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As the SE network has expanded and matured, many sites ask questions on topical and constantly evolving issues. Sometimes, new information comes up and people post answers to old questions. However, due to the abundance of incumbent answers with many up-votes, it will be difficult for this new answer to gain prominence and rise to the top.

EDIT: In light of @cwallenpoole's answer, I modified the proposal below from changing the universal voting scheme to just adding a fourth sort-by option.

My proposal: Add a fourth sort-by option (in addition to active, oldest, and votes, for decaying votes. Just as commitment decays over time in Area 51, up-votes for answers would decay over time under this sort. That way, if a new answers comes in after a year and receives 2 up-votes, that could count the same as, say, 4 up-votes for an answer posted in the first few days after the original question was posted. If popular, this could perhaps become the default sort for older questions.

Note: I am not proposing that the reputation gained from an answer decays. Just that the answer shown as the top (or second-to-top if any answer has a check-mark) be modified, as well as perhaps showing the decay-modified vote count somewhere. Perhaps this last bit could be a privilege, similar to the privilege to see up-votes and down-votes separately.

PS: I tried posting this as an answer to a question about the broader topic of Rating Answers for old questions, but that itself seems to have become an example of the problem I am demonstrating.

Showing most recent answers first in old questions would also go part of the way towards resolving this issue, but it seems not to have been adopted.

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Related: Show most recent answers first in old questions –  Pëkka Sep 7 '11 at 20:16
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It isn't like an answer gets less correct with time. –  John Sep 7 '11 at 20:24
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Some answers do. For example, often the correct answer a year ago is "Sorry, that isn't possible" and a year later the answer is, "This was implemented in the most recent version". –  Jordan Reiter Sep 7 '11 at 21:37
    
I modified the proposal to address some concerns. –  Tal Fishman Sep 7 '11 at 22:17

1 Answer 1

The problems with this as I see it:

  1. If you are overriding a sort-by parameter given by a user, it actually diminishes the user experience because it flies contrary to user expectation.
  2. You give prominence to answers which are newer which, while not substantially worse than prioritizing answers which are older (arguably what currently happens), has the detriment of allowing people to create false prominence: a way to get extra rep. is to simply re-answer old questions. Bad deal.
  3. If an answer is added to a question, the question itself gets marked as "more active" already.
  4. You can add a comment to the answer to itself which highlights the issue. While this does not guarantee that the answer to the question will change, the author of the question is free to go back and change what the "canonical answer" is.
  5. Most answers do not rot. Actually, I would wager that this is a corner case of a corner case of a corner case. I would guess little value would be added to the site for the number of man-hours which would be invested.
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+1 - This is a solution in search of a problem. –  JNK Sep 7 '11 at 20:31
    
How do users set sort-by parameters? I was not aware of this option. –  Tal Fishman Sep 7 '11 at 21:49
    
@Tal It's the answertab GET parameter. It is determined by what tab is clicked on in the top right. –  cwallenpoole Sep 7 '11 at 21:56
    
To point #2: newer answers only get more prominence if they have more than a certain proportion of the votes of older answers. To point #3: the question may be marked as more active, but a user coming to this question for the first time may not notice why when a new answer is buried under old answers with much higher up-votes. –  Tal Fishman Sep 7 '11 at 22:19

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