TL;DR: we're doing pretty well, but there's more to do

This is a "state of the beta" post. It's purpose is to provide an update of where we stand and, ultimately, to solicit ideas on what else we can do to make this site a success. Our raw stats suggest that we're doing reasonably well, but there's room for improvement.

Some useful reading

Our Stats

Overall, it seems to me that we're doing pretty well on a number of metrics, but there's still work we can do. (Note that Area 51 does 7-day moving averages.) As of day 82 in public beta, we're at:

  • About 150 avid users and nearly 1900 users, many of whom are high-rep ("Excellent"), with about 800 visits per day ("Okay").
  • About 12 questions per day ("Excellent"), 91% of which are answered ("Excellent"), with 1.8 answers per question ("Okay").

Ask more questions!

We're at a respectable number of questions per day, but it would be great to see more. Ask the questions you've always wanted to ask! There's a core of extremely savvy people on this site who can probably answer you. I, personally, have asked a number of "no way anyone will know this" questions and had nearly all of them answered -- and those answers have made my Emacs experience noticeably better.

Don't think you've got any interesting questions? You probably haven't realized that you do. Pay attention to your daily use of Emacs and look for things that you find puzzling, irritating, repetitive, or that otherwise break your concentration. If you ever catch yourself thinking "there's got to be a better way to do this," you're probably right -- so ask about it. Dollars to donuts, you're not the only one who wants to know.

Answer more questions, and clear out the deadwood

We're at about 91% of our questions answered. That's pretty good, but we can probably do better. There are two basic steps we can take. First, hunt down the questions without answers yet, and try to answer them. Second, some of the unanswered questions may be low quality or otherwise unanswerable -- we should start closing them.

We can also provide multiple answers to questions. Area 51 suggests that about 2.5 answers/question is pretty good, and we're at about 1.8. Since there are multiple ways to address a given problem, we should try to get those answers up on the board. Don't post an answer just to pad our stats, though: do it when it adds new information to the post from which someone else can benefit.

Remember: you're trying to help not only the original poster, but many other people down the line who come across the post. Those other people may have similar but not identical problems and could benefit from an alternate answer.


Help people learn about Emacs.SE! The more users we can attract, the quicker we'll get to critical mass on the site.

We're close to the 90-day public beta minimum -- what happens now?

We're creeping up on the 90-day minimum for a public beta. Let me emphasize the "minimum" part. The site can stay in beta "as long as it takes."

As a matter of fact, the good folks at Stack Exchange have suggested that we could be in beta for another few months because:

  • "We want to give y'all time to work out any problems," and
  • "We have a large backlog of site designs."

Sometime a little after the 90-day mark, there will be an internal evaluation of the site, and there will be a self-evaluation announcement posted on the meta that will summarize S.E.'s thoughts at that point.

What can we do right now?

The Stack Exchange folks have a lot on their plates, so we're not up on a hard deadline here. That works to our advantage, because, as they suggested, it gives us a chance to work out any additional kinks we've run up against.

So: let me solicit feedback:

  • What problems exist that we can rectify?
  • What great things exist that we can perpetuate?
  • What norms do we need to encourage?
  • Should moderators be more or less proactive in culling questions/answers?

Let me suggest that answers be fairly discrete to make discussion possible -- feel free to provide multiple answers if you've got multiple ideas to bring up.


10 Answers 10


Here is a count of questions about Emacs posted each month on Stack Exchange sites:

month    Emacs  SO   SU  Unix  Ubuntu  Apple  TeX
2014-06  _      197  13  6     4       1      16
2014-07  _      216  20  7     5       1      10
2014-08  _      243  16  11    4       1      3
2014-09  170    208  13  10    8       1      7
2014-10  437    200  24  8     2       5      11
2014-11  366    203  15  5     5       1      6
2014-12  365    162  8   4     6       4      8
2015-01  338    163  8   3     4       1      6
2015-02  348    187  7   3     5       5      5
2015-03  325    141  15  7     3       4      6
2015-04  254    158  12  8     6       1      8
2015-05  330    134  15  2     3       1      5
2015-06  331    147  9   1     6       2      3
2015-07  351    146  13  6     3       1      2
2015-08  367    141  6   7     7       2      4
2015-09  335    109  7   3     1       0      4
2015-10  322    151  14  7     4       8      8
2015-11  335    115  5   8     4       0      4
2015-12  321    111  6   4     3       2      6
2016-01  361    141  13  4     6       3      8

The number of Emacs questions on SO has visibly decreased, which suggests that Emacs.SE is drawing traffic away from SO. This may be true of other sites as well, but the numbers are too small to draw a reliable conclusion.

Furthermore, the total number of Emacs questions has noticeably increased. This shows that the creation of Emacs Stack Exchange has opened the way for new users who, for whatever reason, did not ask on SO, SU or the other sites.

These statistics are good news: they show that Emacs.SE is successful, and that its creation has justification.

Keep in mind that all these statistics show is quantity, not quality. But quality-wise, I'm personally very happy with Emacs.SE: I've seen a lot of excellent answers here that weren't to be found on SO or elsewhere on SE.

  • 3
    This site has been an amazing accelerator of Emacs awesomeness for me, and I've been using Emacs for quite a while. I sure hope it's here to stay! Commented Mar 30, 2015 at 20:47

Continuing, on the topic of our stats.

Idea: get on the blogs

Could we get more attention from some of our beloved bloggers?

I've been modestly blogging about Emacs.SE as much as my time allows, and from the site's analytics I can tell it's made a difference. If we had a post highlighting interesting questions from one of the higher traffic Emacs blogs, I know it would help traffic.

My personal list (please extend), in no particular order, would be:


Continuing, on the topic of our stats.

Idea: get connected with the help-gnu-emacs mailing list

The help-gnu-emacs gets a decent amount of questions every day. A few of them have been answered here already, and almost all of them could be answered here. Having a way to point askers over there about answers over here would help attract attention of precisely the people most interested. Meanwhile, Emacs.SE has much better tools to deal with recurring duplicates than a mailing list.

I'm not saying we should replace that list. I'm just saying we can work on a symbiotic relation. We would benefit by the traffic, and they would benefit by the lightened load of duplicate answers they need to give.

How this could be done:

  • Having a system that detects which questions there have answers here would be awesome. This could be fairly automated
    1. receive email,
    2. pass the subject line to the API's similar method,
    3. with human intervention, check if any of the questions returned by the API actually match,
    4. Reply to email with a list of matches.
  • Sending them a weekly newsletter of our questions would also be nice. SE offers a weekly newsletter of each site, this is a list of the most voted questions of the week as well as a few questions that were left unanswered. That's exactly the kind of thing we want to publicize over there.
    I've been working on this, and I've received the OK from them, but it seems the email isn't getting through somehow.
  • This sounds nice! I would like to help with this. Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 10:36
  • @IqbalAnsari would you like to try to get weekly newsletter to be forwarded to the help-emacs list?
    – Malabarba
    Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 13:23
  • Just subscribed to the newsletter, will try getting it forwarded and let you know. Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 3:26
  • Something I experimented with on StackOverflow is taking questions and answers from a mailing list and posting them as question and answer. Example: stackoverflow.com/questions/25059765/… Note that the answer contains a citation to the mailing list. Good idea? Well if one of the original purposes of StackExchange remains unlocking information from the noise typical of mailing lists and discussion forums, then yes, it is. Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 22:16
  • @benrudgers Yes, I think that's a good thing. It would be a natural thing to do once we get the newsletter there. If people reply to the email with good answers, those could then be added as actual answers (given permission).
    – Malabarba
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 23:55
  • A couple of clarifications. I am not suggesting taking questions verbatim. Partially because mailing lists often suffer from the XY problem and partly because the value is in a general case. Likewise, answers should not be verbatim. Even good answers can often stand rewarding even if there were not potential issues of copyright and fair use. The citation is to give credit and provide a link that might be useful. The approach is academic to avoid rights issues as mailing list participation rarely requires assignment of rights as a precondition. Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 12:39
  • @benrudgers Do you think we would benefit from having someone "assigned" for that role? Sort of an ambassador for the list.
    – Malabarba
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 20:52
  • @Malabarba Ideally getting mailing list questions and answers into StackExchange, would be a cultural convention of the mailing list itself...its users would believe doing so was beneficial. The second best option is that porting information would be an objective of the StackExchange community with the blessing of the associated mailing list community. Take off the blessing and/or systematic action for less preferred alternatives. Anyway, ambassadors who are active and respected on the mailing lists would be a great way to pursue the ideal state of affairs. Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 23:00

I think something that would help would be to go through and upvote good questions and answers. This will do two things. First, it will put Emacs SE back on the radar for activate SE users who used it and forgot about it, because the upvotes will show up in their reputation notifications. Second, it will help people gain the reputation that they need to more actively participate in the site.

  • 1
    I think this idea merits its own topic, in order to attract everyone's attention.
    – Malabarba
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 20:53
  • @Malabarba go for it
    – asmeurer
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 21:58

On the topic of our stats:

  • About 150 avid users and nearly 1900 users, many of whom are high-rep ("Excellent"), with about 800 visits per day ("Okay").
  • About 12 questions per day ("Excellent"), 91% of which are answered ("Excellent"), with 1.8 answers per question ("Okay").

What I read from this is that the community has been doing fantastic work in here. That's also in line with my personal opinion, we've had a lot of interesting questions and the answers are nothing short of expert. The thing we're missing is publicity.

I don't mean paid publicity of course, I mean community publicity. I have a few suggestions I'll post as separate answers, so they can be discussed individually.

  • 2
    Agree -- I think this site has been absolutely fantastic, but we need to be able to make sure that other people know that it's fantastic (or even that it exists). Getting more people on board helps us self-sustain, which is, I suspect, one of the key factors that S.E. wants to see.
    – Dan Mod
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 15:20

Idea: Turn syntax highlighting ON

I'm sure the devs are busy, but I wonder why doesn't code in this site look like elisp as displayed on SO?


I have what I think is a problem: tags seem less useful here than on other SE sites I've used. Originally, I had more details here, but decided to extract them into a dedicated thread.

  • The TL;DR: "The result is that we have a very long tail of tags with very few questions (5-15), which are mostly not very useful." Commented May 27, 2015 at 20:51

Should we migrate or, ask to have migrated, some or all of the Emacs questions on StackOverflow and Unix.Stackexchange? Can we just have a copy of them while we are still in beta? I have mixed feelings about this. I donnt want this site to become a ghetto for Emacs questions but do want the site to succeed overall.



Is there a better way to get the meta.emacs.stackexchange.com site displayed in the bar on right? For example, in the TeX.SXE forum, there is a box with "Hot Meta Posts". Emacs and Lisp people like to think about meta stuff, and might feel encouraged to know that they can easily have a "say" in the way things happen around here. As it is, I wasn't sure that beta sites have meta sites, and I had to poke around a little to find it.


Enable the embedding of mathematical formulas in posts and comments via MathJax.

  • 2
    I'm not opposed to the idea in principle, but I haven't noticed very many posts that have included mathematical formulas. It strikes me as something that would come up only rarely given this site's purview.
    – Dan Mod
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 16:00
  • @Dan: I use emacs almost exclusively as a text editor for mathematical documents (via AUCTeX).
    – Evan Aad
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 16:02
  • 1
    Fair enough, which is why I'm not opposed in principle. It's just that I'd guess that very few questions or answers would actually require the equations per se (and therefore benefit from MathJax). The Stack Exchange folks are pretty backed up with other sites right now, so I suspect this one will need to sit on the "desirable but not crucial" list for a bit.
    – Dan Mod
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 16:13
  • Why? This is only done when the site demonstrates a need for it. Can you list some posts that would strongly benefit from MathJax? (@Dan It's just one parameter in a configuration file, but they do insist on justification, and I don't see one for this site.) Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 22:55
  • @EvanAad So do I, but questions here will be about auctex or about the way that latex equations are written. Our questions are never about the equations per se (or how they render), so there's no point in rendering them.
    – Malabarba
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 19:20
  • There are other forums on SXE for math (and TeX) questions, is there an example post here where TeX formatting would have helped? Commented May 27, 2015 at 20:46

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