For some time there has been a thread on meta discussing the desire for MathJax support on Cogsci.se in order to support the display of mathematical equations in questions and answers.
Recently I received the following post from Rebecca from StackExchange:
Enabling MathJax supports means that on every single page on this site, the MathJax scripts will be included, and they are not small. Due to this, we want to see that MathJax is being used significantly on the site - otherwise, we are just needlessly slowing down the user experience on the site.
In the list of questions included here, I see stuff that would use MathJax in only a couple of the posts. Poking around the rest of the site, I'm seeing it used extremely minimally.
Given the extremely small use I see on the site in the current questions, I'm not sure I see the benefit in enabling MathJax.
I can appreciate that:
- There is a trade-off between the user experience (i.e., the time for a page to load or appear loaded) and functionality (i.e., supporting MathJax in order to permit display of mathematical equations).
- It's ultimately stack exchange's call as to whether this trade-off is worth while.
That said I think a few points should be mentioned
Equation support is important to this site
- I'm not sure if Stack Exchange fully appreciates the importance of mathematics in the disciplines of psychology and cognitive science.
- There is a bit of a Chicken and Egg things going on. The capacity to display equations will encourage users to incorporate equations into answers. It's difficult to demonstrate the importance of equation support when the site lacks support for equations.
- The site also has aspirations of scientific credibility. It seeks to engage academics and competent researchers. Equation support is both a differentiator with other forums and also reflects the standards of rigour which we hope will appeal to our target contributors.
Reflections on load times with MathJax
- I find the user experience on http://stats.stackexchange.com (a MathJax enabled site) to be fine. Pages seem to load quickly.
- Prof David P. Cervone has provided an extensive post on meta about the actual page loading implications of the MathJax script. By that analysis the effect on page loading appears to be fairly minimal and mostly related to pages that use mathematical equations. And surely questions that require equations can justify the additional load time.
Thus, I am aware that there are trade-offs, but I'm hoping to have a dialogue both with users of this site and StackExchange about whether all things considered the trade-offs justify inclusion or not of Mathjax.
- How can the importance of mathematics to the site be effectively communicated to the StackExchange team?
- Does the StackExchange team appreciate the importance of mathematics to the site?
- Can the StackExchange team communicate more clearly the performance cost in terms of site load times and user experience of MathJax support and why the trade-off is not worth it?
- Finally, what do other users of the site feel about the relative importance of mathematics support and page load times?