Currently the question “Do you use any article organizers?” has three votes to close as off topic. However, in my opinion, this question can be interesting to people working on theoretical computer science and is not off topic, although it is not a question in TCS. At least I am interested in what other people in TCS use.

(As I wrote in a post to another discussion, I am a little bit tired of big-list questions, and this question may be one of them, but that is a separate story.)

Also, if you are a theoretical computer scientist looking for good citation organization software, I can imagine a reason for you to want to ask for recommendations of other theoretical computer scientists rather than researchers in other fields; it can be expected that they have similar requirements to you. In this sense, I can argue that the question is about TCS, although admittedly the relation is not strong.

Is this question on topic or off topic?

Added: The question has been closed as off topic. If that is the consensus of people here, I am fine with that, even though it was a little surprising to me because I had an impression that most people were happier with non-technical or broad questions than with technical, focused questions. Honestly speaking, I personally prefer technical, focused questions than highly-voted soft or broad questions, so I guess that I should feel happy to see that this question has been closed as off topic rather than feeling sad.

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    $\begingroup$ Just for the record, I'm not pleased this question was closed. Terence Tao wrote a blog entry on essentially this topic, and if it's good enough for that site, it's good enough for this one. I think "how to work smarter" questions should stay open, while questions about code, or the pseudophilosophy of science, should be closed. @Suresh @Ryan: virtual vote to re-open. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2010 at 2:04

3 Answers 3


If the question was rephrased so that it highlights some TCS-specific aspects (e.g., challenges that are related to dealing with conference articles and related technical reports with full proofs), I wouldn't vote to close.

However, in its current form, the question is completely generic, and you could equally well ask exactly the same question in a forum that focuses on marine biology.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree that the question is not in the optimal form, but I do not think it fair to close the question because of that. Pointing it out in comments and possibly downvoting should be enough. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ Also, let me point out that this question about favorite videos does not mention anything specific to computer science, but it is implied. I cannot see why the same does not apply to this question. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ Well, if it gets closed, one can always ask a new, better question. No harm done. (If I'm not mistaken, closed questions don't hurt anyone's reputation, unlike downvoting.) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ That’s a good point. But I somehow think that it is unlikely that a user whose first post was closed as off topic will want to revisit the website with a better phrasing of the question. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ The question about videos is different. If you asked the same question elsewhere, you'd expect to get very different answers; you must assume that the question implies that we are talking about TCS videos. However, if you asked the question about paper organisers elsewhere, I'd expect you to get the same set of standard answers, such as Mendeley, Papers, etc., unless you emphasised some domain-specific aspects in your question. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ And I agree that vote-to-close might feel a bit harsh to newcomers, apologies for that. Perhaps we should emphasise somewhere (in our FAQ?) that it's not a big deal if a question gets closed. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ That is a good idea. We should encourage people to restate (or edit?) the closed question unless the question is really, well, hopeless. Your view about the question about videos is understandable, but I am not sure if I completely agree (I guess I need some thinking). $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ I think a question can be edited after being closed, so even if a question is closed, the author can modify it, and others can vote to reopen it. Leaving comments by people who vote to close the question should be enough. Regarding this particular question, I don't think it is off-topic, although it is a generic question and could have been asked on say MO. If there is a similar question on MO already, I suggest that someone leave a comment linking to it. $\endgroup$
    – Kaveh
    Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ I think this question is definitely skirting the bounds of on/off-topic. It's something that, cursorily, many people here could be interested in -- yet, there's nothing inherent in the question that can be honestly interpreted as directly TCS related. I agree with Jukka's original post: This question needs something that tailors directly to TCS to be on-topic. Specifically, it could highlight how organizing papers/articles for TCS is different than similar tools for any other field. If, however, such a change leaves the question still sketchy, then it's clearly off-topic altogether. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Jukka 's last comment, I've added an entry to the FAQ along these lines. Review of it would be appreciated! $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 18:15

The problem is that most of the arguments given here apply equally well to the question appearing on MO. Are we going to be even more selective that MO?

The arguments I speak of are arguments which explain how this question was not really related to TCS, or is not of interest to all TCS researchers, or is as relevant to TCS as it is to a biologist. All these arguments work with "TCS" replaced with "math", and will serve as reasons to close on MO.

When this site was created, I thought of it as the TCS version of MO, with similar lower bounds on questions, and similar etiquette. (And probably a lot of common users too.) The only difference was to be content. Perhaps we could be a bit more lax than MO in terms of the lower bound. We do entertain some questions that would have been closed off on MO for being too basic, since they now have the option to redirect folks to math.SE.

On the other hand, I agree with arguments to close which sound like "the same question appeared on MO, so what's the point asking it here?"

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    $\begingroup$ I was actually sympathetic towards this question, especially since no one produced the equivalent MO question. I can reopen it, but not without at least some people saying that this should happen. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 19:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Robin: I guess one of the main differences between us and MO is that MO is full of excellent, very technical, clearly on-topic questions related to research-level math; there are relatively few "soft" questions on MO. Our site, on the other hand, tends to get flooded by soft questions (and answers to soft questions). Hence I think it is understandable that we are currently a bit more picky about soft questions (and also much more tolerant regarding technical questions). $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ I actually think it's a good idea to have something like 'the friday soft question'. just to keep people involved, since they can't participate in the more technical discussions as yet. We should also remember that MO has been around a LONG time, and most of the soft questions have been worked out of the system. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly speaking, I do not agree even with closing as a duplicate of the MathOverflow question. The link to it could be provided simply as a legitimate answer. If anyone wants to add to it, he/she could provide his/her own answer, too. Also, personally I could not find it by searching on MathOverflow, probably because its original intent was pretty different (it asked about organizing printed papers). $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 22:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Jukka: Agreed, but just because we have yet not achieved MO's level of good questions, I don't think we should be closing questions that would have been allowed had we reached that level. @Tsuyoshi: I see you point. We don't close duplicates as a matter of policy anyway, so why do that for soft questions? But perhaps the poster should explain why the solutions posted on MO were not good enough, or specifically ask for things not posted on MO. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 22:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Robin FTR MO never shied away from closing "application" type questions before math.se even existed. $\endgroup$
    – bobobobo
    Commented Dec 4, 2010 at 5:40
  • $\begingroup$ @bobobobo: True, but MO did not close a question very similar to this one, which is the point I was trying to make. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2010 at 7:08

This answer is like saying in a CS class, a prof isn't allowed to talk (even briefly) about study habits.

In my opinion closing this type of question out doesn't really benefit the site. People on the CLOSE OR DIE side want people to talk strictly about CS, but not about how to study CS.

I hadn't heard of Mendelay before, though I'm glad I have now, thanks to one of the answers to that question. Interestingly, a Google search for research paper organizer doesn't reveal Mendelay on the first page of results just yet.

So, my point is, although this question doesn't fit in /Academia/CS, it still fits in /Academia. Its not out of scope.

  • $\begingroup$ If you think that I was happy with the closing of this question, you have misunderstood my edit completely. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 18:30
  • $\begingroup$ I was referring to Jukka's answer. $\endgroup$
    – bobobobo
    Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ your question was closed for being an exact duplicate of the previous one. That question generated many answers, but as Jukka linked, there's an almost identical question on MO, that covers the same ground. I don't have a problem with questions like this in general (within limits), but duplication seems like a waste of time and effort, and creates a 'bicycle shed' scenario: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson%27s_Law_of_Triviality $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ Aware that it was a duplicate, I am really talking about the original question here. I agree exact duplicates that have already appeared on the site should be closed. As for "already appeared elsewhere on the Internet" -- well, $\endgroup$
    – bobobobo
    Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 21:30

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