# Is TeX.SX a competition arena?

I am not a very regular user of TeX.SX, from time to time, when I have time, I come here to write some answers (mainly TikZ) or ask a question, and from time to time I don't come here for months.

Now I've been back here for a few weeks and I've been accused:

• to steal other people's ideas;
• not to quote any comments;
• people asked me if they could answer a question to which I made a comment, as if a comment reserved the right to answer the question;
• and even I was accused to "picking on" users because I answered a question that changed (I didn't pay attention to it), without giving a user the time to correct his answer (even though my answer used completely different techniques).

This had never happened to me for years.

I now feel like in an arena where the goal is to earn the most points and where there are leaders who tell others what can and cannot be done and how this should be done (by quoting them).

I have the impression that I am not the only one to feel this bad spirit because for the last year several very good users have left this arena.

So my question is: am I wrong to consider that we are not here to claim authorship of ideas, not to try to answer "first", and so on, but simply to try to help people by writing answers as good and as varied as we can?

• Quoting and asking to write an answer in a comment was pretty common when i was more active. It is just a matter of being nice, not a bad habit imho. – Johannes_B Apr 11 '19 at 14:02
• When you write a comment which really answers the question, I never allow myself to post an answer because that is called stealing. But I want to kick that question out of unanswered list. Therefore I ask you to post an answer. I don't think my comments accuse you of something: you don't do anything wrong; and I am sorry if my comments accuse you. I just ask you to avoid "solutions in comments", which is already discussed quite much here. – user156344 Apr 11 '19 at 17:08
• @JouleV Why is this considered "stealing"? If I just drop a comment (because I currently have no time for a solid answer, or no time to try out if my idea actually works, or...) I would be glad if someone would turn this into a proper answer, I really see no need to ask me first. The term "stealing" implies to me that helping a user by presenting good & proper answers is not the main goal here, but to earn reputation instead. – user2574 Apr 13 '19 at 18:55
• @Kpym I recommend analyzing the accusation. Do you think it's something which could help you become a better, nicer person? If not, just ignore it. I get silly accusations, too, for example if I write "the caption package" some people accuse me of making in-transparent advertisement for my package, but if I write "my caption package" some people accuse me of being vain. I still haven't figured out what way of supporting my package at SX is appropriate. Maybe I should use the terms "my stupid caption package" or even "my f*cking caption package" instead? :-D – user2574 Apr 13 '19 at 19:04
• @AxelSommerfeldt This has nothing to do with reputations or badges - if I don't answer this question, I still have that question to work with. I mean "stealing" because, let's imagine you post a comment that 100% solves the issue stated in the question, at 0:00. I post an answer which is just a duplicate of that comment, at 0:10. Now what do people think? When one has got the idea, posting an answer is easy. Therefore I have to ask you to provide an answer, and if you don't have time, I ask for permission to convert the comment to an answer. I have been doing that and will continue doing that. – user156344 Apr 13 '19 at 19:13
• @JouleV I still don't get it. Open Source is all about "stealing" ideas, and this is considered a good thing (and I agree). If someone would "steal" my subcaption package and try to turn it into a better one, I would feel honored and not as victim. So why is turning a comment into a proper answer "stealing"? "Now what do people think?" Well at least I would thing that it was a good idea to turn a short comment into a proper answer since this helps the TeX.SX users. And if the commenter does not like this, why hasn't he posted an answer in the first place? – user2574 Apr 13 '19 at 19:26
• @AxelSommerfeldt Open Source, or "stealing" subcaption are imho different here: they are code-copying-and-editing, but "stealing" comments is idea-stolen. Many times I didn't understand the whole code posted, but I could still answer, because I did not get the idea, but I got how to copy-and-edit the code. From your point of view, if the commenter doesn't trying to post an answer but only a hint, then it is ok to change that hint to a complete answer, but who knows the commenter is typing the answer or not? – user156344 Apr 13 '19 at 19:33
• @AxelSommerfeldt I remembered once I told a user to post an answer as a reply to his excellent comment, which is literally an answer. The answer was posted seconds later (which means he was typing the answer when I told him), and he replied: "Hang on, I'm not that fast :)". This user is not Kpym. – user156344 Apr 13 '19 at 19:35
• @JouleV Why should someone post a comment first and an answer right afterwards? If someone posts a comment I would assume that he has a reason on posting a comment and not an answer, for example no time for a proper answer. – user2574 Apr 13 '19 at 19:42
• I often do so, and I know many other users also do the same thing. Firstly, post a comment showing the general idea (mostly untested), then open the editor and type some code, and then post the answer. In the meantime, I receive reply from the OP. If the reply is "Thanks, it works", I will post an answer. If the reply is "It doesn't work", I will take a serious look into the code to see why it doesn't work, and how to fix. Everything ended by my deletion of the comment. And I don't think there are anything unusual here. – user156344 Apr 13 '19 at 19:45
• @JouleV Makes sense to me, haven't seen it this way before. – user2574 Apr 13 '19 at 19:49
• @AxelSommerfeldt -- At present I'm in the situation of not having an available tex system, and I won't post a code answer without testing, but I might very well post a comment. Then, if told that what I posted actually works, and am asked to post an answer, I will do so, but mark it "not tested". – barbara beeton Apr 14 '19 at 4:06

I suspect that this answer will not be popular among some, in fact, some who I generally hold in high regard as valuable users of the site.

Behaviours are only annoying if you get annoyed by them.

So I don't think that the site has become more competitive, but I do think that there are some users who are deciding to be annoyed by things who might be better off following this advice. Unfortunately you seem to have run into some of them.

It doesn't take many such users to make things seem unfriendly and competitive. As high reputation users they may also feel a sense of "ownership" of the site. I'm a long time user and contributor to the site, but I don't feel the need to police it. This is not to say that I won't flag things; once in a while I do, but very rarely. What I don't do is get into comment discussions with people about their behaviour. Now maybe I don't interact with all the badly behaving people they talk about, since I mainly answer questions about linguistics and bibliographies, along with more general TeX questions and questions about trees. But I don't really think this is the case, instead I think that some people are more inclined than others to be annoyed by others' behaviour.

Now are they justified in their annoyance? In some objective terms, probably. I too, have had people post almost identical answers to mine with minor changes. But my strategy is to simply ignore it and move on. I'm here because I like to help people, and when I was learning LaTeX, people were happy to help me. Of course that was before the site existed, so instead of helping people in my immediate circle of students or colleagues, I now help people all over the world. I also learn things from solving problems on the site, and this is fun too. But I'm not interested in trying to enforce rules. I don't ask for MWEs unless they're really necessary; I generally ignore "just do it for me" questions, although sometimes I might decide to answer one.

For me, the site is a generally pleasant place to be. There's no drama in chat, and by and large people are nice. But the best way to keep it that way for myself, is to realize that I'm not going to change people's behaviour, and I should continue to do things on the site that continue to make it enjoyable for me. This has been my pretty consistent position in Meta when issues relating to legislating behaviour arise:

Maybe I'm being like the ostrich, who puts its head in the sand, but this allows me to continue to participate in the site with minimal angst.

• +1 great answer, Alan. :) And, of course, a relevant soundtrack follows. :) – Paulo Cereda Apr 13 '19 at 14:28
• @PauloCereda Thanks. And lol. – Alan Munn Apr 14 '19 at 0:33
• refreshing answer! I think I will need to ruminate about how and why I comment on and answer questions on tex.se in the future. I first need to take care of something else, though, and that might take a few more months. – thymaro Apr 21 '19 at 15:42

Giving proper credit to others is IMHO a good practice precisely because this is not a competition arena. IMHO this is just fair play. Of course, a comment does not reserve the right to answer a question. However, I personally feel that if there is a comment which the answer I am going to write has overlap with, it does make sense to acknowledge the comment. And, as Johannes_B is saying, asking someone who answered a question in a comment to convert the comment into an answer is IMHO a good practice, I cannot see anything wrong with it. On other sites like this one sometimes even moderators convert comments into answers. Why is there anything wrong if someone asks you to convert your comment into an answer? Isn't that just fair play, and nice to see that others read your comment, acknowledge it, and ask you to make it an answer? Isn't that precisely the opposite of competitive behavior?

Is TeX-SE a competition arena?

This depends on how you view things. The stackexchange websites have some built-in competition just by the fact that there is a reputation score, and that you can "rank" users according to their reputation. So if you take this score and these rankings seriously, then there is a competitive element in our main site. The fact that there is a sportsmanship badge may be interpreted as the intention of the designers of our site to encourage a fair competition. What one can read into some user with a high reputation score and many answers not having gotten this badge I am not entitled to say in public but one could argue that might correlate with a certain mind set which is against the the idea of fair interactions between the users. Of course, I do not know what the true purpose is of the reputation score, but it might be an incentive to provide novel questions and working, timely answers that work and solve problems. And yes, one can find statements that "someone beat me by 3 seconds" and the like. The slightly later user may (a) see no point in posting an answer with substantial overlap to the earlier answer and (b) be somewhat disappointed and try to speed up when attempting to answer the next question. You can call this competition. And this competition does have draw backs. For instance, I do see a point that this kind of competition makes us entirely focus on the new questions because everyone wants to be first. And I do agree that this is not necessarily a good thing. This score does make users go for the most "lucrative" posts, and it seems that the newer the more "lucrative". If you have a concrete proposal how to replace that (IMHO stupid) reputation scheme by something that adds incentive to write useful, clear and timely answers from which all of us benefit, I am all ears. Yet I fail to see how anything you mention will help us to improve on this. It may be that I misinterpret your statements, though.

Then there is the question under which circumstances it makes sense to post an additional answer, where the opinions mentioned in the answers agree to some extent. I do not want to repeat my view here, but, yes, I would call it picking if you repeat an answer and the only novelty is that one saved, say, two keystrokes, and find it even somewhat inappropriate if one does not honorably mention the answer that one has shortened. If you have a very different opinion, you may want to explain it there as well. (I cannot resist mentioning that one user writing an answer left, which seemed to have played a role in CarLaTeX's decision to write this post. Maybe we should have taken their opinion more seriously. And please do not get me wrong, but there might be users who feel that those who write three answers to a question are those who are particularly keen on harvesting reputation and/or to "steal" the tick from another answer. I personally am fine with posting several answers but personally try to just write one in which I either add two options, or select the one that is most suitable. So I definitely do not want to criticize for posting three answers, but would kindly like to ask you not to criticize others for doing things that you prefer not to do.)

Related to this is the question of academic honesty. (Interestingly, there another user who sadly decided to leave our site made a contribution. Maybe we should have taken them more seriously, too.) The upshot seems to be that, even though academic honesty is not enforced, several users feel that it is something good which precisely helps us to have a friendly atmosphere. Of course, there is the possibility that those who feel that giving proper credit to others is unnecessary just didn't want or dare to write an answer. Therefore it might be useful if you could add an answer to this question that explains why that view is appropriate. I personally feel it just fair play to mention earlier posts with which newer answer overlaps, and also to "cite" related answers to different questions if they develop. Why? Because the author of the post I am borrowing from/overlapping with will in most cases like it, and it also prevents us from writing the essentially same answer to the same question over and over. After all, there is no mechanism to weed out duplicate answers in the same way we close duplicate questions. (I also cannot refrain from remarking that when it comes to new posts by others, you seem to share the opinion that older answers doing similar things are to be mentioned, so I really have a hard time understanding why you do not want to apply these standards to your own posts.)

What is the current status and how can we improve the climate?

I am not experienced enough to judge whether or not our site is in a decline. Nor do I know for sure whether the decision of two IMHO very good users, whom I really miss, to leave is related to this (but since you were mentioning this, shouldn't you be concerned that they left just after you became active again? ;-), but I did see them complain about academic dishonesty, too. In any case, I do feel that giving proper credit to others is something that does help users to coexist in a good atmosphere. Apart from this, I do believe that most of us here have good intentions and a lot of tensions come from miscommunications, some of which are related to the fact that a substantial fraction here, including me, are not native English speakers. This is something that IMHO we should try to keep in the back of our minds when interpreting statements by others.

And if you are really desperate, you can ask TikZ for advice.

\documentclass[tikz,border=3.14mm]{standalone}
\usepackage{tikzlings}
\begin{document}
\tikz{I can't \bear this any more, what should I do?}
\end{document}


• @kpym Could you please be so kind and tell us that the fact that this nice answer got a downvote just at the time when you posted an answer is a coincidence, similar to the fact that the accepted of this question received a downvote just when you put your answer. Because these events happened at so similar times in posts where there was no activity for a while people may suspect you to be responsible fo these downvotes, which I hope you are not. – user121799 Apr 13 '19 at 14:47
• There is no answer by kpym in your second link. – Werner Apr 14 '19 at 5:01
• @Werner Yes, there was a comment by him roughly at the same time as the downvote. – user121799 Apr 14 '19 at 5:06
• So no answer then... and there is no requirement to explain (down)votes. – Werner Apr 14 '19 at 5:07
• @Werner Strictly speaking not. But I remember that you yourself were complaining about downvotes and asked for an explanation. (I did not any of your posts BTW.) And did you read my above comment? I only asked him to consider to clarify that the downvotes are not from him. I believe that this might make a whole lot of sense if one is complaining about the behavior of others. – user121799 Apr 14 '19 at 5:10

First, I agree with you: eventually, there is someone else who thinks there is a problem, not only I (Do we need more moderators? and https://tex.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/8231/how-to-avoid-tex-se-decline)!

I'm not concerned if a user stops answering because s/he has something better to do, that's normal.

I am worried if s/he delete his/her profile: in this case, there is a problem! It takes years to become a top user and the decision to leave is not taken lightly, but this opinion of mine is not shared among many people.

If you think someone is falsely accusing you, I think the best policy is to flag the messages "in need of moderator intervention" and explain your reasons.

This way, moderators are made aware of the problem, and they can deal with the situation.

I suggest you to never reply to annoying messages, let the mods work for you!

I completely agree with the answer of marmot1 that attribution/acknowledgment of other people's answers and comments is being polite, and as such the opposite of competitive. Even more so when you refrain from answering if somebody else provided the (core of the) solution in a comment, because then you actively avoid competition in terms of reputation, or in terms of 'showing off' ideas, whether you acknowledge the other person or not.

I do see the argument that the site should focus on maximizing the aggregated amount of useful knowledge instead of focusing on who contributed what, however I think it is important to realize that the community consists of volunteers that value politeness and recognition to make their involvement in the site enjoyable.

However, I think the issue has two aspects which can be addressed seperately. There is the issue of how to handle attribution, and there is the issue on what to do if somebody does not follow your preferred etiquette. In that case it is probably best to just try to 'show, not tell' or 'lead by example' or 'do upon others as you would have them do unto you', i.e., be non-competitive and hope that others will do the same. Maybe this has changed somewhat over the years, i.e., people are perhaps faster to speak their mind about such issues. This potentially causes misunderstandings and escalated disagreements and would therefore better be avoided.

Note that I disagree with marmot about adding answers: if you have an alternative solution to a problem (which was in my opinion the case for the recent answer of Kpym) then it is perfectly fine to post an additional answer without referencing other answers. I usually do add a line to the effect of 'as an alternative to the other answer you can also do X' but I wouldn't expect other people to do that at all.

1and a little proud of my self-exemplified statement :)

• Whilst I agree to some extend on the credit business, I guess I (and others with a comp.text.tex background) tend to think that once you post an answer, it's 'fair game' for reuse anywhere. Otherwise, a very sensible answer :) – Joseph Wright Apr 12 '19 at 12:31
• @JosephWright Reusing it is certainly fine IMHO, but just copying an answer from somewhere without disclosing the source is IMHO not, in particular if the source is an earlier answer to the same question, or already linked to the question. I guess the main question is whether or not one should criticize others for behavior that oneself is showing. – user121799 Apr 19 '19 at 2:40