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Let me just start by saying that I don't have any strong opinion on this, and won't be voting yes or no to any proposal in this direction. I am just interested to see what the community thinks, and I'm sure the other members of the community will be able to come to consensus despite me remaining indifferent.

This site was very different when it first went live in 2018, and in recent times, tags that barely existed back then have quickly caught up and even overtaken the most popular tags across the whole site:

There have actually been more questions asked than the number of total question on some entire SE sites that have been around for several years:

That tag is also on pace to soon overtake several other sites in total questions, such as:

  • Beer, Wine and Spirits SE,
  • Language Learning SE,
  • Coffee SE,
  • Stellar SE,
  • Ebooks SE,
  • Tezos SE,
  • Korean Language SE,
  • Arts & Crafts SE,
  • Mythology & Folklore SE,
  • Sustainable Living SE,
  • Freelancing SE,
  • Internet of Things SE,
  • Poker SE,
  • Martial Arts SE,
  • Ukranian Language SE,
  • Portuguese Language SE,
  • EOS.IO SE
  • Stack Apps SE,
  • Lifehacks SE,
  • Mathematics Educators SE,
  • Windows Phone SE, and
  • probably plenty of others

All of those above sites are averaging far fewer than 400 questions/year which is significantly less than the tag has been getting lately, and the latter is growing.

The questions about the theory/mathematics of quantum information processing are significantly different from the questions we're getting on "quantum programming", the latter tending to often look like:

I have heard opinions about this dichotomy from some other users, and I've also seen people closing (many) questions due to being too much about programming, so I wanted to see what the wider community's feeling is about this.

There exists a StackOverflow for programming questions, which is very different from Computer Science SE and even more so, Theoretical Computer Science SE.

Would it make sense for there to be a "Quantum Stack Overflow" for quantum programming questions, versus a "Quantum Information Science" which is more like Computer Science SE and Theoretical Computer Science SE?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm also interested to see what the community thinks. Right now, my gut says splitting the site does not make sense, but I'll have to put some thought into it. Thanks for bringing it up! $\endgroup$
    – Auden Young Mod
    Aug 22, 2021 at 1:32

3 Answers 3

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I agree that there is a weird dichotomy on this site, but I don't see a good solution for it.

On the one hand, if I try to imagine how a proposal for a new, say, qiskit StackExchange site would go, I don't see it going well. It would be hard to convince people that a specific python package/framework should warrant a dedicated site. If they ask you "why not just ask these questions on StackOverflow?", what's the answer? If it is that using quantum computing frameworks such as qiskit requires domain-specific knowledge about quantum physics and related areas, the obvious follow-up would be: "ok... then why not ask them on quantumcomputing.SE"? I wouldn't be personally against such a site, and I definitely see the rationale and usefulness for it, but it might face an uphill battle as an Area51 proposal. Then again, arguably this site did as well, so maybe some sponsorship kind of deal might make it happen, I've got no idea.

At the same time, the dichotomy on this site is very real. As you say, "quantum programming" questions are significantly different from more "sciency" ones. I think this is natural: what makes a programming question good is quite different than what makes a more "math/physics/science-based" question good. The former are often more centered around getting a recipe, a snippet of code that can be readily copy-pasted somewhere else. This is not the case at all for more "academic" types of questions, in which the focus is generally on understanding some underlying concept.

But there are reasons to ask some "quantum programming" questions on a site like this. In particular, these questions involve domain-specific knowledge about quantum mechanics and related areas, which are not the purview of most programmers. The problem, as I see it, is that it gets hard to reliably recognise the distinction between "pure programming questions", which should really be asked on StackOverflow, and programming questions for which some knowledge of quantum computing is actually useful, which might be better served here. And even if we know how to tell these two things apart, new users will inevitably get endlessly confused as to why some of their questions are fine here while others are not.

This makes things... weird. We effectively get a site that lives a double life. And these two aspects of the site not only accommodate different questions, but also follow different standards of moderation. Questions that would get closed when viewed from the "academic" point of view might be fine if understood as programming questions.

So what's the solution? I don't know. This is a problem ultimately caused by the inherently multidisciplinary nature of the subject at hand. I feel like the best thing to do from this perspective is to filter out more aggressively programming questions, making sure that "pure programming questions" get sent elsewhere. But this would need to come from the people that most closely follow those questions, and so whether it happens depends on whether they agree that questions should be filtered this way.

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    $\begingroup$ While I agree with the point that quanutm programming questions requiring quantum computing knowledge to be answered are on point on this site, most of the qiskit questions I've answered did not require such a knowledge. I'd even argue that most of these questions are purely programming ones, like being confused by Qiskit's little-endian convention or why doesn't the code work. Most of the time, the reason why the code works is a misunderstanding on how to use Qiskit rather than a misunderstanding of quantum computing. $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2021 at 13:00
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    $\begingroup$ That said, I think it'd make sense to redirect questions that are focused on code to StackOverflow. The thing is I wonder whether it is too late to make such a change: most questions about qiskit on StackOverflow are unanswered (I only took a quick look, that may be incorrect) while the IBM Quantum Support team is particularly active on this site. Won't it be confusing to users to suddenly reject all qiskit-focused questions? $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2021 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ @TristanNemoz that's pretty much my impression as well. It would probably be confusing for some people, yes, but I don't think it's too late to do it, if we want to. But again, that would need to be done by those most active in these questions. The fact that less of these questions get answered on stackoverflow might simply because those that know how to answer them hang out here more than there. That could easily change if questions are redirected there. $\endgroup$
    – glS Mod
    Aug 27, 2021 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ One thing that might help is for the qiskit, ibm etc websites to explicitly tell people to go on stackoverflow for purely programming questions, and here for questions about quantum computing, rather than redirecting everyone here as they do now $\endgroup$
    – glS Mod
    Aug 27, 2021 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that pure programming questions belong on SO. We would probably see more such questions rerouted there if a suitable close reason were added to the existing "belongs on QC meta". $\endgroup$ Aug 28, 2021 at 3:28
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    $\begingroup$ We could also update the programming tag with some form of a criterion for when a programming question belongs on SO and when on QCSE. A possible criterion: "answer requires knowledge of quantum theory". $\endgroup$ Aug 28, 2021 at 3:29
  • $\begingroup$ @AdamZalcman good points. I was actually convinced the excerpt of programming already said something to that effect, but clearly it doesn't. Adding the routing option to SO is also doable, and was brought up before (though I'd note that it is doable even withotu the explicit option, you can just flag it for mod attention; albeit this sidesteps the close-vote queue so it's not ideal) $\endgroup$
    – glS Mod
    Aug 28, 2021 at 10:03
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    $\begingroup$ My perspective as a long-time consumer of the StackExchange sites is that their value is in the decade old answer still being exactly what I happen to be looking for. Personally I find it a bit odd to see framework-specific questions on this site or even StackOverflow, since the answers to these questions (especially in qiskit and IBMQ) is subject to rapid change. I think the qiskit slack page is a better place to find help. It is admittedly less well archived, but I'm not sure archiving most of these sorts of questions is terribly useful. $\endgroup$
    – jecado
    Aug 31, 2021 at 1:27
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    $\begingroup$ @jecado I definitely agree with that: Slack, GitHub issues, or dedicated forums (like other frameworks such as pytorch and tensorflow have) are sometimes better venues. But then again, it's not my place to tell people not to ask questions on StackOverflow, and much of SO has the problem of questions getting obsolete when the underlying software changes anyway; it's not a new phenomenon, and the site has been doing fine regardless. $\endgroup$
    – glS Mod
    Aug 31, 2021 at 7:14
  • $\begingroup$ "doing fine" is not how I and many other would describe it. $\endgroup$ Aug 31, 2021 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ @user1271772 what are you referring to exactly? I'm saying "doing fine" in the sense that it is still the #1 place everyone goes to get answers to programming questions, and there is hardly any competitor in that space, that I know of. Or in other words, I don't know of any site employing a better paradigm of programming Q&A. Personally, I still easily find posts about old and new frameworks/software, so I don't see the problem of software Q&A getting obsolete as that bad... or at least not yet $\endgroup$
    – glS Mod
    Aug 31, 2021 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that SO is still the #1 place for Q/A but this very well may be for historical reasons, and they are not necessarily "doing fine". I'm not sure SO is the best place for Qiskit questions, and the data shows us that Qiskit questions don't get answered there much. Some programming frameworks/languages/software/etc. are better off with their own site, as many do already have! $\endgroup$ Aug 31, 2021 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ Most of your answer seems to be based on a premise which I believe is false: which is that it would be hard for a "Quantum Programming" site to get through Area51 (i.e. to convince SE to launch a site like that into Beta), in the event that we decide that those questions are off-topic here and that this site should be "Quantum Information Science" or something like that. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2021 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ @user1271772 Answering pure programming questions on QCSE or another dedicated site reduces engagement between software engineering and quantum computing communities. This invites some sad outcomes like low awareness of QC among software engineers and poor software engineering practices in QC projects. I think we should actively encourage people to post and search on SO, file and read github issues etc and not create a parallel SO for folks who happen to write code related to QC (or any other field). $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ @AdamZalcman wow... it's been awhile since I commented in this chain! I have mixed feelings about directing people to SO, which is already an enormously busy site with so many issues on scales larger than anything we encounter here at QCSE. I got pinged with this comment earlier today, & I feel that 4 similar reasons, a "Quantum SO" for people asking quantum programming questions, would be more beneficial than sending them straight to SO. $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 9:08
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We shouldn't split the site.

I like that the quantum computing stack exchange now has a lot of quantum programming library questions. This isn't the quantum computing theory stack exchange, it's a stack exchange for all things quantum computing. That includes the practical how-do-I-get-things-done-when-the-rubber-meets-the-road aspect. To me, new tags becoming popular indicates a growing and thriving community. We just keep doing what we're doing, and it's great! We shouldn't split our community in half over this unnecessary distinction between using ideas [on paper] and using ideas [in code].

What is the actual cost of having these questions? Are the more theory-focused questions now getting answered at a lower rate? Taking longer to get answered? Where is the quantitative data showing actual problems?

Before the quantum computing stack exchange, it was basically impossible to get answers to quantum computing questions on the internet. I remember really struggling with this when I was learning. The quantum physicists didn't understand the computing and the software engineers didn't understand the quantum physics, so it was figure-it-out-myself or nothing. This stack exchange basically fixed that. Fracturing it into pieces would be an excellent way to send the omitted or smaller pieces back to the dark ages of "no good place to get answers".

Also... I suspect new users will not immediately understand the distinction (see: stackoverflow vs softwareengineering). And oh boy am I not going to be spending my time moving questions from one site to the other, just because we like our bike sheds a particular color. What a waste of effort that would be.

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I have the feeling that things only got worse since August, so I hope you do not mind if I revive this discussion. Among the first ten questions there are 6 which are related to qiskit and IMO only one, perhaps two, of them are on-topic. Just look at the answers ... there are simply "use that class" or similar.

Now, one could argue that I can still vote to close them. Yes, that's right and I did that for one absurdly off-topic question. And if someone needs to be the bad guy which closes all the questions, ok then say so. However, I think that if there's some kind of agreement what's on-topic and what's not, then the mods should be doing it.

If one is going to ban/discourage pure quantum programming questions, then it would be a good idea if there's a platform where such things can be discussed. As it is expected that interest in quantum software will futher increase, I think that this is inevitable. Whether this is on SE or not, is another question.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree that things will hardly improve on this front without the site taking a definite decision on it. If we decide a certain class of questions is off-topic, then the sooner they get closed, the better it is. Otherwise what happens is that people ask said questions and still get an answer, even if only in the form of a comment, before the question get closed. And this creates a paradoxical situation where these questions usually get closed, but still get answered, and thus people are incentivised to keep asking them. $\endgroup$
    – glS Mod
    Jan 19 at 9:31
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    $\begingroup$ to prevent this, we mods could intervene on either closing them early on, and/or straight out deleting comments/answers on posts that are clearly off-topic. This is done e.g. on physics.SE for homework questions. But of course, we'd only do this if there is a clear consensus that this should happen. Though I'd say that the issue of there being a separate platform for programming questions is an independent one. If there is a need/push for it, such a platform will get created, on SE or elsewhere, but that matter should be separated with whether these questions should be OT here imo $\endgroup$
    – glS Mod
    Jan 19 at 9:34
  • $\begingroup$ Please don't delete people's comments/answers. $\endgroup$ Jan 19 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ @glS You're right. The main reason why I haven't started a vote for closure of these questions is that they were already answered ... Moreover, I agree that the creation of a separate platform is independent and should not play a role in the discussion on what's on-topic for this site. $\endgroup$ Jan 19 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ @user1271772 I think off-topic answers and comments should be removed. As gIS explained, otherwise people may be incentivized to post off-topic content. Why do you object to deletion? :-) $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ @AdamZalcman It is just absolutely unacceptable to delete comments & answers in many cases, and translates into a theft of the author's time and energy. Also SE's contract with authors does warn them that answers can be deleted in some circumstances but gives at least me, the impression that good answers to questions that are not clearly off-topic, will not be deleted. About "otherwise people may be incentivized to post off-topic content" do you really think deleting answers will change anything substantially? Aren't 1st timers the main issue? $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 9:18
  • $\begingroup$ @user1271772 if such deletions were to happen, it would only be in clear-cut cases. I personally wouldn't feel comfortable deleting any content that is not "obviously" off-topic. On a personal note, let me also point out that deleting good answers from people that contribute a lot is really not something I'd enjoy doing, but there are situations where it is warranted imo. There can be regular users who do not follow meta and answer off-topic questions without worrying/knowing that these are considered as such. $\endgroup$
    – glS Mod
    Jan 20 at 9:32
  • $\begingroup$ @glS Off-topic questions on other sites like Physics.SE and Math.SE get closed, but not deleted unless by Roomba. Why should we be different from them? I saw what you said about "incentivizing". Not only do I not agree that deleting such answers will not have much of an effect on stopping people from asking off-topic questions, but also I wonder if you have any other reasons why we should be so different from Physics.SE and Math.SE in this regard? $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 9:36
  • $\begingroup$ regarding incentivizing posting OT content: I wouldn't find it surprising that if people get answers to certain questions here, the word might spread that this is a venue to get said answers. Admittedly though, it would be really hard, if possible at all, to get actual data to assess the magnitude of such an effect. Still, it is undesirable to have OT questions get answered, with the question getting closed later. It defeats the purpose of closing the question at all, makes it harder to maintain the post in the long run, prevents people from answering in the future, etc. $\endgroup$
    – glS Mod
    Jan 20 at 9:36
  • $\begingroup$ @user1271772 sorry, I'm talking about answers (or answers in comments) to off-topic questions getting deleted. The questions would just get closed in general. Answers to off-topic homework questions on physics.SE do get deleted (or at least they were until some time ago? I certainly had some such answers deleted years ago before I knew the policy well). See physics.meta.stackexchange.com/a/715/58382. The relevant bit there is: "If someone posts an answer to a homework-type question that gives away a complete or near-complete solution, in most cases it will be temporarily deleted." $\endgroup$
    – glS Mod
    Jan 20 at 9:38
  • $\begingroup$ also, let me further stress that I'm not advocating for doing exactly this. Any such policy would have to be discussed on meta before to assess consensus, and obviously tailored to the needs of this site. The policy on physics.SE is mostly tailored at handling homework questions, which is not what we are talking about here $\endgroup$
    – glS Mod
    Jan 20 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ It also says "temporarily" deleted. But yes I was also going to point out that "off-topic homework" isn't synonymous with "off-topic", until you said it. $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 9:50
  • $\begingroup$ About: "we mods could intervene on either closing them early on, and/or straight out deleting comments/answers on posts that are clearly off-topic" why not just close and do not delete? I'm not saying I'm happy with hammer-closing questions, but I wonder why they have to be deleted? I hear you about incentivizing, but I'm not convinced that it will make a difference. The vast majority of off-topic questions are asked by relatively new users who don't know what they're doing right? I don't think the "word gets spread around" as much as people just find the site on the web when browsing. $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 9:53
  • $\begingroup$ @user1271772 the questions would just get closed, be it by regular vote or by mod. There is no reason to delete such questions, I agree. The deletion would be on answers, and the point would be either to prevent incentivising asking such questions, or more importantly imo to avoid sending mixed signals: if the topic is off-topic, we are saying general discussion about said topics is, and that should include both questions and answers I think. It's not a great look to find answers to a question, with the question closed, which prevents further interactions with it. And answers can't be "closed" $\endgroup$
    – glS Mod
    Jan 20 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW, the bar for deletion on Math.SE is significantly lower than what is being suggested here. For example, mods there regularly manually delete good quality answers to on-topic questions if those questions are found to be of low quality (e.g. contain little context and motivation or fail to show asker's own work). This is meant to discourage people from answering low quality questions. See EoQS. $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 17:14

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