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We all love Computer Science Stack Exchange, but there is a whole world of people out there who need answers to their questions and don't even know that this site exists. When they arrive from Google, what will their first impression be? Let's try to look at this site through the eyes of someone who's never seen it before, and see how we stack up against the rest of the 'Net.

The Site Self-Evaluation review queue is open and populated with 10 questions that were asked and answered in the last quarter. Run a few Google searches to see how easy they are to find and compare the answers we have with the information available on other sites.

Rating the questions is only a part of the puzzle, though. Do you see a pattern of questions that should have been closed but are not? Questions or answers that could use an edit? Anything that's going really well? Post an answer below to share your thoughts and discuss these questions and the site's health with your fellow users!

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    $\begingroup$ Wow, that's a discouraging sample. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Feb 8 '15 at 16:46
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Final Results

Net Score: 11 (Excellent: 11, Satisfactory: 7, Needs Improvement: 0)


Net Score: 8 (Excellent: 9, Satisfactory: 7, Needs Improvement: 1)


Net Score: 8 (Excellent: 9, Satisfactory: 4, Needs Improvement: 1)


Net Score: 7 (Excellent: 9, Satisfactory: 5, Needs Improvement: 2)


Net Score: 3 (Excellent: 7, Satisfactory: 7, Needs Improvement: 4)


Net Score: 2 (Excellent: 6, Satisfactory: 8, Needs Improvement: 4)


Net Score: 2 (Excellent: 4, Satisfactory: 11, Needs Improvement: 2)


Net Score: 1 (Excellent: 3, Satisfactory: 7, Needs Improvement: 2)


Net Score: -5 (Excellent: 2, Satisfactory: 6, Needs Improvement: 7)


Net Score: -6 (Excellent: 0, Satisfactory: 11, Needs Improvement: 6)


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  • $\begingroup$ Raphael wrote "Wow, that's a discouraging sample." I have to agree. The only non-theoretical question is also the question which was judged best by the reviewers. I'm not really thrilled by that question either, but at least it is a less theoretical question. I wrote a long answer below, trying to highlight some more applied areas of computer science, and explain a bit how the stackexchange network might contribute to deplete this site of more practically relevant questions. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Klimpel Feb 15 '15 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ For the record, a prevalence of TCS is not what disturbs me; I felt that the average question quality was lower than in earlier evaluations. (cc @ThomasKlimpel) $\endgroup$ – Raphael Feb 16 '15 at 9:24
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Because of Miles Rout's answer expressing his honest opinion, I also want to give an answer expressing a personal opinion. I don't really have an opinion on whether a stackexchange site about a subject, which is also an academic profession, should be related to the curriculum of typical introductory and advanced courses for students of that profession. To avoid confusion, the claim by Miles Rout that computer science is identical to theoretical computer science cannot be refuted by artificially restricting theoretical computer science to a subset of its actual topics. One must name some practically relevant applied areas of computer science instead. I was one of those who argued against such applied topics in the past, but have changed my mind in the meantime. As mathematician, I'm not qualified to name applied topics belonging to computer science, so please disagree with my list!


When I studied mathematics at a German university in the last century, the curriculum of mathematics, computer science and philosophy had (at least) one thing in common: students were required to visit courses in one (or two for philosophy) minor subjects in addition to their major subject. Related tags on this site are , , , and at Theoretical Computer Science. This probably means that this site has already fallen deeply into the "trap" (that computer science is identical to theoretical computer science) hidden in Miles Rout's answer. Some of the more applied topics of computer science can be found at Computational Science, like , , , (), and . I may even be guilty to contribute towards falling into this "trap" myself, because I often comment on questions suitable for Computational Science or Cross Validated that they should be asked there rather than here. But is there really an overlap between Geographical Information Systems (for example) and computer science (or mathematics)?

For Mathematics, it is clear that most questions appropriate for Computer Science, Computational Science or Cross Validated are also appropriate there, even if you may get better or at least different answers on the more specialized sites. Because I'm a mathematician, I can't know exactly which topics belong to computer science. I have the impression that theoretical computer science focuses on topics which are challenging from a theoretical point of view. I think it is important that computer science also includes topics which are "solved" from a theoretical point of view, but are still important and challenging in practice. So here is a collection of topics, hopefully also containing some which don't belong to computer science:

  • Pragmatic heuristics like simulated annealing, genetic algorithms, and other black box ...
  • Efficiently solvable optimization problems, like linear programming, convex optimization, weighted (non-)bipartite matching, flow networks, and matroid based algorithms
  • Theoretically solved but practically challenging problems like computational geometry, floating point number issues, sparse matrices, Eigenvalue problems, Krylov-subspace methods, ...
  • Formal logic and automated reasoning, type theory, set theory, category theory, ..., philosophy and foundations of mathematics
  • Topics with a probabilistic or statistic flavor, like machine learning, provably correct learning, neural networks, Bayesian networks, Kalman filters, ...
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    $\begingroup$ 1. I'm confused. What trap are you saying CS.SE has fallen into? Can you elaborate? (And is it relevant if CSTheory or Computational Science or Cross Validated have fallen into a trap? This is an evaluation of CS.SE, not of other sites.) 2. You say that most questions appropriate for CS.SE are also appropriate for Math.SE. I have to say I'm pretty skeptical about that. Can you back that up with evidence? How about picking a random sample of 10 questions on CS.SE and showing us which ones you think would be OK for Math.SE? You could start with the sample of 10 for this evaluation... $\endgroup$ – D.W. Feb 15 '15 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ @D.W. Miles Rout stated that all of computer science is theoretical computer science. This is a trap, because most students of computer science will indeed tend to ask questions about theoretical computer science here. It is also a trap, because the more practical subjects already have stackexchange sites of their own, so people like me tell the askers to ask their questions there instead. But it will destroy computer science in the long run, if it only gets the challenging theoretical questions, but not the practically relevant questions about more applied areas. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Klimpel Feb 15 '15 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ I don't understand what the trap is. Miles Rout's statement is simply wrong. Are you saying that the trap is that posters will think all of CS is TCS and post questions on the wrong site? Are you saying that community members will wrongly close or migrate questions? What are you saying? What precisely is the trap, and what are the consequences/impact of that trap? I'm thoroughly lost. $\endgroup$ – D.W. Feb 15 '15 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ As far as telling people to ask their questions elsewhere, I encourage you to do it a little different. If the question is on-topic on both sites but more likely to get a good answer on a different site, a good way to do it is to say "Your question might get a better answer on X.SE; if you want to migrate it, you can click 'flag' under the post to flag it for moderator attention and ask the moderators to migrate it." But if it is on-topic here, our policy is generally that we don't forcibly migrate it unless the OP wants it migrated, and we shouldn't be giving the OP grief about it. (cont.) $\endgroup$ – D.W. Feb 15 '15 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ So I don't see any problem here that can't be solved by education (educating people how to respond to such questions). As far as destroying CS.SE, I don't see any sign that CS.SE is getting only the challenging theoretical questions or is being destroyed, so I'm not quite sure how to square your concern with what I observe. Finally, if most students of CS tend to ask questions about theoretical computer science here, that's exactly what both we and TCS.SE want to happen. They only want the research-level questions, not the garden-variety "help me with undergrad-level material". $\endgroup$ – D.W. Feb 15 '15 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ You, too, mix different notions of theory. If that helps you, think of theoretical physics. TCS is similar to theoretical physics, but CS also contains analogues of experimental physics (and the others). I don't think any of the regulars have fallen into the "trap" of thinking TCS=CS, it's just that most questions we get are from TCS (probably because that's what most students struggle with) and most regular experts we have seem to be from TCS, too. We can agree that this is suboptimal -- we'd like to cover all CS -- but discussing labels won't change that. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Feb 16 '15 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ Computational Science and Cross Validated definitely have overlaps with us, even though (in my experience) the perspectives differ greatly, as do the key techniques. Numerical algorithms dominate scientific computing, for instance, but play only a minor role in CS. The main overlap with Cross Validated is machine learning, which is only a small part of CS (perhaps not in terms of people or money, but conceptually). $\endgroup$ – Raphael Feb 16 '15 at 9:36
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    $\begingroup$ That said, moderator note: this thread is about a set of ten questions and their answers as a sample of quality of this site. General scope discussions have no place here and should be taken to Computer Science Chat or a new post on [meta]. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Feb 16 '15 at 9:38
  • $\begingroup$ Most questions on the site are actually homework questions. The scope of the site is closely related to the scope of an undergraduate computer science degree/major. Even within such a course of study, the questions seem to come from the more theoretical areas, especially automata, algorithms and data structures. There must be some obvious reasons for that, but I'm not completely aware of them. $\endgroup$ – Yuval Filmus Feb 16 '15 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ "General scope discussions have no place here and should be taken to Computer Science Chat or a new post on [meta]." Completely untrue again @Raphael. This is the monthly site evaluation. Evaluating the site is extremely relevant. $\endgroup$ – Miles Rout Feb 17 '15 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ @MilesRout Please read the question above. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Feb 18 '15 at 8:06
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I find it quite telling that I am downvoted but nobody else has bothered to post any sort of alternative evaluation

Personally I don't know why this site exists. It makes no sense to have both a Theoretical Computer Science and a Computer Science site.

I suppose the point might be that Theoretical Computer Science is to Computer Science what MathOverflow is to Mathematics? But even then, I just don't think this site offers much. I don't think it's useful to have both. I think there should be one site, or that this site should be renamed to something like "Beginner's Computer Science".

The way I see it, the introductory computer science books are on the same shelf in the public library as the advanced computer science books. It's one subject. I don't see why someone that enters undergraduate computer science and asks questions about it (presumably here) should have to give up their reputation and their presence and "move" to cstheory because they're now asking 'research-level questions'.

What's the upper bound for what's appropriate here? Because there's no point in having cstheory if cs is going to cover the same thing, and honestly having two sites just for different levels of knowledge is silly. If the issue is that those in cstheory don't want a bunch of low-level questions on their site, implement a strong moderation policy and liberally delete questions that have already been asked and answered.

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    $\begingroup$ There's no upper bound for what's appropriate here, cstheory.se (which is older than cs.se) has always had a lower bound, hence the establishment of cs.se to complement it (somewhat). There is a policy of closing questions that have been answered, that's what closing questions as duplicates is there for (as with every SE site), and in addition cs.SE has a series of "reference" questions which deal with basic (generally lazily asked) questions. Of course it's SE site, so moderation is mostly community handled except in extreme cases, so there is a bit of cat herding in this regard. $\endgroup$ – Luke Mathieson Feb 10 '15 at 4:59
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    $\begingroup$ The second, more philosophical response is that Computer Science is not Theoretical Computer Science. There's a lot of stuff that is CS, but not TCS. $\endgroup$ – Luke Mathieson Feb 10 '15 at 5:04
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    $\begingroup$ To add to this, there is a belief that experts are scared away with simple (T)CS questions. This is at least one reason CSTheory and MO exist. $\endgroup$ – Juho Feb 10 '15 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ Do you understand the reason why experimentation kits for kids, pop-science magazines, undergrad textbooks and research articles are sold in different places? (Hint: audience) The same applies here. So, even though the scope of Theoretical Computer Science is a proper subset of ours, they have their own set of visitors -- even though nobody makes them not come here. (Why you would say that this site is obsolete and not the one whose scope is redundant, I don't know.) Oh, and one historical note: Theoretical Computer Science existed and had graduated well before Computer Science went into beta. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Feb 10 '15 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ That is exactly why this site is redundant: cstheory is already exists. Whether or not they want a smaller scope is irrelevant. That is the site for computer science questions. StackExchange is not for easy beginner's questions that can be answered and easily grasped by reading introductory material. If it's not appropriate to Theoretical Computer Science then it's too easy. I've seen plenty of undergraduate-level questions there in the digest email I get every week or so. $\endgroup$ – Miles Rout Feb 11 '15 at 1:05
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    $\begingroup$ "[Theoretical Computer Science] is the site for computer science questions." -- wrong, see their scope description. "StackExchange is not for easy beginner's questions" -- but it is, see much of the content on Stack Overflow and Mathematics. In summary, your core assumptions are wrong so your conclusions are void. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Feb 11 '15 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ My assumptions ate not wrong. StackOverflow's lack of moderation is. And their scope should be changed then. $\endgroup$ – Miles Rout Feb 11 '15 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ Miles, I see that you are new to CS.SE (have not posted any questions or answers) and do not have an account on CSTheory. May I encourage you to spend some time on both sites to learn their cultures, before forming conclusions? I think that may help you form a better-informed opinion. Right now I think you might be missing a few important reasons why both sites exist (and yes, this was definitely discussed extensively on Meta, so it's not like no one ever considered these points). $\endgroup$ – D.W. Feb 12 '15 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ "My assumptions ate not wrong." -- if that's your conviction, nice talking to you. Oh, regarding your edit: what you find "telling" may simply be because a) this is not the first eval and b) others may want to wait for the end of the eval before commenting. (I also note that your "answer" is in no way about the site evaluation, but a reiteration of claims that have been debunked as early as three years ago.) $\endgroup$ – Raphael Feb 12 '15 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ @MilesRout Well, at least MathOverflow indeed exist for the regulars, and StackExchange has made a written agreement with them ensuring that this will not change. For CSTheory, the regulars were asked by StackExchange something like you propose. They answered that they would not like it, and StackExchange has basically accepted this. But independent of these real world facts, I don't like the idea that CS should be identical to theoretical CS. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Klimpel Feb 12 '15 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ @MilesRout "These decisions should not be made based on what the regulars of those sites want." -- wrong. The whole SE process is about those people. Because they understand that askers and goooglers won't have any place to go to if the regulars are not comfortable. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Feb 13 '15 at 9:02
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    $\begingroup$ @MilesRout "If you mean that you think that there's CS that isn't TCS in the general sense of those phrases, I respectfully disagree." -- you are simply wrong, and that's what I meant by your assumptions being wrong. It seems as if you have no idea of computer science as an academic field, hence I find your presumption disturbing. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Feb 13 '15 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ You are misunderstanding the meaning of TCS. It's not the theory part of CS, it is computability, complexity theory and algorithmics. The name is indeed misleading in that respect, but an absolute expert in TCS may well know nothing about many parts of CS. So what is acceptable on cstheory is a strict subset of CS. $\endgroup$ – Luke Mathieson Feb 14 '15 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ @MilesRout You need to understand that "theoretical" means something else to computer scientist than it does to street vendor John, similar to theoretical physics not being all of physics. The scope of Theoretical Computer Science is defined using the academic CS notion, not John's/yours. Deal with it. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Feb 16 '15 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ @MilesRout 1) It's not my website. 2) I do understand that, believe me. 3) You have now had several professional computer scientists tell you that you are wrong. Time to accept. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Feb 18 '15 at 8:05

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