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I've seen this (annoying) pattern too many times: a user posts a simple question, which I answer precisely. But then the OP says "yeah but my issue is actually like this" and proceeds to entirely change the original question, making it more complex and invalidating my answer.

I'm now forced to either change my answer, or delete it altogether. Either way, it's annoying and a waste of time.

It has been suggested to notify answer authors about the changes in When editing the question, option to notify all answer-authors? and Notify us when the question has been edited after posting an answer, which I agree it's not the right solution.

It has been suggested to simply tell the OP in a comment that he's not doing the "right thing", which I often do, but I only want to answer technical questions on Stack Overflow, not engage in netiquette education.

I propose to:

  • Show a warning to the OP while editing when he's changing more than x% of the question text (adjust x to some safe value).
  • Along with this warning, offer an action to post his changes as a new question instead of updating the original question. Also a link to the new question should be added along with some generic text like "I expanded this question in http://..."

I think this would make the questions a bit more immutable, thus reducing the occurrence rate of this issue. At the same time, it's not drastic like preventing any changes at all.

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1 Answer 1

I've always liked the term “chameleon questions”, but I don't agree with any of your ideas because they would stifle or "punish" responsible users from making important edits. Besides, serious changes to the question can easily occur with just a small edit, and trying to accurately detect that kind of thing is buggy at best.

This most likely would confuse new users who decide to clean up their post or add a big block of code, especially the "ask as new question" idea - they already seem to repost a lot as it is, and sometimes barely understand how to ask in the first place. I don't like the idea of these users asking more bad questions, especially if they are highly related to their current active one.

Don't worry about your answer becoming "invalid", if you don't feel it's worth your effort any more, just leave it the way it is. If you want to keep helping, I personally suggest leaving the original content and using headings like Edit 1, Edit 2, Edit 43 etc. so readers can see how things came along. Besides - if your original answer was any good - it still has value to others.

If they are truly asking a completely different question, then yes - explain it to them, point them to the "Ask Question" or "How to Ask" link, etc. To me, this doesn't seem like enough of a real issue to be worth the hassle for question authors who are legitimately making a Good Edit, and I don't think that anything automated will be stable, accurate, or effective enough to replace education (and downvotes). OP will hopefully even learn on his own that "chameleon questions" are not an effective way to get help.

Something might be a good idea, but I don't know if this is it.

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3  
I'll bite: 'Don't worry about your answer becoming "invalid"' -> do you really like your name right below an incorrect answer? –  Mauricio Scheffer Aug 1 '11 at 0:13
    
"explain it to them, point them to the "Ask Question" or "How to Ask" link, etc" -> I already said I do this but I'm not on a quest to teach netiquette to the world. I just come to stackoverflow to answer technical questions. –  Mauricio Scheffer Aug 1 '11 at 0:15
    
"they would stifle or "punish" responsible users from making important edits." -> no, it doesn't. I merely say to put a warning and explain that maybe you're doing it wrong. I'm certainly not suggesting to force anything upon the editor. This isn't about "automating" corrective actions, it's merely a suggestion. –  Mauricio Scheffer Aug 1 '11 at 0:16
    
"if your original answer was any good - it still has value to others." -> not likely, since the original question is not there anymore... and people landing on the question via google will find the answer it's not related to the question, so it's not valuable anymore. –  Mauricio Scheffer Aug 1 '11 at 0:19
    
I agree that it's annoying behavior, but if the OP needs to change his question, would you rather have him delete the current one and create a new one? A "warning, you might be doing it wrong" message will very likely confuse new users, and like I said - it's going to either give a lot of false positives or not be effective. What amount of text being changed should trigger the warning? It only takes a very small amount to significantly change the question context, and there's no way for the system to tell. Likewise, I would venture to say that most large edits are actually "legitimate". –  Wesley Murch Aug 1 '11 at 2:22
    
Was there a particular question you had in mind while coming up with this idea? It might be helpful or interesting to have some context. My stance is this: we want OP to edit his question if necessary, and discouraging it in any way is a Bad Thing. Completely different questions should be asked separately, but only a human can tell the difference. –  Wesley Murch Aug 1 '11 at 2:25
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the OP should not delete the original question. I never said that. The OP still can proceed with the updates, or choose to post the changes as a new question, leaving the original question unchanged. –  Mauricio Scheffer Aug 1 '11 at 2:40
    
re false positives: not if you set the x to a "safe value". For example, if the OP changes 95% of the original text, it's more likely than not that he's changing the original meaning and not just doing some clarifications. Even a warning at 75% would be pretty safe, and it would help reduce the occurrence rate of the issue. –  Mauricio Scheffer Aug 1 '11 at 2:42
    
right now, Stackoverflow doesn't do anything about this real issue that has been around since its creation (I'd say it's inherent to its format), so it's effectively punishing answer authors. I'm merely trying to balance things. –  Mauricio Scheffer Aug 1 '11 at 2:44
    
re particular question: just today I had one of these: stackoverflow.com/questions/6887472/… , but I've seen lots of these, happening to me and other answer authors as well. Threads on meta about this have been popping up for years now, I think it's time that stackoverflow did something, anything, about it. –  Mauricio Scheffer Aug 1 '11 at 2:49
    
by the way, I don't mean this to be the perfect solution to the problem. There will be people that ignore the warning and change the meaning of the question. The measures I propose are intended to prevent this from happening as much as possible while at the same time allow the user to do what he wants. I don't mean to restrict the user in any way. But I don't think it's "going to either give a lot of false positives or not be effective." as you say... the world isn't black and white. –  Mauricio Scheffer Aug 1 '11 at 2:55
    
Specifically, I don't think that a prompt along the lines of Warning: You may be editing too much or Create a new question instead?, triggered only by the amount of text changed in the question, would be either effective or a good idea, and would probably become a nuisance. I'm just not convinced. We'll see if anyone else has any input. –  Wesley Murch Aug 1 '11 at 3:25

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