Should Wolfram Alpha Notebook questions be considered on-topic?

Here's an example: Calculating double integral bounded by domain in Wolfram Alpha Notebook

Here are some related meta Q&A:

Wolfram Alpha Notebooks are a new WRI product that hybridizes W|A and Mathematica. I looked only briefly, but it resembles a Mathematica notebook in which the only valid input starts with single-equals (probably without having to type =), though the sample inputs are sometimes interpreted differently in the examples shown than in my Mathematica.

(For those who may not know, it was decided to consider questions about W|A off-topic.)

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    FWIW I downloaded the W|A notebook thing when it came out and it's just a shell on the FE which calls into WolframAlpha as a function. Basically it's just nice formatting on a everything through Ctrl-= type of NB. So as far as FE questions are on topic, I think these are. OTOH since we don't support W|A questions from a syntax perspective, I think those parts are off topic. – b3m2a1 Mar 1 at 4:54
  • “ the only valid input starts with double-equals (probably without having to type ==) ” Nope, it's singal-equal i.e. the default input of W|A notebook is free-form input. – xzczd Mar 1 at 6:48
  • @xzczd I guess that's right. It's not the exactly same as what I get from single-equal input, but it's certainly much closer to single- than double-equals. I didn't look closely enough at first. (Or maybe I did ctrl-=,.) – Michael E2 Mar 1 at 14:35
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    I think the distinction @b3m2a1 makes might be hard to make in practice. (1) A question about the FE could be asked about the FE without involving W|A NBs, theoretically, unless the W|A NB FE has special restrictions/capabilities. (2) Users usually come to the site with their attention on solving their problem, not dividing it between FE and W|A issues. The same occurs when someone comes to the site saying "<query>" didn't work on W|A, and some helpful community member changes the question to WolframAlpha["<query>"] didn't work. – Michael E2 Mar 1 at 14:44
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    A similar thing happens with questions that are mainly about mathematics or computational mathematics. Problems solely about mathematics etc. are off-topic; how to compute the solution well in Mma are on-topic. In the latter case, the solution to the OP's problem often turns out to be more about mathematics than programming Mathematica. This surely happens in other domains as well (e.g. physics, judging from comments). While W|A has some distinct characteristics from Mma, it seems the distance between them is diminishing, somewhat like the distance between math and Mma. – Michael E2 Mar 1 at 15:16
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    I don't think we'll be inundated with them anyhow, so why not. – Chris K Mar 2 at 14:21
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    If we allow questions about W|A notebooks, should we allow questions about W|A (change our policy)? Distinguishing them seems problematic to me. (@ChrisK I expect we would become inundated with them in proportion to the extent W|A notebooks are adopted by schools and colleges.) – Michael E2 Mar 2 at 15:23
  • @ChrisK, MichaelE2 I mean my sense is that anything related to a W|A notebook query is off topic, which I assume will be 90% of the questions we'll get anyway. If it's clearly distinguishable that there's really an FE question that can be fixed with Mathematica code that's on topic. That said, my inclination would be to say their off-topic, since we simply don't have the expertise on this site to answer W|A questions. – b3m2a1 Mar 3 at 3:33

No, Wolfram|Alpha questions should be explicitly off-topic, regardless of whether W|A is being used through the web interface or Wolfram|Alpha Notebook.

Vote here if you agree (and post the opposite answer for voting, with appropriate arguments, if you disagree).


  1. The interface is a minor detail that should not decide whether W|A is off-topic or not. It would be quite ridiculous to tell people: "Your questions about this W|A input is off-topic because you used the website. Had you downloaded the GUI and typed the input there, it would be on-topic."

    As for asking about the GUI vs W|A input: as @MichaelE2 says, "I think the distinction @b3m2a1 makes might be hard to make in practice." I do not think most people who might post questions would be able to understand the distinction, unless they are also very familiar with Mathematica.

  2. The reasons from https://mathematica.meta.stackexchange.com/a/267/12 still apply:

    " I know that W|A runs on mma and it kinda sorta understands mma syntax. However, opening the door to such questions will only lower the bar and result in hit-and-run questions from folks who just want a quick result from W|A."

  3. Having expertise in Mathematica / Wolfram Language (which is what users of this site have in common) does not translate to Wolfram|Alpha. While W|A understands some Mathematica-like input, it often interprets it differently from Mathematica. W|A does not have a documented syntax. Its understanding of natural language is constantly evolving and often unpredictable.

  4. W|A (not W|A Notebook) has a much larger userbase than Mathematica, most of whom have no familiarity with Mathematica whatsoever, and would not fit in the current community. Additionally, there is good reason to suspect that many W|A questions would be of the hit-and-run type, coming from students looking for a quick answer or homework solution.

  5. It is difficult to maintain a community like the one organized around Mathematica.SE. There are even concerns that things are not going as well as they used to. In my opinion, inviting W|A questions (which are orthogonal to Wolfram Language questions) will bring nothing of value to the community. In fact, I worry that it might even be the last straw that breaks the camel's back.

Note that there are already places for W|A questions: WebApps.SE and Wolfram Community. There is no pressing need to create another one.

  • Items 2 and 4 above mentioning "hit-and-run" are the most important reasons for not including questions about W/A in any form. – JimB Mar 24 at 16:39
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    Yes, I think it's fair to point questions about WA notebooks directly to Wolfram Community (in fact, perhaps we can add a close reason with that, next to the "needs professional help" reason). I think it's potentially fine to have a slightly blurry line in case there are extremely interesting and worthwhile questions that may have a larger impact, but I would support a rule of thumb pointing those users to the community site instead. – Carl Lange Mar 24 at 18:47
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    (Hot take ahead) I don't personally expect W|A notebooks to be around for all that long anyway and I have a mild suspicion that they will end up on the WolframTones zombie project pile in a year or two. Maybe I'm alone but that prejudice on my part would prevent me spending any time thinking about W|A questions anyway. – Carl Lange Mar 24 at 18:51
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    @CarlLange don't forget CDF, Wolfram data drop, Wolfram functions, the NKS summer school, and so so many more. Oh and of course the Wolfram Data Science Platform ("Coming Soon!" since 2012). OTOH I think W|A is a big product for them in the university setting, so if this convinces schools to not drop Mathematica licenses it might have more staying power than expected. – b3m2a1 Mar 28 at 17:24
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    @b3m2a1 Well, I gotta say I do use data drop pretty often, and to be fair one could have said the same about W|A itself, the NN repo, function repo, Cloud, etc, but yes, indeed. I would shy away from explicitly allowing questions on various WRI offshoot projects until they have shown themselves to be quite established. – Carl Lange Mar 28 at 17:41

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