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Similar to this request but narrower, I'm suggesting we make a particular exception for downvoted accepted answers (those with score less than zero, or some other threshold like -3), so that they stay in the normal sort order and don't jump to the top.

The accepted answer on this question on bh.se is -5 at time of writing, above an answer with +8 (which is quite a good score on our little site!). It also doesn't help things that the accepted answer is about a mile long so it takes a lot of scrolling to get past it:

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This is another thing that might be a user preference on SE... But in my opinion, having the accepted answer at the top is the most logical thing. This is after all what helped the OP most, and since at least 10 minutes must pass before an answer can be accepted, the OP will already have considered other answers. –  MDeSchaepmeester Apr 30 '13 at 7:42
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Wow... just, wow. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Apr 30 '13 at 7:47
    
I think the accepted answer should be on top; no matter how many votes. If it's not a useful answer, it should be flagged and removed. –  Kermit Apr 30 '13 at 14:03
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Answers get grayed out when they are -3 or lower. For consistency it would make sense to use the same threshold here. –  hammar Apr 30 '13 at 14:26
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@FreshPrinceOfSO - No, it should not be flagged. Moderators should not be placed in the position of having to decide the technical correctness of an answer, and I decline any flags I see like this. The proposed solution here seems to strike a reasonable balance between emphasizing the accepted answer of a user while still allowing the community to judge its correctness. –  Brad Larson Apr 30 '13 at 14:51
    
@BradLarson What amount of flags are needed to help a moderator decide the "correctness" of an answer? –  Kermit Apr 30 '13 at 14:53
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@FreshPrinceOfSO - None. We're elected to be janitors, not domain experts. We remove answers that are spam, trolling, nontechnical rants, follow-on questions, etc., but it's up to the community to decide the correctness of an answer via votes. If the community feels strongly enough to downvote and vote to delete an answer for technical reasons, great. We're not going to unilaterally delete an answer based on a flag because someone claims it is wrong. –  Brad Larson Apr 30 '13 at 14:57
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@BradLarson Janitors? That's depressing. I used to think of moderators as Greek gods. –  Kermit Apr 30 '13 at 15:03
    
@FreshPrinceOfSO: Sorry to disappoint. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Apr 30 '13 at 19:50
    
Mods = janitors? That's rubbish. They're custodians/gate-keepers who deal with content, users and crap that most people never see! –  nickhar May 1 '13 at 4:02
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@FreshPrinceOfSO I think this idea is borrowed from Wikipedia: "Wikipedia's administrative tools are often likened to a janitor's mop, leading to adminship being described at times as being "given the mop"." –  Andrew Grimm Jul 19 '13 at 2:38

3 Answers 3

up vote 23 down vote accepted

First off, excellent suggestion, thanks for writing this up. We discussed this extensively internally, and while I'm declining it right now I don't think it's without merit - it's just not something we think is worth the added complexity right now.

What follows is a rough summary of our internal discussions, heavily biased by my own prejudices and selective memory. Most of it pertains to this question in some tangential fashion.

The meaning and behavior of "Accept"

We heavily discourage thanking people here. Not because we're rude, ungrateful people - that's an unrelated issue - but rather because it is noisy. Instead, we provide the folks asking questions with a built-in way to say "thanks" - the ability to "accept" an answer. This isn't predicated on reputation or experience, but rather on the simple fact that you had a problem and someone tried to help you solve it.

By default, Stack Exchange uses a very simple ranking system for answers. An answer's score is upvotes-downvotes, with higher-scored answers appearing first in the default sort order.

...Except when there is an accepted answer. Then it always appears first. Regardless of sort order. This one little inconsistency was added as a way to highlight the importance of an answer which is presumed to have actually helped at least one person solve an actual problem they faced. In practice, other readers tend to agree with the asker in the vast majority of cases.

Note that the accepted answer can be changed at any time, for any reason, if the asker decides to do so.

Issues with pinning accepted answers

Regardless of the stated meaning, acceptance is often presumed to grant some official status as "best" or "most correct". If nothing else, it will be the answer read first by most readers. Therefore, it is somewhat embarrassing when that answer is tragically, woefully wrong.

A closely-related issue involves answers that were once very useful, but in the face of change have become out of date, obsolete, or simply less than ideal. Note that this can also be a problem with answers which were simply highly-voted during the period of time when they were correct, since votes do not age away. A related discussion on the maintenance of such answers.

Proposed solutions to the problem of bad or wrong suggested answers

Well, there's this one - unpinning when the answer score falls below some score threshold. And its slightly more complicated cousin, which wishes for downvotes to be considered by themselves. The only real issue with the former is that it adds complexity to a conceptually-simple system; the issues with the latter are detailed in the answers there.

One of the oldest (and probably most frequently-duplicated) suggestions is to allow trusted voters or moderators to change the accepted answer at-will. The primary issue with doing this is that this waters down the meaning of Accept, while a secondary one is the lack of a reliable means to select a group of users likely to know more about the topic than an asker.

A relatively unobtrusive option would be to just add a small notice to cases where the accepted answer is outranked, noting the existence of a potentially better one nearby.

And some of our devs have suggested that simply time-limiting the pinning granted by accept (say, pinned for 90 days then sorted normally) would at least prevent it from being an eyesore forever.

Rationale for doing nothing at this time

Once you establish significant thresholds (>= 10 point difference, less than 0), this affects a very small number of posts (see Appendix A, below). Adding another rule here increases complexity for new users without much offered in return (note that unpinning accepted answers already confuses folks when they find self-accepted answers).

As the example given above illustrates, simply deleting very bad answers can be an effective strategy here - this isn't always appropriate, but it does limit the potential for confusion. Of course, in cases where they can be edited without seriously deviating from the original meaning or intent, then that is preferable.

A larger issue is that of whether pinning ever makes sense for problems where there's no immediate, practical, testable solution to be had. As we continue to add more sites on less technical topics, the notion that there's any value in pinning an answer chosen by the asker becomes less sane; it may eventually make sense to disable this particular behavior entirely on some sites.

Appendix A: Accepted answer stats for Stack Overflow

  • 5,386,867 questions on Stack Overflow
  • 4,842,611 questions with at least one answer
  • 3,232,624 questions with an accepted answer
  •    344,600 questions where the accepted answer scores less than another answer
  •    239,804 questions where the accepted answer scores less than another answer after subtracting the score of that answer at the time the accepted answer was posted
  •      12,933 questions where the accepted answer scores 10 or more points less than another answer
  •        5,656 questions where the accepted answer scores less than 0 and less than another answer
  •        4,103 questions where the accepted answer scores less than 0 and another answer scores more than 0
  •           525 questions where the accepted answer scores less than 0 and 10 or more points less than another answer scoring more than 0
  •           237 questions where the accepted answer scores less than -3 and another answer scores more than 0
  • 4,017 questions where the accepted answer scores less than another answer and the author of the question no longer has an account on the site.
  • 97 questions where the accepted answer scores less than 0, less than another answer, and the author of the question no longer has an account on the site.

Gallbladder B: Accepted answer stats for Programmers

  • 15,982 questions with an accepted answer
  •   2,644 questions where the accepted answer scores less than another answer
  •   2,488 questions where the accepted answer scores less than another answer after subtracting the score of that answer at the time the accepted answer was posted
  •      494 questions where the accepted answer scores 10 or more points less than another answer
  •        15 questions where the accepted answer scores less than 0 and less than another answer
  •        15 questions where the accepted answer scores less than 0 and another answer scores more than 0
  •           8 questions where the accepted answer scores less than 0 and 10 or more points less than another answer scoring more than 0
  •           3 questions where the accepted answer scores less than -3 and another answer scores more than 0
  • 52 questions where the accepted answer scores less than another answer and the author of the question no longer has an account on the site.
  • 0 questions where the accepted answer scores less than 0, less than another answer, and the author of the question no longer has an account on the site.

(I would link to a SEDE query for this, but... SEDE is throwing fits today due to some ongoing maintenance.)

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Gallbladder? I usually go with Epiglottis, myself. –  mmyers Jul 19 '13 at 3:36
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Perhaps ironically, this question is currently accepted (and thus appears first) but scores 19 points less than the most highly voted answer and is hosted on a site where "there's no immediate, practical, testable solution to be had". –  JDB Nov 7 '13 at 15:18
    
If a downvote on a exempted answer stop it being exempted, there they may get more down votes. –  Ian Ringrose Aug 6 at 21:25
    
There is one nuance to the sorting presented here: if the OP accepts their own answer, it is given no "special" treatment; answers are in order strictly according to votes. –  Paul Draper Aug 25 at 11:22

I have seen many instances of downvoted answers being accepted across at at least half a dozen sites. I cannot think of a single instance where having the accepted answer be at the top in these situations was a good thing. They are almost always some combination of outright wrong and possibly dangerous. At the very least they are never answers that are useful to others.

  • On technical sites, usually this means somebody gave out a lazy hack (like alias rm="rm -rf") that—for good technical reasons—more experienced community members know is a bad idea but the OP ran off and did anyway.

  • On less technical sites, they are usually a case of bad-faith questions where the OP had a anti-expert answer in mind and somebody played along and gave them they answer they were looking for (usually that they already knew and where trying to promote in the first place).

Either way, these situations don't deserve the regular answer treatment.

In order to fix this but rule out most possible cases for abuse, I would think the same filter that applies to self-answers could kick in if the accepted answer is < -2. Often these are low quality questions that don't get a lot of attention and if one downvote was enough to trigger different behavior I could see an issue with revenge downvotes targeting 0-scored accepted answers being a problem. In situations were a question does get community attention and there is really something wrong with the accepted answer, even low traffic sites can pull it down a few extra votes.

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There's a precedent here for self-accepted self-answers whereby the order is reset to the votes. This seems like a sensible extension.

IMO downvotes are more important than the OP... just because the OP thinks it solves their problem does not mean it is correct/helpful to others.

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However, I've seen many cases where a heavily upvoted answer was wrong, simply because other people thought it was correct. Turns out, the accepted answer (with minimal upvotes) actually worked. –  Emrakul Apr 30 '13 at 20:18
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@KnightswhosayNi I've seen this also, but I think it is the exception rather than the rule. The same can be said for other questions (occasionally there is a gem which is non-accepted and with low votes). –  hayd Apr 30 '13 at 21:02
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An accepted answer with lots of downvotes is suspicious. A wrong answer with many upvotes is not. –  Emrakul Apr 30 '13 at 21:07
    
That last sentence is a very good point (and very succinctly put). +1. –  Kyle Strand Apr 30 '13 at 21:33
    
@Knights, this is a bit of a tangent, but in the case of highly-voted answers that experienced community members know are wrong, what recourse do they have, if any? Should such answers be flagged? Should they draw attention to them on meta in the hope of getting a lot of people to downvote them? –  Kyle Strand Apr 30 '13 at 21:35
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@KyleStrand perhaps see this question :s –  hayd Apr 30 '13 at 21:42
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@KnightswhosayNi -- I think a minimally-upvoted accepted answer out-weighing a heavily-upvoted but not as good answer is fine. But that's not the issue here. There is a difference between a not-upvoted-very-much and a downvoted answer. The former can happen for a number of reasons (another answer got the herd-mentality-upvote, their answer was too long, short, simple, or complex compared to another, etc...) but if there's nothing clearly wrong, it usually won't garner many downvotes regardless of upvote count. A downvoted accepted answer, on the other hand, is usually horribly wrong. –  Ben Lee May 2 '13 at 20:53

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