## Got Mathematica questions? Try Mathematica StackExchange.

One of the best ways to learn how to use a piece of software such as Mathematica is simply to dive in and start using it. If you get lost, consult the documentation and if you get really lost, ask for help…..but who to ask?

Ideally, you’d need a group of people who are friendly, knowledgeable and always around–no matter what time of day or night it is. Wouldn’t that be great? It would be even better if they were to offer you all of this help and expertise for free. Oh, and let’s have the moon on a stick while we’re at it.

The Mathematica StackExchange community offers Mathematica users all of the above requirements apart from the mounted satellite. Based upon the same technology as the immensely popular Stack Overflow question and answer site for software developers, Mathematica StackExchange has over 3000 active Mathematica users. Between them, these users have asked, and answered, over 4000 questions on almost every aspect of Mathematica you can imagine and then some.

**A matter of reputation**

Every user on Mathematica StackExchange has a reputation level which is essentially a measure of how much the rest of the community trusts that user. Users are awarded reputation points (by other users) both for asking good questions and writing good answers which means that you don’t have to be a Mathematica master in order to succeed…inquisitive neophytes can also build up a solid level of reputation. More details on the reputation system can be found at the site’s Frequenty Asked Questions section.

**Starters for 10**

To get a flavour of the site, I recommend taking a look at a few highly rated Q+As such as Where can I find examples of good Mathematica programming practice?, xkcd-stye graphs and How can I use Mathematica’s graph functions to cheat at Boggle? Alternatively, take a browse through the list of questions sorted according to the number of votes they’ve recieved.

Before you ask a question of your own, it is recommended that you search the site to ensure that you’re not asking something that has been asked, and answered in the past. Once that’s done feel free to ask away– you don’t even need to create an account and log-in (although it is highly recommended that you do)!

**Make friends and influence people**

I signed up for Mathematica StackExchange a couple of months ago (My profile’s here) but have only started using it in earnest for the last few weeks and I only wish I had started earlier. Although I like to think that I know Mathematica pretty well, I’ve learned a lot more about it in a very short time from some very smart people. I’ve also had a lot of fun, met some great people and maybe helped a few people out along the way.

So, if you have a Mathematica problem, and no one else can help, maybe you should try Mathematica StackExchange.

How does it compare with comp.soft-sys.math.mathematica?

Disagree. I have found the community on Mathematica StackExchange to be very rude and dismissive to beginner-level questions. I stopped using the site after receiving a “beat down” for violating some community norm in how I posted my question.

When it comes down to it, Wolfram have a big problem in getting beginners up and running with Mathematica. I think they want to be helpful, but the bulk of the support and energy goes towards experts. There are few user blogs/sites that discuss Mathematica programming that can be used as a learning resource. That is why I think “R” has been stealing a lot of their users away. The “R” user community has tons of sites/blogs posting code and other resources for helping beginners.

I am sticking with Mathematica for now (I just upgraded to V9), but every day am tempted with scrapping the time investment I have made in learning Mathematica code and switching to “R” or Tableau. In fact, if Tableau offered a Mac version of their software, I would have dumped Mathematica two years ago.

@Jon. I can understand your perspective, and totally agree that there is a frustrating learning curve with Mathematica. I have also seen curt responses from StackExchange, but often I find these responses are from more advanced users who feel that the question posed can easily been answered with a little homework from the user posing the question. Admittedly, this could be done more tactfully. I’d encourage you to not give up your quest on Mathematica. It will pay huge dividends if you stay the course. You are probably aware of the available learning resources, but one excellent starting place is Leonid Shifrin’s free resource at: http://mathprogramming-intro.org/

Give it a try!

@oversky

My personal experiance with comp.soft-sys.math.mathematica has been very negative, getting questions deleted for instance because I inquired about possible interactions between matlab and mathematica. While MMA.SE does see questions that are too vague get deleted, I feel that there is a much more open discussion surounding it, and users at times end up getting their off-topic questions answered even if it’s latter deleted because it doesn’t fit the site.

@Jon

On the whole I find the community very welcoming, however there have been cases of people posting problems which are clear duplicates (meaning they didn’t search first), or simply too vague requests (eg. “I tried plotting but nothing happens, what to do?”) . Such questions quickly get votes to close and/or downvotes, which can seem rude/dismissive to new users. However if you actually stick around you usually get a good description of why your question was downvoted, and what can be done to improve it, such as posting example code or giving a more direct description of what is troubling you.

Mathematica StackExchange (and most of the other sites from stackexchange) is a very useful resource. I don’t find the people rude, you need to follow the rules, be specific and clear as much as you can. Also provide some evidence that you’ve tried solving the problem by your self. Mathematica documentation is large and I agree can be overwhelming for a beginner user, but you have to try there first.

A superb resource for learning how to program in Mathematica, written by mathematica.stackexchange superstar Leonid Shifrin:

http://www.mathprogramming-intro.org/

Once you get through that you’ll be able to do much more damage.

I have to admit that I sometimes find the policies on both comp.soft-sys.math.mathematica and Mathematica StackExchange frustrating but for different reasons.

In the distant past I’ve had posts deleted from comp.soft-sys.math.mathematica because I’ve mentioned MATLAB or Maple which I find annoying but it’s their newsgroup–they are free to police it however they choose. I know the rules there now and so I don’t have any problems.

Mathematica StackExchange have no issues with mentioning Mathematica’s competitors but I sometimes feel that they are overzealous when deleting questions because they don’t obey the site rules for one reason or another.

On balance, however, I think that both communities get it right most of the time and I don’t lose too much sleep if anything I ask/post gets moderated away. There is a high signal/noise ratio in both locations and that may well be down to the fact that both communities really care about what goes on.

Both are great communities, just have different atmospheres.