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Community vs. MathGroup and StackExchange?

Posted 12 years ago

I just was invited to this Wolfram Community (private) Beta, and so far things look alluring.  However, I am very curious as to what WRI envisons and its intentions for this Community with respect to existing Mathematica-oriented online groups such as:

MathGroup, started in 1988 and moderated by the right honorable Steve Christensen (accessible via, among other means)., a more recent, rapid-turnaround Q&A-focused group. 

Are these groups expected to continue independent existence, or somehow merge into Community or otherwise wither?  What do the leaders of those groups say about this issue? 

I'm not complaining, just asking, before potentially committing/switching my mindshare. 

POSTED BY: Frank Iannarilli
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Thank you all for a very insightful discussion. I would answer earlier but was travelling to Saint Petersburg – to the first Russian Wolfram Technology Conference. I must tell you it was great, Stephen gave an exciting keynote and was besieged by an ocean of questions – I estimate for about 2 hours. But that’s another story. 

Steve Christensen, is indeed a moderator here, along with Bruce Miller and myself. MathGroup will still function for some time until we naturally absorb its audience into the Wolfram Community. Its content will be always available on the web.

What concerns user-founded communities, I think they are great, we value them very much and we can all coexist very harmoniously. For example I am quite an avid member of Mathematica Stackexchange, was there at the founding times (13th person to register for area 51), and so are a few colleagues of mine from Wolfram. We enjoy that lively place. All communities have their natural focus and demographics. And this is why they are quite complementary to each other. Wolfram Community, for instance, provides space for discussion about Wolfram Technologies beyond Mathematica, such as System Modeler or Wolfram Alpha, or beyond Q&A format, which is not acceptable at Stackexchange due to their rules. I hope this will help Stackexchange to lower the rate of closed “off topic” questions by redirecting them to the Wolfram Community. We also encourage real-names and real-bios here to put discussions in a professional occupational context. And of course we envision our web-enabled technologies, such as Mathematica Online or CDF, to be integrated into the Wolfram Community and vice versa in the future.

By the way, I think there are/were actually many more communities than we (or at least I) have expected – inside of larger social infrastructures. For example, LinkedIn Mathematica Users group (2,857 members), Reddit Mathematica (> 1,850 members), Quora Wolfram|Alpha (> 5,800 members), and I suspect even more. With recent boom of personal blogging we should consider that as a form of community too, - there are quite a few Mathematica blogs out there (e.g. matthen, archery). All forming their natural niche for a specific demographic – which is simply put great.
POSTED BY: Vitaliy Kaurov
Hello Frank,
I am also a non-WRI employee and have no leadership role in any of the three sites (four, if you count the LinkedIn site as well).

I've been following and contributing to mathgroup as well and find it a very useful resource.  Because I receive it as email each morning, I like it in the same way I would enjoy crossword puzzles.

In the last six months, I've been watching this group and asking questions in addition to mathgroup.  I tend not to utilize stackexhange because I haven't figured out how to get email notices of new topics that interest me.  I work on an interrupt-driven basis and don't actively hunt for "potentially useful but I didn't know I could use that".  I am able to get email notices from this community site.   

This is my experience so far:

1) I am much more likely to get a response from a Wolfram employee on this community site and have received very good advice. In particular, some questions about a current interest, FrontEnd programming, receive answers here that I doubt that I would get answered on mathgroup.

2) I make a ton of typos and am happy that I can fix those a posteriori.

3) Vitaliy Kaurov has been very responsive. I believe that WRI is committed to---and making resources available for--making this work well.

4) Like you, I find the stackexchange style useful.  I think it is will less prone to the all-too-familiar-flame wars of mathgroup (although these can be amusing as well).

One downside is that there are some contributors to mathgroup who are clearly experts who are not contributing to this community yet (e.g, the likes of Bob Hanlon); I learn a great deal by idly reading their posts.  Therefore, I still ask some questions on mathgroup when I think I am more likely to get an authoritative answer there.  Hopefully, that will change as this community site becomes non-beta.

Currently, I am content to use both the community and mathgroup.  I'm beta-testing the community too in hopes that it will succeed.

Like you, I'd like to see mathgroup and the community merge---if it could be done in a way that honors Steve Christensen's great service to the community.  I wonder if it might be possible to mirror mathgroup to this community with a common interface---that would include the mathgroup archives. I believe that merging stackexchange and Community will be a tough nut to crack.

POSTED BY: W. Craig Carter
What Craig said at the end seems a likely direction. I can give some tentative ideas, that should be taken only as that: none of this is definite and none of it is in my control. So, while I have a small amount of insider knowledge, I am not speaking for Wolfram Research.

(1) The Community will not in any way merge with It's not a possibility (they are independent of Wolfram Research). Even if it was possible it would not be a good idea for any of several reasons.

(2) It is certainly possible that the Community might subsume MathGroup. One motivation for this new forum was that it would retain similar Q&A features as the group, and a similar style of moderation, but would reflect the capabilities of the newer sites that have appeared in recent years (e.g. code sharing, which is in the works, upvoting, and more).

(3) (I hope this is not confidential in any way...) To the best of my knowledge, Steve Christensen is now also a moderator for the Community forum. If we do go the route of merging with MathGroup, I believe it will be a relatively seamless transition and one that has Steve serving in a similar capacity. Though perhaps (I should hope) dealing with less spam than at present.

(4) I'll be up front here and note that (3) above is not the complete story in one important detail. MathGroup, as run by Steve Christensen, has had considerable autonomy as an entity largely independent of Wolfram Research (though it is more closely connected than the StackExchange site). Clearly the Community forum is under the direct auspices of the company. This distinction has posed an issue at least in theory. In practice I think the main idea for both MathGroup and Community is to apply common sense to moderation. So the question of autonomy might not be much of an issue in practice. That at least is my hope.

(5) MathGroup also exists as the Usenet group comp.soft-sys.math.mathematica. On the one hand, I do not know whether or how such a group might be "subsumable" into a very different type of existence. On the other, my impression is that many Usenet groups are losing the popularity they had through the 90's and early 00's. While MathGroup remains fairly strong it is not obvious that it can continue in its current form indefinitely, as more modern forums are simply replacing the Usenet model. I guess my point here is that, independent of Wolfram Research vs independent control, there are external issues that both make merging tricky, and that argue for doing so in the not too distant future.

Vitaliy Kaurov knows more about the plans for the Community than I do. He is traveling right now, which is why I am attempting, in a perhaps clumsy manner, to address questions and concerns raised here. I'm hoping he'll post corrections within a few days if I made any major mistakes.
POSTED BY: Daniel Lichtblau
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