There has been discussion over how more of the R community could be brought into the StackExchange fold. (See also this Question on SO Meta.)

If I were to sum-up feelings expressed thus far, we are split between proposing a new, all encompassing SE site for R (R.SE) or finding a bigger home here on CV. @mbq suggested that much of what we might do on R.SE would be perfectly at home on CV.

Ideas for the R.SE site include (but are not limited to):

  • Using/deploying R in a variety of situations (teaching, research etc)
  • Using the various interfaces to R, questions on RStudio, RevolutionR, Rapache, ... etc...
  • Domain specific Qs on R packages
  • Using R in a very general sense (not programming per se)
  • (anything covered by R-Help, R-Devel, and the SIG list, but we might off-load statistical Qs to CV and R programming to SO, where they were clearly a better fit.)
  • Allow the more open style of Q

What do the users/mods of CV think about this? Would such questions find a welcoming home on CV or would we run the risk of drowning out the statistical Qs?

Any comments gratefully received, either way. At the moment we are deciding upon the best course of action, so anything you do say will help inform that.

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Maybe the 'r' tag should be added to this question? :) –  Iterator Aug 2 '11 at 13:24
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It seems that the consensus is that new SE site for R is needed. Where is the proposal in area51? I am itching to help :) –  mpiktas Aug 3 '11 at 10:48
    
This is going to be discussed at the UseR conference in a couple of weeks by SO's @spacedman (aka Barry Rowlingson) in a Lightening Talk. We have decided to wait to see what feedback Barry gets before moving forward, but discussions continue here chat.stackoverflow.com/rooms/2055/rproposal regarding the proposal and we are trying to collect good on/off topic Q's to define the site ready for a proposal to Area 51. –  Gavin Simpson Aug 3 '11 at 11:02
    
I should add that it has been remarked that an alternative would be to use one of the open source clones of / alternatives to the SE engine as a wholly community owned Q&A site for R. Whilst this has a lot of advantages (we really do define the rules), we would loose the ability to migrate between SE sites like SO and CV. Come and join the discussion in R Chat or in the Rproposal Room I linked to above. –  Gavin Simpson Aug 3 '11 at 11:04
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Today I found that Matlab for example uses some sort of clone of stackexchange. Another reason to do a separate site :) –  mpiktas Aug 19 '11 at 9:22
    
For us that are new to R and that have tried the mailing lists this would be of great help - if nothing else the issue of searching for R answers would resolve. –  Max Gordon Nov 9 '11 at 11:49
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5 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

First, some context, as I see it: I think of CV being like the Physics, Electrical Engineering, and other knowledge-domain StackExchange sites. I think of SO being a big programmer / developer / software-engineer-oriented site, i.e. people close to the coding and implementation of stuff.

R is a programming language that is accessed from multiple environments -- the standard R console, RStudio, Revolution R, Deducer, JGR, ESS, etc. -- and multiple R<-->Other language/software connections (e.g. rJava, JRI, Rcpp, RExcel, RCOM, etc.). As I stated on the Meta page, I think that people may solve problems in R, but usually they're using R to solve a problem from some other context (e.g. regression, visualization, etc.). Because of that and other differences from working in C, Java, etc., it's not a typical cultural fit for SO - it's better to have a separate site like the Ubuntu, Linux, and other environment folks do.

To me, grafting R onto CV is like grafting Matlab onto the Electrical Engineering site, except that R is a far more pervasive beastie and is evolving at a far more rapid rate than any other language. Personally, I would like to use both sites (i.e. CV and a new R.SE site), and encourage questions to be submitted to the right site.

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Well said. Opening CV up to all questions in R would overwhelm the interesting ones about statistics and data analysis generally. I'm sure it would drive away users of all other software, too. –  whuber Aug 2 '11 at 13:53
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Moving R away from stats would be a significant mistake in my view. There are many statisticians using R who would be unlikely to want to keep up with a different site.

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I believe the current state of affairs is that the programming/installation/how-to part of R is not part of stats; it's part of SO. Moving R-related statistical questions out of stats is not under consideration AFAIK. Are you suggesting there are a lot of statisticians following SO for the R questions but who are not participating on stats.SE? –  whuber Aug 12 '11 at 16:07
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Yes, somewhat. More than that, statisticians should learn good R programming practice, and they won't if such discussions are more invisible to them. –  Frank Harrell Aug 14 '11 at 2:35
    
Judicious use of 'Ignore' tags will stop anyone with general statistics interest from seeing all the R questions. I read SO and don't get swamped by Java or C# questions. If the question turns out to be statistical rather than R-ish someone can zap the R tag. –  Spacedman Aug 22 '11 at 16:38
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I still think that inviting R-help here is a better idea than it seems; both mailing lists and SE sites are really made to serve communities, not topics. This site is for general data science community, R-help is for data science community using R.

As can be seen from R-help archives, it is discussing very similar topics as we do here; yet this community is 1) large and very active, 2) certainly more engaged in R programming issues than ours.

1) will result in some overwhelming (my approximation is that it will be an equivalent of merging CV with a second site of more-less the same size). However, those people are statisticians and data miners, and there is a great chance they will start to ask more core questions and it finally only end in a bigger site with more-less original topic distribution.

2) might lead to a serious topic drift; however there is a solution, namely maintaining the existing SO/CV split of more "sciency" and more "programmy" R questions.

The smaller in size but also important issue are some discursive and big-list questions that are in fact against general SE rules. SO is very broad and thus SO mods will always kill such threads; here we can at least give it more thought.

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At the very least it would be great to see R help move to a more modern stack exchange style system. I think the key to a good site is community and infrastructure. The stack exchange model is the best infrastructure I've seen so far for creating a useful ongoing question and answer resource; mailing lists fail in so many ways. Yet, R help has an awesome community of experts. Of course, at the moment, there is choice (R help or R tag on SO/CV). –  Jeromy Anglim Aug 22 '11 at 2:28
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Sometimes it helps to get a different perspective. What if, for instance, we were to replace every occurrence of "R" in this discussion by "SAS"? In principle that shouldn't change the validity of any of the arguments pro or con. To see what this would entail, think about what our site would be like if it were inundated with questions like this one. Frankly, I'm not enthusiastic about that prospect. I don't care whether such questions come from R, SAS, or whatever my favorite statistical computing platform happens to be at the moment: they are pedestrian and plainly uninteresting. They belong somewhere else so that we can focus on statistics and data mining here without such distractions.

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I basically agree with what you are saying. However, I think there is an open-source versus closed source distinction here. People give their time to sites like SO for a variety of reasons, but personally I find it more meaningful to assist others to use open source software because (a) anyone in the world can replicate the example without needing to buy software; (b) supporting open-source software is the role of the community whereas supporting closed-source software is largely the role of the developers making money from the closed source software. –  Jeromy Anglim Aug 22 '11 at 2:18
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This is my first post on CrossValidated or Meta-CrossValidated, so I don't feel I'm a stakeholder here. FWIW, I'm trying to learn R and statistics - but I come from an implementer's perspective.

The situation right now is that R questions are split across StackOverflow and CrossValidated, with the unfortunate result that good questions go unanswered and good answers go unseen. See, for example, this StackOverflow question from today, which duplicates this CrossValidated question from four days ago.

I don't know what you/we want to do with these "pedestrian" questions in the long term, but in the short term, I'd suggest that it might be better for everyone if folks here were "harsher" about kicking plain R questions, like the one above, over to StackOverflow.

I don't think the argument that "many statisticians using R who would be unlikely to want to keep up with a different site" is valid here, simply because if they aren't looking on StackOverflow, they're already missing (very roughly) two-thirds of the R traffic.

There are probably some nominally R-centric questions that are really statistics questions couched in R terminology - you might want to keep them.

An alternative, outside-the-box solution would be if StackExchange provided a way for certain tags on one site to show up in searches for that tag on certain other sites. This may be fraught with downsides and implementation difficulties, though.

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+1 I have been trying to implement this suggestion (keep the stats questions that are couched in R, boot the rest) but have been very conservative about it, which means lenient: if someone chooses to post their question here, they must have some reason to have done it, so if there's even a remote connection to stats or data mining, I hesitate to migrate it. The two questions you point to are in a frank area of overlap: here, I construed it as a visualization question (which is on topic); on SO it's appropriate as a programming question. Maybe the answers should determine the location? –  whuber Sep 30 '11 at 20:03
    
@whuber - If he'd not had an idea of what it should look like - how to visualize it in the abstract sense - I'd think you might want to keep it. But he knew exactly what he wanted - just didn't know which buttons to push in R. Those I'd push to SO. IMHO! –  Ed Staub Sep 30 '11 at 20:09
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I wish it were that simple, Ed. There's no one best algorithm for placing labels; they all make tradeoffs that have effects on communicating the data; so the great answers we seek here would necessarily discuss issues of interest on CV. A truly button-pushing answer just wouldn't be very good, IMHO. This line of thought suggests the ultimate resting place of a question might properly depend on the answers it gathers. (Ironically, the best answer so far has appeared on SO and all the CV answers are the pedestrian push-this-button ones!) –  whuber Sep 30 '11 at 20:36
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