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Sorry if this is an old topic.

I see several stack overflow questions about algorithm scaling: e.g. what does O(nlog(n)) mean? Does O(n log(n)) scale faster than O(n^(1 + k))?

I frequently see them shut down, but I also see them appear over and over again, and often get upvoted as popular questions. I also see some very prominent ones that have never been shut down.

Links to three example questions below:

This one discusses the meaning of O(log n) (80+ votes)

This is essentially a homework discussion. (25+ votes)

This is a recent one I was involved in, recently closed, then re-opened.

Normally I've ignored these questions, since they seem a bit too mathematical and homework-like. When I'd check on them later, they were sometimes closed, sometimes not. I took a stab at this recent one, and it too was closed.

Is there an official and/or unofficial position on these sort of questions?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

From the FAQ:

We feel the best Stack Overflow questions have a bit of source code in them, but if your question generally covers …

  • a specific programming problem
  • a software algorithm
  • software tools commonly used by programmers
  • matters that are unique to the programming profession

… then you're in the right place to ask your question!

It's difficult to comment more specifically without links to actual questions. It's possible some questions were closed as duplicates. Others may have crossed the line between programming and math too much to still count as programming.

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Good idea, I've added some example to help clarify the question. – marshall.ward Sep 3 '10 at 2:49
I think it might have been better to highlight matters that are unique to the programming profession in this case. – dmckee Sep 3 '10 at 3:10
@dmckee that is an enabling statement, not a disabling statement. If a question is relevant to both programming and something else, it is fair game on SO. – user27414 Sep 3 '10 at 3:43
@Jon B: There's limits on that. Billing clients is important for freelance programming and every other freelance field, but it isn't on topic on SO. – David Thornley Sep 3 '10 at 13:40
@David - Billing doesn't pertain directly to understanding the actual programming code... Big O notation does, so this particular case could clearly be an SO question ----------------------------- Furthermore, you will in fact find billing / interview / learning strategy / schooling questions on SO. – Peter Ajtai Sep 4 '10 at 0:00
@Peter: Right - just pointing out that there are things that are relevant to programming that are not necessarily on topic. I firmly believe that Big-O questions are on topic, and that billing is not, and vote to close and reopen accordingly. – David Thornley Sep 7 '10 at 13:36

I consider algorithmic complexity to be on topic in SO, since it's a general property of algorithms and something good programmers need to know about. Moreover, as a topic, it's largely confined to software, since few people outside software care about asymptotic algorithmic complexity. The fact that it's technically mathematics is irrelevant, as a lot of computer science is fundamentally mathematics.

I don't consider all algorithms as on topic, in particular algorithms from other fields that would go in as specs, but the study of algorithmic properties is on topic.

Are you claiming that these are being closed as off-topic? I'd think there would be a lot of duplicate questions in this area.

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The question I participated in was previously closed as off-topic, not duplicate, but it looks like it's been re-opened. But I was wondering if there was an official or community position on them, since I wasn't even sure myself if they were appropriate SO questions. – marshall.ward Sep 3 '10 at 23:33

I can think of few programming questions that would be more on topic than big Oh. I can't guess what "this recent one" means in your question. Feel free to ask your question about it, but do make sure it wasn't already covered by a similar previous question. If you need a less academic kind of answer then be sure to state so in your question. Which in itself might make it likely that you don't repeat a previous question.

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Hi Hans, The examples above are links to the questions, sorry if that wasn't clear. I will clarify that in the question. – marshall.ward Sep 3 '10 at 23:30

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