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Scott Morrison made a few comments in the domain name thread calling himself a "shameless elitist".

I guess it's a good question to ask then: how "elite" is this site? Do we aim for every kind of TeX question? Is it going to be experts only? For package developers/maintainers only? For LaTeX3 developers only?

Is someone who just enrolled at University, and has to figure out how to write his first assignment in TeX going to be welcome on this site?

I haven't followed MathOverflow closely, but it's my impression that they chose to go aim for a certain minimum skill level, excluding a lot of beginner questions. That probably makes sense for their domain (to avoid it getting flooded with second-graders asking for help with questions about subtraction). But what's our policy going to be?

I think we should follow a similar policy to StackOverflow, that no question is too simple. I certainly want expert users to use the site, but I also think a big part of its value is that it might provide a useful repository for beginners and for people just trying to get simple tasks done.

But let's throw it out in the open and see what everyone else thinks.

Thoughts?

10 Answers 10

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As the quoted "elitist", I want to point out that I agree with everyone else here: we should cater to everyone!

At the same time, we should be thinking about how to make the site appealing to real experts! (I'm definitely not one, but I want them around for the rare occasions I have a good question!)

  • Ok, I definitely agree with that. And sorry if I misunderstood you. I just wanted to bring the question up so we could make a clear decision on the policy for the site. – jalf Jul 28 '10 at 12:45
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    Yeah, I think the subject is already elitist enough without any further discrimination. I mean, of course, cats probably aren't going to get anywhere trying to get answers to their questions, but their typing is so bad I don't think they'll find TeX to be of much use anyway... – SamB Nov 30 '10 at 16:52
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The benefits I see from a site like this is that it allows people to develop their understanding, regardless of prior knowledge, and by staying friendly, help spread TeX and make the community wider. I have seen horrible elitist behaviour on another site (not TeX related) where people quite angrily "yelled" at beginners for not having enough knowledge. It certanly put me off. I have found this community quite different. Since I am a strong beliver in TeX I think TeX.SX is a key contributor to help building knowledge and widening the community. By the looks of the replies here there is general agreement on this matter. So, I would then like to propose that when beginners come with (simple?) questions it could be useful to also provide good sources for gaining additional knowledge to them apart from the direct answer to the question.

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    well said. when i read a question for which the answer should be known by anyone who has ever read an introduction to (la)tex, my immediate reaction is "why didn't this person read a basic intro?" but i'm not going to downvote for that, and after a moment's reflection, remember that i was once a beginner too. a more durable following will be gained by being polite, and a pointer to a good source is in that spirit. that said, i checked the "text-building-blocks" question, but didn't find anything relevant. would be a good addition. – barbara beeton Dec 8 '12 at 20:18
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As a novice-to-intermediate user, I might add that my knowledge of TeX plateaued for a long time before I found this site. I don't know anywhere else where I could get information of a quality comparable to, say, this answer:

https://tex.stackexchange.com/a/83936/17049

Before I came here, I could get some kind of solution to many of the difficulties I hit using Google, but I got into a lot of bad habits, like using low-level and Plain TeX commands when I should have been using LaTeX commands. I suspect that a lot of the unexpected and frustrating behaviour that I saw LaTeX exhibit stemmed from said bad habits.

So -- for what it's worth -- I think this site is very useful to users at my level of experience. And I am very grateful for it!

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I must say; I started with TeX a bit over a year ago. I found out about Stack Exchange a few months after that, very much a newbie still (Heck, in many ways I still am.) I found Stack Exchange to be the single best place, bar none, to get help with basic questions; the answers were complete, they explained why things should be done this way, they explained why things shouldn't be done some way, and how to do them better, but if I had to do things a set way, helped anyway, and the people are friendly to boot. Basically, I probably wouldn't have done my thesis in LaTeX if Stack Exchange hadn't been helping me.

Please don't make TeX.SX just for people whom already know what they are doing.

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    Yeah, please don't. It's mouthfoam-inducingly frustrating to get answers in a condescending elitist tone. – morbusg Jul 14 '12 at 4:06
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Observation: Time has shown that the site welcomes both "elitists" and their questions (some users have great (La)TeX knowledge and they still ask very interesting advanced questions themselves), and as well many people who have little experience with LaTeX and need help with very basic things.

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I agree with all that has been said already. I think that there should be some minimum requirement, and that is at least a passing familiarity with TeX. So questions along the lines of "I just installed TeX on my system, now what?" are out of scope, but specific questions, even if very basic, are acceptable. In other words, beginners should put in at least a bit of effort before turning to the site.

  • Why is such a question out of scope? I think it's a good one to have here. – jalf Jul 30 '10 at 23:55
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    Yeah, how are they supposed to know what to try reading first? – SamB Nov 30 '10 at 16:55
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I think all level of TeXpertise ought be welcome.

The MathOverflow people have to contend with the issue that huge swaths of people have some connection to mathematics and they really do need a Q&A venue for those who read yellow books. By contrast, anyone embarked on learning TeX or LaTeX is already reasonably elite for having taken that route.

Furthermore, being "the site that really helped me get my LaTeX skills" is a great way to ensure that a newly minted elite user comes back to ask and answer.

  • I heard there was some new thing people read instead of Cliff's notes these days... – SamB Nov 30 '10 at 16:54
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As amazing as Math Overflow is, I don't think there's much scope for an expert-only website here. For one thing, there's no clear way to set a minimum level (unlike "graduate-level mathematics"). For another, seemingly trivial questions can sometimes require expertise over intricate details, and vice-versa — it's hard to tell when asking a question. And well, purely academic discussions about TeX aren't all that interesting even to most TeX users.

The Stack Overflow model, where all programming questions are welcome with no minimum level, makes for a website that is useful to the greatest number of people. (Incl. beginners, those who arrive through searching on Google, etc.) There is some advantage to the MO model (experts are more likely to visit and look at all questions, if they know all questions will be nontrivial), but SO does seem to get quite a few experts.

So for better or for worse (mostly for the better!), I think we've got to go the StackOverflow way where all levels of questions are welcome, with whatever side-effects it implies. (Questions and answers of broader interest will sometimes/often get more upvotes than more "expert" questions etc. But this is inevitable.)

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I think Scott's position is a good one w.r.t. MathOverflow (it's clear there's a need for quite technical maths questions, not catered for elsewhere), but there's a need for an arena for the full range of LaTeX questions, from 'what package does X?' to questions about \afterassignment. Indeed, the top end of that range is potentially best catered for by comp.text.tex.

c.t.t is full of really good stuff, and some extremely knowledgeable people, but although folk are generally polite, it's a rather forbidding environment for someone who just wants to know how to format their thesis to match their local regulations. Here, we're unlikely to get schoolchildren asking about their LaTeX homework!

(I've adapted this response from a comment in the originating thread)

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Completely agree with your position. We all know that (La)TeX has a steep learning curve, and getting useful help when one is a beginner is crucial to decide if someone will just go back to Word or stay as a happy TeX user.

We should therefore also pay attention on the kind of answers we provide and make sure they match the level of knowledge of the one who is asking. Also for entry level questions, we should aim at giving simple answers that "just work", and not bothering users with lower level details or wars on pdflatex vs latex + dvips + ps2pdf.

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    I wouldn't say that; Giving those details can be a very good way at making me understand what I'm doing, and why. Also given the fact we don't duplicate the questions I think we need all detail in the question itself. Wars should be avoided, but perhaps a detailed technical explanation after the initial one? – Canageek Jul 10 '12 at 20:35

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