MATLAB Answers

Daniel Shub
14

Why should I stay?

Asked by Daniel Shub
on 6 Jan 2012
Latest activity Edited by per isakson
on 11 Nov 2017
This may be a rant or a parting message, but I think it really is a question: Why should I continue to participate in MATLAB answers?
MATLAB answers is owned and controlled by TMW. It is not free as in freedom. Apparently, portions of the guidelines for editors can be interpreted as asking editors to protect TMW and apparently, TMW censors the site removing links to related sites.
If TMW wishes to have the control, I would like to see some benefit from it. There is little to no official input from TMW (e.g., why aren't they answering installation questions here?). Progress on our wish list is extremely slow. In particular, I am frustrated by the lack of a response to (1) the borderline negligent disclosure of hidden email addresses and (2) the continued deletion of questions to which I have answered.
So, why should I stay?
EDIT 13 December 2013
While I am still not happy about the fact that I cannot truly hide my email address and that posts are being edited away at an alarming rate, my biggest issue now is the SNR. It seems like the SNR keeps dropping and without any real tools for tagging and searching finding questions of interest is very taxing.

  3 Comments

Jan
on 25 Aug 2017
Bump: What has changed in since 2013?
Daniel Shub
on 28 Aug 2017
I am not sure. The SNR kept dropping (maybe it is better now) and the tools did not improve. At some point TMW dumped all of their "technical solutions" in as questions, but still didn't put in any effort to other questions (and were not interested in problems and/or alternatives to their official answers). Mostly it is the lack of freedom on the site. TMW wants to retain ownership of the content and the right to modify it and I am no longer comfortable with that.
Jan
on 28 Aug 2017
I agree that the tools did not improve: The code indentation still fails at empty lines:
for k = 1:10
disp(k) % this line starts with 4 spaces
pause(0.1) % this line starts with 4 spaces also
end
Code indentation is essential to understand the structure on the first view. The code formatting inside the text is fragile also, see e.g. |a<b |, where the surrounding bars should not be visible.
Printing code in dark gray on light gray is a cruel decision. What's wrong with black on white? Do the designers have bright ultra-contrast monitors? Fine, I don't. Impeding the readability is bad idea.
When I open my browser in full screen mode, the text of the forum fills about 30% of the screen - the rest is white space. Fancy, but not useful. The need for repeated scrolling when writing an answer and reading the question again is inconvenient.
Instead of fixing such problems, we got funny colorful badges, which do not add any functionality. For me personally the biggest problem of this forum is that a very small number of users are too much attracted by reputation points and start battles, which are poison for the cooperation. It takes some days, until the admins remove insulting contents and personal attacks.
I did not see strong evidences, that TMW uses the power to modify the contents. Copy righted code from the FEX or from Matlab's toolboxes is removed after the editors ask for this. Critics are not deleted, e.g. discussions about the weak protection level of P-coding. I have the opinion, that the users are stricter than TMW, if others ask for Julia or Octave problems. The only "freedom" I miss is the permission to post the 3 lines of code for a strong AES encryption. But this is not the decision of TMW, but of the US government.
But in spite of the inconvenient layout, the unprofessional failing of the code rendering, the slow speed for bug fixes and the weak reactions to trolling, I find here a platform to solve Matlab problems. TMW does not care a lot or at all about what I write, but sometimes the asking persons are happy and perhaps the one or other of my suggestions saves more computing time (== energy == CO2) than the forum servers consume.
The forum still does not have a clear concept after all these years. The suppressing of spam is excellent: wow! normal users are not even aware of the problem. But the rest of the data base seems to be in its infancy: not ACID conform (you can accept two answers, if you are fast enough), deleted questions cannot be restored reliable, it takes more than 6 month to disable the possibility to accept own answers in threads of others (although it would be sufficient to add this to the terms of use and ask the editors to care about this - this cannot be more than 5 minutes of work and you do not even have to test this before a roll-out). But this cannot stop us from solving problems! For me, TMW offers the forum's interface, pays for the hosting and creates the topic Matlab, and the soul of the forum is the community and the efficient collaboration between very different persons having a variety of skills and styles.
If you have a question about Matlab, this forum can and will help you. I participate to add my 2 cents to support this.

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9 Answers

Jan
Answer by Jan
on 6 Jan 2012

It is my opinion, that your participation in this forum helps other users to work with Matlab. This is more valuable for the others, but it does not have a lot of benefits for you. But some benefits are possible: While the reputation point are only funny on first sight, you earned some real-world reputation. E.g. when you write an application for employment, mentioning your participation here is a proof of your programming and communication skills and your enthusiasm.
As you I'm missing the consideration of our wish list. I have the impression, that the contributors have spent more time with creating this list and checking, if a specific point has been mentioned already, than TMW to implement the 10 or 30 most useful ideas. The evolution of this forum is really extremly slow and the interaction between the contributors, the forum admins and the Matlab programers is surprisingly weak.
I see some advantages in the "censoring". E.g. I like the more friendly tone compared to CSSM and other forums - although this means that Walter has deleted some of my comments also. Some threats have been removed, some vulgarity, some dozen of spam or commercials, duplicate or meaningless posts, some conflicts with the license conditions and some users have been excluded completely from the forum. Unfortunately discussion about Scilab and Octave seems to be not welcome here for reasons I cannot really comprehend - the direct comparison would not reduce the reputation of Matlab. When I look on it in all, I appreciate the restrictions, because they support the purpose of this forum: a platform for exchanging Matlab knowhow.
What could be done to improve the use and usability of the forum?
  • Ask files@mathworks personally instead of hoping that they read the wish list as often, as we do.
  • Organize a strike of the 8 most active users until a sufficient number of point of the wish list is implemented.
  • Most of all: Stay here and answer questions.
Finally I'm sure that the wish list will not stay unused forever - either TMW implements it or another one will consider it for the creation of a new forum. In the later case I think that some strict rules are helpful to ensure a certain level of scientific discussions. In "free as in freedom" forums you can buy drugs and sport shoes, suffer from flame wars and script kids, solve homework and download cracked versions.

  9 Comments

Jan
on 7 Jan 2012
@Daniel: Letting a majority of high reputation users decide about the deleting of a thread is a good idea. E.g. in the MathWorks reader for CSSM any 5 users can decide together, that a message is spam.
I dream of the following: We discuss this feature for 10 days with the TMW staff, the editors and interested users. And in 14 days this is implemented in the forum.
I worry about this: We discuss this feature for 12 month with other users until we loose the interest.
Daniel Shub
on 8 Jan 2012
I wonder what the votes for my question and this answer are saying.
Jan
on 8 Jan 2012
I'm surprised also. I think the question and my answer hit 4 points:
1. The evolution of the forum's interface is slower than wanted by the users.
2. The communication with the TMW programmers is weaker than expected.
3. Both is frustrating for the users and therefore the forum does not get the critical mass of high skilled contributors.
4. Please, Daniel, stay inspite and/or because of these reasons.

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Jan
Answer by Jan
on 25 May 2012
Edited by Jan
on 28 Aug 2017

Dear Daniel,
I appreciate that you have decided to stay in this forum and spend a lot of time to answer questions. I'm still convinced, that your participation improves the quality of this forum.
And today I can confirm that your question "why should I stay in this forum" is still a good question. My work in this forum is inefficient currently: Less than 1 of 20 of my actions is the posting an accepted answer. A big part of my postings could be avoided, if TMW e.g. decides to include a more obvious description about formatting. This means, that I waste time - my time and the time of a lot of other readers, because I produce the noise "please format your code" repeatedly.
I really want to support the Matlab community, but the usability leaks of this forum collides with my personal way to work. The keyboard latency impedes my posting of messages, the weak description of formatting requires too much work on the postings of beginners, the need to host pictures externally will invalidate the concerning questions in the future, the deleting of threads destroys the work of the contributors, the search methods to find an already solved problem are weak and not intuitive. Because TMW implements suggested improvements very slowly -years instead of hours-, I'm afraid that this forum will be drowned by noise in the future. The idea of a dense database of answers and problem solutions can obviously not realized by this approach. In fact, the questions dominate this forum, while it was planned to give focus to the Answers.
I'm going to concentrate on other forums and brush up my FEX submissions, because I think, that this is a more efficient contribution for me.

  1 Comment

Daniel Shub
on 25 May 2012
I hope maybe your answer will encourage TMW to share why they think one should participate in this forum and/or implement changes that would reduce the drains on our desires to participate.

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Andrew Newell
Answer by Andrew Newell
on 6 Jan 2012

I always try to steer people asking installation questions to Mathworks Support. I'm guessing that they don't answer such questions here because there often isn't enough detail. That is why you have to fill out a form when you make a support request.

  3 Comments

Walter Roberson
on 6 Jan 2012
Installation questions are usually complicated and require a lot of "back and forth"; and often their diagnosis ends up exposing user information that is better off not made public. Dealing with installation questions here is usually quite inefficient.
Andreas Goser on 7 Jan 2012
I can see a couple of reasons why answering installation question in MATLAB Answers is not optimal. My first inputs are:
  1. I have not see an issue that has NOT been addressed by existing solution documents
  2. The response depends often on information that is of confidential business nature for the user, e.g. the name of the company and the license type.
Daniel Shub
on 7 Jan 2012
I know installation questions are difficult. A nicely worded answer from TMW detailing why they cannot answer the question directly and how to get further help could be useful. Further, many of the "nonprogramming" questions, not just installation, are answered by exisiting technicial documents. If someone at TMW who was familiar with these documents answered questions with the appropriate link, that would be useful to not only the asker fo the question, but future users also. If questions here lead to the development and revision of technical documents, that would be even better.

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Answer by Robert Cumming on 8 Jan 2012

I tend to come and go on this forum depending on how much spare time I have, or available time at lunchtime, I am amazed about the amount of time the top congtributors are on here.
Why do I come back? Every so often I learn a little new snippet which I have used in my own work. And a couple of times I have been intrigued by a problem to study it a bit more detail to find a solution.
The recognition is nice (a way of publically saying thank you you helped me) but not the be all and end all, and I am surprised sometimes what gets recognition and what doesn't...
What makes me think about deleting my account/leaving the forum? When I get personal emails asking for solutions - TMW should stop this.

  2 Comments

Jan
on 8 Jan 2012
A repetition just to emphasize: "When I get personal emails asking for solutions - TMW should stop this."
Daniel Shub
on 8 Jan 2012
+1 to hating the emails asking for homework help. A simple solution would be to not allow anyone with a reputation less than N (maybe 10) use the contact option ... Or have the contact system be internal to answers (then I only see the emails when I want to look). Yes, I can filter, but the burden shouldn't be on me.
The potential to learn new things is a driving factor, the problem is that difficult questions rarely see good answers (e.g., Jan's question a few weeks back about multithreaded filter). Answers does not have the critical mass to give insights into my own work as often as I would like.

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Answer by Helen Chen on 6 Jan 2012

There are lots of good responses here. Thanks everybody! :-)
Just to clarify, we do look at suggestions by the community that are noted in Answers (including "the Wishlist") and things mentioned in cssm. We have updated particular "wishes" when we have implemented a suggestion or fixed a bug. The community conversations and votes do help us to determine priorities of new feature to consider in upcoming releases.
I do apologize for the delay in addressing the email issue. That is on the list of things that we are looking at fixing, as I noted in the initial post.
As always, thanks to everyone for being part of our MATLAB community, and for your continued support of MATLAB products.
Helen

  2 Comments

Jan
on 7 Jan 2012
@Helen: I assume you are the 891281-helen-chen?
The forum is one year old now. Happy birthday!
It looks like there is still no well defined target audience. I see 4 full-time and 20 frequent contributors and 10.000 homework questions without formatting.
I know and see that you and your team is reading the wish list and some of the ideas have been implemented.
The small monthly updates of the forum cannot compete with the large words I see on http://www.mathworks.com/company/aboutus/mission_values/ :
> Our goal is to change the world by accelerating the pace of
> discovery, innovation, development, and learning in engineering and science.
What is your answer to the question, why Daniel should stay in this forum?
Daniel Shub
on 7 Jan 2012
I am curious if TMW has thought about why we (not just me) should participate in the forum. I wonder if this is one of their trade secrets.

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Walter Roberson
Answer by Walter Roberson
on 6 Jan 2012

Daniel, there are legal reasons why this resource cannot be "free as in freedom". US lawmakers have been tightening the circumstances under which sites are entitled to the legal protections of "free as in freedom" claims -- and US laws have it that if a site is not entitled to those increasingly-narrow protections, then the company is required to remove certain kinds of materials; and can be sued if it fails to remove other kinds of materials; and can lose legal rights if it fails to remove other kinds yet of materials.

  5 Comments

Walter Roberson
on 6 Jan 2012
The only people required to be here are a quite small number of Mathworks employees.
Each user must decide for themself which resources they consider most suitable. After, that is, careful consideration of relevant enacted legislation, and legislation that has been tabled in countries of relevant jurisdiction.
Walter Roberson
on 6 Jan 2012
Daniel Shub
on 7 Jan 2012
@Walter, I think that "answer" in the wish list really gets at my issue. I am willing to give up some freedom if I get something in return. The problem is I don't see that happening here.
@IA, I like the format of Q/A sites better than news groups and message board forums, so CSSM is out. Luckily I think there are a number of Q/A sites on other topics that I am interested in.

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Walter Roberson
Answer by Walter Roberson
on 27 Aug 2017

5 1/2 years on, I would consider it a very safe bet that this resource will never be "free as in freedom", that it will always be moderated in some way.
Sites which refuse to moderate (out of some principle) become havens for spam; cracked software; cloned movies and music; pornography (including child pornography); insults and putdowns; gender and racial inequity; and even downright hate speech (as literal calls for genocide).
The matter of who gets to decide what gets moderated, and what the procedures for moderation are, will continue to evolve in time.
The system got modified so that regular users could not delete their Question once an Answer had been posted.
We are reluctant to delete Questions that have to do with MATLAB -- but we do delete spam as soon as we notice it. We are considerably less reluctant to close questions that are of dubious relevancy or do not show any effort. When we delete Questions that have to do with MATLAB, there is typically a legal reason (such as complying with the US laws about cryptography), or else we feel that the user is abusing the system (for example, attempting to cheat in the middle of an exam.)
The email system got modified so that contact addresses are not shown for the Contact button. However, Mathworks has not put in place a two-way blind mail forwarding system: if someone sends you email, you can see their email address, and if you then reply it is a direct rely that would allow them to see your email address.
Mathworks has put a lot of effort into improving the relevance of the search system.
The tag system remains as it was. Unfortunately most of the maintenance of the tags falls upon a small number of volunteers, as few people bother to tag well or bother to do deliberate searches for the purposes of tagging related material. Tagging is mostly individual manual labor; Mathworks compensated by improving their searches.
Installation questions are tough to answer without getting into the system having difficulty. People are still using (and asking questions about) MATLAB for XP. There is XP, Vista, Windows 2000, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 10; there are literally over 10000 security patches for Windows. There are dozens of anti-virus systems; there are firewalls; there are proxy systems; there are VPN systems. Within the last year or so, people have asked questions about .NET 2.0, .NET 3, .NET 3.5, .NET 4.0, .NET 4.5, and .NET 4.6, and likely will soon be asking about .NET 4.7. These matter on MS Windows because Microsoft choose to mark important components as incompatible. Within the last year or so, people have asked questions about Visual studio 2008, VS 2010, VS 2012, VS 2013, VS 2015, VS 2017, SDK 7.1, SDK 8.1, SDK 10, Intel XE C/C++ 2010, Intel XE C/C++ 2012, Intel XE Fortran 2010, Intel XE Fortran 2013, several MinGW versions, LCC (32 bit), LCC64 (64 bit), several releases of NVCC (Nvidia compliler), four different CUDA releases, and about 10 different NVIDIA GPUs -- and all of these are "installation" questions.
Within the last year or so, people have asked questions related to OS-X Panther (10.3), OS-X Tiger (10.4), OS-X Leopard (10.5), OS-X Snow Leopard (10.6), OS-X Mavericks (10.9), OS-X Yosemite (10.10), OS-X El Capitan (10.11), MacOS Sierra (10.12), and the forthcoming MacOS High Sierras (10.13); XCode 6, XCode 7, XCode 7.1, XCode 7.2, XCode 8.0, XCode 8.1, XCode 8.2, and XCode 8.3; various GCC versions for OS-X; and some commercial fortran versions for OS-X and MacOS -- and all of these are installation questions.
There have been MacOS Sierra questions for which I happen to have exactly the same Mac model, but for which I have been unable to duplicate the problem; for some of them I cannot get that far because the only way to get to that situation was to happened to have upgraded through several MATLAB and OS-X releases.
I had an install support case myself a few months ago; in working with Mathworks, I made the key guess that it had to do with my using OS-X case-sensitive file systems; sure enough, it turned out the add-on assumed case-insensitivity. Being from a certain technical generation, I would not have suspected that they did not support case-sensitive file systems; they, being from a different background, did not think anyone was using them.
Then there is the mess that is Linux; I have lost track of which Linux have been asked about.
Advising on installation questions are like offering medical advice to people based upon broad symptoms; there are just too too many factors.

  4 Comments

Show 1 older comment
Walter Roberson
on 28 Aug 2017
There is a lot of spam cancellation behind the scenes in newsgroups. The major Usenet providers also work with The Internet Watch Foundation to remove obviously illegal material.
comp.soft-sys.matlab might possibly not have attracted much in the way of angry discussion (it was pretty good when I used to read it), but many technical newsgroups do attract a lot of slanging, some of it legally libelous; a lot of technical discussion groups end up being regressive towards people who are not white males. Mathworks is not willing to take the chance: it is always going to reserve the right to remove material.
Mathworks is in the technical computing business, not in the First Amendment business. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that the First Amendment applies to all online forums. Online forums are not "public places" under the scope of USA law.
Last night I was reading about a gaming forum that was used to actively plan racist violence. The First Amendment protects hate speech until it arises to "imminent lawlessness". Some of my US friends who formerly had abusive partners tell me that when they were the target of online and IM and phone threats by ex-partners, that the police told them there was nothing that could be done, that as long as the person doing the threatening was not within weapon's reach of the abused person that the lawlessness was not "imminent".
No, the likelihood that Mathworks will make the Answers system "free as in freedom" is zero.
Walter Roberson
on 28 Aug 2017
Stackoverflow does not operate a "free as in freedom" site either. https://stackoverflow.com/help/deleted-questions
Walter Roberson
on 28 Aug 2017
"Signal To Noise":
Any site which offers the ability of asking questions about software should expect that a large number of the questions will come from people who are rapidly learning about the software, such as students (who may not even have encountered the relevant concepts before.) As people learn more about the software, they tend to ask fewer questions, and the questions they do ask tend to be more difficult to answer, requiring more specialized knowledge, and so tending to attract fewer answers (unless they happen to ask something considered controversial.)
The Answers system has never attempted to be reserved for "professional" users. The Signal To Noise ratio is going to be low with regards to the majority of specialized fields.

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Answer by Helen Chen on 9 Jan 2012

@Jan – Opps, I accidentally used my personal account to reply. I have changed that to my work account. Thanks for the heads up.
Thank you also on the birthday wishes! It has been one really great year for MATLAB Answers because of the great participation by our community. A big thank you to everyone especially our team of Answers Editors for making this a great resource.
@Jan and Daniel -
The MATLAB Central team is always thinking about why our members participate in the community. Everybody has a different reason for participating in a community, whether technical or non-technical, web-based or in the local community that you live in. Personal motivation for participating in a community is generally personal to your current situation in life. Others have shared their reasons in this post. Often the reason is to answer a question. Others may be here because they enjoy helping others by answering questions. Some folks just hang out because they are interested in MATLAB and like the community spirit here. It is up to you to decide where you want to hang out. By the way, many from this community participate in discussions in other communities, and that’s fine too!
When we are working on designing applications for our community, we work to balance the needs of the different users types. We do try to include features that differentiate our site from other sites, features that we think serve the needs of our community. That said, this site and applications are always evolving. We frequently add new features to the site. We routinely review feedback from our community, including the Answers Wishlist, as we are setting our next development priorities. So, if you have suggestions for improvements for us to consider, feel free to share them with us. As Jan notes, you can also email your suggestions to files@mathworks.com. You are also welcome to contact me directly at Helen.Chen@MathWorks.com.

  1 Comment

Jan
on 11 Jan 2012
Thanks, Helen. It looks like you have used the gmail-based account again. To avoid such confusions, you could exploit a weakness of this forum: You can use the same name and the same picture for both accounts. Of course this would be *more* confusing, but nobody would recognize it. ;-)

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Stephen
Answer by Stephen
on 25 May 2012

you don't have to do anything, especially in reaction to what you see as another person's or group's shortcomings. Weight the personal benefit of participating here with what your other priorities are and choose accordingly. Good luck, I'm sure many users have appreciated your participation.

  1 Comment

Daniel Shub
on 25 May 2012
I agree, but I was looking for ideas about what the personal benefits of participating here are. Obviously they won't be the same for everybody, but my guess is there are similarities

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