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I am sure this scenario is familiar to all of you.

You click an unanswered question and after reading the question, you want to help and answer. After you answered, you remain the first and only answerer with a solution.

After 15-20 seconds from your answer posting time, another answer comes up, suggesting exactly the solution you have suggested, but with more text (not necessarily more detail).

After a minute, more answers pop up with, again, exactly the same solution you have suggested.

After an hour, your answer gets no votes, but the other answers each get at least 1 up-vote, and the one posted right after yours not only has the most votes, but is also accepted.

What would be an elegant solution to stop this? I am sure I am not the only one who is annoyed by this situation.

After speaking to others about this situation, one of them happened to mention in passing about hovering the mouse over the time of the posting to see the accuracy of the time posted, which I did not know about.

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The SCITE problem? Discussed to death before. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/17910/… By the way, that happened to me more than once that I had come to the exact same solution as someone else completely independently. You can't be too quick to judge about the others either. –  LeakyCode Feb 12 '10 at 23:47

6 Answers 6

I would say that most users "know better"; that is, if there are two identical answers, they either vote for the older answer or both get up-voted. If another user improves their answer, well, good for them. That's what we want.

An apt quote from @shog9:

"If two answers are so similar, so interchangeable, or so fundamentally subjective that a single vote can mean the difference between one or the other garnering a lion's share of the up-votes, then there's really no point in worrying about it - either author could have chosen to improve their work; i don't lose any sleep over the battle between apathy and subterfuge." -- shog9

The point of the quote is, if one vote makes the difference between one post getting voted up and the other not, the post must be so trivial to begin with, that you shouldn't really worry about it. How votes are distributed for such subjectively trivial posts is a crap shoot, not really earned. I know it stings a bit when the vote distribution is so random but, really, you shouldn't worry about it.

"Bottom line: if you want to get up-votes, WRITE A GREAT ANSWER." - @Jeff Atwood

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The thing is that initial upvote bumps the answer up and makes other viewers vote it because "it's correct". –  LiraNuna Feb 12 '10 at 22:06
@LiraNuna: FWIW, I read both SO and MSO with answers sorted Oldest First - if you're really concerned about rewarding fast, correct answers, you can always do the same and give your vote to the first correct answer. For your own answers, I highly recommend taking the extra time to include auxiliary information, or better explain why your answer is correct: it works, it really does. IMHO, the truly great answers are those that teach. –  Shog9 Feb 13 '10 at 18:13
even the explanation why the answer is correct etc. can be copied (and slightly modified) afterwards –  Andre Holzner yesterday

Talk to me about it. This exact thing just happened to me. Jeff Atwood posted the exact same thing I posted 4 hours before and he got the accepted answer!

All joking aside, there really isn't anything you can do about that. Before, answers were sorted by votes/time, which led to the problem of people posting small, incomplete answers in order to get the accepted answer. Now they are sorted by votes/random, which solves that particular issue but brings out others.

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You probably mean votes not rep –  Andreas Bonini Feb 12 '10 at 22:02
And on next days, it will show "X days ago". All will think Jeff was first. A shame :) –  Johannes Schaub - litb Feb 12 '10 at 22:02
@Koper: You are right, my error has been corrected. –  Andrew Moore Feb 12 '10 at 22:04
@litb: Unless they decide to look at the tooltip but I doubt it. –  Andrew Moore Feb 12 '10 at 22:04
People naturally vote for the person with more reputation, aka 'name voting'. –  LiraNuna Feb 12 '10 at 22:04
@LiraNuna: Perhaps... but I often vote for the person with more rep because they know the subject better, which is why they have more rep in the first place. However, I do check timestamps first if there are two essentially identical answers. –  mmyers Feb 12 '10 at 22:22
"which is why they have more rep in the first place" -- that just means they spend more time in SO. Low reputation does not mean someone is 'dumber' then the other. –  LiraNuna Feb 12 '10 at 22:31
@LiraNuna: Let me clarify. People who know the subject generally post better answers. Therefore I vote for them. As a consequence, any such people who spend time on SO will get higher rep. I do not vote based on rep. Is that clearer now? –  mmyers Feb 12 '10 at 23:44

Not an answer per-se, but a different way of looking at the problem:

After 15-20 seconds from your answer posting time, another answer comes up, suggesting exactly the solution you have suggested, but with more text (not necessarily more detail).

After a minute, more answers pop up with, again, exactly the same solution you have suggested.

Which might also mean they type slower than you... a fair number of questions have a limited number of answers. If you thought of it that fast, there's a chance someone else did too. I wouldn't be surprised if a reply/comment similar to this appears while/shortly after I'm typing my rambling thought. (Edit: what appears after I submit? a similar answer! I'm reasonably certain he came up with it on his own.)

After an hour, your answer gets no votes, but the other answers each get at least 1 up-vote, and the one posted right after yours not only has the most votes, but is also accepted.

If you're not getting votes, find a way to improve it. If the two answers are virtually indistinguishable, why would someone vote for one over the other? To the community they are the same and the selection process is therefore random. I'm sure there's a lot of people who have been on both ends of this process. In the grand scheme of things it probably balances out.

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Even if they type slower than you, if they later notice they ended up with the same answer, they should delete theirs, because they simply are too late . –  Johannes Schaub - litb Feb 12 '10 at 22:22
@litb: no, they should find a way to improve the answer or at least make it more unique. However, the current system provides more rewards and little risk/reprisal for just leaving it than improving or deleting. –  AnonJr Feb 12 '10 at 22:26
I agree with both of you... Ideally, a duplicate answer would be improved... or deleted... or deleted in favor of the second author contributing to the first answer. But there's no way to force that; all you can do is act according to your own principles and hope that others do likewise. –  Shog9 Feb 13 '10 at 18:18

IMO, it should not be assumed that an answer that appears within seconds (unless the answer is really short, I don't think someone could read your answer and submit a copy that fast) or even minutes is copying your answer. I've had occasions where I typed an answer to a question and submitted, only to find that there were other answers submitted that said basically the same thing... and the "New answers have been submitted" bar hadn't appeared at the top of my screen.

As for answers with longer explanations, when a someone comes along later and compares a terse answer with little information to a longer answer with a good explanation, I see no problem with them voting for the longer answer. I've received (uncommented) down votes for which the only reason I could come up with was that a later answer had provided a longer and more complete explanation than the one I gave.

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The metric for upvotes is "helpful". It is fundamentally subjective, and depends on communications style, philosophical bent, and facts on tap among other things.

SO same "objective" content doesn't mean same helpfulness.

Some people may "get it" better with more words, or with slightly different words (changing just one word choice could make the difference).

Sorry, but that is the way it is, and the way it should be.

Not that I am unsympathetic or anything. I would swear that I get robbed---robbed I tell you---at least once a week.

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In response to Robert C. Cartaino's answer I would like to provide my opinion on his remark " If another user improves their answer, well, good for them. That's what we want.", also "But if the information you provided is so subjectively trivial that someone can just copy it without anybody noticing... it's probably not worth worrying about the random up-vote it might get.". Here's my take on this...

Define "improves"? or "subjectively trivial"? In the context of an SO user who has posted the answer first after someone else posted a near identical answer with their own embellishments to their answer, which raise the issue of the very nature and idea of the core economics of humanity and democracy. Such as posting an answer on SO or any other forum. The fundamental issue is the word 'copyright infringement', now I am no lawyer, but on behalf of someone who was distressed at the very nature of the copied answer posted in response to a question - 40 seconds later, a few words sprinkled here and there, guess who got the up-vote despite the 40 seconds difference - the other poster! Why? Because the other poster had more reputation and more badges. Which I think is creating a divide between the high reputation and low reputation... and it showed!

The SO and any other forum should treat others with respect and equally, not based on what their reputation points are or how many badges they have. The system is flawed, lest the time should be shown to include the seconds to counter and settle any arguments of plagiarism and copyright infringements...

Can you remove the tool-tip when the mouse hovers over the time of post submission and put that in as a permanent feature into the page?

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Can you link to a specific instance of this occurring? –  mmyers Feb 12 '10 at 23:45
@mmyers: stackoverflow.com/questions/2153023/… –  t0mm13b Feb 12 '10 at 23:58
This reads an awful lot like a question/discussion/argument, and not much like an answer. –  TM. Feb 13 '10 at 0:03
Now you can see first hand why discussions don't work on these sites... by design. Anyway, I revised my post a bit. I know you wont agree but, hopefully, I made my point clearer. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/39303/… . –  Robert Cartaino Feb 13 '10 at 13:25
Those answers were posted a minute apart... And the second author went on to explain why - that's exactly what we should be encouraging. –  Shog9 Feb 13 '10 at 18:19

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