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I realize that there are questions that don't get quick responses or good answers. But, Why do you think responses to good questions come so quickly and with great quality?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Because the people who have all of the answers are 'trolling'(in the fishing sense) the site for questions they can answer.

Wow, people don't like the word trolling. What I picture when I see the word trolling is someone sitting on a boat, slowly driving around a lake looking for fish.

So, when I apply that word to the internet, I mean someone continuously looking through the lake site(s) for new fish questions to catch answer.

I'm from Minnesota, so, maybe thats why I have a different sense of the word trolling. (We fish a lot here)

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@jjnguy, Trolling eh? So if the reason is trolling, why do people troll around looking to answer questions? Why not another site or doing something that will make them money? – Mike Grace Jul 19 '09 at 5:17
Or just, "Because people are trolling the site for questions they can answer." – mmyers Jul 19 '09 at 5:18
@Mike Grace: Trolling is a form of fishing; I don't think jjnguy meant the Internet usage of the word. – mmyers Jul 19 '09 at 5:19
You probably mean "polling" or "trawling" rather than "trolling". – cletus Jul 19 '09 at 5:19
When I say trolling, I mean coming back to the site over, and over. – jjnguy Jul 19 '09 at 5:25
Yeah, thats not what trolling means. Trawling? Sure. Trolling? No. – cletus Jul 19 '09 at 7:02
It's probably worth being careful with that word when it usually has such a negative connotation on the net. If you don't mean it in a negative sense, I'd suggest you use a different word. – Jon Skeet Jul 19 '09 at 7:02
@cletus: "trawling" and "trolling" are both kinds of fishing, and the internet meaning of "trolling" derives from its fishing meaning. – RichieHindle Jul 19 '09 at 9:30
I Think of trolling up and down The Mississippi, in my grandpa's old green Starcraft. – Brad Gilbert Jul 20 '09 at 1:16
I think about trolling around my grandpa's lake, fishing and drinking beer. – jjnguy Jul 20 '09 at 1:21

I think there's some human psychology at work here.

I think it's a combination of some of the following factors...

  • Boost to self-esteem from being seen to have the right answer (in public)
  • Boost to self-esteem from being perceived as an "expert" on something
  • The element of competing against your peers (through reputation points)
  • The good feeling you get when you've helped someone else
  • The novelty value of this kind of community-based approach (might wear off in time as more similar sites get set up)
  • The fear of losing out on "easy" reputation points to another user for a question you know something about (accounts for the quick answers, but is driven by the reasons mentioned above)
  • The fear of looking stupid in front of your peers, some of whom may know you personally in the real world (hence high-quality answers, and the need to keep those answers high-quality consistently)
  • The pain involved in setting up a new account if you make yourself look like an idiot on the current one

I've just brainstormed a few answers there. It basically comes down to some combination of pleasure/pain linked in with the approval of others...all powerful human drivers.

I think these sites play on that combination of base human instincts pretty well and it's quite easy to get drawn in. Hence you get many "addicts" hopping on every question they can answer, and usually providing well-regarded answers.

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Stackoverflow is like playing Monopoly.

I've found that answering quickly is a huge advantage. After several attempts at answering with really good answers, I found I was being outdone by people with rather simplistic (and often incorrect) answers. Amazingly, sometimes the questioner had awarded the checkmark to some lame answer while I was in my second or third paragraph.

I realized you just want to throw something up there quickly to "buy" the real estate. I'll often answer now with a very short sentence. The down side to this is that you can get early downvotes.

Then you upgrade the real estate by building a nice answer on it. The downvoters then look like dorks.

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Definitely the best system for now, but I wonder how it will change when down votes are worth -5/-2 – Ian Elliott Jul 30 '09 at 20:48
Don't know. At that point things might be confusing enough that I give up answering. :-) – Nosredna Jul 30 '09 at 20:56

It would be unrealistic to claim that at least some of Joe's points don't apply to me, but in addition:

  • I often (both on SO and usenet before that) will get interested in a question that I can't currently answer; so I'll try to find out (on the train etc; I have a decent length commute!) by playing. Hopefully something approaching an answer will appear by the time I get to the other end...
    • if the original question is still unresolved, or my findings add some extra detail, then I'll post it
    • but either way, I've learnt something
  • I'm also very interested in other peoples replies, in particular on the non-trivial questions; with people like Jon, Eric Lippert, Jared Parsons (and many others) "in da house" there is a good chance of a useful reply that adds some detail you didn't know but is useful

I consider myself fairly knowledgeable in my pet areas, but I'm very sure that I wouldn't be nearly as competent if I hadn't spent years reading (and writing) replies on sites like this.

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I agree with you Marc - there is that learning element too. Though, that doesn't necessarily explain the quickness of the answers which the OP refers to – Joe Schmoe Jul 19 '09 at 10:41

Do they? Some great questions take time to answer. And even then, the answers may not be "great" initially. As others have suggested, asking questions on Stackoverflow is a bit like a game - or a system you learn to manipulate. You learn how to ask, when to ask, and more with results in a net increase in good responses, some instantly, and some after a short wait.

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