It seemed like the topic “Addressing Stan speed claims in general” was starting to move in this direction, so I figured I would create a new thread to consolidate discussion regarding additions and modifications to Stan’s website.
I’m not a Stan contributor, but as someone who relies on Stan for research, I have an interest in the future maintenance and growth of Stan’s community and development. Paraphrasing and drawing from the prior thread about addressing unfair benchmarks to bolster Stan’s reputation and Stan’ding, I share sentiments with some other users who feel that the Stan website could probably benefit from a reorganization to help with attracting and onboarding potential users.
Based on some conversations I’ve had with ecologists and biologists at my institution (UC Irvine), it seems like one thing that convinces them to roll their own Metropolis Hastings MCMC algorithms to their detriment is a barrier with getting started in Stan in terms of website organization and Google-ability (in addition to lack of familiarity with statistics). There are tons of example MCMC codes that require little understanding of Bayesian statistics to get started. Some of them give up quickly on Stan when they don’t see @Bob_Carpenter’s case studies right away and pull up few example codes in Google. I myself initially resorted to using a self-coded rudimentary MCMC algorithm back in 2015 when I was tasked with working on a model comparison example in computational neuroscience and eventually felt too bad about repeatedly bothering the Google Group with questions since I didn’t find enough code examples. I eventually lucked out in grad school by taking a course that taught Stan that helped me understand Stan’s value and introduced me to PPL usage.
This Stan Discourse has certainly improved the ability to pull up previously asked questions and the website has definitely improved. However, the barrier to entry still looks like it could be smoothed a little. I’ve had to send links of code examples to folks on Reddit that they weren’t otherwise able to pull up in Google when they got stuck in Stan. Searching for “Stan getting started” or “Stan tutorial” pulls up a lot of links on the first search page that aren’t from the MC Stan website. The result from the MC Stan page that does come up is not a guide itself, but a collection of links to other guides, some of which are not aimed at a more general, non-field-specific audience.
Once someone has started using Stan and has gotten into more of the specifics, they then encounter guides, details, and case studies being spread across different pages in a manner that does not flo. For example, information about the
loo package is not immediately linked to on the Stan documentation page. After some Googling about loo, we find this page which links to this more detailed page. The former page is redundant, and perhaps the second page should have been directly linked to on the Documentations page. Additional helpful information does not appear on any pages on Stan’s website, but is found on @avehtari’s website.
loo aside, we see that information is frequently spread across multiple places which increases the burden for maintenance and makes it easier for pages to go out of date. Some information is on the Stan website, while other information is located on the webpages of Stan developers and contributors.
In summary, below are some things that I think would benefit the Google-ability and ease-of-use of Stan’s website and make it a more centralized experience, particularly for new users:
- A general tutorial that is not just a link to other tutorials located perhaps in a new “Getting Started” tab of the website navbar.
- Re-done sections for guides and case studies in the “Documentation” page that link to @avehtari and @betanalpha’s guides and writings as an intermediate step toward the eventual creation of more centralized and prominent hubs on the website for modeling case studies and information about
loo. Perhaps the guides and case studies should also be on their own page on the navbar, though then it would be important to not have too many buttons for aesthetic reasons. As is though, I think a couple more buttons would be okay.
- To further help with the Googling and highlighting of updates and new Stan-related research, establishing a Stan blog that is separate from the Gelblog. That would have been a good place to highlight @bbbales2 and @charlesm93’s optimization of the COVID study code (that would likely be a good candidate for a case study write up, too).
Anyhow, those are my potentially worthless two cents. I hope that they overlap with some other folks’ sentiments and can be of some use to the Stan leadership. Are there other website updates and improvements that people would like to see?
EDIT: I’m an idiot. A thread encompassing this already exists: Website Redesign Suggestions