AskSage oddity

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Simon King

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Feb 13, 2011, 9:23:25 AM2/13/11
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Hi!

I just went to AskSage. That page never seemed appealing to me, and
now I can tell you why.

I was browsing the questions, sorted by the number of answers. I noted
that quite many of them have no answer at all, some dating back to
Sep. 2010. However, when I opened one of the unanswered questions, I
found that the question was commented - namely by a counterquestion
like "please provide more information". But in contrast to answers,
comments are not visible when you browse the posts.

Let me try to describe that situation from the point of view of a
(new) user:

1. I ask a question, say, concerning installation.
2. After a day or so, I return to the AskSage front page, in order to
see whether there was any activity related with my post. No activity
is reported, so, apparently nobody noticed my post [unfortunately, I
am not aware that there is a comment, asking me to provide more
information]. I am frustrated.
3. After another day, I still see no activity, and my problem with
installing Sage is not solved. I am angry.
4. I drop Sage.

In other words: I think that it is essential for AskSage that either
*any* activity related with a post (posting an answer, posting a
comment, editing the post, ...) shows up on the front page.
I, for one, would certainly not revisit a thread that I started, if no
activity is reported.

Alternatively, comments should be strictly reserved to internal
information only. If you post a comment on AskSage, you should not
expect to get an answer.

Best regards,
Simon

Niles

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Feb 13, 2011, 6:17:20 PM2/13/11
to sage-devel
Hi Simon!
This sounds like a good suggestion -- I'll give it to the askbot
developers.

But is this *really* the main reason that the site doesn't appeal to
you? If so, it's worth noting that you can sign up for email notices
for all questions, or some questions, or just the ones you've asked --
these do report comments, answers, and even edits thereof.

If you have other suggestions for how it could be more useful, I for
one would be glad to know :)

-Niles

Simon King

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Feb 14, 2011, 2:06:29 AM2/14/11
to sage-devel
Hi Niles,

On 14 Feb., 00:17, Niles <nil...@gmail.com> wrote:
> This sounds like a good suggestion -- I'll give it to the askbot
> developers.

Thanks!

> But is this *really* the main reason that the site doesn't appeal to
> you?

In the first place, it was just a gut feeling. But meanwhile I believe
it came from the impression that AskSage gives little to no feedback,
in contrast to sage-support. And indeed it seems to me that this
impression came across since (a) I usually just look at the front
page, to see whether there is a new question that I might be able to
answer or whether there is any news for a question that seems
interesting to me, and (b) the front page doesn't show all news.

IIRC, I started to use Sage four years ago (or three?), and of course
I asked a lot of questions on sage-support. If I had asked these
questions on AskSage and my first two or three questions would have
been "commented with invisible ink" rather than answered, I am sure I
would have quit.

What I like with AskSage are the tags. But again, I think that's for
expert users, not for novices.

> If so, it's worth noting that you can sign up for email notices
> for all questions, or some questions, or just the ones you've asked --
> these do report comments, answers, and even edits thereof.

I know, but in general I don't like email notices (in particular not
for *all* questions on a list).

Now I am imagining a user who heard about system X and wants to do the
first steps in this system. He wants to install and explore it, in
order to decide wether or not he will keep X. So, it is a new customer
who doesn't know yet if he sufficiently likes the product. Would such
customer join a support list in the sense that he will accept to be
sent email alerts on a regular basis? Mind that (even if one can
unsubscribe) it may feel like a long-term decision for a product he
doesn't even know!

At least it seems to me that a novice user is less likely to subscribe
for e-mail alerts than an expert user, and in addition it seems to me
that a novice user is more likely to quit than an expert, if he gets
the impression that he has to solve a problem on his own.

Best regards,
Simon

D. S. McNeil

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Feb 14, 2011, 2:37:41 AM2/14/11
to sage-...@googlegroups.com
Don't comments show up on the main page via the mailbox on the top of
the page? I don't have email notification attached and I see it flag
when there's something new for me to look at in the comments. I seem
to get responses as often as I do on other question sites, so I don't
know if this is as big a problem in practice as it could be in theory.

I like the idea of more emphatic highlighting of questions you've
asked/been involved with that have changed, though, maybe something
like the difference between questions with your favourite tags and
those without on SO?

The good news is that of 41 questions returned when searching for
"install", only one has no answers, only comments (another has
neither, so invisible comments weren't the problem.) And since it's
about installing on Vista, I'll give you 5:1 odds it's actually about
the accounting software -- they also have an "ask sage" forum, an
unfortunate coincidence -- which explains the lack of later activity
from the OP..


Doug

--
Department of Earth Sciences
University of Hong Kong

Simon King

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Feb 14, 2011, 3:38:22 AM2/14/11
to sage-devel
Hi Doug,

On 14 Feb., 08:37, "D. S. McNeil" <dsm...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Don't comments show up on the main page via the mailbox on the top of
> the page?

What mailbox are you talking about?

>  I don't have email notification attached and I see it flag
> when there's something new for me to look at in the comments.

When you say "new for me", I infer that you are signed in when you see
the flag. So, I guess part of my problem is that, when I visit the
page, my browser won't automatically log in.

I just tested, and indeed, when I log in, I see that mailbox.

However, the flag would only appear when there is something new about
a thread *I was involved in*, right?

But it frequently happens that I follow a thread (e.g., on sage-
support) without posting. I see that it is possible to mark a check
box so that one gets regular e-mail alert about a thread - but is
there the possibility to get "flags" in one's AskSage mailbox, but to
*not* get e-mail alerts to one's private mailbox?

Moreover, it happens on sage-support or sage-devel that I do not read
a post whose title doesn't seem relevant to my private interests. But
then, I see a lot of activity on that thread, and I may think that it
could be of *general* interest, read it - and find that indeed it
helps me in an unforeseen way. Translated to AskSage: I would not read
the thread in the first place, hence, my mailbox would not show me a
flag, hence, I would not notice that there is a lot of activity - end
of the story.

> The good news is that of 41 questions returned when searching for
> "install", only one has no answers, only comments (another has
> neither, so invisible comments weren't the problem.)

Don't search for "install", but go to the "unanswered questions"
instead. For example http://ask.sagemath.org/question/328/finding-coprime-integer-solutions
which dates from three weeks ago; it is from a user who apparently was
logged in only once -- presumably his way of thinking is similar to
mine: No email alerts, and logging in *only* if one is about to post.

Or http://ask.sagemath.org/question/336/passing-multiple-variables-and-parallel,
also three weeks ago. That user logged in repeatedly, so, he might
have seen the comment.

Both threads are not about the accounting software, and they both have
a comment asking for more information, and in both cases the OP did
not provide the requested information.

Or http://ask.sagemath.org/question/367/computing-variational-derivatives.
Here, apparently the OP reads the comments (and posts comments, too).
This thread has a certain activity, and I might read it, if the front
page would not give me the impression that the thread is an orphan.

Cheers,
Simon

Emil Widmann

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Feb 14, 2011, 4:33:34 AM2/14/11
to sage-devel
Hi!
I was also skeptical about ask.sagemath.org.It seemed a bit too
"flashy" and I thought,
oh no, yet another list to follow (beside devel, support, edu,
windows ...). But last weeks I posted 2 questions there and I had the
impression that the system allowed a very nuanced communication about
the problems involved (answers, comments, different formating tools).
(e.g. http://ask.sagemath.org/question/370/how-to-use-gotoblas-instead-of-atlas)
The askbot enginge is successfully used by a number of sites. Now that
it is established it is unrealistic to shut it down again,and it is
unthinkable to move things over from sage-support.

Simon, you raised the problem of unanswered questions. Also in the
google groups similar can happen. If there is increased traffic, posts
drop of the main page pretty quick. Then you get a list sorted after
the date of the original post, so those posts can end up far back in
the list soon. What I wan't to say is, every system has week and
strong sides. We have a working infrastructure and we should try to
make the best out of it. But of course improvement is always possible.

Regarding new users. Maybe there could be a friendly welcome message
somewhere (in the faq?), with a reminder that this site is operated by
a helpful, but nonetheless volunteer community. And that sometimes
patience and persistence is necessary to get the right information.
Should there also be a link to the other support list - it might be a
matter of personal preference which one to use? And maybe a short
policy statement about cross-posting?

I still haven't fully understood the ask.sagemath site. E.g. how does
the Wikki work in ask.sagemath? If I flag a question as Wikki, are
answers and comments automatically included? And is this the usual
MoinMoin Sage Wikki, or something separate? As always,more questions
than answers :-), but my 2 cents.
best
emil



Simon King

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Feb 14, 2011, 5:45:41 AM2/14/11
to sage-devel
Hi Emil,

On 14 Feb., 10:33, Emil Widmann <emil.widm...@gmail.com> wrote:
> ...
> The askbot enginge is successfully used by a number of sites. Now that
> it is established it is unrealistic to shut it down again,and it is
> unthinkable to move things over from sage-support.

I didn't suggest to shut AskSage down. It seems to me that it is
actually easier to customize than sage-support. You can sort the
threads by the number of answers (so, can easily see if something has
not been answered, yet), by tags (so, can sort by your interests),
etc. That's nice. I like the tags, and I like the formatting.

The fact that comments technically do not count as answers but
practically *are* answers (in the sense that they provide information
and ask for more information and are thus part of communication) is so
far the only thing that I found irritating.

> Simon, you raised the problem of unanswered questions. Also in the
> google groups similar can happen. If there is increased traffic, posts
> drop of the main page pretty quick.

Sure. But I do think it would be nice if the existence of comments to
a thread could be made visible on the AskSage front page, even to a
user who is not logged in.

> Regarding new users. Maybe there could be a friendly welcome message
> somewhere (in the faq?), with a reminder that this site is operated by
> a helpful, but nonetheless volunteer community. And that sometimes
> patience and persistence is necessary to get the right information.

I don't know if such message is necessary *if* the users see that the
community is responsive - i.e., if they see the community's activity,
not only part of the activity.

> Should there also be a link to the other support list - it might be a
> matter of personal preference which one to use?

Is it intended that AskSage will eventually replace sage-support? If
not, then it would really be good to know in what situation I should
AskSage and in what situation I should support-sage...

> As always,more questions
> than answers :-), ...

At least, on sage-devel, your questions count as an answer, not as a
comment...

Cheers,
Simon

kcrisman

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Feb 14, 2011, 8:51:12 AM2/14/11
to sage-devel

> Is it intended that AskSage will eventually replace sage-support? If
> not, then it would really be good to know in what situation I should
> AskSage and in what situation I should support-sage...
>

Probably not. There seems to be different roles for each. Also, some
people feel more comfortable with one format over another. It is true
that ask.sagemath.org is more easily searchable. But it makes it hard
to have longer nuanced discussions, or to cross-post with sage-devel,
etc. In the end, it's up to you - whichever you feel is more
helpful. I personally think that ask.sagemath.org is better for "how
do I do X" and sage-support is better for more general or installation
questions, or bug reports.

- kcrisman
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