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I answered a question on SO earlier, but just before I clicked to submit my answer the alert bar appeared to say "1 new answer posted". I clicked to show it and it went along the lines of

Use xxxxx instead.

My answer was more of an explanatory paragraph, so I submitted it knowing that it provided a little bit more information as well as expanding on the solution provided by the previous answer to be a little more accurate.

Shortly after posting my answer, I refreshed the page (I usually hang around during the editing window after answers), only to find that the previous answer had been edited to include much of the information provided by my answer, minus the expansion on the solution. This was still within the editing window, so it didn't show up in the revision history. This rattled me a little bit, but I decided that I would try and expand my own answer by fixing the OP's code to include my solution.

After that, the previous answerer edited his answer again to include the fixes I'd provided in my answer, but also pointed out some other redundancies and optimisations for the code. Since then, he's had an upvote

I'm ready to admit defeat here, I don't think I'm going to edit my answer again and although I'm slightly miffed at the behaviour, I know it won't take me long to get over it. But, to the unsuspecting user, it pretty much looks like I ripped his answer off and it's a duplicate answer so, do I

  1. Delete my own answer?
  2. Comment on the other answer advising that if he's going to use information from another answer, he really should cite it.
  3. Do absolutely nothing, leave the answer there in case the OP's savvy enough to spot what happened and marks my answer anyway?

I think this is one of the serious downfalls to the 5 minute editing window and it would probably be much better if major edits left an audit trail.

See also:

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I don't think it would be inappropriate to provide a link to the question, if you wanted to do that. Your summary is detailed, but context is kind of lacking. –  Tim Post Jun 22 '10 at 10:29
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@Tim: I thought about it, but I don't really want to attract any sort of prejudice voting and I know that can happen when posting links on meta. If anyone really wanted to, they could find the question I'm talking about, I have only answered 2 today. –  Andy E Jun 22 '10 at 11:08
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@Shog9: thanks for the "see also" :-) –  Andy E Jun 22 '10 at 17:31
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+1 because I've been in your shoes. –  Pops Jun 22 '10 at 18:31

2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

This is a classic case of the fastest gun in the west. Some people post a very brief 'blurb' to begin gathering votes as quickly as possible, then edit their answer to be more complete (while keeping the question on the front page).

That is not always intentional, however. I've been over-eager myself to hit the submit button a few times just out of excitement for finally being able to make some odd bit of information I have useful to someone else. I once edited an answer that got 30 votes in an hour right into CW.

There's no reason to delete your answer if it was good and provided explanation that others lacked. It's also quite conceivable that the person who posted the brief answer already had every intention of adding the same details that you posted. In other words, they may have posted the same information even if you had not.

I usually just ignore the phenomenon and continue working on improving my own answer.

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Personally I only care if the best answer is there, so if someone else (preferably of lower rep) has answered the same thing, I will edit his question to add whatever additional info I had and delete mine. That way you only have to read one answer, which hopefully will be the best one too –  Ivo Flipse Jun 22 '10 at 11:54
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@Ivo Flipse - I know its perfectly acceptable to do so, I just feel ... odd ... when editing someone else's answer. Even with typos, I usually just leave a comment to alert the OP of the glitch, then remove the comment once its fixed. That said, some of the best answers on SO are a coherent summary of many answers put together. –  Tim Post Jun 22 '10 at 12:45
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@Ivo - this kind of feeling happens naturally only when you passed 5000 of reputation. When you are still fighting for precious votes, it's rare to see such "I care only about the best". –  Gnoupi Jun 22 '10 at 14:16
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I'll edit answers to fix typos, but I almost never change the content; I don't want to introduce a mistake and get the author completely undeserved downvotes –  Michael Mrozek Jun 22 '10 at 15:26
    
@Michael: often I first go looking for references to back my answer up. If someone else has simply posted the link of my own reference, I edit their post to include the info I gathered from that link. Hence, the chance for making mistakes is small. And I only do this if I think I know the solution myself. –  Ivo Flipse Jun 22 '10 at 15:34
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@Ivo Well, if I'm answering I always think I know the solution myself, I'm just not always right :) –  Michael Mrozek Jun 22 '10 at 15:37

As Tim said, posting an incomplete answer and editing it is common; I do that all the time. On the other hand, posting essentially a placeholder and then literally copy/pasting information from your answer in my opinion crosses the line; there was no reason for the author to do that, they could've just commented on your answer and dropped their own. Generally when I'm going to submit and plan to edit I stop to think if I'd be ok with that answer if I couldn't edit it; I wouldn't be ok with "Use xxxxx". I often edit my answer to add a code sample or link things I mentioned, and occasionally my edits are similar to new answers posted while I was editing, but that's different from actually taking information from those answers and adding it to your own.

Ideally you should say "oh well, at least the question got answered", but if this kind of thing got out of hand it would be really detrimental; people that actually know the answers would get tired of getting no credit for them and stop posting them, leaving the people that steal those answers to try and come up with answers on their own

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Personally, when I correct an answer I have with information from other answers I will usually say something like "Also, as SomeGuy said: " that is just me trying to make the answer complete, especially if the answer is accepted already –  Earlz Jun 22 '10 at 17:18
    
@Earlz: I agree with crediting an answer and I try and post a link directly to that answer when I do as you say, adding it for the sake of completeness. @Michael: The user didn't go as far as copy/pasting directly from my answer, he just updated his own answer to say the same thing. The order that it happened was what made it a bit annoying, I posted my answer, he edited his to match, I added to mine, he added to his to match. In the end, his answer was slightly better so I guess at least the OP got the best out of it :-) –  Andy E Jun 22 '10 at 17:30

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