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  What's the legal implications of this site copying the Stack Exchange model?

+ 1 like - 0 dislike

Should we be trying to make this site similar to Math Overflow, and therefore Stack Overflow?

My worry is that effectively, we're copying a commercial site that already exists as in Stack Exchange, and we're trying to also copy the logo!

asked Feb 20, 2014 in Discussion by physicsnewbie (-20 points) [ no revision ]
recategorized Feb 25, 2014 by Dilaton

We are not really copying anything, exce[pt some content (allowed). The logo has not been decided yet, and if you are talking about the "pho" suggestion, I have re-made myself through inkscape, so I think that's not illegal. We are using an open-source software, Q2A, so that's ok too.    But +1 for raising this issue.     

4 Answers

+ 3 like - 0 dislike

I think this is only a serious concern if the site copies stackexchange. This is not necessary, although it is possible to import the content of stackexchange on a question-by-question basis, without problem.

I was hoping we could do better as a community on this site. The stackexchange model simply wants "question/answer" model, with the focus on elementary questions and clarifications of existing literature. But it is clear that it is easily possible to exceed present published literature, using a model of "submission/refereeing", in that it could serve to actually be like a refereed journal, with the voting process replacing the refereeing in standard journals. This requires careful design to prevent gaming of the system, since if you make something with real world impact, there will be those who will make cliques who upvote each other for increasing impact, and so on. But these problems are in the future, and perhaps are best dealt with in the future.

I am impressed with the visual layout and features of a site like quora--- it is superior to stackexchange as much as stackexchange is superior to usenet. This site, if we have some programmers willing to invest time, can be as superior to stackexchange and quora as they are superior to usenet. There are some ideas that can be implemented without much difficulty that will make the goal of scientific communication more easily achievable. If this happens, the content can be very high quality, and if people are happy with the quality of the text on the site, one could perhaps have an associated actual journal, which can put together the highest quality contributions on a monthly, or weekly basis, depending on the quality of the material.

This can allow a community review of scientific material which is relatively free of traditional academic biases, but it requires a good community, which is able to honestly referee material, so that nonsense doesn't take over, and politics doesn't make the nonsense more prominent than the sense. This is always the danger in such projects, politics is very difficult to arrange to get accuracy.

Anyway, there are folks like Lubos Motl who one can trust to do very vicious review that is usually accurate, also others, so I don't think that inaccurate material can survive very well.

The things that can differentiate this site (if there is a programmer willing to do it--- I am not such a great programmer but I am willing to do it):

1.  Good TeX embedding. Stackexchange has a lousy image-based embedding of TeX, that is extremely slow. This should be modified to a quick and dirty TeX embedding that allows hundreds of embeddings without the speed suffering.

2. Good image embedding with local hosting, for diagrams. The remote hosting requirement for png's is ridiculous--- papers and answers sometimes need diagrams. One can also add a native diagram language.

3. One sometimes needs to links movies of simulations, this is not reasonable to use "youtube", as these are not really best represented as mpgs. The simulations in science have a different structure than television footage. These need to be embeddable without effort.

4. I believe the comments need to have no space requirement, they need to be threaded and referenced, like in Quora, without any limitation on space.

5. The voting should not be anonymous, because this produces an incentive for glib voting. The names of those who voted something up, and down, should be prominently displayed. This is so that one can actually see what is going on with the politics.

6. The voting system can be substantially different, in that votes are not sum-tallied, and answers are not collapsed.

I am not sure that the stackexchange model is optimal, the quora model, if you ignore the trivial content, is probably superior in terms of technical site organization. The logos can be completely different, the page organization can be completely different, there is no limit to modifiability.

Perhaps some trusted members can be allowed to do code modifications on a git repository, and this can be tested by the site administrator, and if there is consensus that it is an improvement, the result can be incorporated into the site. But this requires some significant oversight. The model quora uses is not good here, in that any of their developers can make a code "go live" at any time, so that every once in a while, a buggy contribution crashes the whole site.

answered Feb 20, 2014 by Ron Maimon (7,720 points) [ no revision ]
  1. This could be a good idea, the only problem is that I doubt it's even possible, if I'm not wrong. 
  3. Agreed, again don't know how this can be done. 
  4. I agree with not having space requirements, and this is already done I think (Q2A does not allow character limits on comments anyway!) 
  5. I agree, but I doubt this is possible with the Q2A software; so much data on the page may also make it slower. Also, we can't do this to the existing TP.SE imported, and P.SE imported, questions.           
  6. I have suggested this once, and is very easy with the Q2A software (All it takes is a click of a mouse to change from summed to separate.)     

Thanks for these nice ideas and suggestions Ron, it would be great if we could by reviewing papers here do something really helpful for the international physics community. Displaying up and downvotes is very easy and just a mouse click in the settings, if we want to have this ?

3. Links to videos are sufficient.

5. I'm not sure this is a good idea, as it adds a lot of clutter and I can see it making things more political. On the other hand, I think you are perceiving something that would more obviously be a problem in the referreeing section (competing researchers downvoting eachother). I propose not to have any downvotes in that section at all.

+ 2 like - 0 dislike

As I was told here


it is perfectly legal and allowed as we did, to create a Q&A site by taking the data dump of a closed Stack Exchange site (in our case Theoretical Physics SE) and import it into a free Q&A software. It is even allowed to take over questions from Stack Exchange sites that are still alive.

The most importent thing to consider when doing this is to pay attention to the correct atribution of the content that was created elsewhere.

Concerning content that originates from a closed SE site, as said in the response to my MSO question, a link to the closed Area51 proposal is enough. When taking content from a living SE site, the attribution is more involved, but as explained here


our method of attribution should be sufficient in this case too.

answered Feb 21, 2014 by Dilaton (6,240 points) [ no revision ]

Creating a Q&A site isn't illegal, my concern is over calling it Physicsoverflow after Stackoverflow, and then trying to give the logo a mathoverflow feel. It gives the impression that it's linked to the stackoverflow commerical model, which may cause legal problems later on. On the other hand, it has the org extension which perhaps clarifies it's non-commerical use.

Thanks for your thoughts and concerns, do you have experience or knowledge about such legal issues? MathOverflow was created outside the SE network in a similar way as we now are setting up PhysicsOverflow. The difference was that back then, they were lucky to be ably to by the SE software, whereas today SE does no longer hand out any copies of software like this.

As obviously nobody complained about the mathematicians calling there site MathOverflow while there already existed StackOverflow, I hope and assume our name PhysicsOverflow will not lead to any legal issues from this direction either. In addition, the goal and purpose of PhysicsOverflow is clearly destinct from the goal and guiedlines of the SE model ...

However I was thinking myself if it would be a good idea to ask people on MathOverflow if from their point of view there are reasons that speak against calling our site PhysicsOverflow. The name is choosen on purpose, as MathOverflow is indeed our role model for how an academic high-level online community can be successful, and our site is indeed to be some kind of a "MathOverflow" but for physicists.

+ 2 like - 0 dislike

Guidlines are give here, in particular: 

  • Do name your application with something unique. Including one of the terms, "Stack" or "Exchange" or "Overflow" in your product name is generally okay.

So there isn't any legal problem, bearing in mind that our logo is our own design.

answered Feb 24, 2014 by physicsnewbie (-20 points) [ no revision ]
+ 0 like - 0 dislike

this is nice to know about

answered Jun 7, 2021 by elizabethjohanson92 (0 points) [ no revision ]

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