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If you want to expand on someone's existing answer (add more detail, provide an example or code snippet, etc.) and have the ability to edit other folks' answers, is it better to add your own answer, or edit an existing answer?

I recently ran across this dilemma in this question. Tim Sullivan posted a nice, quick, correct answer on how to strikeout text in Stack Overflow. However, I figured some Stack Overflow users might not realize that you can use HTML tags in Markdown, so I posted another answer with a code block showing how to do this. My answer, rather than Tim's, ended up getting more upvotes and the questioner changed the accepted answer from his to mine.

Now on one level, maybe this is how it's supposed to work. With the example my answer probably was somewhat more helpful than Tim's. Nevertheless, this didn't really seem fair to me. Before Tim's answer I would have had no idea how to do this, and I was just posting the example trying to be helpful, not answer sniping.

It was at about this point that I realized that I've got edit powers, and I could have just added the example to Tim's answer (I've passed the edit threshold recently enough that I didn't remember). So I added the example to his answer and asked the questioner to switch the accepted answer back to Tim's.

Now this incident got me thinking about the more general case: in a situation like this should those of us with edit powers add our own answers, or edit the original answerer's post. On one hand, people seem to be touchy about having their stuff edited. On the other hand, they'd probably rather not be answer sniped and miss out on potential rep gain. Which is the better course here?

The other thing this got me thinking about is the 2000 reputation points threshold for editing. That's quite a bit of rep (minimum of ten days with the reputation points, realistically more like 2-3 weeks, even for a really active user) and setting the threshold that high encourages people to think of this as more of a discussion forum, rather than a cooperative wiki-type site. As I said, I'm so used to just slapping up an answer I forgot editing the previous answer was even an option. While I'll probably remember in the future, it seems like the edit threshold is pretty important. A high threshold makes this a more competitive, reputation points-hunting, discussion board type of site, while a lower threshold would make this more of a wiki site. Is the editing threshold too high?

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Aug 20 '09 at 19:15

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I think this is an edge case that will matter less once SO is out of it's diapers. But, I think your right about the editing threshold, it encourages a more competitive, rep-hunting discussion board. –  Martin Clarke Sep 14 '08 at 20:02
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"people seem to be touchy about having their stuff edited" I personally believe that these types of people is not the people SO is targeting (and should not). –  pek Sep 2 '09 at 23:03
    
    
status-completed? –  muntoo Nov 24 '11 at 3:18

7 Answers 7

up vote 47 down vote accepted

Personally I think Jeff is being too conservative, and we shouldn't require 2000 reputation to edit an answer. I'd really like to see people editing answers to make them better rather than providing new answers.

Editing definitely runs the risk of muddying the "ownership" of an answer, as multiple people contribute to the "best" answer. Tough. This isn't a site for egoists, who should feel free to go back to the old days of single-author book publishing. It's a place for team players who want to work together to provide great answers.

In the meantime, if you see an answer that you could improve, but don't have the reputation to edit it, I would recommend cutting and pasting it into your own answer and then improve that version. It would probably be polite to give a footnote of credit to the person you're quoting.

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If it's not for egoists, why does it have so many features to reward them? Isn't the the whole point to channel the egoistic behavior to positive outcome? –  Eugene Yokota Sep 14 '08 at 19:46
    
The rewards are for good behavior on the site. People use the rewards to boost their ego, it's not SO's fault. –  jjnguy Sep 15 '08 at 3:55
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Maybe we should get points for editing too. –  minty Sep 17 '08 at 23:49
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I've noticed there are 2 kinds of questions: ones that have a single best answer, and "poll" questions where multiple answers are good. Currently, StackOverflow only caters to the first kind. Maybe there should be explicit support for "poll" questions? –  Outlaw Programmer Sep 19 '08 at 0:20
    
IMHO, Jeff is right. While you reach 2000 points you learn to appreciate all the effort that took you there, so you probably don't want to see your account revoked for doing something stupid (like deleting something that you just - subjectively - don't like) –  Milan Babuškov Oct 14 '08 at 14:32
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Or maybe it should be possible to accept multiple answers? –  bananakata Jan 7 '09 at 8:53
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Poll questions should be sectioned off with subjective questions and no rep should be awarded for them. Yes, I'm one of the few that believes reputation should be a reflection of your programming knowledge, and not how many subjective/poll questions you can answer with light answers. –  George Stocker Jan 8 '09 at 22:04
    
Wouldn't editing be better than copying? It does not seem right to take an answer and improve it. Isn't SO trying to get the best and most correct answer? Perhaps reputation is preventing SO from reaching this lofty goal: people want points not correctness. –  philcolbourn May 5 '10 at 11:46
    
Maybe editing could be replaced by some other means - personalised mark-up? or a way to include the original answer in a box and allowing the text to be changed so that your edits are clearly visible? –  philcolbourn May 5 '10 at 11:47

I agree with your implication: the editing threshold is too high. Before that threshold, the only options are to add an additional answer (less than ideal for the reasons you gave) or add a comment which no-one reads.

Hopefully, over time, this will all get edited out and shouldn't be a long-term problem, meaning that the Wiki-aspect is achieved. And, in the short-term, I guess a quick answer is good, as discussed in the 'fastest gun' post.

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Hey, I read the comments! –  minty Sep 17 '08 at 23:50
    
It depends on the number of comments –  Casebash Mar 21 '10 at 0:27
    
@Casebash: When this answer was written, comments were only shown when you clicked on them (like the "show x more" link now). That made it much more likely for people to just skip them. –  mmyers Apr 6 '10 at 22:18

It all evens out in the end... So don't worry about a few toes that you may step on in the course of giving the most precise and correct answer possible.

  • Edit - in the form of 'tagging on at the end' with a code sample or snippet is okay.
  • Edit - in the form of tearing a post down to bits and reassembling to the point where it's nothing like the original post - is probably where people get touchy-feely... And rightly so.
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Are you being subjective? –  minty Sep 17 '08 at 23:51
    
Why do you ask.. user minty? –  Gishu Sep 18 '08 at 4:18

There is a possible problem where there are two hotly disputed answers (eg natural vs surrogate keys). To avoid such disputes occurring in a single post, I feel edits should only offer minor expansions to an existing post and that redirections and major edits deserve a post of their own. I think that in the cited example, a new post with proper acknowledgment of the original inspiration would be proper, and should not be resented by the original respondent.

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If too many users were able to edit then answers would quickly pass the threshold to become wiki community owned and wouldn't get any further rep.

Although then we might end up with fewer better answers we'd also be left with several users wondering how much of the votes of the wiki answer they started they deserved but will never get, which could serve to make less engaged users feel disenfranchised, and cause them to abandon participating in the site.

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What if you could append to an answer with lower rep points or comment using Markdown?

Edit can potentially be dangerous so it makes sense to protect the feature with high rep points.

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You can which? Use markdown in comments or append to an answer? –  minty Sep 17 '08 at 23:52

I'd rather just see people edit their own answers (except for typos etc.). I could easily see a situation where someone edits an answer in a way that the original author disagrees with. It would be better for a "disagreement" like that to be played out publicly in separate answers and let the voters judge.

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