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Hosting PhysicsOverflow at Bielefeld University

Thanks to Christian Pietsch from the library of Bielefeld University, who is also the founder of the OpenScience Q&A community (restarted outside the SE network after an unsuccessful SE beta, using support from our side) we have obtained the offer to move PhysicsOverflow to a server of the library of Bielefeld University.

The moderators agreed to accept the offer; thus in the near future, PhysicsOverflow will be migrated to a server at Bielefeld University. To avoid any tiresome administrative procedures or even obstacles, this will at present not encompass an official endorsement of PhysicsOverflow by Bielefeld University. In the long run, obtaining the latter should probably be tried at some point in the future.

Moving to the university library of Bielefeld will have several advantages:

  1. It will do away with the technical issues and glitches caused by our current hosting provider that polarkernel had to deal with without being given proper access to the server.
  2. It will provide direct and personal technical support as well as root access for polarkernel to the new server. This will ease debugging in case of future technical problems with the server.
  3. It will ensure additional support for keeping the PO-server running. As Christian Pietsch is the administrator of the new server, he will be able and willing to help if needed to ensure that the PO-server runs smoothly, for example in case (as last year) polarkernel is on holiday without a good internet connection.
  4. The move will constitute a big step forward to ensure a long time perspective for PhysicsOverflow and towards solving our long-standing issue that there is only a single person who can technically ensure the smooth running of the site.

Generally, users should not be negatively affected by the upcoming migration. Users should hardly notice anything special during the migration – certainly less than in the past during problems with the current provider. In the worst case there will be a break of at most 24 hours until the new domain address has propagated to all domain name servers in the world. However, our domain name “” will not get changed by this migration.

In case of such a break, will inform here in this blog about the current status and what is actually going on.

This post is a slightly adapted version of the PO Meta Announcement

Edit May 15, 2017 by polarkernel:

Christian Pietsch and me have finally prepared all aspects of the announced migration of PhysicsOverflow to the University of Bielefeld. It will take place at Wednesday, 17. May 2017, starting at about 07:30 UTC. Please save all your drafts before this time. During this migration, we have to shut down the server, move the content to the new server and also to move the domain name to another registrar. This process may take up to 24 hours for users, that are far away from Germany, given by the time required for the new IP to be propagated to all DNS servers of the world. We will keep you informed about the status of the migration below this edit.

After the migration, Christian Pietsch will continue to keep the server running in case of any issues and will replace me for this task when I am absent. Therefore I increased his level on PhysicsOverflow to SuperAdministrator. He will also be our advisor for questions around our webserver. It is a great progress for me to be released from this responsibility during my vacations and I like to thank Christian for his commitment. Naturally I will continue to take care for the code and its future development. However, on the long run, we will need a replacement also for this job.

Status of the migration:

May 17, 07:30 UTC: Planned start of the migration.
May 17, 07:40 UTC: Maintenance mode on, backup and migration of the database started.
May 17, 08:05 UTC: Database successfully moved. Starting domain migration.
May 17, 08:45 UTC: Got certificate, moved to Christian Pietsch who will install it.
May 17, 09:15 UTC: Email accounts generated, but not yet activated.
May 17, 09:35 UTC: Certificate is installed. Domain transfer activated.
May 17, 10:00 UTC: Still waiting for domain transfer confirmation.
May 17, 10:04 UTC: Got confirmation. Propagation of new IP to all DNS-servers started.
May 17, 10:30 UTC: The domain host provider did still not yet connect the domain.
May 17, 12:10 UTC: Much later than expected, the new IP starts to propagate now.
May 17, 12:30 UTC: First contact to the new server: It’s done!!

Personal directories in PhysicsOverflow

After a rather quiet period, here comes some good news about a nice new feature which will hopefully be useful to everybody 🙂

The following text is taken from Arnold Neumaier’s corresponding announcement on PhysicsOverflow:

Due to the nature of research, answers to research questions may come quite late. Old questions and answers on PhysicsOverflow may have a much longer lifetime than on other question & answer sites. However, with the standard Q2A software, it is difficult to trace questions visited – they tend to get drowned in the mass of posts, and are quickly dominated by what happens in currently active threads.

Due to the efforts of our system developer polarkernel, registered users of PhysicsOverflow with positive reputation are now offered a place to organize content of PO in a personalized, permanent, and arbitrarily detailed way.

This is achieved by associated to each registered user a personal directory, accessible only to the user owning it. The personal directory can be managed like a directory (folder) in any file system. The only difference to a file system is that the targets are not files but shortcuts – primarily links to PO posts (individual questions, answers, and comments) and links to external web addresses. These texts can  be arbitrarily nested to get fine-grained access to the content.

The purpose of the external links is to reference related papers (e.g., from the ArXiv) or personal notes on a PO-related subject, e.g., sketches of material for a future answer. However, the system also allows for shortcuts, one-line notes that appear directly in the personal directory.

PO posts are added to the personal directory by a click on a button under the post (”remember post”)  which then changes to ”post remembered”, and are managed either by clicking on ”post remembered” or by accessing the personal directory from the user’s profile page. The interface (together with its built-in help) should be self-explaining – if not, please ask on meta.

As already mentioned, the intended use is to organize content related to PO. For example, one can index in one folder posts read, adding key words why they were interesting. Another folder may contain the
posts that require further attention, together with a short reason why. Links to posts can act as a subfolder in which to store related arxiv URLs or bibtex files, or key words for potential later answers
or comments. The personal directory can also be used to group PO posts according to preferences not accounted for by the public tag system. One can use the one-line notes also to add priority information or time stamps. Creative users will find other useful ways to exploit the facility offered.


PhysicsOverflow at the 5th Offtopicarium

Since Wednesday lat evening, I am back happy and still a bit tired from the 5th Offtopicarium in Wegierska Gorka, Poland.  As the Offtopicarium is organized by science nerds for nerds ;-), it was a lot of fun to be together with the very nice small (about 30 people) group of young people. The program was rather interdisciplinary, ranging from biology, history, constructed languages, space projects of students, science communication and education, and many more things. I hope all talks will be accessible soon from the official homepage. In particular the talk about Opening Science  could be worthwhile to consider in some detail, as there is some overlap to what we want to achieve by the Reviews section. Getting to Wegierska Gorka from Bad Doberan (Germany) was a bit cumbersome and time-consuming.  From Katowice I still had to take another train for 2 hours. Considering different means of public transportation, proper time of the trip can not be reduced to less than 14h+  which is therefore the global minimum. route Therefore I was not able to arrive before Saturday afternoon. The meeting had begun on Thursday already and missed therefore about the first half of the talks. All talks have been very good and impressive generally, here you can see  for example Piotr Migdal giving a talk about how often the best and most innovative things are done by people with greatest passion and motivation in their free time, even though (or because) they do not get paid for it. As PhysicsOverflow for example …  😉 IMAG0284 My talk about PhysicsOverflow Happily, my talk about PhysicsOverflow was soon enough ready as you can see below. And surprisingly I realised that I did not even have to take notes about what I’m going to say (as for other talks related to my work) but I could just go on blathering  without effort … ! When bragging about PhysicsOverflow, I am obviously unstoppable 😛 Unfortunately, my laptop refused to connect to the WLAN in the meeting room, so I could not show a live demonstration :-/. You can find the slides of my talk here (the quality was better in PPT than it now is in PDF)  🙂 IMAG0290 In the introduction, I first explained why a new higher-level physics site was urgently needed, how PhysicsOverflow is organised in different parts such as Reviews, Q&A, Meta, etc as well as our most important principles and characteristics. On the next slides, I introduced the Q&A part as a physics analog of MathOverflow and explained the most basic things about how it works, scope, etc … To introduce the Reviews section I ranted a bit about how present journal peer-reviewing sucks ;-), then explained how paper reviewing is done on PhysicsOverflow, and showed two examples of a negatively and a positively reviewed paper. I also got a very good discussion to my talk (nicely supported by Piotr Migdal) , the following issues have been discussed (not in exactly the order listed here):

  • Why did we have to creat something new instead of using something that already exists, such as for example the SE platform?

To answer this, I had prepared in advance a slide (22) that summarises a bit why the goals of the SE company IMO clash with the intentions of a high-level academic community. Somebody mentioned that there are academic sites in the network too which is true but works only  for exceptional cases (I only know MO and CST) … Piotr helped by explaining that very high-level questions are not really high-lighted on SE for example. Also, conversely to the time when MathOverflow was created almost exactly 5 years ago (congratulations!) , SE does no longer give away its software today. There have also been

  • Some discussion about partitioning the site instead of supporting other communities in starting their own site (for example PhysicsUnderflow) to build an Overflow network

This is in principle doable as we have categories in addition to tags,  as for example explained on slide 20  about the differences between the PO and SE software.

  • Of course, I also called for a second developer

which resulted in the suggestion to upload the code on Github for other people to help us with the development and debugging, but as Polarkernel said we are not yet ready to do this … There have also been some

  • Questions about how many people we have, how many papers are submitted, etc :

About 250 newly registered, not all are active at the same time of course … The Reviews section (Reviews I) went online later than the Q&A section, so it is natural for it to have less content  (48 papers at present) than the Q&A section. Another questions was about

  • What could endanger the success of the site?

Here I said that at  the beginning, I and probably others were too enthusiastic about the Reviews section finally getting started, so we were too permissive about accepting submissions. But this is fixed now by our “reject to review policy”. There was also

  • Some discussions about the formula to calculate the final score of submissions:

Strong nonlinearity, the effect of additional points for one unit  accuracy and originality depends in  not plain obvious way on the votes the paper already has… As the accuracy determines the sign of the final score, crackpots who make unfounded “revolutionary” claims are punished which is a good feature. Does this formula really what we want to achieve in all cases? Final remarks The meeting was really fun, and there have been many cool nice people  :-). I am very happy about the positive response I got to my introduction of PhysicsOverflow and will also reconsider some of the other great talks I have seen. And I really liked it to meet Piotr Migdal in person 🙂 BTW he has now submitted his PhD thesis, congratulations ! Only the mud (literally!) sucked on our trip to the mountains because it was rainy the days before …  😀 P1110416 Joking … The trip was fun too 🙂

We have a talk at the 5th Offtopicarium :-) !

A few weeks ago, Piotr Migdal made me aware of the Offtopicarium (he is among the organizers), which is a mixture of scientific conference, workshop, and geek gathering ;-). Its purpose is to discuss topics and ideas, which are usually off-topic  to “regular” events and meetings, but nevertheless interesting and exciting.  The Offtopicarium welcomes (rather geeky 😉 …) people, who have a good idea and are passionate about it, such as scientists, entrepreneurs, people involved in startups, NGOs, and such.

So, after nice discussions and kind encouragement by Piotr Migdal, I finally submitted an abstract. It got just accepted, such that we will have  a (20 min + 20 min discussion)  talk  about PhysicsOverflow at the

5th Offtopicarium (26-28.09.2014, Węgierska Górka, Poland)

(Click the title for more information!)

Of course, I will shamelessly use this opportunity to introduce and advertise PhysicsOverflow:

The Q&A part as a revival of  Theoretical Physics SE and a physics analogue of MathOverflow, whereas the Reviews section should take the role of an overdue competitor of the (outdated and flawed in many ways) journal peer-reviewing process.

And who knows, maybe we will also find a second system developer there, to help and unburden Polarkernel …?

Anyway, summer holidays are mostly over (at least in Germany …) and members of PhysicsOverflow are heartily encouraged to make PhysicsOverflow look as awesome  as possible by nice contributions 😉 !

Even though I already have some ideas of course ;-), I would be happy to consider suggestions concerning the talk, they can be mentioned for example in the comments here.

Cheers !

Technical problems with the mySQL data base server :-(

Dear PhysicsOverflow community,

today we seem to face (for the first time within a time period of about  two months) some problems with the mySQL data base server on the host side. This lead to a short down time of PhysicsOverflow of about 10 min some hours ago, and to a new longer down time of an hour just now. This is very annoying, in particular as we have just started our public beta … :-/

So we apologize for this inconvenience, but all we could to is complaining to the administrators of our hosting provider, which is what Polarkernel did:


There seem to bee problems with the database on our host. Sorry, but I can’t change it. See here the transcript of my contact with our host provider (translated by Google):
Now talk to ‘Elodie’
Elodie: Hi – how can I help you?
You: I got today on my site “” for the second time a “database connect error”. Can you figure out what’s going on?
Elodie: Yes, actually, there are some difficulties with the MySQL Server today.
Elodie: The technicians are already aware and working on it.
You: OK, I hope the issue can be resolved soon. I have opened my site tonight and it’s a shame, especially when such errors occur at the beginning.
Elodie: I see. I do not think it takes a long time. But at present we have not yet received any specific information from the technicians. Except to the confirmation that they know it and work on it.
You: OK, then I’ll wait. Thank you!
Elodie: No cause 🙂
Now PhysicsOverflow seems to work again for now
but new down times can not be excluded until the technicians of our host state that they have successfully resolved the issue …
We will report here as well as on the site itself as soon as everything is ok again.
But lets not hope that the worst is over now, I am so excited and happy about all the great nice wise people joining in so far 🙂

Admin Dashboard Settings Part 9: Spam settings

The menu Spam in the Admin Dashboard allows to tick certain check marks to avoid PhysicsOverflow to get clogged with spam, noise, or generally trolled by ill meaning folks, which I think is important. Also, from a legal point of view we will be responsible for what gets posted on our site, so there will certainly be a need for people who watch out a bit and help with detecting and removing really bad things …

The first few options deal with settings concerning the registration and confirmation of emails by new users:

  • Request confirmation of user emails: I will have to ask Polarkernel if this is needed for the Regain TP account plugin, currently the check mark is set
  • All new users must confirm their email: Stack Exchange does not have this and I am not sure if we need it either
  • Enable moderation (approval) of users: this seems too restrictive IMHO
  • Email me when a new user registers: I think we don’t need this
  • Temporarily suspend new user registrations: this might be a good option for our technical private beta to come, to prevent too many users to register already. The intention behind limiting registration during this test phase is that we do not want to worry too much about loosing nice serious content while testing. Polarkernel will probably write more about this soon …

The next few options allow to enable CAPTCHAs under different conditions. I personally think that having to deal with CAPTCHAs all the time in cyber space  (to comment in blogs, etc) sucks; but who knows, if bad spam issues should arise, we might use it ? For example if certain “EnergyNumbers” and other “friends” decide to massively spam attack PhysicsOverflow  etc, it might come in handy  😉

  • Use captcha for user registration:
  • Use captcha on reset password form:
  • Use captcha for anonymous posts:
  • Use captcha if email not confirmed:
  • Use captcha on feedback form:
  • Use captcha module: here you can only choose reCAPTCHA whatever this means …

Then you can use moderation for things that might get troublesome (but normally they shouldnt IMHO). I am not sure if we need these, and rather think we should avoid copying the paranoid negative attitude of the Meta Stack Overflow (MSO) crowd who always assumes the worst about the character and intentions of other people, which leads to the well-known large bureaucratic overhead, draconic punishments,  and oppressive overmoderation of most parts of the SE network …

  • Use moderation for anonymous posts:
  • Use moderation if email not confirmed:
  • Use moderation for users with few points:

Next comes a text field, where you can list the IP addresses of trolls that should be banned. Maybe we could gather the IP addresses of people who we do not want to see on PhysicsOverflow by all means in advance, I have several (user) names in mind (joking) … ;-P

Finally you can rate limit many actions, which is good for keeping spam bots out I think. Unfortunately these options are not effective to keep out the spam bots developed by a certain aggressive and destructive System Administrator who tests and trains his malware (which is intended to interrupt any serious theoretical physics discussions everywhere in the internet as soon as certain keywords like SUSY or ST appear) on his personal homepage …  Such spam has still  to be taken care off manually … ;-).

  • Rate limit for user registrations: 5 per IP/hour
  • Rate limit for logging in: 20 per IP/hour
  • Rate limit for asking questions: 20 per IP/hour, 10 per user/hour
  • Rate limit for adding answers: 50 per IP/hour, 25 per user/hour
  • Rate limit for posting comments: 40 per IP/hour,  20 per user/hour
  • Rate limit for voting: 600 per IP/hour, 300 per user/hour
  • Rate limit for flagging posts:  10 per IP/hour, 5 per user/hour
  • Rate limit for uploading files:  20 per IP/hour, 10 per user/hour
  • Rate limit for private and wall messages: 30 per IP/hour, 5 per user/hour
    These limits might need to be set to higher values, if we want to use user walls as chat rooms

Is a reputation driven privilege system appropriate to implement community moderation on Physics Overflow?

On Physics SE, community moderation is implemented by means of a reputations dependent privilege system, which means that the more reputation a user obtains, the more power he gets to take part in the moderation of the site. However, a necessary precondition for this approach to work properly is a strong positive correlation between the (physics) knowledge of (in moderation issues interested) users and their reputation.

On Physics SE, this indispensable correlation is not as strong as it should be, and the site is at present mostly governed and moderated by people who are not well-respected and achieved physicists themself. Too many high rep (>3000) users (and even moderators) are not knowledgeable enough about advanced physics topics at a deeper technical level,  but represent vigorously the Stack Exchange guidelines, and hyperactively take part in moderation issues in the (higher level) review queues.

This has the detrimental effect that too many good and from a physics point of view legitimate and very interesting questions get closed based on Stack Exchange political reasons. In addition, recent discussions revolving around tightening up the anti-homework policy on Physics SE, initially intended to improve the level of the site and the experience for experts who do not like to be bothered with bad basic homework questions (which is good), is now implemented in a way that by abusing the way too broad notion of  “homework-like”,  not only bad effortless low-level homework gets closed but  high-level technical (and sometimes even conceptual) questions about advanced physics topics, get persecuted  too. Due to the dominance of the bad reviewers mentioned above in the close and reopen review queues, it is then for example almost impossible to get any good question that should not have been closed to start with or after an improvement, reopened.

To return to the intended topic of the post after this detailed rant ;-), from my long-term observations I think the violation of the necessary condition for community moderation by a reputation driven privilege system is to blame for the bad shape of Physics SE at present: A year ago, an explicit externally driven symmetry breaking (about the details I talked enough here 😉 …) took place,  which triggered a transition of the site from its unstable academic in spirit high-level phase to its lower-level SE politically overmoderated present state. (The question, if the present state is another false vacuum which could decay further to a still lower level, is subject of ongoing research … ;-P). After the phase transition, the number of popular, very basic, and bad homework questions ramped up. This brought (by means of the reputation based privilege system) too many people, who are not knowledgeable enough about advanced physics topics, but SE politically very active, into positions to determine the scope of the site (> 3000 rep). It is them who are dominating for example the close/reopen queues at present, which is not good as explained above.

The only way to prevent such a thing to happen to our Physics Overflow when using a points based privilege system, is first of all to set it up outside the Stack Exchange network … ;-). Second, the intended graduate upward level of the content has to be vigorously maintained and defended, such that people not knowledgeable enough about advanced topics but interested in power games or what ever, never get into a position which allows them to influence the scope and moderation of the site.

An alternative to relying on a points based reputation system for community moderation too heavily, is to maintain meta review lists for the community to decide about important issues (taking the request for reopen list of Maths SE and MO as a role model), and let then execute predetermined trust worthy members the moderation actions agreed upon by the community. This would also solve the issue that in Q2A moderation actions such as closing, reopening, deleting, etc are implemented to work only unilaterally. David Z would just love this … ;-P

The community review threads could for example be put down in a subcategory  “community moderation” in meta. Basically we would need such meta lists at least to do the following things:

  • reopen questions (review queue for reopen votes)
  • closing questions (review queue for close votes)
  • deleting posts (low quality review queue)
  • undeleting posts
  • import specific questions from Physics SE or another SE site (Polarkernel is working on this)


For example, the meta list taking the role of the reopen queue would  look like this


The basic idea to is that the question itself serves as some kind of an introduction to the particular review queue, and in the answers question can then be nominated (linked to) for reopening. The community can up/down vote each answer, and as soon as an answer attains say, a net score of 5, an appropriately empowered user can reopen the question on the main page. The other review lists will work in the same way.

The nice thing in Q2A is that it is possible to put additional links into the navigation bar, such that we can some kind of spread out the review queues (meta lists) we know from Stack Exchange there 🙂

Navigation Bar 2

When we want to do community moderation by using such meta threads, this would also have some implications on the settings of the permissions, which have already been discussed before:

So I would suggest to set the permissions such that on Physics Overflow

  • closing
  • reopening
  • deleting
  • undeleting

can only be done by Experts, Editors, Moderators, and Administrators, whereas everybody who has the power to vote (users with 15 points as on SE), can take part in deciding what should be closed, reopened, deleted, or undeleted, by voting and discussing in the corresponding meta threads. A question to clarify is, if everything should be done exclusively by means of these review meta lists, or if obvious spam, abusive things, etc can for example be deleted directly and unilaterally by the people who have the appropriate permissions, etc

Suggesting and reviewing edits can be done on the Mathematics and Physics Wikia as suggested by Dimension10 (the link could be added to the navigation bar too), such that the permissions to

  • Approve or reject posts
  • Recategorize questions
  • Edit any (!) questions
  • Edit any (!) answer
  • Edit any (!) comment

can be set to Experts, Editors, Moderators, and Administrators too, who will then make the approved edits. It seems a bit annoying that Q2A  seems not to discern between edits on ones own posts (which everybody should be a able to do directly without review) and editing other people’s stuff.

An important follow-up question, which is beyond the scope of this already “too broad” ;-P post is, who should be our Experts, Editors, Moderators, and Administrators, how will they be chosen, etc …

Concerning choosing moderators, Dushya had the very nice idea of mailing to university professors when the time is near to go online and ask them, if they would like to help us by being moderators for PhysicsOverflow. Getting back some TP.SE moderators would be nice too I think … 😉

Tag wikis do now work by implementing the corresponding plugin to, such that for example a short description of the tag, a link to a more comprehensive Wikipedia article on the Mathematics and Physics Wikia, and even a funny icon describing the tag, can be assigned to each tag. For example when clicking the string theory tag, you see the short description and the list of questions with this tag (don’t shoot me, it is not the final string theory description but a simple example 😉 …)

String tag wiki

Now I wish all of us a Happy New Year 😀 !


Admin Dashboard Settings: Part 5 – Posting

The menu Posting of the Admin Dashboard allows to customize different things related to posting questions and answers, as you can guess from the name 😉

Some basic options can be enabled or disabled by a check mark. I write down here what personally would choose, so please say so in the comments if you disagree

  • Close questions with a selected answer: nope, and in addition until now we rather tended to refrain from choosing a selected answer anyway
  • Allow questions to be manually closed: yes
  • Allow users to answer their own question: yes
  • Allow multiple answers per user: yes
  • Allow questions to be related to answers: don’t know what this means
  • Allow comments on questions: yes
  • Allow comments on answers: yes

Then you can choose either the Markdown Editor or a WYSIWYG Editor as the default for posting questions, answers, and comments. Here, I think we should choose an appropriate Markdown Editor, see also the discussion about Plugins.

Next, you have the possibility to provide custom messages that appear in the forms used to ask, answer, and comment which can be activated by a check mark. These features are similar to what Stack Exchange applies to overpatronizing users by writing “don’t say thank +1” there etc … ;-).

  • Custom message on ask form – HTML allowed
  • Custom field for extra information on ask form
  • Custom message on answer form – HTML allowed
  • Custom message on comment form – HTML allowed

Some minimal criteria posts have to fulfill can be specified next:

  • Minimum length of question title: 
  • Maximum length of question title: maximum possible is 800
  • Minimum length of question body:
  • Minimum number of tags: 1
  • Maximum number of tags:
  • Use commas as the only tag separator: yes (check mark)
  • Minimum length of answer:
  • Minimum length of comment:
  • Check email notification box by default:

As this has nothing to do with political moderation ;-), I think we can use the SE settings where possible here.

After this comes a text field for censored words, you have to separate them by commas. As we are, conversely to what Stack Exchange thinks, grown up intelligent people who do not need to be patronized by telling us how we are allowed to communicate with each other etc, we probably don’t need this. However, be writing some awful political terms SE often (ab)uses there, such as “broken window”, “big city problem”, “not constructive” etc, this feature might be useful as a detector for SE politicians who are trying to undermine our site  … ;-P. That the SE typical political overmoderation can indeed completely destroy several years old beta sites by continuously and strongly acting against the community, you can see for example here.

Ok, back to business 😉 … Then come some options related to define related questions:

  • Check for similar questions when asking: yes (can be enabled by a check mark)
  • Similar questions matching: here you can choose widest, wider, default, narrow, narrowest
  • Maximum similar questions to show: maximum 50

Finally, you can specify some settings concerning tagging :

  • Show example tags based on question: yes (even though we do not expect to have as many askers as Physics SE who do not even know enough physics to choose appropriate tags and therefore create tons of silly unprofessional ones 😉 …)
  • Example tags matching: widest, wider, default, narrow, narrowest
  • Show matching tags while typing: yes (can be enabled by a check mark)
  • Maximum tag hints to show: maximum 50

Generally, I think we should seriously discuss what Physics Overflow urgently needs before going (bugfree LaTex, TP users can reclaim their posts and accounts, attribution of questions not taken from the TP data dump, …?) online and which less important but still nice to have technical issues can be deferred a bit and resolved while the site is already running, in the near future, maybe before Christmas.

Admin Dashboard Settings: Part 3 – Permissions (and first thoughts about community moderation in Q2A)

In this post I’d like to explain the privilege system Q2A offers, and then motivate a discussion about what is the best way to set up moderation. At the beginning we will have to deal with the handicap that there is not yet a  large community (or  promotion of the site will have to work exceptionally well) and many or most of us will not yet have the rep corresponding to their knowledge and expertise, which makes community moderation based on rep dependent privileges a bit difficult.

The settings concerning the privilege system of Q2A can be accessed under the menu point Admins/Permissions .

There is the following hierarchy of roles, users of the site can take, I’ll list them starting with the ones which should be the least powerful:

  • Unregistered users ( := anybody)
  • Registered users
  • Registered users with enough points
  • Editors
  • Experts (technically created by Moderators and Admins)
  • Moderators (technically created by Admins)
  • Admins (technically created by the Super Administrator)
  • Super Administrator (created during the process of initializing the database as far as I understand it)

The permissions for the following moderation actions are fixed in Q2A and can not be changed (without the help of a good hacker 😉 …)

  • Blocking or unblocking user or IPs: Moderators and Admins
  • Approving registered users: Moderators and Admins
  • Creating experts: Moderators and Admins
  • Viewing user email addresses: Administrators
  • Deleting users: Administrators
  • Creating editors and moderators: Administrators
  • Creating administrators: Super Administrators

These are some kind of Super-Powers that should really be only accessible to people the community fully trusts, if that privileges should be used unilaterally at all (?) … And of course there is nothing that prevents us from deciding in a community driven procedure who should be the experts, moderators, admins, if and when users should be blocked, etc by discussing, polling, or other means in the appropriate Meta (sub) category.

For other privileges, the permissions can more or less flexibly be customized (the / means or):

  • Viewing question pages: Anybody / Registered users
  • Asking questions: Anybody / Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Answering questions: Anybody / Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Adding comments: Anybody / Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Voting on questions: Registered users / Registered users with enough points
  • Voting on answers: Registered users / Registered users with enough points
  • Voting posts down: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Recategorizing any question: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Editing any question: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Editing any answer: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Editing any comment: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins
  • Editing posts silently: Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins / Admins
  • Closing any question: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins
  • Selecting answer for any question: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins
  • Viewing IPs of anonymous posts: Anybody/Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins
  • Viewing who voted or flagged posts: Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins / Admins/ Super Admins /
  • Flagging posts: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Approving or rejecting posts: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins
  • Hiding or showing any post: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins
  • Deleting hidden posts: Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins / Admins
  • Posting on user walls: Registered users / Registered users with enough points
  • Vote on comments: Anybody / Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins / Admins

As you can see, some privileges can be made rep dependent similar to how it works on Stack Exchange. We already said that accepting answers is probably not needed, and indeed it seems that in Q2A this feature would give people the power to accept answers to not only their own questions (will have to check this). The yellow features and privileges are not known in Stack Exchange.

A possible way to initialize a rep dependent privilege system is what SE does, to make only viewing questions, asking, and answering possible for free, whereas  allowing other things dependent on rep (or points). One has to be careful, because some privileges do not behave in the way known from Stack Exchange. For example as it stands, there seems to be no possibility to roll back edits, I am not sure if this is due to some still open issues with the edit history or if we will have to find another solution for this. Closing and reopening questions is unilateral, such that the action immediately kicks in if users, who have the power to, push the button. Approving or rejecting posts I do not yet fully understand …  Hiding and showing posts seems to be some kind of “soft deletion” which you can do on SE with your own answers for example. But again, in Q2A the people who are given the power to do it can not only “soft delete” their own posts, but any questions and answers. Hidden posts can obviously get “hard deleted” to getting rid of them. I am not sure about the technical difference between hard and soft deletion, what effects the two things have on the underlying database etc (maybe Polarkernel knows …  😉 ?)

As already mentioned, setting up a good fair community moderation  might be a bit a challenge at the beginning, when the community is still small and there are not yet enough highly reputed users who can efficiently make use of a rep dependent privilege system. A possible (potentially stupid 😉 …) workaround that comes to my mind is to make heavy use of the possibility to poll in meta “list questions” ;-P  about higher order moderator actions such as closing / reopening /deleting / etc. In fact, Dimension10 was faster than me LOL 😀 and has just written an article about community moderation by meta posts  here
To this I basically like to add that we can steal the Requests for Reopen Votes thread from MathOverflow (and Maths SE) and make a similar one for Requests for Close Votes, too. The idea is that if you think a question should be reopened you can say so in an answer and shortly explain why. Other people can then vote on this answers and discuss the issue in the comments below. If the score of the answer passes a critical positive number X we agree on, say for example +5, somebody who has the power to reopen can do it and edit the notation [reopened] into the first line of the answer to say that it is done. A request for close votes thread could work in the same way, such that a question mentioned in an answer gets closed, as soon as the score of the answer passes for example +5, too.  The other things suggested in Dimension10’s post ( tag synonyms, “burnination” what silly word is this, it is NOT in the dictionary …? Should int not rather be burnication …? of tags,  FAQ questions, suggesting categories, etc) could work in a similar way. Not sure, if we would need some kind of “Request for Delete Vote” meta thread too …? Obviously bad things such as spam, offensive and insulting stuff, crack, etc should probably be deleted faster (?) by handling the flags, otherwise for non-bad things I think we do not want to get infected by the Stack Exchange deletism 😉 and rather preserve things including comments and “robust” discussions which are allowed (!), as they do on MathOverflow .

Admin Dashboard Settings: Part 2 – Points (rep settings)

As Polarkernel pointed out  here, there are some issues concerning the correct installation of the votes for from TP.SE imported posts (and any posts imported from an SE data dump ..?) .

This has among other things the effect that it is not straight forward to recalculate them after for example a decision to change the rep a user earns for an up vote on his question from 5 to 10 (as it was when I joined Physics.SE …). So these rep settings for different events as up/down votes, accepts, etc should be settled before importing the TP questions. As some people said, things that worked on Physics SE should not be changed, so I suggest to apply mostly the same settings. The points for different events can be customized by going to the Admin Dashboard and chose the menu Points. I will now list the available options, together with the SE settings:

  • Posting a question:   0 points
  • Selecting an answer on your question:  2 points
  • Per up vote on your question: 5 points
  • Per down vote on your questions: -2 points
  • Limit from up votes on each question: ? not available on SE
  • Limit from down votes on each question: ? not available on SE
  • Posting an answer: 0 points
  • Having your answer selected as the best: 15 points
  • Per up vote on your answer: 10 points
  • Per down vote on your answer: -2 points
  • Limit from up votes on each answer: ? not available on SE
  • Limit from down votes on each answer: ? not available on SE
  • Voting up a question: 0 points
  • Voting down a question: 0 points
  • Voting up an answer: 0 points
  • Voting down an answer: -1 points
  • Multiply all points by: 1x
  • Add for all users:  1 point

BTW isn’t it some kind of fun that we can now choose these setting on our own … 😉 ?

Concerning the limits from up/down votes of question and answers, I would personally set them to a large value such that these cutoffs have no impact and our site is renormalizable … ;-P.

General Remark: I think it would be a good idea to write the settings we agree on in these Admin Dashboard discussions down in the respective posts, such that we have them ready when we want to go online. This holds for Dimension10’s post about the General Settings too.