I believe that the CSTheory site can potentially contribute to theoretical computer science and to our field's visibility in the larger community of scientists and mathematicians. The ongoing success of the site can probably help several different groups of people.
What is the benefit for individual contributors to the CSTheory site?
The discussions here over the last few months reveal some potential answers:
- altruism: epsilon-progress at CSTheory may lead ultimately to delta-better lives for humans,
- visibility: those who want to be more prominent in the TCS community can contribute here, and in the process potentially raise their public profiles,
- attraction: by posting cool questions, a senior researcher can attract motivated applicants for graduate and postdoctoral positions, and
- connection: someone working in isolation can use the site as a larger virtual department.
I have probably missed some key benefits, and this is important: as far as I can tell, the only people who currently are able to use the above benefits are either junior researchers (people who would like a research job, and are hoping to be accepted into a training programme such as a PhD, or who are in such a programme and wanting to broaden their scope), or senior researchers (tenured and retired professors who cannot effectively advance their careers without changing gears, requiring either moving out of research, or a sideways engagement with a different community). Someone looking for an academic position, putting together a case for promotion in an academic position, or making an application for a research fellowship, cannot currently convert the time they spend on this site into significant practical benefit. When asked whether a hiring committee would consider CSTheory participation of applicants, the blunt answer I have received has been: no.
It appears to me that people who are no longer in training, but have not yet become senior, cannot afford the time to contribute here, as the incentives are only there for junior and senior researchers. So a large part of the audience for the site may choose to stay away permanently.
It seems difficult to argue for answers at CSTheory as part of a teaching portfolio, and unless participation directly leads to research publications that would not otherwise have happened, it is difficult to see how to justify CSTheory as part of research either. CSTheory would most likely count toward the service part of one's professional commitments, but as far as I can tell serving on a programme committee, taking on a departmental service rôle, or serving as an officer in a professional society would count for more per hour spent.
In contrast, if I were to interview people for programming jobs (I have past experience with this) then I would likely consider participation at StackOverflow in a hiring decision.
What am I missing?