A new statistical analysis Q&A website launched
While the proposal for a statistical analysis Q&A website on area51 (stackexchange) is taking it’s time, and the website is still collecting people who will commit to it,
Joseph Turian, who seems a nice guy from his various comments online, seem to feel this website is not what the community needs and that we shouldn’t hold up on our questions for the website to go online. Therefore, Joseph is pushing with all his might his newest creation “MetaOptimize QA“, a StackOverFlow like website for (long list follows): machine learning, natural language processing, artificial intelligence, text analysis, information retrieval, search, data mining, statistical modeling, and data visualization.
With all the bells and whistles that the OSQA framework (an open source stackoverflow clone, and more, system) can offer (you know, rankings, badges and so on).
Is this new website better then the area51 website? Will all the people go to just one of the two websites. or will we end up with two places that attracts more people then we had to begin with? These are the questions that come to mind when faced with the story in front of us.
My own suggestion is to try both websites (the stackoverflow statistical analysis website to come and “MetaOptimize QA“) and let time tell.
More info on this story bellow.
MetaOptimize online impact so far
The need for such a Q&A site is clearly evident. With just several days after being promoted online, MetaOptimize has claimed the eyes of almost 300 users, submitting 59 questions and 129 answers.
Already many bloggers in the statistical community have contributed their voices with encouraging posts, here is just a collection of the post I was able to find with some googling:
But is it goos to have two websites?
But wait, didn’t we just start pushing forward another statistical Q&A website two weeks ago? I am talking about the Stack Exchange Q&A site proposal: Statistical Analysis.
So what should we (the community of statistical minded people) to do the next time we have a question?
Should we wait for Stack Exchange offer for a new website to start? Or should we start using MetaOptimize?
Update: after lengthy e-mail exchange with Joseph (the person who founded MetaOptimize), I decided to erase what I originally wrote as my doubts, and instead give a Q&A session that him and I have had in the e-mails exchange. It is a bit edited from what was originally, and some of the content will probably get updated – so if you are into this subject, check in again in a few hours 🙂
Honestly, I am split in two (and Joseph, I do hope you’ll take this in a positive way, since personally I feel confident you are a good guy). I very strongly believe in the need and value of such a Q&A website. Yet I am wondering how I feel about such a website being hosted as MetaOptimize and outside the hands of the stackoverflow guys.
On the one hand, open source lovers (like myself) tend to like decentralization and reliance on OSS (open source software) solutions (such as the one OSQA framework offers). On the other hand, I do believe that the stackoverflow people have (much) more experience in handling such websites then Joseph. I can very easily trust them to do regular database backups, share the websites database dumps with the general community, smoothly test and upgrade to provide new features, and generally speaking perform in a more experienced way with the online Q&A community.
It doesn’t mean that Joseph won’t do a great job, personally I hope he will.
Q&A session with Joseph Turian (MetaOptimize founder)
Tal: Let’s start with the easy question, should I worry about technical issues in the website (like, for example, backups)?
They provide email and chat support for OSQA users.
I will commit to putting up regular automatic database dumps, whenever the OSQA team implements it:
If, in six months, they don’t have this feature as part of their core, and someone (e.g. you) emails me reminding me that they want a dump, I will manually do a database dump and strip the user table.
Also, I’ve got a scheduled daily database dump that is mirrored to Amazon S3.
Tal: Why did you start MetaOptimize instead of supporting the area51 proposal?
- On Area51, people asked to have AI merged with ML, and ML merged with statistical analysis, but their requests seemed to be ignored. This seemed like a huge disservice to these communities.
- Area 51 didn’t have academics in ML + NLP. I know from experience it’s hard to get them to buy in to new technology. So why would I risk my reputation getting them to sign up for Area 51, when I know that I will get a 1% conversion? They aren’t early adopters interested in the process, many are late adopters who won’t sign up for something until they have too.
- If the Area 51 sites had a strong newbie bent, which is what it seemed like the direction was going, then the academic experts definitely wouldn’t waste their time. It would become a support
community for newbies, without core expert discussion. So basically, I know that I and a lot of my colleagues wanted the site I built. And I felt like area 51 was shaping the communities really incorrectly in several respects, and was also taking a while. I could have fought an institutional process and maybe gotten half the results above and it took a few months, or I could just build the site and invite my friends, and shape the community correctly.
Besides that, there are also personal motives:
- I wanted the recognition for having a good vision for the community, and driving forward something they really like.
- I wanted to experiment with some NLP and ML extensions for the Q+A software, to help organize the information better. Not possible on a closed platform.
Tal: Me (and maybe some other people) fear that this might fork the people in the field to two websites, instead of bringing them together. What are your thoughts about that?
How am I forking the community? I’m bringing a bunch of people in who wouldn’t have even been part of the Area 51 community.
Area 51 was going to fork it into five communities: stat analysis, ML, NLP, AI, and data mining. And then a lot fewer people would have been involved.
Tal: What are the things that people who support your website are saying?
Here are some quotes about my site:
Philip Resnick (UMD): “Looking at the questions being asked, the people responding, and the quality of the discussion, I can already see this becoming the go-to place for those ‘under the hood’ details
you rarely see in the textbooks or conference papers. This site is going to save a lot of people an awful lot of time and frustration.”
Aria Haghighi (Berkeley): “Both NLP and ML have a lot of folk wisdom about what works and what doesn’t. A site like this is crucial for facilitating the sharing and validation of this collective knowledge.”
Alexandre Passos (Unicamp): “Really thank you for that. As a machine learning phd student from somewhere far from most good research centers (I’m in brazil, and how many brazillian ML papers have you
seen in NIPS/ICML recently?), I struggle a lot with this folk wisdom. Most professors around here haven’t really interacted enough with the international ML community to be up to date”
Ryan McDonald (Google): “A tool like this will help disseminate and archive the tricks and best practices that are common in NLP/ML, but are rarely written about at length in papers.”
esoom on Reddit: “This is awesome. I’m really impressed by the quality of some of the answers, too. Within five minutes of skimming the site, I learned a neat trick that isn’t widely discussed in the literature.”
Tal: In order to be fair to area51 work, they have gotten wonderful responses for the “statistical analysis” proposal as well (see it here)
I have also contacted area51 directly and asked them and invited them to come and join the discussion. I’ll update this post with their reply.
So what’s next?
I don’t know.
If the Stack Exchange website where to launch today, I would probably focus on using it and hint to the site for MetaOptimize (for the reasons I just mentioned, and also for some that Rob Hyndman maintained when he first wrote on the subject).
If the stack exchange version of the website where to start in a few weeks, I would probably sit on the fence and see if people are using it. I suspect that by that time, there wouldn’t be many people left to populate it (but I could always be wrong).
And what if the website where to start in a week, what then? I have no clue.
My current feeling is that I am glad to let this play out.
It seems this is a good case study for some healthy competition between platforms and models (OSQA vs stackoverflow/area51-system) – one that I hope will generate more good features from both companies. And also will make both parties work hard to get people to participate.
It also seems that this situation is getting many people in our field to be approached with the same idea (Q&A website). After Joseph input on the subject, I am starting to think that maybe at the end of the day this will benefit all of us. Instead of forking one community into two, maybe what we’ll end up with is getting more (experienced) people online (into two locations) that would otherwise would have stayed in the shadows.
The verdict is still out, but I am a bit more optimistic than I was when first writing this post. I’ll update this post after getting more input from people.
And as always – I would love to know your thoughts on the subject.