What general or specific changes do you think should be made to Electronics.SE to make it the best place to get good answers to questions about DIY Electronics Hacking? If you're familiar with other StackExchange-based sites, what are they doing that we should? What are you looking for here (beyond specific answers to specific questions) that you haven't found?

Please put one suggestion per answer, and vote up or comment on existing answers instead of adding duplicates.

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I think that this question should be on meta. –  Daniel Grillo Oct 20 '10 at 12:56
    
Your question is biased. Why does this site need to be limited to DIY electronics hacking? Professionals with real production design problems need not apply? This site should be for discussions among people doing electronics, whether full time professional or weekend hacker. –  Olin Lathrop Jul 16 '11 at 14:49
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migrated from electronics.stackexchange.com Dec 19 '10 at 17:44

This question came from our site for electronics and electrical engineering professionals, students, and enthusiasts.

24 Answers

Something that needs to be done to address the specific nature of electronics tinkering is the ability to communicate schematics effectively. This is, unfortunately, an ill-defined problem to solve.

  • How would schematic hosting be handled?
  • How do we handle the different schematic software packages in use? Does the community decide on a specific package?
  • Does the site have a lightweight viewer that will display the common formats? Something like this would probably need to be developed (I am more than happy to help) but would help contributors who use different packages or are on a terminal where they cannot install any schematic programs.
  • If we accept collaborative development, how do you do version management of schematics?

It would be nice if they could be sequentially numbered, even better if we can manage forks in projects, and upvoting would be nice as well.

These functions partially fall under the idea of the community wiki as well, but not fully, and I'm not really sure what the best solution is (or if it's just as simple as letting people link to schematics, like they can already do).

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+1 - It is really difficult to express an electronics question without the aid of a diagram. –  Clinton Blackmore Nov 12 '09 at 15:51
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It would be cool if the person posting a question could bring up some kind of JS tool to make a basic schematic. Then, people who answer the question could make a copy of the original, modify it and attach it as part of their answer. Though, this puts every schematic into the CC-BY-SA license, which may or may not be what people want. –  tinkertim Nov 12 '09 at 16:48
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I think if we developed a viewer (again, I'm quite willing to contribute to this project) we could then work on a limited editing capability. That would be a much bigger hurdle, of course, but I agree -- it would be a very nice feature. I don't know of any site that has such a thing, and it would definitely make us unique. –  Lou Nov 12 '09 at 18:22
    
Or found some way of taking schematics in one format and outputting them in others (server side) to produce a number of different versions of the same schematic. –  Amos Nov 12 '09 at 20:17
    
@Lou I'll get a project setup on github. And start a wiki to gather specs. Cheers, Marcus @littlebirdceo –  littlebirdceo Nov 12 '09 at 23:36
    
What about this? electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/1024/… –  endolith May 19 '11 at 3:59
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I think one of the most important things that will make Chiphacker better is to try to reach out to other major DIY and hardware businesses like Adafruit, Sparkfun, DIY Drones, Practical Arduino, etc.

Not trying to be specific to Arduinos but you get the point.

Those companies and people have HUGE followings. I didn't even know this site existed if it weren't for Adafruit.

In the long run it would be great to see DIY companies start using chiphacker.com as a way to support their products and ditch those crapping forums!

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Another suggestion about style sheets...the colors are too low contrast for my liking. 80% of everything is just a different shade of grey-green, I think there should be more variation

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+1, I usually get here in the few off ours I have to spend late at night. By that time, my eyes ... my eyes .... –  tinkertim Nov 12 '09 at 16:41
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I agree, Stack Overflow's styling is much easier on the eye than here. Maybe selectable styles for the site might be possible. Moved this as a result of W. Craig Trader's request above. –  Amos Nov 12 '09 at 17:30
    
I was trying to be some what different and not to a complete knock off of Stack Overflow. Hard to do when you're using their engine :-P I'll work the styling this weekend. Cheers, Marcus @littlebirdceo –  littlebirdceo Nov 12 '09 at 23:35
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Looking at the front page I see several people are adding answers, editing questions and answers, but few people are voting up questions and answers. We need to give people immediate positive feedback on their answers and questions if we want to retain them.

If you see an interesting question (heck, any question!) or a useful answer, vote it up!

Otherwise the place is going to look dead and feel dead.

The reputation system is great for motivating people with knowledge. Reward them liberally! Voting up costs nothing, and you may keep someone around who might otherwise leave when no one visibly appreciates their contribution. Plus it's very addicting, and a key to stackoverflow's success.

We can't be stingy with votes, and we can't (as a small community) use the voting strategies we might usually employ on the busier sites.

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Plus it's really irritating to spend time making a schematic, getting links to components, etc, and be unable to use them in an answer as a new user. Make sure everyone you see that has made any contribution to the site has at least 15 rep before you pass on voting them up, so they can pass the good along. –  Adam Davis Nov 13 '09 at 5:33
    
Would be great to have an indication that you have already voted - rather than clicking again removing your vote. –  JohnC Nov 13 '09 at 10:21
    
@JohnC - There is an indication, but it's low contrast. The arrow becomes slightly larger, and slightly darker. Compare it with the down vote arrow and you should see the difference. –  Adam Davis Nov 13 '09 at 15:53
    
@Adam Davis, @JohnC, this goes back to fixing the color palette in the CSS stylesheets. –  W. Craig Trader Nov 13 '09 at 17:15
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The ability to upload an image/file directly and not have to link to a URL.

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That would be invaluable for, say, showing circuit diagrams. –  Clinton Blackmore Nov 12 '09 at 15:49
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Some portable (amongst browsers) way to express maths would be nice. It would probably have to create an image that is shown in the post (inline).

NB:

Not only will people with high rep be able to edit our text, but also our math :) This may bring a whole new meaning to the term 'edit war' :) Should be fun.

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jsmath and mimetex (a form of LaTex for websites) spring to mind. –  Amos Nov 12 '09 at 17:34
    
ASCIIMathML ( www1.chapman.edu/~jipsen/mathml/asciimath.html ) sounds promising. [I heard about it from a question on slashdot: hardware.slashdot.org/story/09/10/29/1955236/… ] –  Clinton Blackmore Nov 12 '09 at 18:02
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One of the features of the 'Trilogy' sites (Stackoverflow, ServerFault, and SuperUser) is that if you have a good reputation on one of them, it's possible to copy your profile to the others, and you'll start with a reputation of 101 instead of 1. This makes it a LOT easier to start answering questions on the newer sites. I wish I could have had the same sort of 'step-up' here -- the first 100 points of reputation are the hardest to get...

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I'd like to see some (minor) changes to the stylesheet that ChipHacker uses. Specifically, if the user profile page, StackExchange uses the 'answered-accepted' style to distinguish between answers and answers that have been accepted. ChipHacker doesn't use the answer-accepted style -- can that be changed?

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Noted.I'll see what I can do this weekend. –  littlebirdceo Nov 12 '09 at 23:36
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The twitter feed comes through with a duplicate question when an answer is posted.

Maybe just twitter the original question.

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That may be a bug in RSS2Twitter. I'd prefer to see pointers to the answers, instead of repeating the original question. –  W. Craig Trader Nov 12 '09 at 1:03
    
Well, the stackexchange engine is being a bit janky with the RSS. (It's beta afterall :P). The RSS2Twitter feed is picking up the new RSS items. I'll investigate further this weekend, perhaps I can do something on the PHP end. –  littlebirdceo Nov 12 '09 at 23:38
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I think that Comments should be enabled at a lower reputation (possibly after just one post) as things that should be discussed using them have to be discussed using posts otherwise cluttering up the discussions.

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This limitation is intended to discourage spammers. Even with only 1 rep, you can comment on your own questions, your own answers, and all answers to your questions. You can also edit your questions and your answers with only 1 reputation. I am more irritated by the 'no more than 1 link per post' rule for new users, but even that expires after a day or so, and is necessary to discourage spamming. –  W. Craig Trader Nov 12 '09 at 17:57
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I understand it was just that no comments forces early replies to be separated from their prompt as it were. –  Amos Nov 12 '09 at 20:16
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Suggesting a wiki here is like proposing Wikipedia to change to a phpbb. They are different concepts. There are plenty of DIY wikis already.

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I would like to see a mobile version, so I could more effectively answer and ask when not at home (i.e., using my smart phone)

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I concur, using my not so smart phone (S60 based) I can just about login (and even that's a pain), and read questions and answers. But I can't vote up or down, add comments or I assume (but haven't tried) add a question. –  Amos Nov 12 '09 at 20:20
    
I think everything works ok on my android - the only problem is that the whole thing is fixed width, and even in landscape mode, I have to scroll back and forth to read a whole sentence. –  shutterdrone Nov 12 '09 at 23:02
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A clear description of what belongs here and what should be asked on other sites, like electronics.stackexchange.com. This sort of thing works best if there's only one obvious place to ask a specific question. Otherwise the answerers are divided between lots of different sites, and the quality of the answers won't be as good. http://www.faqs.org/docs/artu/ch04s02.html#spot_rule

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I have to think that partnering with electronics.stackexchange.com would be a REALLY, REALLY, good idea. Even better would be if questions could be moved between the two sites as needed (the Trilogy sites do this). –  W. Craig Trader Nov 14 '09 at 7:16
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A wiki, to collect provided information. A massive database of Q&A is OK, but consolidating that info is better.

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That's not the point of this site. The whole point of this site is to be a massive database of Q&A. –  davr Nov 12 '09 at 16:50
    
I agree with the idea of a Wiki, but it should be as an adjunct to this site not a replacement. Archiving this list into some sort of wiki format would be the way to go, but how you would automate that to produce something useful initially I'm not sure, possibly by taking posts and responses above a certain level of votes and interest(number of answers) combined and moving into a new Wiki poage based on the title of the post and its' tags. –  Amos Nov 12 '09 at 17:29
    
... Obviously once the initial text was archived then it would need to become editable by the community, do you then need to freeze the initial question/discussion or how do you deal with the new additions. Does being able to edit the wiki result from getting above a certain reputation? Moved in response to W. Craig Trader's request above. –  Amos Nov 12 '09 at 17:31
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Stack Exchange sites do include some wiki-like features. With enough reputation, you can edit questions and answers (and look through the history). Questions (and answers) can be tagged as "community wiki", and this allows other people to edit them with much less reputation. –  Clinton Blackmore Nov 12 '09 at 17:53
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Rather than a full blow wiki maybe what we need then is a page or series of pages with some form of organised links to the best content (either hand picked or suggested by votes) so that if we want Arduinos then we can find a topic with slightly more editorial thought than merely trawling through question headings. Some kind of meta index with extra information about the content in the form of community editable comment/description, unfortunately with the best will in the world question descriptions and tags sometimes need a little more. The content can be linked into themes/related items etc. –  Amos Nov 12 '09 at 20:05
    
I'm still looking for a wiki that: 1)Looks good 2)Has OpenID support. –  littlebirdceo Nov 12 '09 at 23:41
    
There's a MediaWiki Extension to support openID, documentation is at mediawiki.org/wiki/Extension:OpenID. Whether MediaWiki counts as looking good is another matter. –  Amos Nov 13 '09 at 10:56
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I would also like to see a way to aggregate projects. The best questions are usually atomic in nature, and the more specific, the better the answer can be. Widely-scoped questions are interesting, of course, and much can be learned from them, but if people want to share an entire project I would like to be able to see a project, which isn't really a question, and all of the questions linked to that project.

This may be something that could be handled by making wiki pages for projects, and tagging the questions related to that project by the wiki project name. It doesn't have to be a complex scheme, but a project should not be a question. A project should be composed of questions. This site has the questions part addressed, but it's not easy to collect all the information on a project (assuming people want to share their projects).

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Adding relevant tags is very important -- since only a handful of users have more than 250 reputation (necessary to create a new tag) that means that the administrators will need to monitor new questions to ensure that they get tagged appropriately (at least until we get some users with 500 reputation, to help with re-tagging). –  W. Craig Trader Nov 13 '09 at 17:19
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The most important thing right now is to get more users. That means we all need to answer as many questions as we can and point folks on other sites here whenever it's appropriate. Spamming other forums is not helpful, but links in .sig blocks and so on would certainly be appropriate.

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In my opinion the colour scheme is quite horrible and needs to change :P

And someone posted about people not voting up answers, well the problem is that very few people actually have enough reputation to do so.

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He has changed it, this is the new improved version. –  Amos Nov 16 '09 at 9:46
    
You now have enough reputation to vote up too. –  Amos Nov 16 '09 at 9:47
    
Yes the new one is way better than the old one :) –  Dago Nov 16 '09 at 10:26
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Don't limit it to questions about "physical computing". Let it be generally electronics-releated.

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Something that I've noticed between this site and the other sites (Stack Overflow & similar) is that their icon is the same as their favicon. Other than that, I agree with the style-sheets. In the other sites, they have a plain white background, with black text, and a good set of style rules when it comes to other elements.

Other than these two style-related things, I think chiphacker.com is a pretty good site.

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They used to be the same...but then they changed the icon and kept the favicon the same. Also not sure exactly what the squid has to do with 'chiphacker'. –  davr Nov 12 '09 at 16:49
    
@davr The squid logo will eventually be a squid holding a set of electrical components / tools. Cheers, Marcus –  littlebirdceo Nov 13 '09 at 5:48
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Has anyone ever made a web-based schematic drawing tool? A website where you can draw simple schematics that are defined by a short code and then reference them by URL on other sites and it will show the cached schematic defined by the URL or re-generate it on demand.

Or maybe like a data uri format that encodes a simple markup language or something.

It would be valuable to have a simple format that would enable others to make changes to circuits, though, unlike an image. If it was compact enough, you wouldn't need to host it anywhere, you could just include it inline, like ASCII art. Or you could post them on pastebins or whatever and then "fork each other's code" to show modifications, like http://gist.github.com

I don't know. Just brainstorming.

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I think a wiki would consolidate ideas, yes, but it wouldn't show the questions and worse or incorrect answers, which sometimes are more interesting than the correct ones.

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I think both formats have their place. For a wiki why not use Open Circuits they are looking for more authors. See http://www.opencircuits.com/

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I would like to see more of a users profile details, or even a signature on the answers.

Those of us who maintain our own websites always like to see a little extra traffic for our egos sake :)

Coming from the other point of view, I guess that over half of the RSS feeds I follow were sites that I found linked to in forum signatures.

If we wish to attract some of the owners of big hitting sites traffic wise, a chance to promote in an unobtrusive manner (ie via the quality of the assistance offered) their sites is only going to help.

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I agree, plus it may give us a little SEO-style boost to our own sites. –  Amos Nov 24 '09 at 10:05
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Arrange the site to separate the types of questions. Something like one column for electronics specific questions, one for micro controller questions, one for programming, one for "all else". It would make searching much more useful to those with questions in one area. Even doing the "Craigslist" hyper linked main page which then goes to the individual areas. It would be easy to improve that by adding the latest questions to a shoutbox so people can get a quick glance of where the days' inquiries are coming from.

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Unfortunately, I don't think that StackExchange (the software behind ChipHacker), allows the front page to be reorganized in the fashion that you would prefer. Even if it did, I don't think that questions break down neatly in to 'A', 'B', 'C', and 'other', and certainly the answers won't. On the other hand, that's what the tags are for: to provide additional organization to questions and answers. –  W. Craig Trader Nov 29 '09 at 21:01
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