While a person can become a pro in one topic, it is not possible to master all the fields; even if we narrow it to computer science. Interdisciplinary fields make the problem worse. For instance, someone who works in (theoretical, not applied) cryptography must have a good knowledge of the computational complexity.

What happens when you need to ask a question which, while related to your research topic, happens to be lie within another field? Well, a complicated problem for you might be too basic for researches in the target field.

I like the model of Math.SE / MathOverflow a lot: If I think my question is too basic (which usually is!), I'll ask it on Math.SE. Research-level questions can be asked on the latter.

This discussion has recently gained momentum on Area51; here are some links:

And even proposals like Beginner Theoretical Computer Science or Computer Science were considered; but they were soon deleted/closed due to lack of support / misunderstanding that they are exact duplicates of other SE sites.

Lack of Support: I believe that such proposals did not advertise themselves well. For instance, if I ever knew that they exist, I'd join them at once. This is the main reason I'm raising the issue here.

Exact Duplicates: Some of the voters (to close) claimed that such proposals are exact duplicates of StackOverflow, while others claim that they are exact duplicates of TCS.SE.

  • The former group believed that anything in computer science which is not theoretical is programming related. In my opinion, that is plain wrong. A basic question about Turing machines is a simple counterexample.
  • The latter group were unable to distinguish between research-level questions and basic ones.

Some discussions can be found here: Is Computer Science a duplicate of Theoretical Computer Science.

In an extreme case, Jonik suggested: "Instead of another site, how about modifying the description of the existing site to allow a little less advanced CS theory questions too." His suggestion was unwelcome, and received some down-votes.

In another thread, Joel Spolsky requested that we (TCS.SE) broaden our view. His suggestion didn't go anywhere either.

The bottom line: I believe that CSTheory must have a non-research-level counterpart. I ask people here to help (re)create one on Area51, and support it adequately.

PS: There's always an issue of homeworks: Professors don't like their students to cheat by asking homework problems in online forums. This can be handled as in Math.SE, or by developing adequate policies at the new site.

  • $\begingroup$ I think this proposal has been made several times and months ago (at least I have made it). There is no movement as of now. How can we revive certain efforts, e.g. the Computer Science proposal on Area 51? $\endgroup$ – Raphael Apr 3 '11 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Raphael: If this post receives enough attention (say upvotes or good answers/comments), we can ask SE overlords to get involved. I'm happy to see Robert Cartaino is already there :) $\endgroup$ – M.S. Dousti Apr 4 '11 at 10:44
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    $\begingroup$ Several people on this site explicitly supported the most recent proposal. We were not the ones who voted to close it. Perhaps you should take this discussion to the Area 51 folks who closed the proposal, and convince them of the merits. I don't think you would have a hard time finding support, but my perception is that the difficulty is to convince the naysayers. $\endgroup$ – András Salamon Apr 4 '11 at 11:37
  • $\begingroup$ I tried that. No success so far. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Apr 4 '11 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ why can't Math.SE serve this purpose? $\endgroup$ – Artem Kaznatcheev Apr 4 '11 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Artem: Isn't it math related? I think on numerous occasions, when someone asks a TCS-related question on that site, they refer him/her here. $\endgroup$ – M.S. Dousti Apr 4 '11 at 20:09

You can ask non-research level TCS question on Math.SE. They seem to be OK and consider TCS a subfield of Mathematics. (The same way MO folks accepted TCS on their site.)

ps: I agree with Suresh. An on-topic question doesn't need to be a current research topic for an expert in the area. IMO the line for closing a question as not-research level is if it does not need researcher (specialist) knowledge to answer, e.g.

  • it can be answered by reading the Wikipedia on the topic
  • it is covered in typical undergrad textbooks/courses
  • a typical/bright undergrad taking the related course can answer it
  • $\begingroup$ Now that cs.stackexchange is in Beta, perhaps we should edit this answer? $\endgroup$ – Aryabhata May 2 '12 at 22:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Aryabhata, I am not sure if editing is needed or good, this is from more than 1 year ago and the FAQ has already been updated, but if you like feel free to post a new answer mentioning CS.SE. :) $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 3 '12 at 1:21
  • $\begingroup$ The point is that people might search meta, come across this and go to math.se :-). Of course people who come to meta, probably already read the FAQ. Is there any harm in editing it? $\endgroup$ – Aryabhata May 3 '12 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ The answer belongs to that time, changing it doesn't seem right, we normally don't edit old meta questions/answers. You can post a new answer if you feel that would be helpful. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 3 '12 at 2:39

For a long time, there was no good answer — it seemed that there was no solution within Stack Exchange. But now the situation is finally resolved.

On the computer science site!

Computer Science accepts all questions about theoretical and applied computer science. (All questions suitable for Stack Exchange, that is.)

Computer Science does not include the technique of programming, even when done as part of a class in a computer science curriculum. There's Stack Overflow for that.

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    $\begingroup$ While shared accounts and migration would be nice addition, I do not think that they are important. MathOverflow and cstheory.stackexchange.com do not share accounts and migration between them is impossible, but both of us are doing fine. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Apr 3 '11 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ Another way to have shared accounts and migration paths would be to move TCS to a new platform and host (SIGACT, for example), and then set up the new site in the new environment. $\endgroup$ – Jeffε Apr 3 '11 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ there's been a deathly silence on SIGACT/CS.SE integration ever since Joel's suggestion got shut down. I think they're sulking a bit :). However, that was only a branding exercise, and the software would still have been SE 2.0, which means we would still have had to deal with the area51 nonsense. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Apr 3 '11 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ Thinking about JɛffE’s comment, if the beginner TCS Q&A site is built outside the Stack Exchange network, it does not seem that there is any reason why we (cstheory.stackexchange.com) cannot move out together. I feel that the very concept of the “TCS counterpart of MathOverflow” has not been welcomed in the Stack Exchange network, and it seems the best for both of them and us if we can move out of it. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Apr 4 '11 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ I seem to remember that moving out of SE was deemed unfruitful earlier, what changed? $\endgroup$ – Raphael Apr 4 '11 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Raphael: Nothing has changed. The problem with moving out is that it takes a lot of effort to build a working Q&A website outside the SE network. If the beginner Q&A site is ever built, it will be outside the SE network in my opinion, and if that is possible, I think that it is easy for cstheory.stackexchange.com to move out together. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Apr 4 '11 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ You may want to add a note that the answer has significantly edited so readers won't get confused with the comments. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Nov 20 '13 at 1:00

I have been more tolerant of 'basic to me, but not to you' questions, and less tolerant of 'should be in an algorithms class' questions. I think that this has been (to an extent) true on our site.

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    $\begingroup$ I see. But what I really want is some place where even an undergrad can ask an learn non-research-level questions. Years ago, when my university didn't offer 'complexity theory' (really!), I had to learn it from the books. For months, I couldn't figure many basic questions. Even if CSTheory existed back then, I wouldn't be able to ask such questions on it. PS: Situation is more or less the same now, but that's a story for another day. I think it's a good idea to have a site for beginners! $\endgroup$ – M.S. Dousti Apr 4 '11 at 10:32
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    $\begingroup$ I dn't disagree. but the SE community appears resistant to this, and I don't know how to fix that problem. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Apr 4 '11 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ That's shame :( If they don't like the idea of a new proposal, do they want to degrade this site to include non-research-level questions? $\endgroup$ – M.S. Dousti Apr 4 '11 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Sadeq, why don't you ask them on Math.SE? It seems to me that they consider TCS as a part of Mathematics. Contrary to that, some Math.SE users feel that a non-research TCS is already included in their scope and therefore another such site is not good idea. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Apr 4 '11 at 23:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Kaveh - I have had in past some basic TCS questions which (of course) not being research level, I asked on Math.SE. The first response that came up suggested me to ask that question here. I do not know if this is the general trend for the questions of the level I had; but my guess is that we really can benefit from a stackexchange dedicated to this purpose. $\endgroup$ – Akash Kumar Apr 5 '11 at 4:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Akash, that is not strange, users not familiar with cstheory may make such suggestions, I think replying in a comment that cstheory is for research level questions should be a sufficient answer for them. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Apr 6 '11 at 9:42

I do not think that it is possible to build a non-research-level counterpart to cstheory.stackexchange.com in Area 51 considering all the powers given to the users who do not know how MathOverflow, math.stackexchange.com and cstheory.stackexchange.com work. I do not want to spend another minute to try to build such a website within the Stack Exchange network. The network does not deserve such a website.


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