Going back to the Area 51 proposal, one of the interesting (and intreguing) aspects of this site has been the sense of a gathering of cultures. Besides the division between university and K-12 teachers, I've also noticed that some of us are:

  • new to Stack Exchange,
  • new to the Math/MathOverflow section of Stack Exchange, or
  • old hands on the Math-related communities.

For those who don't know, MathOverflow was the most successful Stack Exchange 1.0 site before being incorperated into the network. (It's doing quite well here too.) As a result, MathOverflow took a divergent evolutionary path. In particular, it missed a number of technical and policy adjustments. At the same time, MathOverflow found ingenious solutions to its stable feature set and formed its own culture. I found this wishlist very helpful to understanding what's different between MathOverflow and the majority of sites on Stack Exchange.

Meanwhile, there's a contingent of people who come from regions of the internet that aren't strictly focused on the Q&A format. For those folks "forum" and "discussion" aren't verboten words. A lot of fairly typical things done on a Stack Exchange site seem foreign and arcane until you get used to them. (I've been there.)

At any rate, there are people from several different cultural backgrounds that have different approaches to solving social problems. As a rule, cultures clash when people assume that others share their unspoken assumptions when they do not. Therefore, putting those assumptions out in the open builds one path to greater understanding. (Don't forget to always apply Hanlon's razor; assume good faith.)

Personally, I think this site will be stronger in the long run for having such a diverse heritage. But I also urge you to forge your own path and create a culture best suited to Mathematics Educators. At the same time, you might as well avoid the mistakes we've learned from in the past. Take what's best from your collective experience and build something new.

  • $\begingroup$ In your opinion, where are the significant cultural differences? Is the MO culture of relevance because a large group of users here come from MO? How close is math.se to MO.SE? $\endgroup$
    – Roland
    Mar 27, 2014 at 11:07

1 Answer 1


Personally, I find myself in a strange situation. Let me explain this a bit first.

On MathOverflow I am firmly rooted, and quite vocal about it, in the group of users that believe MO should be rather strict regarding enforcing policies of questions must be answerable, we do not want (many) lists and so on.

Furthermore, I always felt I was one of those old time MO users that rather embraced the (new) SE culture when we joined the network. For example, I defended the SE policy on CW, I proposed to delete more comments, I am strongly in favor of the new point distribution and so on. (I am even a little active on meta.SO).

However, I am of the opinion that it would be a mistake to try to force such thing on this site too quickly.

First, a simple point. It is possible to learn from others' experiences. Yet, quite frequently it is more impressive to make the experience oneself. Let us have some lists. First, we will like them. Then, we will get bored. Then, we will get annoyed (by them reappearing all the time due to duplicate postings). And, then we close them, with some wider spread sense that in the long run it is not such a good idea to have many endless lists. Okay, some will always keep loving the lists, but we will have more of a shared experience of the issues attached to such questions.

To try to prevent too much that own failures are made (with the best intention, this is not the question) can ultimately be detrimental to a healthy developpement. (Perhaps this phrase could fit on Parenting.SE, :-))

Second, for some, at least for me, the entire point of contributing to the creation of this site was the believe that there should be a separate site so that the culture can be somewhat more discursive than it is good for a mathematics site proper. (This does certainly not mean everything should be allowed. But, the distinction should be rather made along lines of content and not formalities. Irrelevant things er even nonsense should go, good contributions on the topic of the site should stay; even if in some cases the former fits the format, and the latter not really.)

Now, if we start to be very strict here, what is the point of this site at all? Teaching questions (of certain forms) and even more mathematics education questions are anyway on-topic on MO (and I think math.SE). And as an aside, because of this I for one certainly do not want to bring that much MO culture, though this is not really that uniform to begin with. If I would want this to be just like MO, why help mount this site at all. There would be no point.

Third, a way (perhaps) to prevent culture clashes is to first explain what is happening and why (in a non intimitading way), and second to be extra consistent.


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