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Fastest Gun in the West Problem

I've noticed in many different questions we can consider as "simple" (i.e. whose answer is known to the majority of the subscribers of a given tag), that it looks more like a race to be the first to write an answer down, even if incomplete.

Here is a pattern I've noticed:

  1. Person posts a "simple" question.
  2. Two or three minimalistic answers pop in.
  3. The first one to vote gets upvoted.
  4. All posts gradually get updated with more information about the question.

In most cases for these questions, the first one to post wins the most votes, even if the initial answer was just a one-liner.

I find it lacking as it forces people to focus on speed over content.

One idea would be to "freeze" for a few minutes the edit function for new posts. Like this, people would have to write a complete answer if they don't want to get downvoted or see someone else with a better answer in this freeze period upvoted.

Just some thoughts, but I think that would be cool!

share|improve this question

marked as duplicate by Cody Gray, BinaryMisfit, JNK, Pops, Ben Brocka Apr 16 '12 at 17:05

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

Interesting. But what stops people from upvoting that first answer anyway? A lot of times, he who posts first wins. Even if nobody can edit, that answer was still first. – simchona Apr 16 '12 at 1:40
Also, before you ask: voting is different on Meta. It signals disagreement, not "this is a bad post" – simchona Apr 16 '12 at 1:41
If edits are frozen for like 10 minutes at first, I believe people would give more thought in their initial post to make sure it is complete and accurate. Currently most if not all first posts on these questions are incomplete and sometimes inaccurate. – Charles Menguy Apr 16 '12 at 1:43
Thanks for the heads up on the voting system :) – Charles Menguy Apr 16 '12 at 1:43
I can only see this working if people who post first are also most likely to edit soon after. I don't think accuracy is really their first goal--it's to get their answer out fastest, and stopping edits won't stop that – simchona Apr 16 '12 at 1:44
I would more describe their main goals as "get my answer accepted", which is as you noted maximized by writing the first post. Now if no edits for 10 minutes, the first post had better be pretty good otherwise others that come after will write a better one. – Charles Menguy Apr 16 '12 at 1:46
The OP usually picks the one with a lot of upvotes, which is usually the first post, which still wouldn't be affected by an edit freeze. – simchona Apr 16 '12 at 1:47
An edit freeze for a short period would ensure that each original answer in that period is thought thoroughly. So, sure, maybe the first one will still get most votes, but at least it would help to have the first one of better quality, unlike what we see currently where the first one is just 1 line. – Charles Menguy Apr 16 '12 at 1:50
It still wouldn't prevent that first one from being a one-liner, though, if speed is the key. Accuracy is a far second, so an edit freeze won't change that behavior. – simchona Apr 16 '12 at 1:52
@linker We already have a mechanism to prevent people from just accepting the first answer -- you have to wait 15 minutes to do it. – agf Apr 16 '12 at 1:53
I'm just trying to put myself in situation : a new post comes in, i know the answer, what should I do? I'll just write the minimalistic one line of code that does it and move on. Now if I know my post will be frozen, I will probably not want to post this minimalistic line of code, but write a real answer, otherwise the next one to post might do better and I won't be able to edit before some time. – Charles Menguy Apr 16 '12 at 1:55
I'm not so worried about people accepting the first answer, but more that the first answer is generally poor (and gradually updated to a real answer), and people focus on speed and not on content in this initial step. – Charles Menguy Apr 16 '12 at 1:57
If your one line of code does it, often the OP will still choose that because he just wants the code, not a full blown explanation. People are going to focus on speed regardless. What time limit are you going to place? The first answer can always edit after the freeze and expand, so unless you're going to bar any edits on the first answer then you're not stopping much – simchona Apr 16 '12 at 1:58
If it's just a matter of the OP seeing the first answer, what about making all the first answers on a post invisible for a short period of time, and then make them all visible at once? Like this, all posts are at equals regarding time, and only the quality all things considered will matter. – Charles Menguy Apr 16 '12 at 2:11
See also: – nhinkle Apr 16 '12 at 4:02
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Note: I edit more info into my answers immediately after posting them frequently -- on questions I know are going to get quick, brief answers.

First of all, this means you'll end up with a lot more typos in answers.

It really comes down to this -- there are a lot more people who post short answers and don't bother to improve them then there are people who edit in details. It's the first group that is the problem, not the second.

For many questions, the "early votes" will outweigh the reputation to be gained from a thorough answer, as the question will be quickly forgotten. Because of that, I don't think an "edit freeze" would encourage people to take the time to write better answers. I think it would encourage people to post very short answers and then not bother to improve them. So this request would reduce the quality of answers, not improve it.

Posting only very brief answers already earns tons of reputation for some users, and I don't think we should do anything to encourage it. If you look through my recent answers on Stack Overflow, you'll see a number of cases where the only answers are mine, with details added through editing, and several answers that are just a link with single sentence mentioning the solution. If I wasn't allowed to edit in details after posting a quick answer, many of these questions wouldn't get a complete answer at all, since there is little reputation to be gained.

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I see your point, and I think it's just a matter of strategy, if you want to post a full answer in one block, or iteratively little by little. Both are valid, and in the end it converges towards a good solution. But I find the few first minutes of a question really chaotic. To expand on the idea, we could also for a short period of time (like 5 minutes) put all answers in a queue without making them visible, and then after this period make all of the answers visible at once. This would nullify the "first post advantage", what do you think? – Charles Menguy Apr 16 '12 at 2:08
@linker I think that's a great suggestion, as far as the effect it would have on the quality of answers. One problem is that one of the reasons people ask questions on SO is sometimes you can get an "instant" answer. Another problem is that any delay makes the site less addictive -- and the people who are (more or less) addicted to answering questions here are its largest contributors of answers. – agf Apr 16 '12 at 2:11
I didn't take the addiction factor into account, but that's a good point :) but for this transition period i was thinking about something very short, like 5 minutes, and people could still submit their answer right away, but it wouldn't appear before these 5 minutes. Generally you don't see answers appearing before around 2 mins I would say, forcing this to 5 minutes would allow more people who are not as "addicted" to compete as well. – Charles Menguy Apr 16 '12 at 2:16
@linker The "race to post" factor is definitely a double-edged sword. It encourages bad answers, but it makes the site addictive. I think you're definitely better off looking for a solution to that than discouraging edits, which attacks it only indirectly. – agf Apr 16 '12 at 2:20
Great point, attacking edits might be a bit too much... I'll accept your answer, and think about this more thoroughly ! By the way the posts I've seen from you on SO are great and I've learnt a few things from it, I wish all the people who post immediately would update their answers as deeply ! – Charles Menguy Apr 16 '12 at 2:27
@linker Thanks. I definitely have a minimum amount of info I'm comfortable with in an answer, but I still want to compete with the really fast people. I know the rapid edits aren't ideal, and I'm glad someone is trying to come up with something better, but I think it's a step above posting something really brief. – agf Apr 16 '12 at 2:34
LOL when I saw that "some users" link, I somehow knew exactly who it was going to be. – Wesley Murch Apr 16 '12 at 4:58
@WesleyMurch Yeah, he is the "fastest man in the west" when it comes to Python questions. – agf Apr 16 '12 at 5:42

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