What Is Research?

October 26, 2009

Math overflow

Filed under: Uncategorized — vipulnaik @ 10:26 pm

In recent times, the Math Overflow website has been getting a lot of “press”, which is to say, it has been mentioned in some highly prominent math blogs. It was reviewed in Secret Blogging Seminar by Scott Morrison, who is also involved with Math Overflow, and it was mentioned by quomodocumque, Timothy Gowers, Terence Tao, the n-category cafe and others.

Math Overflow is a website where people can ask math-related questions (the questions should be of interest to people at the level of Ph.D. student or higher), answer the questions, and rate the answers. It uses the Stack Exchange software, which is used for many other websites, such as Stack Overflow. Funding for the website is being provided by Ravi Vakil of Stanford University, and it has a bunch of moderators — but anybody who earns enough points through participation can rise to the status of moderator. For more information, see the Math Overflow FAQ.

Participation on the website has been increasing rapidly since the first post (September 28). Here’s the Alexa data, which seem to indicate that usage has been growing (Alexa is not very reliable for low-volume sites, since it uses a small sample of users and most Math Overflow users may not be using Alexa’s toolbar).

The software and site layout seem well-designed to encourage participation. The long-term performance seems unclear, since a lot depends on how effectively the site is able to allow users to fruitfully explore past questions and answers and discover things similar to what interests them. But, as of now, it has a bunch of interesting questions, and seems to have reached the ears of a lot of people who’re interested in asking good questions and giving good answers.


  1. I should point out that the review in the Secret Blogging Seminar was posted under my name, but co-written with Anton Geraschenko, who’s baby it is.

    Comment by Scott Morrison — October 27, 2009 @ 1:07 am

  2. Minor nit: it would be more accurate to say “it uses the Stack Exchange software, which was developed for Stack Overflow and is now used for many other websites” (OSTTE). (The actual story is more complicated; there were initially no plans of releasing the software, etc.)
    The software and system are indeed well-designed; users from StackOverflow can tell you how addictive it is. :-) The system encourages participation, and the “related questions” feature often works very well at finding answers for you before you even ask a question, but search otherwise is not so great. (On SO, I find there are also problems with old questions being deleted by moderators unexpectedly without notice, but it should be better on Math Overflow.) The other problem is that questions that drop off the front page tend to get insufficient interest, and can languish forever without answers. This is going to a bigger problem as traffic increases.

    It should be interesting to see how this all plays out, for the mathematician community versus the programmer community and the parenting community.

    Comment by Shreevatsa — October 27, 2009 @ 3:43 am

  3. Whither goest thou, MathOverFlow?

    Will the mathematicians run the software? … or the software run the mathematicians?

    Don’t bother asking that question there — it’s way too “discussiony”.

    Comment by Jon Awbrey — December 7, 2009 @ 12:30 am

  4. […] and society of research, Thinking and research — vipulnaik @ 12:17 am Tags: Math overflow I mentioned Math Overflow a while back (also see the general backgrounder on math overflow on this blog). At […]

    Pingback by Math overflow: further notes « What Is Research? — March 28, 2010 @ 5:36 pm

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