theory. But I guess the roomba clean-up is relevant: a Q might not be closed, but be so borderline that at least some people voted and at least one downvoted, so it won't stick around permanently $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Feb 11 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak Thank you for clarifying, I'll edit the post. $\endgroup$ – Alec Rhea Feb 11 at 14:14
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I think the software limitations are a big part of the problem. In particular, how comments are integrated with questions and answers. The comments appear to give an opportunity for people to have a conversation, but this is discouraged. Trying to have a conversation and getting shut down is not welcoming. The chat feature is not threaded, and so it useless for anything but synchronous communication. I think the site would be much more welcoming if instead of the current comment system, there was instead a threaded discussion forum associated with each question and each answer. In particular, I think people would be much more comfortable participating in the forum than the QA, but forum participation could serve as a gateway to QA activity.


Edit to include further clarification from a comment

I was thinking that there could be a "preview" of the top level "reddit" forum comments which would go where the comment section is now. So for the casual browser, it would look pretty similar to what we have now, the only difference being that only the most useful (upvoted) comments and replies to those comments would be visible from the main site. There could then be a "contribute to this discussion" link which takes you to the discussion forum for the question.

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  • $\begingroup$ Are you thinking about something similar to the "talk" section associated with every Wikipedia page? $\endgroup$ – Francesco Polizzi Feb 4 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ @FrancescoPolizzi Maybe, but I have been a Wikipedia end user for a long time and have never seen a "talk section". Moreover, navigating to a page and spending a minute trying to find this "talk section" did not yield anything. The solution I have in mind would be much more prominently displayed (like a link at the bottom of each post which takes you to something which looks like a Reddit discussion forum). $\endgroup$ – Steven Gubkin Feb 4 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ The "talk" section of Wikipedia is at the top left, close to "article". For instance en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3AMathOverflow $\endgroup$ – Francesco Polizzi Feb 4 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, I see. I dislike that the "talk section" is again a wiki. Being able to edit other peoples comments is not good for a conversation (but IS good for the QA main site). Also I really like collapsable threads (as in reddit). $\endgroup$ – Steven Gubkin Feb 4 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ I find this idea striking and very interesting. I'm having trouble visualizing it, though. Maybe just because in my mind's eye I'm overlaying the look and feel of reddit onto MO and it just clashes horribly. Would you have the threaded discussion on a separate page, or would it somehow all be collapsible or something on the same page? In the first case, I imagine it feeling disjointed; in the second I imagine it feeling crammed in. For an extreme example, I imagine something like this question could have benefited from such a format. $\endgroup$ – Tim Campion Feb 5 at 1:56
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    $\begingroup$ @TimCampion I was thinking that there could be a "preview" of the top level "reddit" forum comments which would go where the comment section is now. So for the casual browser, it would look pretty similar to what we have now, the only difference being that only the most useful (upvoted) comments and replies to those comments would be visible from the main site. There could then be a "contribute to this discussion" link which takes you to the discussion forum for the question. $\endgroup$ – Steven Gubkin Feb 5 at 10:38
  • $\begingroup$ @StevenGubkin That makes sense. Actually, this could address two things that AT0 pointed out about comments. 1.) It would be nice for comments to provide more of the flexibility necessary for an organic conversation and 2.) Because everything is recorded permanently, comments one might regret later are stuck out there prominently for everybody to see (unless someone takes the time to delete them). $\endgroup$ – Tim Campion Feb 5 at 21:28
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    $\begingroup$ Of course I am not representative but I personally loathe threaded chat. I like my conversations to be in one continuous, meandering flow, rather that in an infinitely branching tree. Of course preferences can vary, but I wouldn't be so quick to embrace a "reddit-like" interface. $\endgroup$ – Denis Nardin Feb 7 at 18:48
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$\begingroup$

Since I can't post images in a comment, here's what one of my grad student friends said this morning to me:

22picture

I think the format will appeal to some and not appeal to others, and that's fine.

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    $\begingroup$ You said this was meant to be on the comments, I assume you mean under my answer and not the question. I dont understand how reddit ( or any other community ) is terribly relevant in this discussion. Maybe reddit is worse, different, or both, it doesnt make this place good nor it addresses the question. Reddit already doesnt attract as many grad students or senior researchers as MO, so its a poor benchmark. Or was there any reason to mention reddit specifically? $\endgroup$ – AT0 Jan 28 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ @AT0 I dunno. I don't even know 22's account's name. I think he was just contrasting MO with a site that has a lower bar for entry. And obviously if this place works for some people, it's good. MO can't be all things to all people (and any attempt to do so will make it good for nobody). $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 28 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ Also, I think it's revealing of your opinions that you say "it doesn't make this place good". Tell me a place you think is good, or at least better, then. $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 28 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ I meant that "MO is good" doesnt follow from "Reddit is worse, or different". As I said, I dont understand at all the comparison with other communities. MO is pretty unique in its target audience and its userbase. If you dont think there's anything to change about MO then thats valid, maybe its just the grad students that need to work in their personal insecurities. $\endgroup$ – AT0 Jan 28 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ My opinion is that we shouldn't try to change anything fundamental about the website, but if there are small changes in process or procedure done on a voluntary basis, or better information for new users, those are fine. The solution to the reputation problem however is just to propagandize/advertise how good MO is. I do also agree with the idea that we shouldn't make policies based around people's personal insecurities. We're not therapists or priests (unless someone wants to start a religion; hit me up!!), just mathematicians. $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 28 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ I was only paraphrasing your edited/deleted answer, it is ( I thought clearly ) not my opinion that we/MO shouldnt do anything to help ease people's issues coming here that you identify as 'personal insecurities'. In any case I dont think I have anything else to add, I think we're on very different pages and I already have made my points and what I advocate for very clear. $\endgroup$ – AT0 Jan 28 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ @HarryGindi "And obviously if this place works for some people, it's good. MO can't be all things to all people (and any attempt to do so will make it good for nobody)." I don't think anybody is proposing making MO be all things to all people. And I find the statement "if this place works for some people, it's good" rather absurd. I would say the target audience of MO clearly includes ("advanced") grad students. And my experience is that the clear majority of grad students do not want to ask questions on MO. $\endgroup$ – dhy Jan 28 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe this is not the case for most grad students you know. I don't know, it is theoretically possible that I'm in a strange geographic bubble which happens to uniformly dislike the idea of participating on MO. But if it is the case that a supermajority of grad students is turned off by MO, then that seems like a clear problem to me, and "MO can't be all things to all people" seems like a terrible counterargument. $\endgroup$ – dhy Jan 28 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ @dhy A supermajority of grad students is too intimidated to talk to prominent mathematicians at conferences. $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 28 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ @HarryGindi I don't disagree with that. But I would classify that as a problem as well. Maybe your opinion is that these are not fixable problems. I don't know if they are --- if I did, I wouldn't have asked this question. But following your analogy (which I think is a good one), I think different prominent mathematicians intimidate different proportions of grad students. And I would think that for at least some prominent mathematicians, "How can I try to intimidate fewer grad students?" might be a worthwhile question to spend some time thinking about. $\endgroup$ – dhy Jan 28 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ Just to say +1 to @dhy's comment immediately above - and not just for "prominent" mathematicians. I do sometimes think one can lapse into a mentality of "clearly I'm not super-eminent, so how could I be punching down, I would expect to receive the same treatment" - I know I have done so from time to time. $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Jan 28 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ Well, it is not exactly the same thing, but parental experience shows that it is usually a delicate task to find the balance between over-protecting kids and being too harsh with them. $\endgroup$ – Francesco Polizzi Jan 30 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ @HarryGindi I don't agree, and indeed the attitude you are taking with your recent comments and "horsing around" is precisely why I directed that La Bruyere quote at you. Re "I don't know how you are going to fix problems that seem to be grounded in the fact that these grad students have a certain kind of personality" - well, physician heal thyself. I think that's all I have to say on this matter and will not clog up this comment thread further. $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Jan 31 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ I strongly and viscerally disagree that grad students need a kick in the pants. I also assert that this point of view is held by almost no one in the community. Separately, I know FP meant well (and I like his comments in general), but I don't think of being welcoming as being overprotective. I would go so far as to say (to dhy and anyone else) that if you find somewhere on MO someone giving someone else a kick in the pants, please let the community know. The community does not take kindly to discouraging people just wanting to learn. $\endgroup$ – Ravi Vakil Jan 31 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ @RaviVakil: I was not comparing "being welcoming" to "being over-protective". I was just trying to say that, sometimes, saying (kindly) to someone "Here you are wrong" might be better for her/him than just stay silent out of fear of being too direct. $\endgroup$ – Francesco Polizzi Jan 31 at 23:55

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