MathOverflow is an interactive mathematics website, which serves both as a collaborative blog and an online community of mathematicians. It allows users to ask questions, submit answers, and rate both, all while getting merit points for their activities. It is a part of the Stack Exchange Network.
It is primarily for asking questions on mathematics research – i.e. related to unsolved problems and the extension of knowledge of mathematics into areas that are not yet known – and does not welcome requests from non-mathematicians for instruction, for example homework exercises. It does welcome various questions on other topics that might normally be discussed among mathematicians, for example about publishing, refereeing, advising, getting tenure, etc. It is generally inhospitable to questions perceived as tendentious or argumentative.
The website was started by Berkeley graduate students and postdocs Anton Geraschenko, David Zureick-Brown, and Scott Morrison on 28 September 2009. The hosting was supported by Ravi Vakil. The original version of the website did not support LaTeX markup for mathematical formulas. To support most of the functionality of LaTeX, MathJax was added in order for the site to transform math equations into their appropriate forms. In its current state, any post including "Math Mode" (text between $'s) will translate into proper mathematical notation. The site originally ran on a separate installation of the StackExchange 1.0 software engine; on June 25, 2013, it has been integrated in the regular Stack Exchange Network, running SE 2.0.
According to MathOverflow FAQ, the proper spelling is "MathOverflow" rather than "Math Overflow".
As of April 4, 2012, there have been 16,496 registered users to MathOverflow, most of whom have been in the United States (35%), India (12%), and the United Kingdom (6%). So far, 39,768 questions have been posted. Questions are answered an average of 3.9 hours after they are posted, and "Acceptable" answers take an average of 5.01 hours.
MathOverflow encourages the use of a user's real name. The site uses OpenID accounts, however questions can still be posted or answered by anonymous users.
Badges are used mostly to help a new user figure out how to use the site and are given to mark certain achievements.
Users also have a reputation score, which gives the user additional accessibility to the site. A user's reputation starts at zero, and the only way to increase the score is to have another user increase the reputation. With enough reputation, a user can become a site moderator, retag questions, and edit questions and answers.
Interesting operations on the site include: marking tags as interesting/ignored, seeing the original markup of math used, a specific search throughout the site, using boolean operators on tags.
MathOverflow is very specific about what a user can or should post. Questions must be research level mathematics questions. If not, they will be promptly removed. Questions should be well-defined and specific. It is not a discussion forum or an encyclopedia for looking up answers. Questions about MathOverflow are not allowed on MathOverflow. Instead, a meta site is used to talk about the site, report bugs, and post comments and suggestions.
- Terence Tao characterized it as "venerable newsgroup sci.math, but with more modern, 'Web 2.0' features."
- John C. Baez writes that "website 'Math Overflow' has become a universal clearinghouse for math questions".
- According to Gil Kalai, MathOverflow "is ran [sic] by an energetic and impressive group of very (very very) young people".
- Jordan Ellenberg comments that the website "offers a constantly changing array of new questions" and is "addictive" in a "particularly pure form", as he compares it to the Polymath Project.
- Jared Keller in The Atlantic writes, "Math Overflow is almost an anti-social network, focused solely on productively addressing the problems posed by its users." He quotes Scott Morrison saying "Mathematicians as a whole are surprisingly skeptical of many aspects of the modern Internet... In particular, things like Facebook, Twitter, etc. are viewed as enormous wastes of time."
- Anton Geraschenko writes, “One thing that I like to point out in conversation about MO is that putting a question or answer out there without posing it towards some specific person often leads to meaningful interactions with awesome people. Some people start collaborations based on MO questions, but even if you don’t, you get to know a lot of people pretty well, which feels great. Also, there is something about interacting with famous people on MO that humanizes my internal representation of them.”
- Stack Exchange Network, which also hosts a site for mathematics for every audience, not limited to mathematicians.
- Jared Keller, Beyond Facebook: How the World's Mathematicians Organize Online, The Atlantic, 28 September 2010
- http://www.mathoverflow.net Math Overflow Website
- http://www.sharenator.com/w/mathoverflow.net Sharenator MO Statistics
- http://www.mathcs.emory.edu/~dzb/slides/MO_slides.pdf David Zureick-Brown MO Presentation Slides
- MO tips page
- http://meta.mathoverflow.net MathOverflow Meta Site
- Math Overflow, Terence Tao blog, 20 October 2009.
- John C. Baez, Math Blogs, Notices of the AMS, March 2010.
- Math Overflow, Gil Kalai's blog, November 13, 2009.
- Why Math Overflow works, and why it might not, Jordan Ellenberg's blog, 17 October 2009.
- Jared Keller, Beyond Facebook: How the World's Mathematicians Organize Online, The Atlantic, September 28, 2010.