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Sometimes I answer a question, and later see that other people who answered before me have edited their answers to roll my answer into their own. When I borrow part of someone else's answer, I always try to give that person credit, with a link to their answer. Unfortunately, not everyone does this, and only one answer can be marked as "best answer." I've also noticed that only one out of a group of similar answers will get consistently upvoted.

I also see the same thing when I'm looking at other people's answers to questions that I haven't answered. When I run across "copycat" answers in these cases, I usually look at the answer/edit times to see who gave the best answer first, then I upvote only that answer. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to determine whose answer came first, so I'm curious what other people do when voting on an answer, and what you do when someone else clearly copies your answer. To muddy things even further, there's also the possibility that the "copycat" may have inadvertently copied your answer without realizing it (i.e., they gave the problem some more thought and later added the same details to their own answer without actually reading yours).

  1. Does anyone else pay attention to the answer/edit times when upvoting an answer that is similar to another answer? (And how do you decide which came first, when the "fuzzy-time" is the same?)
  2. How deep should one bother to look when trying to look into copycats? (Just edit times, or also look at revision histories?)
  3. If you suspect someone of copying a critical part of your answer and rolling it into their own answer, should you then copy some part of their answer and roll it into yours, so that yours doesn't look less complete?
  4. If there are many similar/identical answers, should we upvote just one of them, all of the ones that were posted within roughly same "fuzzy-time," or all of them?
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Annoyingly, I just totally had this done to me on SO, with the other edited reply getting the answer. Tempted to unleash whoop-ass, but breathe repeat to self "it doesn't matter", "it doesn't matter"... sometimes self-control is quite a test of morality when you have ♦ access. –  Marc Gravell Dec 28 '09 at 22:58
    
related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/17910/… –  LeakyCode Dec 30 '09 at 0:26
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Thanks for the great answers, everyone. I upvoted them all. –  rob Jan 8 '10 at 0:08

6 Answers 6

up vote 6 down vote accepted

This is so hard to say!

I have had an issue recently on SuperUser where someone accused me of stealing their answer because there was basically two bits of information in it, and it was the same... However, I only saw the first bit of information (about 5 seconds before I clicked submit, it had the notification of a new answer), and mine went through.

After a few minutes, I got a message from my answer with the person saying that I copied them, and I went to take a look, and they had the second piece added.

I have no idea if they copied me and wrote it, or if they were editing it after I clicked submit and it was a coincidence... But, as far as I was concerned, my answer was unique (in its entirety)... as others see it, same answer and mine came at a later time.

There has also been times when an answer could just require a yes/no, however, if I can, I like to give some background or further information... This can also lead to duplicate answers as it can take significantly longer to write.

I think you are best off judging each case on its own. I would personally always go for the answer that gives me the most detail and background, where it has shown skill or knowledge by the writer.

For example, if I wrote a question asking What command for x?, and someone responded type y, and another person wrote You need the y command, y does this and it affects z... or something similar, I would go for the one who gives background.

Now, it is hard if there are two people who give detailed information! This has happened a few times in the few questions I have asked, so... I roll a die! Maybe a bit of fun, but I think until there is a way to acknowledge additional good answers, that is the way to do it!

I just think it should be about good quality answers, not who is the fastest to type.

... The only other way would be to get rid of marking an answer as accepted and simply allow the question to be marked as answered and then have just upvotes... so people will always be drawn to the best written, most voted for answer.

(Sorry if this isn't very articulate, hopefully I got the point across!.. I am very tired!)

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" roll a die " -- one die, two dice. –  Sinan Ünür Dec 28 '09 at 23:18
    
@Sinan +1, changed!... I am better at technical answers than spelling! –  William Hilsum Dec 30 '09 at 0:15
    
I like the idea of rolling a die for those cases when there are multiple good answers, and you can't pick just one. It's also nice when people put the time in to elaborate on why their answer is correct, although sometimes I'm just looking for a quick solution and don't need to know the nitty gritty details. –  rob Jan 8 '10 at 0:10
    
@Sinan Ünür: "dice" is acceptable singular according to OED: askoxford.com:80/concise_oed/dice?view=uk –  dreamlax May 21 '10 at 13:57
    
@dreamlax: One can say "roll the dice" to refer to one or many dice, but "roll a dice"? Aaaargghh! –  Sinan Ünür May 28 '10 at 0:22
    
@Sinan Ünür: Personally, I say 'die' for the singular, but if I hear someone use 'dice' for the singular I don't complain; it's not like I don't know what they mean, heh heh. It used to annoy me more when people "overpluralised", like saying "feets". –  dreamlax May 28 '10 at 7:46

One other valid scenario is that they genuinely had additional thoughts at the moment of hitting "post your answer" (for some reason that button almost usually triggers at least one more caveat etc). It isn't necessarily the case that just because they cover the same material the answer was copied from you - it is the same question, after all. I'm not saying it never happens, either.

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The funny thing about your answer is that, at the very time you were posting it, I was editing my question to add this case. +1 to you for uncanny pertinence. :D –  rob Dec 28 '09 at 22:40
    
If I edit my post and realize after that somebody else beat me to the full correct answer, I always either re-edit to say "as foo said" if I like something about my post theirs doesn't cover, or just delete mine if they have exactly the same information. My answer was "first", but the complete answer wasn't –  Michael Mrozek May 21 '10 at 5:22
  1. Yes. In fact, I always browse SO in "oldest first" mode so that the first answer I read is the first one posted.

  2. Unless the answers are non-trivial and suspiciously identical, don't waste your time.

  3. If it's valuable, then you should include it regardless. There's no point in keeping a less useful answer around, so either improve it or delete it.

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Thanks for the tips. Regarding #1: what about cases in which the oldest answer was edited to include someone else's answer? –  rob Dec 29 '09 at 20:17
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Well, that at least mean that the author is paying attention and can recognize something of value when he sees it; the "scatter-shot" answers whose authors disappear immediately are a bigger problem, IMHO. Really, don't worry about it so much: most of the duplicate answers I see are so trivial that plenty of folks could easily have come up with them independently within seconds of reading the question (jQuery selectors for instance, or links to API references). Unless you see a longer, detailed answer copied verbatim, I wouldn't recommend looking into it any further. –  Shog9 Dec 29 '09 at 23:40

The primary goal of these sites is to post good answers. The secondary goal, and it's far behind, is to play with rep. If I think that my answer is worth keeping, but someone else has one critical bit that I missed, I will absolutely take it. And upvote their answer if it's a good answer. If my answer contains one useful bit that should be added to theirs, I'll add a comment to theirs suggesting that they take it.

Getting all hot and bothered about 'stealing' is pretty immature. No one is getting tenure here or a book deal.

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I like this answer. Too easy to get hung up on the rep, forgetting that the primary purpose of voting is to highlight good answers. –  Shog9 Dec 30 '09 at 4:14

The rule is, in my view, very simple: Vote up good answers.

The goal of the service is to have questions with great answers at the top of the list, not to create a little reputation gaming website.

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I think the answer to this question depends on how you think these sites should work, i.e. the process or protocol in which we should all participate.

As I was reading your question, I realized that maybe we should be copying other answers, even our own! Just think of it as editing. See this question about answering multiple times ( from the perspective of a single user) – the most upvoted answer is that it's perfectly acceptable and the answers should be separate (e.g. don't put two answers in the same [site] 'Answer').

When someone copies your answer, copy there answer right back and edit it to be the best answer. Don't hold on to the territory of a single 'Answer'!

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This site has an 'Add Another Answer' button after you answer a question. –  Kenny Evitt May 21 '10 at 2:21

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