(or How I implemented an unanswered question tracker and began to grasp the size of the site.)
I’m not sure when it happened, but Math.StackExchange is huge. I remember a distant time when you could, if you really wanted to, read all the traffic on the site. I wouldn’t recommend trying that anymore.
I didn’t realize just how vast MSE had become until I revisited a chatroom dedicated to answering old, unanswered questions, The Crusade of Answers. The users there especially like finding old, secretly answered questions that are still on the unanswered queue — either because the answers were never upvoted, or because the answer occurred in the comments. Why do they do this? You’d have to ask them.
But I think they might do it to reduce clutter.
Sometimes, I want to write a good answer to a good question (usually as a thesis-writing deterrence strategy).
And when I want to write a good answer to a good question, I often turn to the unanswered queue. Writing good answers to already-well-answered questions is, well, duplicated effort. [Worse is writing a good answer to a duplicate question, which is really duplicated effort. The worst is when the older version has the same, maybe an even better answer]. The front page passes by so quickly and so much is answered by really fast gunslingers. But the unanswered queue doesn’t have that problem, and might even lead to me learning something along the way.
In this way, reducing clutter might help Optimize for Pearls, not Sand. [As an aside, having a reasonable, hackable math search engine would also help. It would be downright amazing]
And so I found myself back in The Crusade of Answers chat, reading others’ progress on answering and eliminating the unanswered queue. I thought to myself How many unanswered questions are asked each day? So I wrote a script that updates and ultimately feeds The Crusade of Answers with the number of unanswered questions that day, and the change from the previous day at around 6pm Eastern US time each day.
I had no idea that 166 more questions were asked than answered on a given day. There are only four sites on the StackExchange network that get 166 questions per day (SO, MathSE, AskUbuntu, and SU, in order from big to small). Just how big are we getting? The rest of this post is all about trying to understand some of our growth through statistics and pretty pictures. See everything else below the fold.