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How do you use MATLAB Answers?

Posted by Kent Millard,

In a little over a year and a half, the MATLAB Answers community has:

  • Grown to 20,000+ askers and answerers.
  • Posted tens of thousands of questions, answers and comments, with an average of 75 to 100 new questions being added every day.
  • Turned Answers into the fastest growing area of the MathWorks website.
High fives all around—our work is done!
Well, not really.

MATLAB Answers header

While we’re positively gobsmacked by how the community has embraced and shaped Answers into what it’s become, we needed to understand what we had done right. And more importantly how we could continue to build on it.

We had lots of questions, but essentially we wanted to know: 1) why are people coming to Answers, and 2) how are they using it? In June, I had a chance to ask those questions directly to several active members of the community during individual phone interviews.

The first question attempted to get at people’s motivations for initially coming to Answers—and their subsequent decision to keep coming back. Two related factors came up as key motivators: 1) to improve their skills, and 2) to share their skills.

Improve their skills

Whether it’s a novice using MATLAB for the first time or a power user refining their skills, people come to Answers to learn. One person said Answers was a way to, “keep my skills fresh” and that it provided a “source of ideas of useful things to do.”

In response to how people are using Answers to improve their skills, another user described how it helped them learn Simulink. As a skilled MATLAB user, they were less familiar with Simulink. By looking at Simulink posts, they began to see how other people used the product and gained some initial insights into the system logic. In addition to being able to ask questions of the community, they could compare their skill set to others and gauge the amount of progress they had made. Gaining confidence in their newfound abilities, they began answering questions; when no one corrected or amended their answers, they interpreted it as validating their knowledge—a form of peer review.

Share their skills

Having reached a level of proficiency, some interviewees are motivated to share their knowledge with the community. As one person said, “I had questions and I received some answers; I think I should give that back.” This sentiment of ‘giving back’ to the group was expressed by several interviewees.

In terms of how the community are sharing their skills in Answers, one individual expanded the idea of ‘giving back’ by informally mentoring people: “If I have a good interaction with somebody that I’ve answered a question for, I’ll go and check and see if they have any other questions that they’ve asked and see if I can help out with any of the other ones.” By actively ‘following’ a questioner, they sought to “provide that user with a little more help…that they might not have gotten before.”

The exchange of information, tips and tricks among active MATLAB and Simulink users is at the heart of MATLAB Answers popularity. As one person pointed out: “You might have your experts there [at MathWorks], but there are far more out here.”

We couldn’t agree more. Community experts have been the engine behind the success of Answers. Stories such as the two highlighted here give us insights into the needs of the community. By understanding how you’re using it, we can continue to improve  MATLAB Answers.

So…how do you use Answers?

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