Is scicomp.stackexchange the right place to ask questions that relate to the usage of specific libraries?

To be more precise, we are contemplating moving the FEniCS Project from Launchpad, which has a good system for handling user questions, to either GitHub or Bitbucket, which lack support for user questions.

It was suggested to me that we might consider directing our users to scicomp.stackexchange, but I don't know if that would be welcomed by the moderators as it would significantly increase the traffic here (ca 3-5 new questions per day).

What are our options? Would FEniCS questions be welcome here (and then a FEniCS tag would be needed)?

  • $\begingroup$ Are the questions you had in mind about how to use the web project hosting service or how to use FEniCS? $\endgroup$
    – Paul Mod
    Mar 17 '13 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ There are some precedents involving, e.g., PetSC and Trilinos. $\endgroup$ Mar 17 '13 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ Paul, the question is about whether questions regarding the use of FEniCS are welcome here. A sample of the kind of questions we get can be found here: answers.launchpad.net/dolfin $\endgroup$ Mar 17 '13 at 17:59

We always welcome feedback from every member of the community, but in the interests of keeping a consistent answer to "what questions are welcome here", the three moderators have written and revised this answer together.

FEniCS-tagged questions are definitely welcome here. Please send users over, and ask them to register. We'll add you to the package list on our FAQ and create a fenics tag if needed. From looking at the Launchpad forum, most of the questions there would be appropriate here. There will probably be an adjustment period for both communities. We will likely ask people to revise or clarify questions that are too general or too specific. If there are any that are inappropriate, we will direct the poster to your mailing lists, and as questions come up, we can pick out examples of appropriate questions versus inappropriate questions.

We'll want to be careful about FEniCS questions not overwhelming the list, but Aron, Paul, and I believe that the volume of FEniCS questions will be within reason, and that FEniCS-related questions and answers will bring valuable expertise to the site in PDEs, numerical methods, programming, and applications questions. This will be an opportunity to grow and enrich both communities, and we hope that some of your users will stick around to answer questions non-specific to FEniCS.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the positive response! We will contact you to discuss how to best formulate a recommendation to our users for how to use this forum, so we could avoid questions on say broken download links on our web page. $\endgroup$ Mar 18 '13 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds good, I'm picturing a "help" page on your site that directs users to various mailing lists, issue-trackers, and forums, with scicomp being listed. $\endgroup$ Mar 18 '13 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that's exactly what I envision. $\endgroup$ Mar 19 '13 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ After a couple of months of this, I think the pendulum has swung too far. There appear to be mostly questions about implementation details and code bugs in FEniCS rather than more broadly applicable questions. Most of these questions could be more simply answered on a FEniCS-specific site or list. What's the current thinking on this topic (specifically and broadly)? $\endgroup$
    – Bill Barth
    May 21 '13 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ Broadly, my thought was that we'd bring in new people, drive up traffic, and hopefully get new people to answer PDE-related questions. It's definitely still in an evaluation period, and I think there are some areas that could be improved. Questions that are variations on "Is this a bug in (any package)?" or "My code doesn't work; could you fix it?" are not good fits for the site because they're too localized. I think those sorts of questions are what I would change about the FEniCS experiment so far. Some of FEniCS questions have been good, and I hope those questions keep coming. $\endgroup$ May 21 '13 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ I think the original question here should have been answered with a 'no'. I don't think it was a good idea to move the entire FEniCS forum to this platform. Their users should have a place to ask their questions independent of StackExchange (unless they want to try to create a FEniCS-specific SE). I think I'm going to start voting to close most of the syntax and code-related questions, which I was hoping to avoid. I know the FEniCS community is relatively small, but I don't think we would have responded the same to the PETSc developers if they'd asked to move petsc-users or petsc-dev here. $\endgroup$
    – Bill Barth
    May 21 '13 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ Just, FYI, I know that I can ignore and hide certain tags, but I think that's orthogonal to the question of whether we should be the primary support forum for certain software projects. $\endgroup$
    – Bill Barth
    May 21 '13 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ I think the issue was having a single code "move in." With several codes, there would be a much more vibrant user community—or it would devolve into a degenerate mess. Either way, you'd have fairly conclusive evidence of what works and what doesn't. On the other hand, by having a single code have its users come here, it's hard to draw any sort of universal conclusions. $\endgroup$
    – aeismail
    May 23 '13 at 12:09

I know this isn't a direct answer to Anders' question. But he and I do have a similar interest in this site; and since this is the meta forum, perhaps posting this as an "answer" is acceptable.

I am the primary developer of CVX, a convex optimization modeling framework for MATLAB. It is similar to YALMIP, whose author participate in this forum. I too am convinced of the value of a discussion community for usage questions, as distinct from a standard bug-reporting service (which I also have). The StackExchange format seemed attractive as well, so I created the CVX Forum using an open-source StackExchange alternative.

Frankly, I have mixed feelings about my choice. On one hand, it is nice to be able to have complete control over the content, format, and so forth. On the other hand, because the site is so specialized, I don't have much participation on the answer side---I supply the bulk of the answers, although a couple of users have begun chiming in. I don't necessarily mind, but that's not much of a community. Furthermore, people don't make much use of the voting facility.

That may be due to the fact that people who are already comfortable with CVX aren't likely to hang around in a forum where there is nothing but support questions. What's nice about a more general forum like SciComp is that it that the diversity of topics and variety of expertise makes it an educational and enjoyable place to lurk, read, and occasionally answer. It might also be good for the questioners as well: to have a community where their questions are expected to be well-posed, complete, and clear.

The long-term solution for me, then, might be to encourage my users to ask their questions here and to phase out the CVX Forum. (Bug reports are another matter; I have a separate trouble ticket system for that.) I don't think that's something I would want to do until this site leaves beta, although that might create a sort of chicken-and-egg problem. Perhaps I should simply participate in both forums for the time being, and if Aron or Geoff would like to create a CVX tag, I can watch out for that.

  • $\begingroup$ Hi Michael, you can use this link to follow CVX questions on the site: http://scicomp.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/cvx $\endgroup$ Mar 18 '13 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ I've talked to site users about such a dichotomy in the past. We've been working on trying to keep our audience broad with the goal of building a critical, self-sustaining mass. Over the past year, the site has grown a lot, and though it is a beta site, it will continue to stick around for a while (see meta.scicomp.stackexchange.com/questions/334/…) and hopefully graduate. The self-sustaining aspect is why we work so hard to be inclusive. Definitely ask CVX users to post here; we are thrilled to have them. $\endgroup$ Mar 19 '13 at 5:50
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    $\begingroup$ SciComp is now featured on our support page: cvxr.com/cvx/support $\endgroup$ Mar 21 '13 at 16:55

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