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    Here are two items for community discussion.

    1) Once we migrate to the network, we will move to a network style meta and keep this meta only for historical purposes. However, we will still need a place to discuss decisions that impact the community and do not belong on the meta site, in particular decisions regarding the MathOverflow company separate from the site itself.

    What form should this discussion space take?

    A simple vanilla site like our current meta would do but there may be better ideas out there. The only requirement is that we should host it ourselves. We could just keep this meta alive for a while but I think it's better to just move on since the discussions already here are mostly off-topic for the new discussion site.

    2) We have been thinking about opening volunteer position at MathOverflow to help out with "community relations." I've often heard people say that there should be a moderator blog or something like that but none of the current moderators are very interested in doing that. This has been a problem lately since the moderators actually have a lot more to say than usual because of the migration. The actual duties of this position are not yet well defined, we hope that the community and the volunteer will have a vision for it.

    (a) What would be the exact role of this position? (b) Any volunteers for such a position?


    Re: 1), I think a minimal solution would be to rename the current meta to, and leave it at that.

    It works, and we need to keep the old meta running somewhere anyway for archival purposes. Is there a compelling reason we need different functionality in the future? I'm not too concerned about all the existing discussions here; none are active for particularly long anyway.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeMay 29th 2013

    re 1. I like the minimal solution (if one is worried about old discussions resurfacing later, one could perhaps close them, assuming this could be done automatically)

    re 2.a. I think it could be useful if existing philosophies/opinions behind certain (community) moderation decisions, in particular closures, and related things were explained and re-explained in small bits and in a somewhat visible form. Ever so often I come across "angry" or also just surprised comments, also from regular users, on main that seem to show considerable ignorance of existing opinions. And, I really mean documenting existing opinions, and not declaring/discussing what is "right" or what is "wrong" or how things "must be".


    My main concerns with using this meta for this are:

    1. Keeping this meta active is confusing since the new meta should be used for most of what we use this meta for. Some users might revive old discussions or start new ones for things that don't belong here.
    2. Once the network meta starts being used, this meta will be very low volume and low traffic, making less suitable for its new purpose.
    3. A lot of people dislike meta and avoid it at all cost. A fresh start may help people participate, at least in the initial stages of the transition, where it is most important.
    4. I do like vanilla since it is so flexible but I don't think a plain vanilla site like this is the best option. We want to give the community tools so that they can better express themselves. Does vanilla have a good polling/voting plugin?
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeMay 29th 2013

    @François G. Dorais: re 4. if this is not linked to main and there should be polling/voting it seems to me there would need to be some protection against abuse of a voting system.


    That is a valid concern, quid. A bad voting plugin would have limited use.

    Re 2a: That would be interesting, quid, but I don't see how that would work since everyone has different motivations and the discussion is already documented on meta. What I had in mind was much more positively oriented: keeping better track of success stories, doing user interviews, Q&A showcase, community announcements, inviting guest posts for topics of community interest and more... (See for what a similar site is doing.)

    • CommentAuthorWillieWong
    • CommentTimeMay 29th 2013 edited

    @François :

    Re your <strike>last</strike> second-to-last comment:

    1. how much work would it take to close all current discussions on this meta? I assume if someone has database access to this meta, it shouldn't be too hard to force close all discussion topics. If all discussions are closed they cannot be revived (easily). But I agree that the archival old-meta should be separate from the MO-company-discussion site.
    2. why would that not apply to any other site we use to host the MO-company-discussion?
    3. I am not convinced but it doesn't hurt to try. And I prefer a fresh start for other reasons. (Less clutter, less chance of old discussions being revived, etc.)
    4. In terms of platform, why not combine this with the community blog? I assume if there would be any changes to the MO-corporation, the only way we common users will find out is through the Mods/board members or their hypothetical spokesperson. I suppose there may be a call for a platform where everyone can propose ideas, but I somehow doubt its necessity (though I could just be lacking in imagination).


    1. Not much, I think.
    2. That was poorly phrased: we need a site that is still interesting even with low volume.
    3. Fair point, it's always hard to see what is not there. I still have the "Women on MO" discussions in the back of my mind and I know there is a need to provide a comfortable place for users to contribute and a way to make users feel more valued as part of the community.
    4. Yes, I think that's a good idea. (That's why I posted the two items together.)
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeMay 29th 2013 edited

    @François G. Dorais: for 2a, yes it is documented on meta but still many seem to not know anything about it. (Recently we had a quite active and very reasonable 2k+ user, with it seems considerable interest in MO, that was not aware how closing even works on a technical level.) I agree it is perhaps a bit too 'negative', I even thought about acknowledging this myself, but then you already indentified me as pessimist a while ago ;-) In that spirit the main thing I note about the page you link is that rececently (last about one and a half years) it has very little activity [added: I removed the details since I am too stupid to get this right even while trying three times], so it seems doing essentially nothing. Regarding how it would work, on the one hand various people know about the general opinions/voting philosphies while not necessarily sharing all of them; or you mention "user interviews" so then interviews of users about their voting and ideas about MO. Or, if you want to give it a more positive spin a column "hints for how to ask what you want to ask without getting it closed" In general, I would rather have a preference if all this was quite focused on MO; to say it negatively "guest posts for topics of community interest and more..." sounds like yet another math blog, or why not read the Notices of the AMS instead. (By the way, may one also nominate "volunteers" for the position?)

    Regarding your reply to 4 of Willie Wong: how would this go together with "The only requirement is that we should host it ourselves" in OP?


    Regarding your reply to 4 of Willie Wong: how would this go together with "The only requirement is that we should host it ourselves" in OP?

    We are not required to use the blogoverflow site.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeMay 29th 2013

    @Françoic G. Dorais: true, thank you, only when I read "the community blog" I automatically assumed this blogoverflow was meant.

    Another question occured to me (related to meta and migration, slightly off-topic and perhaps even answered but I am not sure): what will happen to the old links on main to meta? Even if this meta-site stays up, as far as I understand it cannot do so at the same url. (I assume the links could be changed in the migration though or this could be handled otherwise. But if this was not yet brought up I thought I mention it as to have all links broken seems a bit unfortunate. Though likely also not a huge problem. Sorry if this was discussed before.)


    yes it is documented on meta but still many seem to not know anything about it.

    That's one reason why the network style meta might be better.

    By the way, may one also nominate "volunteers" for the position?

    Well, you (and others) can certainly encourage people to volunteer. It's good to keep in mind tha some of the people I think would be best for this are also not reading this.

    what will happen to the old links on main to meta?

    That's an important concern. I'm recording it for when the time comes. A lot of systematic tweaks will be done at the moment of migration, this will be one of them...

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeMay 29th 2013

    That's one reason why the network style meta might be better.

    Yes. But I thought this is decided anyway since a long time, that one will be used and this one essentially or completely shut down. (Certainly I did not want to argue for keeping this as principal meta; possibly this was misunderstood.) Though from what one can read on meta.math.SE it does perhaps not change that much, since there are somewhat frequent complaints people do not read meta enough there too, but let us be optimistic. Already that there is no extra signup and it looks more the same might help. Also, I am somewhat under the impression (considerably) more people read meta at least a bit than post here (on a regular basis). And, if there is a banner for something specific also some more find there way here. But let me not digress too much.

    Well, you (and others) can certainly encourage people to volunteer. It's good to keep in mind tha some of the people I think would be best for this are also not reading this.

    Thank you for the information; I might nominate somebody later. It is hard/impossible to know for me who reads or does not read meta, and also whom you have in mind. But it is difficult for me to imagine how somebody not reading meta could know enough about the community to be able to help out with "community relations." Except perhaps the community relations that are meant are the relations of MO to the math community in general as opposed to the inter-MO community relations. If the former is meant I appologize for misunderstanding this completely as I was sure the latter is meant.

    • CommentAuthorWillieWong
    • CommentTimeMay 31st 2013

    François G. Dorais said

    A lot of systematic tweaks will be done at the moment of migration, this will be one of them...

    presumably one of the easier ones. Just dump the database, run a search/replace on the string '', import it into the SE...

    But another possibility is to just ask SE to set-up a URL re-write for everything pointing toward The discussion/ subdirectory is not used in the SE hierarchy for anything, so if a rule is set-up to redirect all traffic toward to it will probably be enough.

    • CommentAuthorgrp
    • CommentTimeMay 31st 2013
    I did not post in this thread previously because I was hoping someone would
    give a definition of "community" and/or of "relations" as it applies to this
    volunteer position. To me, there are at least three such possibilities, and
    each one would serve a need and likely take as much time as is required by
    a moderator/member of the board. I group them by community, and note
    the relations that follow (in my view).

    + Community is the MathOverflow community, which are the people that
    lurk as well as post and maintain the forum. Relations involve helping
    newcomers and novices learn about procedures, policies, and community
    norms, and address many of the questions that arise. They would respond
    to all "rubber stamp" issues, usually by issuing a tailored template looking
    like "Thank You for your concern or question(s). [Note special feature of question
    here.] Much if not all of this is handled by [list of FAQ items here]. If I did not
    understand clearly, please let me know which point or points remain unresolved
    by the policies. [List those which are action items for volunteer, e.g. "I will ask
    the moderation team about wearing dresses and get back to you."] We hope you
    will help us in our goal of improving community service." . They might aid in
    some conflict resolution, but would not provide arbitration service by themselves.
    They might be involved in community profiling and providing an everchanging
    snapshot of the makeup of the community to aid the board in policy forming.
    They should have a voice but no vote on many if not all board issues. A goal
    here is community nurturing and growth with respect to the main mission of

    + Community is the people participating in the Stackexchange network. Relations
    involves issues which are external to MathOverflow but internal to the larger network.
    A primary responsibility would be monitoring and correcting the flow of dialogue
    (Questions, question posts, complaints, cross-group behaviour issues) that occurs
    across this line of demarcation. (I don't know enough to elaborate sensibly on this
    kind of volunteer position.)

    + Community is the people outside the MathOverflow forum. This is usually public and
    media relations, whose primary goal is to represent accurately the voice and position of MathOverflow in situations involving publicity. They might or might not have a subsidiary goal of building a thriving community. They would report to the board but not have a
    voice otherwise, nor a vote. In matters involving lawyers, they would serve only as a spokesperson guided closely by professionals handling the matters. They would not be
    involved in grant writing or fund raising.

    These are just my ideas. If someone else could provide a few more hypothetical examples, or elaborate on these, I and others would come to a better idea of what is involved in such a position. I could donate some time to supporting and partially occupying a position, but any of the ideas above would take more time than I can give as an unpaid volunteer.

    Gerhard "Even Venti Mochas Wouldn't Suffice" Paseman, 2013.05.31

    That's a good question Gerhard. I picked the term "community relations" precisely because it's not constraining. The hope is that the volunteer would bring their own vision for this. (But maybe that was a bad idea since it looks like what pops to mind are really painful and boring tasks.)

    In order:

    + That's awfully close to moderation. It seems to me that this already happens naturally on network style metas, both by knowledgeable users and by moderators. My main concern is that none of those things sound pleasant in any way.

    + I think this already happens in "moderator channels" on the network, but I don't have any hands-on experience with this. (Willie and Mariano could tell us more about how that works.)

    + Indeed, MO's public image is a place where a lot of things could be done. For example, we should be making "press releases" when we get a grant or a big donation and we should have a place to do that.

    I'll add on one more hypothetical. Why not have MO weekly picks? Users that visit the site every day see all kinds of cool things happen on MO, but visiting every day is the only good way to find out about those cool things and even then you can't find them all. Weekly picks would be a nice way to showcase these cool things. It would also do great things for MO's image since I don't think newcomers can find these cool things unless they're very lucky.

    but any of the ideas above would take more time than I can give as an unpaid volunteer.

    Indeed, maintaining weekly picks or even monthly news is too much on top of regular moderation work. (Especially now that we're also working on making a bunch of new stuff happen.) That's why we're interested in having somebody volunteer to do these things.

    • CommentAuthorstankewicz
    • CommentTimeMay 31st 2013

    Truthfully, when I read the call for "community relations," my first thought was that you were looking for something of an Ombudsman. A MathOmbudsman to be precise. I could very easily see a blog, such as the one maintained by the New York Times ( ) being maintained by MO. The downside to this is that it doesn't sound like much fun to read through the email which would be sent to such a position.

    But then you're looking for someone to take on a sort of reverse-Ombudsperson role? This is to say that you want someone to present the positions about which the moderators have come to some loose consensus?


    In an attempt to clarify the original posting:

    We're not looking to pawn off moderation work. We want to create new interesting things for MO under the broad heading of "community relations" (whatever that means to you). We're looking for users to suggest ideas of what to do and also for users to volunteer time to make them happen. As a perk, we want to create an official position for this so you can at least get due credit for your efforts and add a line to your cv. (This is an unpaid position, of course, but if you have a big project in mind that would require extra support to set up, we can try to make that happen by applying for grants, finding sponsors, or whatever is needed for the project.)


    Anything that has to do with "policies", "decisions", or anything like that sounds like moderation to me so it wouldn't be part of that job. The only thing like that I could see that volunteer doing are posting announcements when noteworthy things happen (like getting grants, donations, prizes), perhaps some lesser announcements (like job postings since I obviously have no talent with those). Even then, I don't see why that wouldn't be part of moderator work.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeMay 31st 2013

    @François G. Dorais: it seems to me you received suggestions from three different users that go somewhat in the same direction and can be considered as "community relations", in the sense of increasing communication within the MO-community. In addition, earlier on it seems to me moderators where a lot more visible on the site. This is not a criticism but an observation (and I can imagine that this platform change costs a lot of time and energy). Still, it might be that there is simply no demand for 'new interesting things' but rather for more communication inside the MO-community.


    That's a fair point, quid, and I would tend to agree. You are most welcome to tell us that we need to do more (and what we need to do more because that is very helpful additional info). However, this is not the problem that this position is aiming to solve. The issue this is targeting is twofold...

    From the larger perspective, MO has been stagnant for much too long. There have been no changes, nothing new, no evolution, nothing has changed at all for years. Usually, by general internet standards, that means imminent death. Fortunately, our community is more tolerant than the general internet community and, even more importantly, this is about to change. Finally. This has been over a year of hard work and it is finally happening! Not everything needs to happen at once but there has been so much delay that there is a whole lot that is lagging behind and needs to happen sooner than later.

    From a narrower perspective, which is what this particular post thread was intended to address, the face of MO has changed a lot. We used to be this small math Q&A site and we grew very fast and quickly gained notoriety in the mathematical community. This notoriety was fine publicity for a while but it's not enough anymore; MO is no longer a novelty even if a lot of people still don't know about it. People used to visit MO because they were curious enough to dig for a while and find the good stuff in the clutter. Today's new visitors are unlikely to have such patience.[1] We need a better way to present MO, we need to adapt and evolve. The front page is not a great representation of MO.[2] As a very concrete example to demonstrate that there is a lot to be done: Why on Earth do we think it's a good idea to keep our success stories on the same page as our most recent internal debate, at all times there is only a few pixels between the two and they are not distinguishable by any kind of color or pattern except for the "[Sitcky]" mark on one of them. This is one of the many reasons why I asked for some input and some help. What does the community want? Does anyone want to help in making these changes happen?

    [1] Indeed, we've recently reached the point where people (not regular users) approach us for one reason or another and, as an aside, express some concern about certain lesser aspects of MO that they heard through the grapevine. This hasn't been harmful so far (that we know of) but it is not a good trend. While MO does have its downsides which we cannot hide, the lesson here is that we need to better present and highlight the upsides of MO.

    [2] I have an anecdote about this where I had to ask someone (a mathematician) for authorization to do something on behalf of MO. (Details are unimportant.) They didn't know about MO, except for maybe having heard the name somewhere. They asked for a brief synopsis about MO. I usually ask them to pull the front page while I explain that no, it's not for calculus help, while the page loads and then show the cool stuff that is happening today. Sadly, the top posts weren't anything to brag about at the time. I then had the idea of popping the user tab and say: "Well, if Tao, Gowers and Thurston found MO interesting..." but before I was done with the sentence I suddenly realized that Gowers and Thurston had fallen onto the second user page. That was embarrassing and I got a little sweaty. Fortunately, I did manage to salvage the situation and get the authorization we needed.

    • CommentAuthorgrp
    • CommentTimeMay 31st 2013
    I saw a post exemplar (the newest one on Yitang Zhang's work, where a part using Cauchy Schwarz got some clarification) which I think could be part of a brief tour. If it is possible to set up a tour link, a new user could be asked to browse our recommended sequence of pages so that they get a good and positive view of the site. Even if it can't be done inside the stackexchange system, an outside framed page with links could be setup for promotional purposes.

    If no one else does, I'll throw something together and post it as a volunteer effort in community relations.

    Gerhard "Now We're Walking, We're Walking..." Paseman, 2013.05.31
    • CommentAuthorgrp
    • CommentTimeMay 31st 2013
    Here is a partial outline and some sample text as elaboration on the tour idea. If it looks promising, I can generate some more, but I could use help with the commentary and some technical detail. This is the sort of thing I think Francois desires in the realm of community relations.

    ======Begin Main Page of Tour========
    Welcome to the MathOverflow tour!

    This self guided tour is meant to show more than just basic features of the forum. You should also gain a sense of how the community both operates and co-operates. (Pun intended.) We suggest an order of pages to visit, but you may choose your own.
    (Do not insert corny AC joke here.) Each choice should popup a new window with commentary and sample page. You should close these windows when you are done with them.

    A resource for research
    For professional mathematicians
    For graduate students
    For researchers in other disciplines
    For those with an interest in mathematics
    Reference requests
    Asking what's new on a problem
    Helping debug a paper
    Making connections

    Some areas
    General Algebra
    Model Theory
    Reverse Mathematics
    Analytic Number Theory
    Complexity Theory
    Metric Geometry
    Combinatorial Matrix Theory
    Algebraic Geometry
    Functional Analysis

    The seamier side
    Unmoderated discussions.
    Inappropriate comments
    Crankish behaviour
    A forum for deciding what's what (meta)

    Reputable Professors
    Reputable Graduate Students
    Reputable Undergraduate Students
    Interested Amateurs
    Other Fine Community Denizens

    How To
    Ask a question
    Give an answer
    Cite a MathOverflow posting
    Flag for attention
    Accept an answer (needs a question)
    Search for items
    Use Tags
    Make favorites
    Register an account

    Vote (needs rep)
    Make a comment (needs rep)
    Make a new tag (needs rep)
    Edit another's post (needs rep)

    Ask for help

    We would like feedback for this tour. If you can spare two minutes, please visit and fill out this page. If you can spare more time, please visit this page as well. In any case, thank you for joining the tour!
    ====End Main Page Of Tour====

    When one clicks on one of the tour links, a framed window should
    appear, with commentary in one frame and the actual MathOverflow page in another. I don't care if frames are used, but it is important that commentary be provided along with the page to be viewed, and I don't know enough CSS to overlay a page with commentary that can be moved around. Here is a sample that accompanies one of the pages.

    =====Begin Commentary on For Graduate Students =======
    MathOverflow was created by graduate students and some
    faculty with the idea of helping everyone in a similar position.
    Often this means other graduate students, either by clarifying a point or by providing another way of thinking about the problem
    In the question below titled [Haven't got an ideal page for this yet], one student explains a tricky point about schemes by [need to extract detail from the page] to another student. Also note another user's answer and how it helps the person asking the question.

    Please close this window when you are done with it. Or,
    [HyperLink with text "Go To Next Or Main Page"]
    =====End Commentary on For Graduate Students=======

    It may be that a tour of a default user page is better than a tour of pages of volunteer users, but I think showing some real user pages is an important aspect of the tour.

    Gerhard "So What Do You Think?" Paseman, 2013.05.31

    @François: You said

    Why not have MO weekly picks?

    I just wanted to mention that SE 2.0 sites all have automatically-generated newsletters containing such things. Additionally, just like MO currently has, there are the "hot", "week", and "month" tabs on the front page (though in the SE 2.0 network, these are currently visible only to people who are logged in), which are also automatically-generated.

    For content chosen or produced by volunteer users, and for the purpose of community relations in general, the community blog functionality may be useful. See this discussion on meta.math.SE.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeMay 31st 2013

    @François G. Dorais: Thank you for the detailed reply. Since you ask me what I wish would happen more. I think you (the moderators or possibly somebody else) writing more posts on meta (or perhaps elsewhere, possibly more visibly) on policy and general matters could be helpful. The problem I see is that of an ever widening gap between some (few) that are around since a long time and pay attention to this, and thus know about the outcome of numerous discussions over the years that formed some consensus on some and confirmed dissent about many other subjects of relevance to MO. But for somebody arriving newly now, I sometimes feel the 'laws' of the site could be quite a mystery. And, even if one wanted to, it is not quite so easy to even learn them somewhere as they are somehow distilled from pages over pages of discussion over the years. (There are the FAQs but on the one hand they do not tell the full-story, and on the other hand at least parts of it might need some commentary to be properly understood.) What is more these things now get a lot less discussed than say two years ago. meta has gone too silent. Those that use it have somehow more or less established consensus or dissent and there are few new contributors. And, if they arrive often people do not have enough patience to do for the n+1 time a discussion on subject X. But it would be relevant as in this way new people would learn about the existing cultures and views. Even for long time users there are various things were some explanation might help.

    Thus, I thought it a good idea if somebody would explain aspects of the site in a visible way. To pass on the existing culture(s) and as a starting point for discussions to change the existing culture(s) if this should be desired.

    Not only closure and controversial things. There are many things. Why not write something like a blog-post about tagging? It is not so hard and there is hardly any harm in using a top-level tag. But many do not. Do they really care so little (some perhaps, but so many?) or is this only some lack of information that it should be done and why doing it is useful. Or, why do not more people re-tag badly or incompletely tagged questions (while they are active)? It is not a lot of work to re-tag a question, but I also did not do it for a long time. Somehow one just might not think about doing it. Or, why do people after asking their question not just look briefly to the right to see if the tags they used were already used before (and if not, and it is about a very common notion at least, perhaps check if they might have made a typo and thus created a new tag).

    And if this seems too patronizing to do quasi-lectures, perhaps some periodic 'ask the moderator(s)' event, where 'event' migt just be an open thread on meta that is announced. I think Ryan Budney (in the delte-thread) is quite right that some might be quite hesitant to specifically start a thread on meta for something, like, presumably it has come up before, perhaps somebody will complain, in the end it is not that important, so rather not or perhaps later.

    However, just before the platform change this might not be the best moment to start such things and due to the change some things might get better. But this is what I sort of thought you were envisioning

    But also I should say that overall I am very happy with the moderators. And it is not so easy to moderate, for instance, me, at least sometimes :-)

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeMay 31st 2013

    Yet now after this long discussion about what you actually do not intend to do, but I thought you intended, for what you actually intend:

    For the success-stories, I think this could be a really good idea to present them better. If somebody who likes to do such things would create a webpage where they are nicely presented, with the paper (where there is one) to download, a link to the MO content and perhaps some additional words provided by the involved user(s).

    For 'weekly picks' I could write a page why this might cause numerous problems. But only briefly: for one thing, chances are ever so often, likely rather frequently, a post will be picked that according to some, not infrequently including me, is in the end off-topic but still perceived as somehow good or interesting. To pick and display them would be a mild form of 'torture' for those. (This is only a minor exaggeration, seeing certain posts really almost causes my physical pain.)

    For 'user interviews' and alike this could also be interesting. However, you mentioned the aspect of users feeling valued. There is an issue here. You will not be able to individually value everybody. If you then do something for some, things become worse for the rest. Also, who would be interviewed? The well-known mathematicians on MO? On the one hand a natural idea, on the other hand they receive ample of positive feedback off and on the site, while others do or might not (to that extent) neither off nor on the site. In that sense it might be a on avarage rather positive that MO is relatively egalitarian and nobody is explicitly valued so much. Though, in any case there is ample of positive feedback on the site.

    But, the success-stories this seems really good to me. And for my more critical remarks, I think there is some point to some, but then sometimes I tend to focus too much on potential problems, so subtract some of the scepticsm.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 1st 2013 edited

    @Zev Chonoles: I had not read your post before mine. Could you say what this newsletter contains roughly? In particular, is this about like the math.SE frontpage, by which I mean what one gets when going to (at least if one is not logged in there, I do not know what one gets otherwise not having an accout there)?

    If so, this is precisely what I am worried about. Since days: 3rd grade problem, Sum of Some, ... math.SE is a lot more interesting than this. Having the selection along comparable criteria for MO as 'welcome' is a nightmare for me. (Even more so if/when then people from other network pages get attracted by them and come along and start to vote and to comment, which they can I think due to this association bonus if this is the correct name, preserving this still longer at the top I assume in addition to making it still worse.) [And to be clear: it is not so much that I have a problem with it, I could avoid it, am used to it, and based on general considerations have a lot less problem with it than some others (not on MO) would have, but if such things are the first thing one sees...some might well decide it'd better also be the last thing one sees from the site.]

    Actually, is this 'interesting' type of frontpage optional on SE2.0? If at all possible, please let us not have it for MO.

    @grp: This could be interesting. One thing I would consider as important if such a tour is made is that links of the tour do not go to the actual MO-page, but show a 'copy' or screenshot of it. Otherwise this creates an extreme bias and the tour becomes meaningless, except if one rotates the underlying pages very frequently. (This is potentially even a problem for success strories, but less so, since at least there it is clear something exceptional is referred to whereas if you want to show something good but still representative it should not happen that this then has masses of views and votes.) [Added: Just, in particular for the more technical aspects it seems SE2.0 has something like this already "built in" under 'tell me more' on the start page of math.SE.]


    Another network feature to add to Zev's list is the about page which is designed in a similar spirit as Gerhard's tour, though not nearly as detailed.

    A reminder from long ago... We currently have an excellent opportunity to ask SE to tailor some site features for us. (That will continue to be true after migration but right now we can also add specific clauses to our contract with SE if there is a need.)

    We could ask for no newsletter but I would rather ask for our newsletter to be edited by a human (such as the volunteer for the position in item 2 of my original post). It seems to me that good quality editor can minimize all the issues that quid is worried about.

    To offer a counterpoint to quid's worries, it seems to me that they are based on the idea that all things are equal (such as all 3rd grade students in an idealized elementary school) and that the weekly picks and user interviews are suddenly the main focal point of MO (very unlikely, additional features aren't intended to affect the way the site works in an essential way).

    • There is no reason for weekly picks to be selected using specific metrics (as would be automatically-generated ones) or that they would even be correlated with votes, views, or what the community thinks is hot. There's already plenty of ways to do that (though I wonder how many use them). A good editor has the ability to select posts based on a variety of different criteria of community interest. A few examples: an old tough nut, understanding some recent news, cool ideas for to-be-mathematicians. Note how the way they are presented allows you to choose whether or not to look further depending on your personal interests; a good weekly-picks editor knows how to direct readers to what they want.

    • It's a very strange idea to think that user interviews would be selected in a uniform fashion or with any kind of fairness in mind. For one thing, most users are not interested in doing interviews. Interviews are usually based on themes or ideas, otherwise it's really not that interesting. (Sample ideas and themes: User so-and-so is using MO in this uniquely interesting way. What does the president of such-and-such organization think of MO? What does this moderator think about the future of MO? Let's ask an expert about so-and-so's recent advance in hodgepodge weak-star coholodromy.) I don't see why "equal opportunity" should be a basis for selecting user interviews (though, clearly, there is a cause for complaint if the editor shows unusual bias).

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 1st 2013

    François G. Dorais: It is not clear to me why you think that all this is based on an idea of all things being equal if anything perhaps obsta principiis. (But let me stop on this else this will become off-topic; but if you read fedja's recent contributions in another thread, while the emphasis was different, you might notice somewhat of a related sentiment.)

    Now, for something more positive: a newsletter made by a good editor could in principle be something good. If you find somebody competent and willing to do this, which I consider a big commitment, this might be good (but see below). In my opinion this is a big "if" in particular on a continued and somewhat long-term basis. Look, Zev Chonoles and you mentioned the blogs and in the meta thread linked it said for the TCS blog 3 postings per month happen, which likely was rigth at that point in time. But then as I mentioned above over a relatively short period of time it went completely silent. And now it rather causes a poor impression for the site, in my opinion. This site has a blog not updated since more then a year. What would you infer from this about the site (if you knew nothing else)? IMO, it would be better they had no blog. Or, say, you start the newsletter. And then, you need to discontinue it in say a year since it turns out it is too much work (or the first volunteer is exhausted and you do not find a second). What type of impression would this give?

    But also, it is not even so clear to me if it is a good idea to do anything that makes it easy to be updated about the site without visiting it frequently. I think a considerable contributing factor to the success of MO is that one visits it frequently not to miss things.

    In any case, I'd caution against starting certain things that then might not be maintainable for a reasonable period of time. But, if you consider it as feasible, it might be good to have it (as said).

    For the interviews: yes, sure, ideas or themes, you would not randomly select somebody and try to get an interview. My point is that you can do this in a way that already visible things get even more visible or such that hardly visible things (but still relevant) get some visibility. You can also balance both. My worry is that in the end only the former will happen (because first it is easier and also for other reasons). And, perhaps, I would also do it like this if I need to promote MO somewhere, but then your anecdote [2] somewhat confirms this worry. (If you know the mathematician you need to talk to, why not present them some things in tags close to their speciality, maybe including some unanswered question, besides engaging in name-dropping.)

    Regarding features: as little as possible emphasis to content being interesting by standard metrics; in parituclar, as regards showing it to the rest of the network. (My hope is most people in the network will think MO is the most boring site in the world and just stay away; of course, there are some exceptions on math.SE and TCS and some other, but as a general sentiment. Or differently, I hope we will have as few as possible Batman-curve-like events.)


    OK, quid. I'm not convinced by all your arguments but, as mathematicians know very well, the first idea usually doesn't pan out that well. So what's a better idea? Keep in mind that that a lot of the things you are describing as worrisome are things that will happen precisely if we do nothing.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 1st 2013

    @François G. Dorais: You ask me for ideas. But, ideas to what end?

    It is not clear to me if you envision to turn MO into something in addition to a Q&A site. If so, my first and essentially only idea is: Don't. MathSciNet does indexing and reviewing, the arXiv hosts papers. So, MO does Q&A. No need for something in addition.

    So for the Q&A. Of course, there could always be this or that technical tweak, but I think this is not what we are talking about at the moment.

    So, what is left: improving the existing community and attracting new contributors.

    For the former I made some suggestions already. Since the move seems to arrive soon it might however not be the best moment for giving a lot of thought to how to improve on this platform.

    So for new contributors and some other aspects I assume closer to the ideas you had:

    Perhaps just create something like a personal website for MathOverflow for a start. Hosted on a domain other than


    1. Explanation what is, say, history, successes, MO in the news, maybe a tour too. Of course also a link to

    2. A section on the community (this could develop into 'user interviews'). But perhaps to start one could do micro-interviews. Just slightly more detailed than what the MO-userpage can hold. I do not know. I have no talent for such things. Maybe call it: Something like: "We are MO!"
      Whoever is interested in being listed could send answers to a certain list of questions (or a subset thereof) and a photo (optional) to somebody in charge. Perhaps to start it off approach some people directly. And the questions could be generalities and some MO-question. Favorite question, most useful information learned,...

    3. In addition some section for announcements and maybe still a 'moderator blog' in the end. And then there used to exist PlanetMO aggregating blogs (or perhaps is? but at the moment it give a 404 error) but somehow this never really was accepted or used much. But perhaps it is worth another try.

    But I would start this in a quite simple way. More or less a static site. So if it does not develop so well and goes rather idle after some time it does not shine through so much. ()So perhaps leave the blog or the PlanetMO away, or just take it down soon enough if does not stay active.)

    (Depending on how the feedback of the community is on this idea of being listed their, one might consider to give people some space there to develop whatever they want basically (within reasonable limits), some sort of MO-wiki. But this is perhaps already to ambitious. Let us forget this for the moment.)

    This could then be used to demonstrate what MO is about and also it could help (and this might be necessary) to preserve the independent identity of MO once it is part of SE2.0 network. So that it really always stays MO, and does not become just the more advanced of two maths sites in SE2.0.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 1st 2013

    For a newsletter, on reflection, I really do not see much point in having this. What purpose should this serve? The point of MO is to do Q&A not to inform the math community. Also, how would you get somebody to subscribe to a newsletter that does not already use the site? And, if they use it, giving them a newsletter rather might make them not visit as often. So, I would only do a newsletter if some users should say: I want this! For the purpose of recruiting new users it seems useless to me, for the purpose of keeping contributors more or less also. One might get more people that read some content. But what is this good for? Somebody who does not contribute content is irrelevant for the quality of the site. So who cares if somebody reads the site? (This is an oversimplification for effect; but still to me there is a clear distinction between a Q&A site and a journal, say. For the former you need readers only in order to generate the content, only for the later having many readers is the point.)

    One might consider doing 'advertisements' that could be similar in form to a newsletter but would not be regularly distributed and possibly geared for some quite specific community. There are many math mailing-lists for certain subjects perhaps for some it could make sense to mention MO there. Although one might have to be careful here, and things like this possibly already happened. Or, one could try to target specific geographic areas (via smaller math societies and their respective channels of communication); likely for this it could make sense to ask around on MO for some user from the relevant region.

    But also now seems like exactly the wrong moment to do this, but then perhaps a good moment to discuss about it. :-)

    For recruiting new users, I would say, change the platform, wait until things settle a bit (there might be some general confusion, and then anyway some new people from math.SE might arrive and so on) and then once things stabilized a bit, it could be a good occasion to make some publicity for MO2.0 so to say.

    So these are my ideas. Likely, nothing very original, but I really do not count these types of things among my talents, but perhaps at least or at last I tried and did not only point out potential problems. :-)


    This is great quid! Lots of good ideas and at least one brand new one! (So that's two fresh ideas so far together with Gerhard's very nice tour idea.)

    It is not clear to me if you envision to turn MO into something in addition to a Q&A site. If so, my first and essentially only idea is: Don't. MathSciNet does indexing and reviewing, the arXiv hosts papers. So, MO does Q&A. No need for something in addition.

    There are absolutely no plans to transform the functionality of the main site in any essential ways.

    So for the Q&A. Of course, there could always be this or that technical tweak, but I think this is not what we are talking about at the moment.

    Indeed, this is off-topic for this thread but some of these are coming up in the near future.

    So, what is left: improving the existing community and attracting new contributors. For the former I made some suggestions already. Since the move seems to arrive soon it might however not be the best moment for giving a lot of thought to how to improve on this platform.

    Bingo! This is actually a very good time to start thinking about this. (Keep in mind that these projects can take a long time to execute.) Though I expected and understand the feeling of too much at once.

    Your ideas from then on are quite nice and well thought out. Most of these ideas I had heard before but you bring your own flavor to them and that's what we need to hear from the community.

    The MO-wiki idea is brand new to me. It sounds like a perfect place to keep "existing philosophies/opinions behind certain (community) moderation decisions, in particular closures, and related things" you were originally thinking of. Since wikis are community run and easy to set up, I can't imagine how it's too ambitious. It does need a small set of devoted users like you to get it into a useful state. The more I think about it, the more I realize this might be really useful. Indeed the "problem of meta" is still not fully resolved and this seems like a very good way to preserve the legacy of this meta after we migrate to the network. Note that it is not realistic for moderators to maintain an MO-wiki but interested users are free to set up such a thing.

    This could then be used to demonstrate what MO is about and also it could help (and this might be necessary) to preserve the independent identity of MO once it is part of SE2.0 network. So that it really always stays MO, and does not become just the more advanced of two maths sites in SE2.0.

    This is a valid concern and additional features like the ones being talked about here can go a long way.

    Regarding newsletters, I've personally never had a request for this. I have had several requests for weekly picks (or similar) and a moderator blog, which are not exactly the same idea. Something is odd in your analysis though I can't pinpoint the reason. Perhaps you are not aware that we have vastly more (regular and irregular) lurkers and irregular users than regular users like you. I think weekly picks and/or a newsletter could definitely be useful to someone who visits MO once a week or less. I certainly agree that weekly picks and a newsletter would generally be useless for you and I, and almost everyone who reads meta.

    Regarding regional publicity, someone once suggested helping users organize MO Cafés where users in the same area can gather at a specific time an place (a coffee shop or a pub, for example) to meet and chat about math. I never figured out how to do that so the idea has been shelved for a long while now.

    Regarding attracting new users, this is never a bad idea but it's not a current focus. We are starting to think about MO's public image which is not quite the same idea. The bigger motivation for this is simply that there are a lot of things we aren't doing or aren't doing well and we want to come up with a plan to change some of that.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 2nd 2013

    @François G. Dorais: great you found this useful. Some comments and clarifications.

    re MO-wiki: the reason I said it might be too ambitious is mainly that for this "MO's personal website" site I envisioned I wanted only things that have a feel of being polished or otherwise impressive. To set-up the space is not the problem but to fill it with something good might not be so easy (or might only develop over time). Also, for this MO-wiki I rather thought about mathematical or semi-mathematical content. And, if these things like moderation-philosophies and so on should be there it'd be almost again like now, the success stories are right next to somewhat complicated and potentially controversial elaborations that only can make sense to somebody familiar with the site.

    Perhaps two new sites: the shiny MO-headquater and the more chaotic (and creative) MO-development-unit. But this is perhaps too much. On practical grounds, for the latter, we could at least for a start really just continue this board, it could be completely in the background, just for those (likely quite few) users who have some interest in discussing MO in generality and great detail and on long time-scales. Perhaps some reasonable texts that could serve as supplements to the FAQs could come out of it (they then could be put somewhere more prominently).

    One more practical thing that might become relevant sooner: the FAQs might need an update or some rewriting (for the new platform but also in general), for example what the FAQs says on 'open problems' seems not very much linked to reality (and while abstractly a good idea and perhaps more feasible in the early days, now it seems not a good idea to create repositories for this or that open-problem). [If there should be interest, I could elaborate in more detail on potential revisions to FAQs but perhaps in a different thread, and a discussion might produce useable paragraphs for a revised version.]

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 2nd 2013

    re newsletter and weekly picks: no, I am not unaware of the lurkers and irregular users (but do not oversee the numbers); for one thing, I somehow missed the start of the site (not sure why), then started for some reason (though I absolutely forgot where I read about it) only to read it, then after month made my first rather obscure and irregular contributions and then after still some months started to contribute on a regular basis. My point is, but this was not quite clear, the convenience of lurkers and irregular users should not be a priority, in fact it should be an anti-priority. Not for some general disregard, but the interest of MO, the site, is to have contributions, questions and answer.

    Whether anybody reads them in addition is somehow irrelevant (there is not even a revenue generated by page-views as there are no adds). [Not completely as it might generate some general good-will in the math community, and so on, but this effect does not seem so significant.]

    The only (well maybe not really only in a strict sense) reason why not to neglect completely the interests of this group is that they are potential contributors. But, to this end it is in fact better if people need to search for their content (as in doing so something where they will contribute might catch their eyes), as opposed to being presented some typically already nicely answered things. And, even if you present them also not yet answered things, it is quite unlikely this will have an effect. Because if it gets not answered quickly it is either quite hard or quite specialized. (And perhaps it might have an effect for the one or the few things that got presented, but in presenting this one thing you took away the 'random views' on other things, so that on average from the point of view of the site this might well be a loss).

    So I would see this infrequent visitors miss some interesting things as a problem if and only if some of them should find the site without guidance not worth visiting; this seems unlikely to me, in particular if one knows how to navigate the site effectively.

    So, if somebody 'complains' they miss interesting content just tell them MO is online 24/7 and so just visit more frequently. :-) Okay, this might not go over so well with everybody, so explain them instead or in addition that there is not only the frontpage but various different ways to see the questions, this 'week' and 'months' mentioned above if they are interested in general type of content seems about alright (while I argued against using auto-generated suggestions it is also not all bad) and if they look for specialized things the can browse by tag (if one chooses tag number-theory, the second largest of all tags, then the first 50 questions by active, so to say the NT-frontpage, goes back more than a week at the moment; and people could also look at the second page, and perhaps be guided by votes [some caution is needed regarding votes, but then there is a difference between a +5 and a -2 question in general]) .

    Such type of information could also be part of a 'tour'

    And if some way of view seems missing perhaps one can ask that this is added (it should no be that difficult to add some other tab or option of combination of tag/time/votes view).

    Of course, this being effective depends a bit on question being tagged properly. But perhaps to make it happen that actually every question has a top-level tag, is not that infeasible. (There might be a need for one in addition for non-mathematical things, but other than that it seems not hard.)
    [It might almost suffice to explain people more that the tags are first and foremost meta content of the post, as some seem to be completely oblivious regarding this aspect, and by contrast think the tags are there as flashy keywords, like a title in a different way. Sometimes I wish tags in standard view of question were invisible, then this would be more obvious.]

    Also, let us (continue to) delete many (most) closed things rather quickly. If somebody really visits just once a week, about two thirds of the really bad things that happened in there absence can be completely out of sight.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 2nd 2013

    re regional publicity: I imagine such an MO cafe could be quite fun but the initiative for these would have to be rather local. But somebody could go ahead and announce and report on it on meta, perhaps some others will follow the idea. Or if an occasion is needed, MO has a birthday, which was even 'celebrated' by system messages in the past, perhaps somebody could just organize something somewhere and talk about it and others will pick up the idea. In a certain sense it is trivial to organize in the right context. As soon as there are two users that know each other they could just decide to meet somewhere and announce this and 'invite' everybody else (alone it could be a bit odd if you then end up there alone). An issue could be that at many a place the MO-user density might be too sparse and/or the people meet anyway on a regular basis (being at the same departement, for instance), but for some places it might work. Now, I am quite badly placed to do such a thing, for the obvious reason that I separate MO and everything else quite strictly.

    However, if this would have much positive influence for MO, I doubt it. Maybe at some places where it is wide spread it could become still wider spread, but where it is not so much known you cannot even start in this way. In any case, this seems like a fun activity some might decided to do, but it does not seem like a plan to promote MO, in my opinion.

    By contrast, IIRC, MO used to be present at some Joint Math Meetings, and to do things like this might have some effect. Perhaps for some other large and generalist conferences in other areas, too. Again, to organize this centrally seems complicated. What might be feasible to do is if you (the moderators) do such things when/where it is somewhat convenient for you, and report about it. With the explicit or implicit message that some could follow the example. (Again for this I am badly placed.)

    Finally, I would be curious if you could say something on the existing public image(s) of MO. Here, on meta and main, one reads on occasion, and in passing, completely contradictory things related to this. Likely locally it is completely contradictory, but perhaps you have some overview and can tell better what are the dominant perceptions. Or, what are the 'lesser aspects' people bring to your attention that you mentioned above.


    grp wrote:

    • Community is the people participating in the Stackexchange network. Relations involves issues which are external to MathOverflow but internal to the larger network. A primary responsibility would be monitoring and correcting the flow of dialogue (Questions, question posts, complaints, cross-group behaviour issues) that occurs across this line of demarcation. (I don't know enough to elaborate sensibly on this kind of volunteer position.)

    and François wrote

    • I think this already happens in "moderator channels" on the network, but I don't have any hands-on experience with this. (Willie and Mariano could tell us more about how that works.)

    First of all, all items that grp raised in the above quote are part of the duties of the moderators for sites on the stackexchange network. So "community relations" should not mean that.

    There are several means with which those duties are discharged:

    • The forum Meta.SO is meant to be, in addition to the meta site for StackOverflow, also the general discussion site for meta issues that may concern more than one StackExchange site. Though only very rarely do topics which involve "specific" sites appear there (the discussion there are usually in the generic hypothetical). (An exception that comes to mind being this discussion on the demise of Theoretical Physics.) Specific issues between two or three sites should be resolved by posting on the site-specific meta of one (or more) of the sites involved. (An example being the question: "Should we migrate questions of Type X to your forum?")

    • The chat channel Teacher's Lounge is a moderators only chat channel, where moderators can discussion moderation related issues, identify rule breakers, ask for advice, etc. One of the neat features is that in that chatroom one can summon moderators from a different StackExchange site easily, and leave them messages on moderation related issues.

    • The periodic Moderator Chatcasts (and the associated Moderator Newsletters) are special events run in the Teacher's Lounge channel, where site-wide changes in policy, user interface, available tools, etc. are announced and discussed. In addition sometimes they also do case studies of moderation events.

    • The Community Team of StackExchange is available by e-mail and other means to act as a liaison for discussions between moderators, and also for help/clarification on the technical and not-technical issues arising from moderation.