It's entirely possible this has simply been my experience...

...but I've noticed across the SE sites- not just the CS-related ones like SO, Programmers, Theoretical Computer Science, sec.se, etc.- there appears to be a lot of crossover between users of the technical network sites, and the non-technical ones, and as a result people feel comfortable using common abbreviations and referencing common technologies / IT-related terms without citing sources.

I do this myself, and there haven't been any issues, but recently someone complained in a comments section that someone used the abbreviation MSDS (which apparently stands for "Material Safety Datasheet"). While that's not an IT-related term-of-art, it started me wondering whether the de-facto standard of assuming computer literacy actually was a de-facto standard, and more broadly whether it should be.

  • Does it alienate people who would otherwise use these sites?
  • Does it not alienate people, but a significant majority of the site's users would prefer more citations?
  • Or is it completely fine?

Post Script:

And I don't just mean using specific abbreviations; I also mean making comparisons to software testing methodologies, or referencing the Jargon File or the "Real Programmer" essay. Things that make sense within tech culture, but not to outsiders. References that you wouldn't make on your grandmother's quilting forum.

  • 4
    My grandmother uses CAD for her quilting, though. – jonsca Mar 28 '15 at 2:21
  • @jonsca Okay- but, excepting your grandmother. – Parthian Shot Mar 28 '15 at 2:25
  • 3
    Why would users talk about installing a new hard drive on a site asking about gluten-free wheat? – random Mar 28 '15 at 2:28
  • 6
    Never make assumptions, assumptions are dangerous. – Infinite Recursion Mar 28 '15 at 6:26
  • 2
    MSDS sheets are so common in what I do (lawn care), and you have to know the sheets really well for each product you use, seems funny someone didn't know what they were... :D – Frank Mar 28 '15 at 10:22
  • 4
    I'm in IT and even I know what MSDS means. As for computer literacy, it's not safe to assume that even on Stack Overflow! – Michael Hampton Mar 28 '15 at 21:39
  • We have this hypermedia thingy. It doesn't hurt to use it. – Peter Mortensen Mar 28 '15 at 22:44

You can assume basic experience. Basic experience of what, though, is dependent on the site. For Arqade, we can assume you're a gamer, and can, reasonably accurately, insert and remove disks, and maybe click an icon to run your game. We can't assume you're a developer, or even at all technically inclined.

Cooking can be reasonably assumed that you've graduated from the burning water stage, and can follow directions from a recipe. Electronic Engineering would be knowing what a breadboard is, and the difference between a resistor and a battery.

Most programming related ones can be naturally assumed that you're not going to pour water into your computer while its on, and that you generally know your way around a computer.

The key, though, is that each site has their own expertise, with it's own expectations and values. What works for one area, isn't going to work for another. And that's fine. But there's no sweeping statement you can make about what skills can be assumed network wide. Other than the core SE tenets.

  • The assumption in your first paragraph is so often sadly mistaken. :( – TZHX Jun 11 '15 at 11:16

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .