I suspect that we'll get a large contingent of people here who are already familiar with the SO software, but as the SO/SE empire expands then these people may have different codes of behaviour. In particular, there appear to be some differences between how things are done on SO as to MO [mathoverflow] [1]. As a frequenter of MO, but only just dipping my toe in the water at SO, my default behaviour is that of an MO user because I don't know any different.

Now, let me make one thing clear before I go on. Whatever the differences are, I would tend to favour the SO one over the MO one for here because I think that the relationship between the subject and the users is closer to that on SO than MO. However, having experience only of MO then I don't know what the differences are. This came up in my CW question.

So I have a question and a suggestion. My underlying question is probably unanswerable (what are the differences?) so I shan't answer it. To make an answerable question, let me ask:

What should someone coming from MO know about the etiquette here before jumping in?

Or more specifically:

Where have the current MO crew here shown behaviour that doesn't fit with the current behaviour patterns on SO?

Or perhaps (thinking of a current question on the main site):

How do you spot an MO user?

My suggestion is that something should be put in the FAQ about this. Not a huge swathe detailing every difference, but an acknowledgement that there are differences and that we follow the SO model where there are such differences.

In time, I'm sure we'll evolve our own culture, but I think it can be useful to align ourselves correctly at the start.

(Incidentally, I don't expect everyone who comes here from MO to read the FAQ before jumping in. I think that it takes some of the heat out of the exchange when someone does something wrong:

Version 1:

A does something wrong B points this out A storms off in a huff saying "How was I supposed to know? And who set you up as judge and jury?"

Version 2:

A does something wrong B points this out and refers to an entry in the FAQ A says "Oh right; guess I should have read that first. Sorry."

Notice that in version 2, A bears no grudge against B since B (hopefully) never expressed a personal opinion on A's behaviour.)

(Added:) In the comments, Suresh asked for an elaboration of my comment above about the relationship between the subject and the users. I've written out my thoughts at some length here.

  • Forgot to add the footnote: [1] Is MO a universally understood acronym for mathoverflow? Do I need to keep writing "MO [mathoverflow]"? Jul 30, 2010 at 8:45
  • +1 for "the relationship between the subject and the users is closer to that on SO than MO." I also have more experience on Chiphacker.com (Another SE), and just lurk with some 30 total rep on the trilogy sites. I look forward to this discussion! Jul 30, 2010 at 13:36
  • +1 Really good question, and yes, the FAQ absolutely needs to cover this. As an old-time SO user, this hadn't really occurred to me until now. :)
    – jalf
    Jul 30, 2010 at 23:13
  • Do we have anyone here who's familiar with both SO and MO? I'm not really sure how much MO has diverged from the "parent" sites.
    – jalf
    Jul 30, 2010 at 23:14
  • could you elaborate on the "relationship between subject and users" ? I'm interested in this, for when the theoretical CS site gets activated
    – Suresh
    Aug 6, 2010 at 20:26
  • @Suresh: I'll have to be concise since comments are so short, feel free to email me if you want a more detailed answer. On MO, I'm a world expert in some of the things discussed there. There are questions asked on MO that I'm the best person in the world to answer. Here, as I imagine is the case on SO, it has the feel of "one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread". Of course, there are experts here, but the majority are more in the line of enthusiastic amateurs. Aug 9, 2010 at 18:46

2 Answers 2


I guess you and the other MO users are really the best candidates for writing this FAQ entry. You know which cultural differences, conflicts, disagreements and surprises you've encountered here.

As a SO user, I know plenty about SO etiquette, but I don't really know where MO has diverged, or which areas are likely to cause confusion.

So far, I've only noticed some very slight differences:
(Note that this is just my impression based on the discussions and questions brought up here on Meta, so take it with a grain of salt ;))

  • MO is an experts site, where SO is for everyone. Could this lead to some MO users being less inclusive, or less willing to tolerate beginner questions? (Open question, I'm not saying I've noticed anyone actually behaving like this :))

  • MO users seem to be less willing to prioritize/accept answers in cases where "they're all good". On SO the common etiquette is to always accept some answer (unless the only answers you get are 100% useless, of course), and to try to pick the most complete one.

  • MO users seem less willing to edit their own answers to include information from others. On SO there is nothing wrong with editing your answer to be more complete, by adding in information first brought up in another answer. (Although honesty is still appreciated, of course. Don't just steal content and pretend you came up with it. Attribution isn't strictly required, but what you edit in should be something you might have posted in the first place (if it suggests using a package you've never even heard of, don't pretend that you suggested it)

On MO, it seems that the canonical answer to a question is the set of all answers given. You're supposed to read them all to understand the solution. On SO, the idea is that the accepted answer should be sufficient, which should be kept in mind both when answering and when choosing an answer to accept.

I've never used MO, so I can't really judge all the differences. But so far, I haven't noticed any big clashes or problems occurring because MO users failed to follow SO protocol.


Two differences in how we run the site compared to MO seem to follow from differences in their nature:

  1. [soft-question] isn't really an appropriate tag for here. That's because this site, like SO, generally looks for problem-solving answers, whilst MO generally is after scientific answers, and particularly sharp ones at that.
  2. We should have +5 rep for upvotes questions here, as opposed to the +10 on MO. Mathematics has a culture of the question that doesn't translate to here.

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