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    • CommentAuthorKConrad
    • CommentTimeJun 4th 2013
    When I first look at the MO page, before logging into my account there, the default list of questions that is shown is the latest questions that are asked, so it is always changing. That's nice. However, when I first look at the math.stackexchange page the questions first shown are instead the ones that are most looked at (e.g., those with 10K or 8K views), and this list is often stable and relatively unchanging. That's dull and becoming somewhat annoying. The format where the default first page is the latest asked questions is more attractive than one where the default first page is the most viewed questions (or something close to the most viewed questions). Do the MO moderators know if there is a way to have the first page shown on the MO.stackexchange site be the latest asked questions when MO moves to that site?

    Do the MO moderators know if there is a way to have the first page shown on the MO.stackexchange site be the latest asked questions when MO moves to that site?

    Yes, our best opportunity to negotiate such things is now! (See also the "community relations" discussion.)

    Aside, not in reply to KConrad: It's best to formulate suggestions in the form "I would like this" rather than "please don't do that" since the latter is not a viable negotiation point.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 4th 2013

    Just for completeness as I wrote so much in the thread linked by François G. Dorais: I strongly agree with KConrad as expressed there.

    To be more specific the Stackoverflow frontpage seems to be closer to mathoverflow, regarding questions, while also having some of the features of the math.SE frontpage one that I find an improvement over MO's current one (such as the 'Tell me more').

    So, if MO could get somehow the analog of the SO frontpage, in my opinion, this would be great; as I would consider it as an improvement over the current situation (which I already find good).


    I think SO actually uses an algorithm that's not at all what you want (see here: But since the number of questions is so so high, it looks like you're seeing what you want because no questions have lots of views.

    Both math.SE and MO use the "active" tab. I'm not sure whether the "active" algorithm has been changed significantly, or whether what you're seeing is an artifact of math.SE having more questions. I haven't noticed a big difference between MO's active tab and other SE sites which are lower traffic than m.SE, so hopefully this isn't actually a problem.


    Each SE 2.0 site has a one-sentence summary that is displayed at the top when people first visit. For example:

    "Mathematics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields."

    "Stack Overflow is a question and answer site for professional and enthusiast programmers."

    Has it been determined yet what MO's description will be? This will play a key role in people's first impressions of our purpose, so it's worth wording it pretty carefully.

    In particular, if it gives anyone the wrong impression, they'll be offended to be told this after posting a question. For example, most non-academics do not interpret the term "research" the same way academics do. Specifically, most people think of research as any process of independent learning and figuring things out. High school students writing term papers are considered to be engaged in research, as are amateur programmers learning about quaternions to do 3d graphics. If our description is "Mathoverflow is a question and answer site for research-level mathematics questions", then a lot of people will think "Hey, I'm researching topic X in mathematics, so this is the site for me."

    I'm not sure what an ideal description would be. It would be useful to highlight professional mathematicians and graduate students in mathematics, without being too exclusive and driving away other valuable contributors, and I'm having trouble thinking of good wording.

    • CommentAuthorKConrad
    • CommentTimeJun 4th 2013
    Noah, I am not talking about what questions you see on MSE after you click the Question tab, but rather what questions you see on MSE before you click anything at all. The questions I first see are definitely not the most active questions, but rather questions with thousands of views, like someone writing about her 6th grade son's observation being beautiful or someone asking if math is just a big tautology. These have been the first questions shown on MSE for days, and I find it more and more annoying that this is the default way of welcoming people to the site.

    As discussed with Keith on email, I believe this is a unregistered vs. registered issue. "New" users are sent to the questions with the most views, while registered users are sent to a similar default page as on MO (though possibly the algorithm has been tweaked since SE1.0 and SE2.0 diverged). On MO, by contrast, unregistered users are sent to the same front page as old users.

    This may still be a problem (as we don't want new users to think that the most viewed questions are typical), but hopefully it makes it clear what is and isn't a problem.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 4th 2013

    @Noah Snyder: thank you for the additional information regarding the SO frontpage. It seems to have precisely this is indeed not feasible as they say even math.SE is too small and MO is smaller still; so let me modifiy, like SO with 'active' instead of 'interesting' (or also 'new' or even 'hot'). Yet the math.SE frontpage we are talking about here is still something else entirely, as KConrad said. Please follow the link I provide making sure you are not logged in on math.SE to see what we mean.

    The first question is at the moment 'My son's Sum of Some is beautiful' which before was at position two for days while something with "3rd grade problem" in title was on top.

    I do however not believe that SO only looks like I want because nothing has many views. The first listed questions often have often only extremely few views (at the moment something like 1,2,5,2,2,...) Indeed, from rough inspection of the formula in links it seems that many views push the question down not up.

    Added in view of your reply: yes, KConrad said it is before he logs in right at the start. Also, it is not a problem for me personally. It is precisley a problem if a new user arrives for the first time and is greeted by some popular but in the end more often than not rather low-quality questions.


    Sorry, I was confused as I'm never sent to that page as I'm always logged in, so I missed the distinction Keith was making. Hopefully everyone's on the same page here, I can't be the only person who is always logged on so missed the point being made.

    • CommentAuthorKConrad
    • CommentTimeJun 4th 2013
    My browser is set up to clear cookies every time I log out, so going to MO or MSE for the first time in any browser session is always as a new user, not a registered user. That is why I see a page of highly viewed questions on MSE as their front page. The "Sum of Some" and "Math is big tautology" type questions are annoying to see as the first thing on MSE day after day. Sure, it's not the end of the world, and a simple click on the "Questions" tab shows me the genuinely new questions, but for a site to convey the idea of dynamic ever-changing questions it seems weird that the default page shown to new (unregistered) users is a page of the most-viewed questions instead of a page of the latest questions.

    In reference to Henry's point. For comparison, our closest analogue TCS has: "Theoretical Computer Science Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for theoretical computer scientists and researchers in related fields."

    Some possibilities: "MathOverflow is a questions and answers site for questions of interest to professional mathematicians" "MathOverflow is a questions and answers site for professional and amateur research mathematicians." "MathOverflow is a questions and answers site for math questions at or above the Ph.D. level."

    It might be wise to have a link to M.SE right in that opening message "For other mathematical questions, try our sister site M.SE."

    • CommentAuthorKConrad
    • CommentTimeJun 4th 2013
    If I had thought more carefully, I would have titled this meta page "What will front page be on the MO stackexchange site for unregistered users?"

    I think Henry's point about the one-sentence summary is an important one, and of the suggestions made so far I like Noah's "MathOverflow is a questions and answers site for math questions at or above the Ph.D. level." the best. It's not a perfect description of MO, but I think it would do a better job of filtering out unwanted questions that the alternatives mentioned so far. (I think the term "Ph.D. level" is widely understood in the U.S. How about Europe? The rest of the world?)


    I like "at or above the Ph.D. level" in some ways, but it might sound like you're expected to have a Ph.D. if you'd like to participate. Mathoverflow should certainly feel open to graduate students and others with similar backgrounds (for example, sophisticated undergraduates or people in other fields).


    "above the undergraduate level"?

    • CommentAuthorTobias
    • CommentTimeJun 4th 2013
    Maybe "at advanced graduate level and above".

    On more thought, even though it's not one sentence I would prefer something like:

    "MathOverflow is a questions and answers site for research mathematicians. We accept questions at the Ph.D. student level and higher. Questions of all levels are accepted at our sister site Math.SE."

    Personally I'd substitute "professional" for "research" (that is it's a site intended for professional mathematicians, though of course we're happy to have contributions from amateurs as well), but I imagine some people feel very strongly the other way.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 4th 2013

    Regarding what is understood: I think Ph.D. is releatively wide spread. I know it is even used officially or at least semi-officially in some non-English speaking countries and as soon as somebody at least knows what the D. abbriviates it is already quite clear as the notion of a doctoral degree seems very wide spread; by contrast, the notions graduate and undergraduate could lead to more confusion. When I explain it in comments to people where I somehow assume they are not necessarily familar with the US system I tend to avoid "graduate level" and rather say the site is mainly intended "for people having studied math at the univerty level for 5+ years" or something like this. (Precisely this seems not good for a title though.)

    If it were not for the problem that "graduate level" might not be universally understood I'd like Tobias's suggestion.

    Regarding specific suggestions, I would be happy with

    MathOverflow is a questions and answers site for mathematical questions of interest to professional mathematicians

    the emphasis not to be preserved but to stress the deviation from an existing proposal. And also with the suggested:

    MathOverflow is a questions and answers site for math questions at or above the Ph.D. level.

    I would definitely not want the description to explictly include "amateur research mathematicians" My point is that it seems somewhat clear to me that the amateur-professional distinction can only refer to the level at which the activity is carried out (as opposed to the fact whether somebody is paid for doing math research). To avoid confusion this additional information should likely however be include in the FAQs.

    It got added while I typed the above. And, I think I like Noah Snyder's latest suggestion most, with the addition as above:

    MathOverflow is a questions and answers site for research mathematicians. We accept mathematical questions at the Ph.D. student level and higher. Questions of all levels are accepted at our sister site Math.SE.


    Reality check: There is no single sentence tag line that will completely and unambiguously convey all that MathOverflow is about.

    The tag line should be short, clear, to the point and, above all, completely positive. It's just for publicity! It's not an article of law. It shouldn't sound restrictive and it shouldn't redirect to another site. Words like "professional," "graduate," and even "Ph.D." aren't sufficiently clear.

    I suggest this one: "MathOverflow is a question and answer site for researchers in mathematics and related disciplines."


    @François: Why shouldn't the tag line sound (politely) restrictive? It seems like most of the energy on this meta site concerns restricting the sorts of questions that are allowed on MO. Some of the restrictive proposals are controversial (for example, I don't agree with quid's proposal to further restrict softer sorts of questions [Edit: This is not actually what quid is proposing; see below]), but I think everyone agrees that we definitely do not want sub-PhD-level questions. And one of the major concerns expressed here about the move to the StackExchange network is that we might see a significant increase in the number of such questions. I think the desirability filtering out some of these questions outweighs any benefit in being "completely positive".

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 4th 2013 edited

    I stongly agree with Kevin Walker regarding being restrictive. As a clarification: I did not want to suggest to be more restrictive against soft questions in practise. However, also now the FAQs starts by saying (my emphasis):

    MathOverflow's primary goal is for users to ask and answer research level math questions

    Only in the second paragraph it is explain that "there is the occasional question making a list of something, asking about the workings of the mathematical community, or something else which isn't really a math question" and "we suggest you stick to asking precise math questions until you learn about the quirks of the community and the strengths of the medium". Thus, alsio now, new users are effectively told to ask math questions only.

    So, on the one hand my suggestions just puts the primary goal in the description and preserves the information that is now in principle given as well. That anyway it is ignored, will not change. But, it was frequently said on meta also by people being (even) less critical against soft question that of "interest to research matheticians" is not a good description as not everybody seems to understand that this implictly means of interest in their specific role of being a research mathemtician (and if this is not understood the site would be basically free for everything).


    @quid: Thanks for the clarification about your intentions. I'll edit my previous comment accordingly.

    • CommentAuthorKConrad
    • CommentTimeJun 4th 2013
    Whoa. My original question was about which the choice of questions on the front page for new users, and now I come back to this meta page and see that the discussion has veered off into what the welcoming sentence is going to be. All I'll say on that is I think the correct term is what Francois wrote: "question and answer site", not "questions and answers site".
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 4th 2013 edited

    @Kevin Walker: thank you.

    @all: To add one more point to the general matter of being restrictive and specific. If ever we should not want to be more restrictive or specific, it seems to me we could just as well keep the current one: "MathOverflow. A place for mathematicians to ask and answer questions." Or, to follow the structure of the phrase for other sites

    MathOverflow is a question and answer site for mathematicians.

    On François G. Dorais proposal. At least I would not excplictly include 'related disciplines.' If one is worried that if we do not include this then somebody will feel excluded, I would first worry that if it says 'researchers in mathamtics' somebody with a 'teaching only' position in mathematics would feel excluded. Also, if Ph.D. is not clear enough, how is 'related disciplines' clear enough. And, of course, I have nothing against participants from related fields, but neither are the mentioned now explcitly, nor is it true that one actually can ask a math question somebody in a related field might typically have without running a considerable risk of having a quite bad experience. And to avoid this bad experience was if I understood this right Henry Cohn's main concern. And I agree with this. While "publicty" is fine, I think we should be more concerned about possibly doing some sort-of false advertising. At least in the long run I think it will do a lot more harm for the site to have many people being mislead by a too welcoming description (that does not match reality) and then being disappointed by a harsh welcome than the most unwelcoming description ever will.

    Also, it could be instructive to look at the desciptions of some other SE2.0, in a similar situation like MO, in that there is quite a potential for confusion with other sites and the target audience is rather narrow. For example programmers.SE has: "Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development."

    Added: For reference the description of two more sites that seem close and or relevant to MO on the SE network.

    Cross Validated is a question and answer site for statisticians, data analysts, data miners and data visualization experts.

    Computational Science Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for scientists using computers to solve scientific problems.


    Kevin (and others). Yes, I agree that we need to have some mechanisms in place to prevent too many off-topic questions. However, the tag line is not the best place for that. The ideal place is on the ask page: you can easily get to the ask page without ever seeing the tag line, but you can't ask a question without going through the ask page!

    The tag line is only for publicity. For analogy, what you are suggesting is similar to your local pub having changing it's tag line from "the largest selection of beers in town" to "the largest selection of beers in town for ages N and above" in order to curb underage drinking (substitute the correct value of N for your locale).

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 4th 2013 edited

    @François G. Dorais: Let me also draw an anlogy. IMO, you are suggesting to have "the largest selection of beverages in town" for a place where you can only get a small selection of beer (though of very high quality) and if you try to order anything but beer you can very easily get shouted at and told to leave immediately.

    For almost everybody who believes to have a math question, the reality is that MO is in fact not the right place to ask (math.SE, scicomp, crossvalidated perhaps some others are a lot more likely to be right).

    Who is the target audience of this publicity? The relevance of this 'tag line' as I understand it is mainly inside the network. There is hardly anybody to whom we should advertise the site in my opinion. Those few for who it is of interest will likely know about it already. However, I agree one might choose a different slogan for making publicity for MO directed at a math audience say via some article in the Notices of the Monthly or wherever.

    • CommentAuthorgrp
    • CommentTimeJun 4th 2013
    I think there are advantages to having an overly restrictive tag line NOW. (I don't think I would have said this last year. I certainly would not have said it before watching season two of The Big Bang Theory.) In other pages, one can expand and say what the exceptions and additional inclusions are. Right now though, we seem to have a healthy core community as well as a supportive moderately active larger community and an even larger audience. I don't want to discourage people from signing up and participating, but I don't feel as anxious about maintaining the community at this writing. I believe a restrictive tag line will be especially useful to guide users of a larger forum-network into finding the right forum.

    The tagline should be a brief representation of the truth. MathOverflow is primarily a specific tool for a community of doctoral and postdoctoral-researchers in mathematics. We can later add that we like computer scientists, undergraduates, and thought provoking questions from Joseph O'Rourke, regardless of their difficulty, and we can also say that there is a little room for big lists and philosophy and short but to-the-point discussions (and even some whimsy), but we should emphasize NOW that the forum and community standards are geared toward serving the primary audience, now that we have one and a structure set up to maintain it.

    I don't think we should say that our primary goal is our ONLY goal, or that we can't serve anyone but our primary audience. To be fair to the larger stackexchange community though, we should start with the brief restriction: MathOveflow is targeted toward helping doctoral and post-doctoral researchers in mathematics. Anyone who wants to learn more before lurking can see an FAQ ora splash page before submitting a question.

    Gerhard "Shouting From The Peanut Gallery" Paseman, 2013.06.04

    @François: I agree that the tag line is not the best or only place for diverting inappropriate users/questions to other sites, but nevertheless I think it would be a good idea to do some of the diverting via the tag line. This is a situation where redundancy is a good thing. We know from experience that many users don't read the FAQ or other parts of the site where they would learn that they should not ask undergraduate homework problems (for example). The more opportunities such users have to get diverted, the better.

    You say that the tag line is for publicity, but publicity directed toward whom? I don't think we gain anything from publicity aimed at sub PhD/graduate/research/whatever users. To extend your analogy, imagine that we are running a pub and our goal is to attract young, single adults -- definitely not a "family-friendly" pub. I think it would be better to indicate that on the outside of the pub, so that people with kids in tow can choose another pub before passing through the front door. No one gains if we invite the general public to come in and have a closer look, then inform many of them that this isn't really where they want to be.

    @KConrad: you are not the only one. See

    I suppose the justification for the SE style maybe that "it gives some not-entirely-static list of questions which is likely to represent what the community sees as interesting", which could potentially be a good thing if it helps the new user understand what the site is about, what kinds of questions will be well received, etc.


    Can someone contact SE and ask what our (unregistered user) front page would look like for (a) today, (b) three days ago, and (c) a week ago using our current database dump? I have a feeling that the strange MSE front page that shows up is largely a function of those two really upvoted questions in the past week or so. If that is the case the MO front page should be more dynamic... At the very least I'd feel better discussion a more concrete sample instead of some abstract notion based on some other SE site...
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 5th 2013 edited

    Another link to the meta.math.SE thread related to this discussion

    Assuming the answer given there is correct, the page is what a registered user gets under "month", so for MO this would be this:

    The first five:

    1. Why don’t more mathematicians improve Wikipedia articles?

    2. Is there any proof that you feel you do not “understand”?

    3. objects which can’t be defined without making choices but which end up independent of the choice

    4. How closed-form conjectures are made?

    5. Philosophy behind Yitang Zhang’s work on the Twin Primes Conjecture

    You can think about these questions what ever you like (and the opinions will, I assume, range from really good to off-topic), but at least I assume we can agree that this does not help in understanding "what kinds of questions will be well received"; it can happen that such type of question is very well-received but it can also happen that it is rejected. These are high-risk questions. The current FAQs explictly discourage (for good reasons, IMO) that users not yet familiar with this site (and perhaps also known on the site) ask this type of question; the risk of a harsh welcome is way too high.

    In addition, it will always be quite static as it is some "best of the month" so it cannot be that high turn-over. I also suppose that the idea is what Willie Wong said, except it is a mis-guided idea, at least for the purpose of MO, in my opinion. (It might be a good idea for some other new-ish SE sites where the main idea to get new users might well be to attract a small share of the very sizable SO userbase or something along these lines.) At the very least I think the front-page should provide two (or more) highly visible options that make clear that the one is some "best-of" the month and the other the "recent."

    Added: An "official" answer, linked below the meta.math.SE and also on one of the posts mentioned by Willie Wong seems to document the rational. In brief, they seem to say and to want it is worse for somewhat frequent passive readers (though this assertion seems to refer to a different aspect of the change) but supposedly better for first time visitors, and anyway the passive readers should become active participants (if they stay passive permanently, they are anyway rather irrelevant). Now, while I share this latter part (as explained in the other thread) to some extent, it still might be that this is not the right way to proceed for MO (but I might be wrong on this), yet even more importantly that for the first time visitors most relevant for MO this is not that much of an improvement; in my opinion, rether I think it is the opposite. For gaining more inner-network users this might be good, but we have little to gain here (except from math.SE and few others that I assume know, or at least will know soon, anyway what MO is about).

    • CommentAuthorKConrad
    • CommentTimeJun 5th 2013
    I hope the people in charge of the MO migration will include the issue of front page format for unregistered users in their discussions with SE (well) before MO migrates over there.

    We most definitely will!


    @quid: I wonder whether those five questions would be on top if we were on a system where that list is what appears to unregistered visitors. I don't know about other people's voting habits, but I've never felt the need to downvote a question because it doesn't really do anything (and costs a precious reputation point!): If a question is simply bad, I vote to close, and otherwise I leave it alone. But I (and maybe others) would possibly downvote several of those questions if doing so actually had a significant effect on the community.

    Now, I'm certainly not prepared to argue that such a list is an optimal thing to present on the front page. But in some sense, it gives the community more control than simply presenting the list of most recently active questions, which can potentially be overwhelmed with junk.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 5th 2013 edited

    @Evan Jenkins: Interesting thought. But I do not believe voting habits will change for such a relatively abstract reason in a significant way, and while at the moment some of the later questions are really better, IMO, "extreme" questions will always be in some sense unusual and not representative and rather biased to the general/soft/vague end. (On SE2.0 downvoting questions would, AFAIK, even be free. And on math.SE they have plently of competent people there that cannot possibly consider the current top-question as good, but well still they are top.)

    Also, it would not really matter, as a main concern is the static nature and also the "completed" impression (all the things are answered). And this would always be an issue. I think even if you would offer I decide on one question each day to be put there and then it sinks away on place each day, I would not want this. [Added: this is to be taken rhetorically not litterally; it is not that I think I would be very well-placed to decide this, I merely mean any fixed one that would seem optimal] The current frontpage is what it is sometimes slightly better sometimes slightly worse but overall it is pretty stable in quality. And, somebody who does not like it will not become a regular user anyway, so it is not so relevant.

    I do not want to say the current situation is optimal either, and perhaps, say, having two lists (in parallel or easily choosable) some "top" list and "current" perhaps this could be good. Maybe some people are very different, but for me and I assume at least for not few that contribute a lot, a fascinating thing is the ever changing nature of the site.

    Also, if one is shown a list of question and it starts with things saying "asked ten minutes ago" it is somehow more evident that this could be anything. I mean our future users live in the same world as we do, with spam-mail, sloppily prepared homework and so on. So, it cannot be that surprsing if one thinks about it that a site somewhere in the wilderness of the internet will also contain some poor content. Thus, seeing something very recent that looks bad and maybe does already get criticised to me would give a realtively better impression, then seeing something I too find a bit low-quality but was apparently very well received on the site. Because then I really might think, this is not for me and leave right away.

    On a compeletely technical note: if I oversse this right, though I might have gotten an outdated formula, this hotness is even slightly tricky to influence, not only since views matter this is not so bad, but since the mere number of answers is also relatively significant as well as the total score of the answers. So if you really wanted to "hurt" the current leaders one might likely cast numerous votes on the questiona and all the answers. So, all this stuff where everybody says something will more or less always win (except one would keep it to minimal scores). Sure, now one could say let us change the formula.

    But then the main issue to me is really that I find it better to rather present the site as it is with its strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps just in addition with some corner for some highlights (in whatever sense). Because if somebody does not like the site as is, they will also not start liking it just because the frontpage (not matching the actual site) looked interesting for them.