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Re: st: Statalist in a forum format

From   "Dimitriy V. Masterov" <[email protected]>
To   Statalist <[email protected]>
Subject   Re: st: Statalist in a forum format
Date   Mon, 7 Apr 2014 11:55:00 -0700

I fully agree with the points Stas raised. I think the interface and
incentive mechanism of SE system works very well, and I would love to
see Statalist community transplanted there.

Since the plural of anecdote is not data, here's a nice paper by
computer scientist Jon Kleinberg showing how the badging mechanism can
steer user behavior:


On Mon, Apr 7, 2014 at 7:34 AM, Stas Kolenikov <[email protected]> wrote:
> Dear Stataliasters,
> thanks again to Marcello Pagano, Stata Corp side team and everybody
> involved in setting up I however would like play a
> devil's advocate and argue that we DO NOT NEED statalist in that form.
> I would instead argue that we need to find ways to move the statalist
> discussion to the StackExchange system (
> Let me describe the system in bold strokes. (Disclaimer: I am closely
> familiar only with the statistics website on StackExchange family,
>, although I keep an eye on another five
> or so sites, such as latex, math, biking, and board games, out of 100+
> for all walks of life). On each of the sites, users ask questions and
> seek inputs from other participants. Other users can answer these
> questions. (So far, that's trivial, and every forum does that. The
> crucial differences begin at this point.) The quality of different
> answers can be compared by upvotes or downvotes that registered users
> can cast. Answers can be improved by editing. In fact, questions can
> be edited, as well (so at the very least, one could edit a novice's
> question to incorporate the code formatting and tag the topic(s) that
> the question raise(s)... and NJC can edit Stas Kolenikov's questions
> for silly grammar :) ). Besides full answers, users can also provide
> smaller-scale comments. Duplicate questions are being identified,
> flagged, and closed, with links to what they are duplicating. A user's
> contribution to the site is measured by their "reputation" that is
> accumulated through good questions and answers, and by badges (asking
> questions roles, answering question roles, editing roles, flagging
> roles, etc.). Thus there is a variety of feedback mechanisms that help
> improving the quality of questions and answers, and motivate the users
> to participate. Thematic sites provide special formatting and/or
> syntax highlighting, like Latex-type MathJAX formatting on math or
> statistics sites (implemented on, as well); code
> formatting on programming and statistics sites (partially implemented
> on, requires some cleanup, as far as I understand; on
>, R code is provided with simple syntax
> highlighting, too); chess board rendering on the chess site; card
> rendering on the poker website; etc. There's a sophisticated system of
> tags that have mini-wikies (available on mouse-over) and full wikies
> (available on clicks); users accumulate their reputation both overall
> and within tags. Moderators play a major role in keeping the site
> running, as it is the moderators who take actions on low quality
> questions and answers (close duplicates, migrate questions to more
> appropriate sites, etc.)
> The biggest difference between a typical forum format (including
> statalist) and StackExchange is the conceptual vision of the mission
> they have in mind. Historically, plain-email-text statalist has been
> aimed at "User 1 posts their current problem" - "User 2 posts a
> solution to that specific problem" - "User 3 refines, if there's room"
> - and everybody forgets about the whole thing a month later (although
> in the case of statalist, we often see referrals to statalist
> archives). StackExchange works on generating knowledge about the
> universe (in this case, this would be Stata universe) that is supposed
> to stay for prosperity, so that website users and the Internet at
> large could benefit from the previously generated answers. The
> ultimate goal is that StackExchange posts show up on the first page of
> Google when you search something like "fixed effects model with
> heteroskedastic panels". In some of my Google queries, I do indeed get
> SE posts, so somehow the mechanism of StackExchange I described above
> does work.
> I am not quite sure how to better describe my next point, but I think
> that creating compartmentalizes Stata as an obscure
> software. While those in the academic ivory towers can enjoy their
> academic freedom, others in industry and government have to fight this
> impression at their workplaces ("How is it called again? Why are you
> not happy with some alternative software that we have a license
> for?"). This is a tiring uphill battle. (Literally today, I had to
> convert some SAS code to Stata and back, and StackOverflow, the
> programming branch of StackExchange, offered some good pointers...
> which I got from the first Google search page!) The statistics branch
> of StackExchange, CrossValidated (, is
> heavily entrenched in R, and the popular claims regarding popularity
> of R are based on the counts of posts on StackExchange
> ( Moving to
> rather than to would help strengthening the argument
> that Stata is a proper, kosher, mainstream statistical package. A
> fivefold or tenfold increase in the volume of Stata questions that
> could happen once hsphsun2 closes would make a good splash in Stata
> reputation in the big world outside statalist walls.
> Toning this down a little bit, I think the best of two worlds can be
> combined on if the major components of the StackExchange
> system are utilized. The unique features that Stata Corp can donate to
> the system to make it superior over the limitations of the format and
> capabilities of StackExchange would be syntax highlighting similar to
> that of the Do-Editor, and automatic links to the online help files
> ( that are added once a Stata
> command is being identified in the code section. A more prominent use
> of tags is a must for the forum to be usable as a reference, rather
> than a hit-and-run (ask-and-wait) system that it has historically
> been. Stata commands may act as tags (based on either what user enters
> as a special tag if that's something user-contributed, like -outreg-
> or -ivreg2-, or what is being recognized automatically, which I
> suggested above). Users should be required to use tags, or at least
> asked to confirm when they are submitting a question with no tags. (7
> tags on 78 "General" forum questions, and two more from "Using the
> forum"??? I'd say it is not working yet.) For tags to work well,
> though, other users should be able to edit tags in the original posts.
> Adding any of that functionality would require serious work on the
> forum engine. How much the engine can be expanded, I have no idea; I
> am not a website programmer. If this equates to just reproducing
> StackExchange engine, it is obviously a futile exercise.
> Joining StackExchange system as a separate site may or may not work
> out (see -- there should be a
> critical mass of users, questions and topics, and so far, I am aware
> of about five or so statalist people who are active on CrossValidated,
> which won't create a critical mass). R questions are split between the
> statistics website and the programming website, depending on whether
> it is more of "why doesn't lmer produce a standard error for variance
> components" (statistics) or "how do I tweak ggplot2 to produce
> transparent graphs" (programming). I imagine Stata questions could
> work pretty much the same way, too. At the moment, there is about 1
> question a day on Stata on statistics website, and may be two
> questions a day on programming website... compared to 10+ new
> questions on statalist... on a slow day.
> -- Stas Kolenikov, PhD, PStat (ASA, SSC)
> -- Principal Survey Scientist, Abt SRBI
> -- Opinions stated in this email are mine only, and do not reflect the
> position of my employer
> --
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