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An issue has arisen in the main section, where the following question about a Mathematica package:

step-by-step calculation done by TransformProduct

... has been voted as off-topic for the following reason:

The question does not concern the technical computing software Mathematica

The question plainly does concern the software Mathematica. I am not the OP of the question ... but took interest in the question as it relates to a Mathematica package that I am an author of, and highlighted a possible problem or issue in the design of the software.

A quick check of the Mathematica.SE tags shows that:

  • there exists a special packages tag for questions relating to Mathematica packages

  • the defn of the packages tag is:

    "self-contained bundles of Mathematica code that add new functions and other functionality"

  • that there are over 450 questions on this site relating to Mathematica packages, including Combinatorica, Groebner basis packages, Analytica, Wolfram third-party packages etc etc

Moreover, this issue appears to have been discussed before ... see for instance: Are questions about SystemModeler on-topic? where the consensus view is that such questions are On Topic.

Given that the question has been closed as 'off-topic', do we need to remove the packages tag, or create a new site for Mathematica packages discussion, or remove the 400+ questions on this site that are about Mathematica packages?

In essence, are questions about Mathematica packages within the ambit of the Mathematica.SE site?

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    +1 I fail to see where else they would go. I say on topic. – Feyre Mar 11 '17 at 19:18
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    The use of additional packages make Mathematica even better. Questions about packages are on topic. One can learn a lot about Mathematica by seeing what others outside of Wolfram, Inc. have done. – JimB Mar 11 '17 at 20:52
  • Although the Packages tag is defined like that, only less than half of the questions are about third-party packages. The rest are package development related. This has been raised in this question. The answer there also talked about "feature only" questions on third-party packages, which you may have a look at. – happy fish Mar 12 '17 at 6:30
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    SystemModeler is not comparable. It is a separate product that can be used without having Mathematica and without knowing the Wolfram Language. – Szabolcs Mar 12 '17 at 14:11
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Yes, questions about Mathematica packages should be on-topic. Such question cannot be rephrased to avoid any mention of Mathematica, and there isn't an alternative place for them.

Let us remember why this site was created in the first place, and why we broke away from StackOverlow. StackOverflow was for programming questions, whether it's Mathematica programming or another language. We wanted a site for Mathematica users, whether it's programming or not. First and foremost, this is a community for the users of Mathematica, and by extension for the users of Mathematica packages. Every Mathematica user will sooner or later end up using some package. And it is impossible to use packages without also knowing how to use Mathematica. The two are not separable. In any programming language, the best answer to "how to do X" will sometimes be "there is a package for that!"

Also, as I said in the past, encouraging such questions is beneficial to the community. We want experienced Mathematica programmers, who create packages, to be regular visitors on this site. And we should support people in creating high-quality packages, not only by answering their questions, but allowing their packages to be discussed here.

Generally, the most appropriate questions for this site are those that arise while using Mathematica, and which can likely be answered by members of the Mathematica user community. Of course this is a soft criterion, which is why we need clearer guidelines too. But I think it is still the most fundamental guiding principle for what this site should be.


I should note that as the author or co-author of some packages, I might have some bias here.

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