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    fpqc, this comment was based on a few (admittedly heuristic) observations. It is common for a good question to get more votes than all of its answers, and a typical question (not cw) gets nearly as many votes as its top answer. The number of (even first-year) grad students reaching 1k is well beyond my expectations, and there are a few remarkable grad students and undergrads with several thousand points (which you are well aware of).

    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeApr 7th 2010 edited

    Absolutely, but consider cases like Emerton, Brian Conrad, Keith Conrad, Mariano, and even yourself, all of whom have risen quite quickly through the ranks but all have few to no questions. For example, I had probably 1500 reputation when you had somewhere near 50, but you have now left me in the dust, having only asked three questions (although you've given quite a few very good answers).

    Here's my attempt at a summary of the objection:
    "Math Overflow should endeavor to come across as a place to ask and answer serious math questions, not as a place to show off in public or win popularity contests."

    There are several differences between the MO community and a typical SE site which makes reputation behave a bit differently here and so might make us reconsider how it is used. First, the math community is much smaller than say the programming community. Second, Math answers are almost always possible to evaluate without appealing to authority (especially because we're not under time pressure). Third, a lot of excellent math questions and answers can only be understood/evaluated/appreciated by a very small number of experts. As a result, difficult but good MO questions and answers don't get voted up in proportion to their quality.

    The first two differences suggest that perhaps reputation is less important to the function of MO than in a typical SE site. The last difference suggests that reputation is not as accurate a measure here.

    Anyway, I'm trying to argue for people who aren't here and who I don't emotionally agree with. I wouldn't want to make these sorts of changes unless I had good evidence that there are people who have stopped using MO who would have kept using it with these changes. But I do think de-emphasizing reputation is worth considering and talking to people about.

    fpqc, I did not say that it was impossible to earn points just by giving good answers (I've only asked 3 questions so far), I am only saying that it is possible to rise through the ranks quickly by asking good questions. I expect that the grad student population will be reasonably represented in the 10k users when MO reaches full maturity.


    Yes, I edited my response while you were typing yours out, where I noted this. You will also notice however, that your reputation has increased much faster than most of the graduate students here. I think that it's clear that people who can give good answers will see their reputations increase much faster than people who ask questions, not to flatter you. =)

    • CommentAuthorBen Webster
    • CommentTimeApr 7th 2010 edited

    It is notable that amongst 10k+ users (just to take a small sample), number of questions roughly sorts by age:

    • Qiaochu Yuan (82)
    • me (49)
    • David Speyer (24)
    • Reid Barton (23)
    • Pete L. Clark (23)
    • Mariano Suarez-Alvarez (13)
    • Greg Kuperberg (5)
    • Emerton (1)
    • CommentAuthorEmerton
    • CommentTimeApr 7th 2010 edited

    Dear Noah,

    I think your last post summarizes my feelings and position well. Francois' (fgdorais) adjective "childish" is not too far off, but perhaps emphasizes that aspect a little more strongly than I would want to. I'm glad that we're having this discussion. Although it's probably going to be inconclusive, I think that it's important. I'm glad that you're keeping an open mind, and I'll certainly try to do so as well.


    I'm also glad we're having this important discussion. My gut sides with those who dislike keeping score, but my mind tells me that it's actually very important for MO.

    I couldn't come up with anything better than the adjective 'childish' (with quotes). I apologize in advance if this becomes the new 'competitive' (which I sadly also introduced). I'm open to better terminology.

    • CommentAuthorShevek
    • CommentTimeApr 7th 2010
    Emerton's post also summarizes my feelings. If I were an older mathematician and came here and saw some of the uglier aspects of the Internet showing it's face (such as very disrespectful comments or attitude), I might be turned off. I certainly don't have time in my real life to interact with disrespectful people, and I have even less of a desire to be confronted with such people on the Internet (when I'm just trying to talk mathematics with other mathematicians). Of course, whether or not this "turning off" of mathematicians is actually happening is a separate question.

    Here is another thing that I think might turn off people that we want to come here, but this might be more controversial and is a bit harder to pin-down. I personally have been a bit turned off by what (in my view) seems like excessive bureaucracy. What do I mean by this? It seems to me like a lot of time is spent by users of this site discussing whether or not a question is "appropriate"; sometimes when a question is closed people start a discussion about it in meta, and sometimes people even come into meta to "ask" before posting a question (e.g. the biographical question of Andre Neron). This is evidence to me that at least some people have been given the mindset that "they better be careful". As a simple illustration, a couple of days ago I asked a question about how to pronounce Robin Hartshorne's last name. Someone voted to close it because they thought it was off-topic. Of course, they have the right to their opinion, but from my point of view that is a pretty bizarre opinion to have, and I can just imagine that someone might come to MathOverflow and notice examples of such discussion (in the comments, or god-forbid if they went into meta!) and be given a bad vibe that this place is run by random young people on the Internet with lots of reputation who have very different opinions than their own and who have no idea that they are a "serious guy" in real life. Or to put it differently, they might be given the feeling that MathOverflow is one of those Internet places (such as Wikipedia) where people spend way too much time messing around with bureaucracy (discussing whether they should close a question, etc. etc. etc.) rather than just focusing on the mathematics. Anyway, I know many of you may not agree, but I figured I will mention it anyway. [And I know this whole "appropriateness of questions" thing has been discussed at length; I'm just mentioning it as it is relevant to the current issue of what might turn off mathematicians from contributing to MathOverflow.]

    Shevek, that's an interesting point. I think to understand where all the bureaucracy comes from you have to have had some experience with other online math forums, which are often plagued by issues such as students asking people to do their homework for them. Happily, MO has had relatively few issues of this kind, and I think many people here are committed to making sure it stays that way. As a result occasionally people might get overzealous, but there's a reason it takes five votes to close. (For what it's worth, I had no problem with the Hartshorne question.)


    My original proposition was to make reputation visible only in obscure places. I had in mind more precisely that it be visible on a user's page alone. If somebody really wants to make a judgement based on reputation, then s/he should be forced to go to the userpage. The reputation hunting will continue regardless, for reasons like trying to gain more privileges. Even after gaining 10k, some will keep on doing it just to stay on top of things, like Jon Skeet in SO. And then there are people who must always do one-upmanship stuff. So there is no need to worry that people will drop out of MO if reputation is made less prominent. With this in mind I once again bring up the idea of relegating the reputation display to the userpage alone.

    • CommentAuthorrwbarton
    • CommentTimeApr 7th 2010
    OK, here is a case for those who want to hide reputation everywhere to consider:

    Actually, the user in question does have enough reputation to leave a comment. Generally, being able to see a user's reputation can help experienced users guide them on correct use of the site.
    Yeah, not being able to see which users are new is a bit of a problem, both for the example Reid points out and for general "be nice to newbies" reasons. One could easily imagine a "new user" star next to people's names when they first show up, but that seems weird and stigmatizing.
    • CommentAuthorRegenbogen
    • CommentTimeApr 7th 2010 edited

    When they first show up, the initial reputation 1 is displayed. This is also stigmatizing. Edit: sorry for the double post. Just the vagaries of my browser.. Please erase this post and preserve the one below.


    The display of low reputation next to your username is also a stigma. I think I am specially in a position to say this since I have in the past given up used accounts and started all over from the ground. As I said earlier, life here is infinitely easier with higher reputation.

    @Regenbogen: Your claim that an initial rep of 1 is somehow stigmatizing and not merely an indicator of non-participation is not obvious.

    I personally have been a bit turned off by what (in my view) seems like excessive bureaucracy.

    I think that the people that set up MO have been fantastic in being so open in their decision-making and in continually explaining and justifying what they do, and in listening to the opinions of anyone and everyone.

    The discussions that have been taking place on meta would have taken place anyway, but it would have been via email or via bumping into people in corridors. It may seem like excessive bureaucracy, but I think that that is an impression created by the fact that (most of) it has been conducted out in the open where anyone can have a say and be heard. I commend Anton and Scott (and the others) on setting up meta in the first place to keep this discussion off MO whilst allowing it to take place in an easy-to-reach public place. That, to me, seems like the best of both worlds: those who hate these discussions can just get on with the maths, whilst those who like to discuss how to make it run better can sound off here to their heart's content.

    Maybe we should be more strict in shifting putative discussions here from MO to further remove any sign of "bureaucracy" from MO itself. That's certainly a valid point.

    I can just imagine that someone might come to MathOverflow and notice examples of such discussion (in the comments, or god-forbid if they went into meta!) and be given a bad vibe that this place is run by random young people on the Internet with lots of reputation who have very different opinions than their own and who have no idea that they are a "serious guy" in real life.

    I'm not sure whether the person who is the "serious guy" is the person encountering MO for the first time or the "random young people" who run MO. Either way, who's now worrying about reputation?!

    If it takes "random young people" to move mathematics into the internet age, I'll start funding probability theory to try to generate more of them. Things like MO and the nLab are experiments to see if we can use this shiny new toy that everyone keeps shouting about to our advantage. Some may work, some may not (blogs spring to mind there), some may work brilliantly from the start, some may need a little tweaking. But these things are genuine innovations, far more than just shifting from print journals to electronic journals! The nLab is maths being done in the open right from the first ideas to the final theorems - that's new. MO is mathematicians interacting from all over the world via questions-and-answers - that's new. Both are great, IMHO, but very different. Some find the pace of MO a little off-putting and prefer the nLab. Others find the nLab a little confusing (read Ben Websters SBS post from a few months back, but then note that Ben now has his own "web" at the nLab), but find MO very exciting.

    So someone being put off from MO because they aren't shown the "proper respect" due to them from the IRL status ... not sure I can sympathise very much with that. I certainly don't see that as worth getting rid of the value of reputation. As I tried to say, reputation is extremely useful for me. Not as a game, but as a tool. I do not want to see it removed from the main list of questions, from a question post itself, or from answers. I do not want to have to trawl through pages to look up someone's reputation. As I said earlier, I use reputation as a guide to how much time I should assign to someone's posts. Losing that would mean that MO was no longer easy to use and would quickly become tiresome and tedious. I'm quite happy for the font to be so that it isn't so prominent (my eyesight is still okay), and the badges really are just a bit of fun (something that was driven home by the fact that I recently got "Nice Question" (a silver badge!) for the "Walking in the Rain" question!) so I'm happy to lose them, but reputation is what makes MO more than just a random list of questions and answers and so I really do not want to lose it.

    • CommentAuthorBen Webster
    • CommentTimeApr 7th 2010 edited

    I'll just note, I deleted the answer that Reid had linked to because it was not an answer. To summarize, someone who has enough reputation to comment left an answer which consisted entirely of asking for clarification of the question, fpqc suggested they could have left it as a comment, and Qiaochu noted that some people don't have the reputation to comment, which was irrelevant to the situation, but not obviously so, due to the reputation no longer being visible.

    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeApr 7th 2010 edited

    Anyway, Andrew L knows quite well how to post comments. He has been posting rants against Bourbaki in comments on my posts for the past month or so.


    On a lighter note, this is the hottest meta thread in my memory.


    Yes, but we've gone pretty far afield from the original topic. As has been noted the real issue isn't "competitiveness", but something that I'll tentatively call "something else".