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Since there have been some questions up here recently that bring up the edge cases in which people can gain reputation without actually contributing much, I will add one more way that has recently been getting worse and worse (at least in my experience).

Someone posts a question. It is relatively simple and answer involves a link to a particular page of the documentation with perhaps a quick code sample on how to use it. You do this, get a few upvotes, all is well. Then, maybe fifteen minutes later, another user comes along and answers the exact same thing you said. This user will probably not get the accepted answer, but since the answer is in fact correct he will get a few upvotes. Theoretically, I could simply go around to C# questions (which I know nothing about), see what answer gets upvoted and quickly post something that is pretty much the same thing.

Is there anything to be done about this? Is it even a problem? I believe that it just adds noise to the site to have several answers that all say the same thing, not to mention the gaming aspect of it that people can gain reputation by not knowing anything. I have noticed a few users actually post comments on these kind of answers along the lines of "This was already said by so-and-so, you should remove this answer to reduce the noise" — is this the right approach?

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I don't think it is a big problem. Normally when there are two similar answers in a short space of time, both users started writing their answers at the same time, independently. If the question is simple, of course the answer will be the same. –  DisgruntledGoat Jul 8 '09 at 14:13
    
I'm not talking about 2, 3, 5 minutes, Goat. 15-20 minutes is sniping 99% of the time. –  Paolo Bergantino Jul 8 '09 at 18:23
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I'm not sure I agree. I might bring up a page, read the question, then start typing an answer. Next thing I know I get sidetracked by an email or someone coming into my office. By the time I finished typing the answer, it might be 15-20 minutes later, but my answer was still independent. Not saying there aren't who "snipe", but you can't determine that by time stamps alone. –  devuxer Jul 22 '09 at 0:20
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I have also been typing up an answer, get sidetracked by double checking my facts or a link and/or have to handle "Real work" and then end up posting 10 to 20 minutes later. –  tim Jul 22 '09 at 16:08

11 Answers 11

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I get frustrated when I see this - seems like it happens to me all the time. Generally, if I run across this, I look up who answered the question first, and then I comment on everybody else who offered the same solution and ask them politely to up-vote the original author. Sometimes they delete their answer, and up-vote the author, and sometimes they don't. Kinda annoys me that they don't acknowledge the same answer, and the fact that they were late.

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I don't think there's anything that can be done...and furthermore, I don't really see it as a big problem. A lot of the times I find differently worded versions of the same answer help me get my head around the problem better in the first place, which is a big plus.

Noise is one thing, but I have a hard time advocating the removal of correct noise. I'm all for getting rid of incorrect answers that could be misleading, though.

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I agree. Even if people have written the same, they don't usually write it in the same way and often I've got what I wanted from combining one person's example with another's explanation. –  serialhobbyist Jul 26 '09 at 11:28

Maybe we need a vote to close an answer or vote to delete an answer option? I completely agree that this is an issue and have seen it occur.

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Is it that easy to tell if someone is sniping versus actually composing their own answer? I sometimes ignore the new answer notification if I'm on a roll. Although, when I do that, I end up removing my post if I duplicated someone too badly. Maybe that's the difference? –  womp Jul 6 '09 at 22:11
    
It wouldn't typically happen to longer answers. Those will distinguish themselves. He's talking about shorter answers. –  devinb Jul 6 '09 at 22:14
    
Questions that are answered minutes apart may be hard to say were sniped... But when you see the same answer one with text above the code and the other with text below the code hours apart, its not that hard... –  RSolberg Jul 6 '09 at 22:15

I don't see it as a problem. If someone is going to continue to get rewarded for it they are going to continue doing it. Perhaps the community will wisen up and look at how far apart the answers are, but generally if they see two answers close together saying the same thing, they may not realize that one person came and posted a lot later and will just assume that it was a case of two similar answers getting posted at the same time.

If I see a vast difference in time, I personally won't vote for another answer that says the same thing. If there is a minimal time difference, then I will be much more generous in how I dole out my votes over multiple answers.

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Early on, I would down-vote answers that didn't add anything to what had already been said. I've kinda stopped doing that, but maybe it's not such a terrible idea... Many people do tend to take down-votes as a hint that they're doing something wrong, especially if coupled with a comment.

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Are you sure that is what really goes on - I mean gaming the system, or copying other people's answers with no real knowledge on the subject matter? I would think that at least 90% of the time people simply come up with similar answers independently (and unwittingly). Usually there isn't much harm in that, in my opinion. And, blatant copying aside, reputation isn't completely undeserved even if someone else was a bit faster in posting (the first draft of) a very similar answer.

Good example, note the comments: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1049833/multi-valued-hashtable-in-java

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Usually the two similar answers are different by a small token. Ideally the second poster would simply edit the first to add clarification. But many of the answerers are driven by rep - that's what the site promotes so it's to be expected. Given that, it's unlikely that the individuals answering will edit the original post rather than posting their own answer. I'd say, that the OP should step in and edit the original answer to include any relevant details from the later post to create the "official answer", then accept that one.

I've gone back to delete a couple of my own answers that overlapped others so significantly as to not add any value on their own. I believe that this was the original intent of the Disciplined badge, to encourage users to cooperatively create the best answer by deleting their own noise and adding new data to the accepted answer.

With any reward based system where individuals are only rewarded for their individual efforts you're gonna get noise like this. If there was a way to share rep, you might get better answers, but that would be incredibly difficult to pull off.

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I wouldn't consider this "sniping". Sniping is something else entirely. I would characterize this as "answer bottomfeeding" or "answer scavenging".

I generally vote like this: if two people come up with the same answer and it's clear they did so independently (by virtue of time answered being sufficiently close) then I will tend to upvote both. If someone posts an answer and someone then posts the same answer 10+ minutes later they clearly would've seen the original and chose to duplicate it anyway. In this case I certainly won't upvote it. If it's an exact copy it may even justify a downvote.

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This'd be one of those times where a comment with the downvote would be nice. –  cletus Jul 22 '09 at 14:58

Be careful that there are also spam attempts where they duplicate an existing answer with a link and just change the link to point to the site they want to spam.

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I have seen first answers with correct information, but then later someone comes along and says the same thing, but phrases it better, adds more links and code, etc. Those tend to attract attention.

if you're here for hitpoints, then there are lots of ways to get it. it is up to you. Use So how you like.

People do have to put in work to get hitpoints - if they don;t offer any additional value I don;t see them getting that many more though.

I don't see the problem.

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You notice how I said "the exact same thing" in italics? I'm not talking about people improving someone else's answer, I'm talking about straight up copies of an answer. You seem to be banging the "reputation doesn't matter" drum awfully loud, but it's hardly relevant here. –  Paolo Bergantino Jul 21 '09 at 23:26
    
wow. You seem awful agitated about this. Sorry to have caused you so much stress. Have you considered that some people just like responding and they don't read other people's answers? They might do it as an exercise. It is not the fault of the "copy cat" poster that they get upvotes - it is the voters. Again, I don't see a problem. –  tim Jul 22 '09 at 14:04

It's actually probably a good thing for a condensed answer based on a link to be posted, since eventually the link may disappear.

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