Thinking about the concept and practice of Community Wiki more often than not these past few days as come to a head: what exactly does TeX.SX believe about community wiki? What questions count, and what questions don't?

Reading The Future of Community Wiki has me thinking that community wiki should only be used when the content needs to be edited from time to time, like our LaTeX Editors and IDEs question. Similarly, something like How can I explain the meaning of LaTeX to my grandma? is not community wiki because it does not need to be edited often if at all. The question is applicable to the entire TeX community and, while each answer is valid, there is a best answer as far as OP was concerned - the answer that his grandmother supposedly understood.

As with anything, there are many ways to approach a problem. There isn't "one right answer" to anything, and this lack of a single answer is what drives many questions to CW which isn't the point. The recent question Showcase of optical illusions made with TeX/LaTeX/LuaTeX/ConTeXt is a perfect example of this; while there is no one right answer, the answers will not need to be edited. While the sum of the answers is a community effort, each individual answer is not.

I realize that we do things a little different around here and I think that's awesome. It's what makes us special and, frankly, a generally nicer environment than many other SE sites. We don't hound around for reputation, but are we to abuse what is designed to be a specific tool for great content?


@JosephWright reminded me that answers can be made CW by their posters. I think these are something of a nobler outlier---where the poster of the answer knows his or her answer isn't perfect but wishes it to be so. (I've done this, too.) So, I would like to concentrate this meta question on CW questions, rather than answers that are elected to be so.

2 Answers 2


The general rule of thumb (as I understand it) is that there should be very few community wiki questions. However, sometimes we have used them for a couple of reason: questions (which are generally discouraged, but should probably be CW) and sometimes for "canonical" questions for which we expect one (or sometimes a small number) of CW answers. A canonical question is usually a question that shows up a lot as a duplicate (i.e. the same question in varying forms is asked a lot by new users). As a community, we've often decided that it's helpful to have a single comprehensive answer or set of answers to which all new duplicates can be referred. The reason for making these questions CW, I think, is that those of us who have posed such questions have done so for the general benefit of the site, and therefore think that there's no need to gain reputation from them. An example of such a question is:

(I realize now from your addendum that these questions are not the sort you are necessarily asking about, since they are proposed to be CW by the questioner from the very beginning.)

  • So in a very real sense, we use CW as a fast-lane to the front page? And in the case of big-list questions, they don't need to be edited... I feel like this is a somewhat baseless trend on TeX.SE. While big-list ideally increases the quantity of answers, a well-formed question doesn't reduce the quality of those answers. Besides, nobody will ever see the bad ones. Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 20:38
  • I'm not sure what you mean by a fast-lane to the front page. CW doesn't provide any priority to the question as far as I know. The general view is that most big-list questions are not good questions, at least with respect to the general goals of the site. On this site, however, I think we have a bit more tolerance for them than across the network.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 20:43
  • I've found that, often (not always), voting preference seems to be given to CW questions and answers on the sheer count that they are CW. I think this is fair---most CW answers become better and better with time and exposure. Such voting might be done 'thinking into the future.' What then makes big-list questions 'not good'? (I know/assume you don't mean to say they are 'bad' questions, but what keeps them from being 'good' questions?) Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 20:47
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    When questions are made CW because they are canonical in some way, they will be linked to a lot, and therefore generate lots of votes (and their answers too). With respect to big-list questions, the 'official' view is that such questions could just as easily be found on a web search and therefore aren't what the site model is supposed to be. I don't completely agree with that, nor do other here, I think.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 20:51
  • A list of open problems in TeX wasn't a google search away, especially all if the excellent information that is now found in there. Could expand on what you mean by 'canonical', perhaps as an edit? I'm not Sheri fully understand how you're using it. (Also, I mean 'fair' as in 'understandable'.) Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 0:26
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    On the 'canonical' questions, it's worth noting that even if one person takes the responsibility of writing it then often the content has been built up in several places (the dupes, for example). Thus they tend to be a 'community effort' in that sense.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 8:18
  • @AlanMunn (and Joseph): See also this other meta question. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 13:51
  • @SeanAllred I'm not quite sure what you intended by linking to the other question, but I don't think this is quite the same case as what we mean by canonical question. The point is not so much that someone self-answers, but that both the question (and the answer) are often derivative in exactly the way Joseph describes in his comment.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 14:55
  • @AlanMunn I was referring to your comment 'such questions could just as easily be found on a web search and therefore aren't what the site model is supposed to be'. Also, if anyone was considering it, using this site on an iPhone is... an interesting experience. *of the excellent *not sure I fully Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 15:01

My understanding as a casual user, and not a god like egreg, Alan Munn or Joseph Wright, was that Community Wiki could be used for questions that were very much matters of opinion: For example, the Text Editor question referenced above, I don't think it will need updating that often (Honestly, how often do vim and emacs change in a significant way?) but there is no right answer, it is an opinion. I mean, heck, you could justify using ed as your text editor. Similarly there isn't a right answer on how to explain to your grandmother what LaTeX doesn't have a right answer. Whereas 'How do I add this to my TOC' does have right and wrong answers, and probably one that is the most right for a given situation.

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    Emacs gains functionality on a regular basis. Can't say much for vim though ;). The thing is, the grandma question is not CW, and I don't think it should be, either. But it had an answer that was most right for his situation. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 0:24

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