Proposal: Computer Science (Non-Programming)

I originally wrote this question because I believed that this was a duplicate of Theoretical Computer Science. However it does appear that the example questions have already been closed on Theoretical Computer Science, for being too low-level. So while this would appear to be a duplicate, I'm not now clear where the questions asked actually do belong.

EDIT: If this isn't a duplicate that worries me, because that would imply that we have two sites for Computer Science: one for "research level" and one for easier questions. "Beginner level" sites don't do well. No other sites reject undergraduate level questions as "too easy".

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    No other sites reject undergraduate level questions as "too easy". <-- this is no longer true. I am in the private beta of Theoretical Physics, and that site has closed graduate-level questions as being "too easy," that is to say, not research-level. – Aaron Sterling Sep 29 '11 at 14:50
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    Did the Computer Science proposal from earlier this year (?) vanish? – Raphael Sep 29 '11 at 22:18
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    two level issue has been discussed several times, please read the previous discussions. Non-research-level questions in TCS can be asked on Math.SE, we have checked it with them and they are fine with it. I suggest that you focus on your original question, the situation about Theoretical CS is already clear: research-level on cstheory, not research level on Math.SE. – Kaveh Sep 30 '11 at 22:47
  • Undergrad walks into a grad level class... #joke – Pratik Deoghare Dec 6 '11 at 13:49
  • Undergrad expects help from grad...#joke – DJClayworth Dec 6 '11 at 14:12
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    There is also MathOverflow which frowns on, and rapidly closes, undergraduate-level questions as too easy. – Marc van Leeuwen Feb 4 '12 at 11:29
  • Looks like you're confusing two questions: 1) Is all computer science theoretical? 2) Is it OK to have two sites (for computer science) distinguished solely by the level of the questions? (Research level or application.) – reinierpost Feb 6 '12 at 17:35
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    So, we will get two sites to endlessly discuss the P vs NP question. – Victor Stafusa Feb 14 '12 at 23:03
  • I also wanted to ask this question. But now there is scicomp.stackexchange.com, Computational Science, in addition to the Computer Science and CSTheory. So, everything seems ok now. Or, may be, a couple more cs sites? – user71451 Dec 30 '12 at 13:44

There's a LONG-running argument on area51 about whether it's ok to have two CS sites or not, or if a TCS site is antithetical to the mix of experts and non-experts that some other SE sites have. It's hard to judge from the set of questions what the actual scope of this site would be, but it's clear that CS is a MUCH larger discipline than TCS, and in that respect alone there's no duplication.

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    The point is that if TCS is a subset of CS, then that's duplication. – DJClayworth Oct 12 '11 at 15:09
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    right. and if the CS site were first, this would probably be in argument in favor of NOT starting a TCS site. But the TCS site did come first, so now what :) ? – Suresh Oct 12 '11 at 16:26
  • I've no idea. That's why I haven't accepted an answer yet. – DJClayworth Oct 12 '11 at 16:29
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    TCS needs to be rescoped, imo. (Good luck with that, though.) – Richard Oct 19 '11 at 22:03
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    I agree with @Richard. – beroal Nov 13 '11 at 16:34
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    CS, IMO is just too large of a community for it to have a single stack exchange site. Also, many areas of CS are already served well by a collection of sites :- TCS for theory, meta.optimize/stats.stackexchange for ML/Stats, TCS/or-exchange for optimization, TCS/economics.stackexchange for game theory, etc. There are areas for which we don't have a place yet like Graphics, HCI, PL and Systems but I don't think the solution is to create a site encompassing all of CS. – Opt Dec 1 '11 at 23:56
  • Also would like to add that theoreticalphysics.se had to be split off from physics.se and programmers.se from stackoverflow and the former especially has a much smaller online presence than CS so in all likelihood if a CS site gets off the ground, it will have to be split up in the future. – Opt Dec 2 '11 at 0:01

I think it would be hard to build a community for this. One of the reasons AI.SE was closed was because of a lack of experts.

Currently if you have a computer science question, there are many places to take it:

cstheory.SE if its research level (the community is rather open on the theoretical part, but much more stringent on the research part)

math.SE if it involves theoretical computer science at a non-research level (including homework)

stats.SE (or metaoptimize) if it involves machine learning, and some kinds of AI

crypto.SE if it is about cryptography at any level

stackoverflow if it is computer science that is applicable or interesting to programmers/practitioners

I think this covers most of the scope. Of course, the person asking has to understand their question well enough to decide between the 5 sites. One could argue that since CS is so widely distributed, it could be worthwhile to have one site for everything... however, I think it would be impossible to attract experts to such a site. Further, how would it build a community?

So I would vote as duplicate, but not of cstheory.SE... but of all 5.

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    There are many low-level questions closed on cstheory, and to my knowledge next to none end up on math.SE. If they do, they get answered, but often (and unavoidably) from a mathematics viewpoint, which is not always helpful. On stackoverflow, anything but questions for man page knowledge does not get answered or answered badly (I might overstate slightly). Programmers is certainly as far away from TCS as mechatronics from physics. stats and crypto covers some areas that (heavily) intersect CS, but are very restricted. So no, I don't think CS is covered in a satisfying way. – Raphael Sep 29 '11 at 22:16
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    Non-research level question in TCS can be asked on Math.SE, they are in its scope, whether users ask them or not is a different issue. – Kaveh Sep 30 '11 at 22:50
  • Also MetaOptimize.com, Stats.SE (AI); programmers.SE (Software Engineering); GraphicDesign.SE (Graphics), Electronics.SE (Computer Hardware, Architecture); proposal for computational sciences/scientific computing; us.SE (HCI); ITSecurity.SE, Crypto.SE; avp.SE (sound); I think these cover almost all areas of CS. – Kaveh Sep 30 '11 at 22:58
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    I'd rather have one site for CS than a dozen, simply because field classifications are overly rigorous compared to reality. Overlaps in interest create synergy which a split that fine-grained effectively prohibits. – Raphael Oct 3 '11 at 6:48
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    Agree, thus I've voted to close. – mbq Oct 3 '11 at 12:19
  • The question weather having all of it on one site is better is not what is being discussed here. The point is a large portion of CS is already covered by Q&A sites, whether you like it or not. – Kaveh Oct 3 '11 at 14:01
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    I disagree; for this line of reasoning, you should only consider sites out of beta, which leaves the field much more uncovered. – Raphael Oct 5 '11 at 5:30
  • You are free to disagree, but the point that there are not sites that one can ask CS questions isn't true. – Kaveh Oct 6 '11 at 6:05
  • What about the scicomp.stackexchange.com? Why don't you list it? – user71451 Dec 30 '12 at 13:45
  • @Val probably because it didn't exist when I wrote that answer. There isn't much debate on this anymore, since CS.SE is up and running, so I am not going to edit and bump this to the front page. – Artem Kaznatcheev Dec 30 '12 at 22:30
  • Our current AI proposal which started few days ago has enough experts, but not enough people to ask the right questions. – kenorb Aug 11 '16 at 1:04

I said it back then and I'll say it again: No duplicate.

One can argue, talk and conjecture a lot. My question is: What harm can be done if you put the site to beta (given enough attention) and see where it goes? If it does not turn out to work, close it and discuss again in which ways we can incorporate areas that are exclusive to the new proposal into other sites.


I don't think it's a duplicate. That said, it seems like a site for homework questions. Not sure I like it. The askers would be people who can't figure out their homework, and thus probably ill-equipped to answer most other questions. I don't think a site like that can attract committed answerers, and even if it did the site would have problems due to the clash between competent answerers and incompetent askers.

It seems like "Give me the proof / algorithm" style questions, akin to the "Give me the codez" questions so reviled on Stack Overflow.

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    Believe me, there is plenty of room between homework and state of the art research. For example, all the cranky ideas you get while learning. – Raphael Sep 29 '11 at 22:05
  • I don't agree. Surely appropriate topics and problems for Computer Science are learned and asked in undergraduate classes and homework. But that doesn't mean that a Computer Science site would permit blatant asking of homework problems without work shown first. Besides, sites like math.SE and SO have numerous homework problems, and this is considered unproblematic. – danportin Oct 20 '11 at 20:23

The current TCS community somewhat exclusive towards questions that are not research-level, but that's only one of the many areas this proposal is for.

What about?

  • Interdisciplinary area between TCS and some other area such as computer vision.
  • Artificial intelligence (There was a proposal on this, but it was closed)
  • Compiler design, programming language design? These are not clear cut programming questions that may or may not fit on SO. Some of the CS questions tend to get downvotes for not being on-topic.
  • Some other area of CS that there is no SE for that doesn't exactly fit in SO, and not research-level enough to be on TCS, or doesn't even belong there in the first place.

There also seems to be a misunderstanding of what TCS is. TCS only focuses on mathematics of computing and does NOT include areas like artificial intelligence which this proposal covers as well.

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    the first 3 points, are already covered by cstheory at the research level: computer-vision, image-processing, AI, compiler, and programming-language. Thus, the CS forum would only differ in that it concentrates on non-research level questions. – Artem Kaznatcheev Sep 29 '11 at 6:32
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    @Artem, no, currently only theoretical questions in those areas are on-topic on cstheory. – Kaveh Sep 29 '11 at 10:19
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    But AI researchers already have a site (MetaOptimize.com, Stats.SE), Software Engineering has programmers.SE. There is a proposal for computational sciences/scientific computing. HCI has a proposal already. Graphics have a site as do Electronics. So in my opinion, the only uncovered area is Systems (Operating Systems, Networks, ...). – Kaveh Sep 29 '11 at 10:19
  • @Kaveh There's a lot of programming language theory (typing, compilation, static analysis, …) that falls through the cracks between SO and CSTheory. Programmers.SE isn't a reasonable place for scientific questions. Even algorithm questions, which are officially on-topic on SO, tend to get closed if they aren't tied to a particular programming language. – Gilles Oct 4 '11 at 23:01
  • @Gilles: I am not an expert on PL, but surely research-level questions in PL theory are on-topic on cstheory. Non-theoretical questions about compilers, ... are not PL theory and to best of knowledge are usually considered part of systems area. – Kaveh Oct 5 '11 at 6:20

It is not a duplicate, but based on its description it overlaps heavily with several existing sites including cstheory:

Proposed Q&A site for computer Science practitioners, researchers, and CS students interested in topics like theoretical computer science, artificial intelligence, programming language design, digital logic, or any other area of CS not directly related to programming.

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    I believe you could say the exact same thing about physics vs. theoretical physics, yet both sites exist. Research and theory questions I suspect are always welcome at the non-research level site, but the reverse is not true. – Michael McGowan Oct 7 '11 at 21:29
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    @Michael, you don't seem to be a user of either, neither a user of cstheory. No, the situation is not similar. The general-level site existed before the research-level site, and it was created specifically for research-level questions, see the discussions on physics.SE's meta. – Kaveh Oct 9 '11 at 6:29

Going beyond first glance, it's clear that the proposed site is pitched to fill a need that currently exists.

Stackoverflow.com isn't great for theoretical computer science. Theoretical computer science shuts out anyone who isn't working at or beyond a doctoral level.

I would suggest that a broad computer science site would be an excellent idea.


I've voted to close because the description is an obvious duplicate.


I have a problem with some of the questions closed at cstheory - a few examples certainly don't belong on SO, since they are algorithmic and/or theoretical in nature ... but the FAQ on cstheory says it's just for research-level questions.

I'm no professional CSTheorist, but what defines "research-level", and who cares if you get "lower" level questions, too?

  • I've actually changed the question. It does seem like there are questions that are off-topic at TCS and I don't know where they would belong. – DJClayworth Sep 27 '11 at 14:22
  • @DJ Clayworth - see my update – warren Sep 27 '11 at 14:53
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    @warren the community at cstheory cares if they get lower level questions. Asking a low level question is very easy compared to the effort one must put into asking an interesting research level question. If cstheory did not actively close low level questions, it would get swamped with them, and all the researchers would leave (this has happened with physics.SE). – Artem Kaznatcheev Sep 29 '11 at 6:01
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    @warren, the issue about the scope of cstheory has been discussed several times. If you are not part of cstheory community and haven't read the previous discussion it is better not to get into that discussion here. The scope of cstheory is defined in our FAQ. – Kaveh Sep 30 '11 at 22:40
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    ps: as a side note, I don't understand users who are not part of the community of cstheory and are not theoretical computer scientists expressing opinions and voting on issues that they are not familiar with. But generally non-research questions in TCS can be asked on Math.SE (we have checked this with them and they are fine with that). – Kaveh Sep 30 '11 at 22:44

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