Meta Stack Exchange is where users like you discuss bugs, features, and support issues that affect the software powering all 158 Stack Exchange communities.

What is meta?
Here's how it works:
  1. Any Stack Exchange user can ask a question
  2. The community provides support, votes on ideas, and reports bugs
  3. Your voice helps shape the way Stack Exchange operates

Sometimes I want to answer a question that looks like it will take me a good amount of time to will involve a bit of research, writing some code, experimenting, etc. I'd like to make an attempt to answer it (both for the reputation points and for the challenge), but I feel that if I try, someone will likely beat me to it and I will have wasted my time. While it's often great that the current system encourages quick answers, I think the site would be better if it wasn't always so much a speed competition, and people weren't always stomping all over each other to post first to "win the prize"....and instead were encouraged to take the time to answer questions well.

I think the current setup can discourage more thoughtful answers -- answers that might be better overall. I also think it discourages a certain type of question....those that really require a more lengthy solution (e.g. the "help me write this challenging algorithm" or "help me design a good object model" type of question). People sometimes don't bother answering them, or answering them well, because the last time they put that kind of time into it, someone beat them to it and got the points. Finally, I think it discourages a large percentage of users from participating at all, because it can be so hard to earn points, unless they have super encyclopedic knowledge -- even if they are willing to put in the time and effort.

I wonder if any thought has been put into ways to address this. For instance, one way might be for someone to post something that says "I'm working on this, I'll be done in an hour" . Then when done, they could edit the post with their answer. Although this is possible with the current site, it seems like really bad form. I wonder if there is a way to do it through the UI that would label the question as "being worked on" and by whom, so people can take that into account when choosing whether to put the time into trying to answer it themselves. Note that if someone does this, but then lets it expire without posting, it would cost them a few points.

Even the person who posts the question could influence this, by somehow saying "I'm in no hurry for an answer, take your time, I won't select an answer for at least X hours" (but not having to spell it out like that...just by selecting some UI control).

I know this would add complexity to the site, (I prefer the term "sophistication" to "complexity" though :) ), but I think it is worth discussion.

share|improve this question
See here:… – Jon Seigel Nov 30 '10 at 23:07
You could comment on the question: "I'm working on this, I'll be done in an hour." – Mark Rushakoff Nov 30 '10 at 23:22
up vote 1 down vote accepted

This is known as the Fastest Gun in the West problem, and it's been discussed quite often here on meta. I don't disagree with your concerns, but I'm afraid the structure of the site does. The scales are tipped toward the asker getting a correct answer as fast as possible and getting back to real work. What you're suggesting puts a larger emphasis on people earning rep points, which is only a side effect of the StackExchange network's real purpose.

share|improve this answer
Ok, well good to see it has a name. :) Too bad the site has to have its "scales tipped" any direction, in my opinion....I think it should depend on the question. (and I would argue that the rep points, while a "side effect", are critical to how the system works and why it differs so dramatically from other forums). Anyway thanks for the input. – rob Nov 30 '10 at 22:52
This answer seems to be based on the premise that StackExchange answers are useful mainly to the asker. This feels very contrary to my experience! I've gotten help and useful information from probably hundreds of StackExchange answers, and virtually all of them are old answers to other people's questions, which I found through search engines or by browsing the site. If my experience is typical, I'd imagine that most StackExchange answers yield the vast majority of their usefulness not to the asker within a day of posting, but to other readers over the following years. – Vectornaut May 19 '15 at 4:05

If a question requires more thought, it probably doesn't hurt to answer it a few hours or a day later. I try to do this on the WordPress Stack Exchange, because 1) it gives newcomers the chance to answer questions too (there's a small group of us high-rep users who seem to be "too quick" answering questions), 2) it makes sure the old unanswered questions pile gets some attention and 3) it reduces the chance that someone else is also working on this question. The rep is a side-issue: answers to hard questions in general get less upvotes than easy questions anyway, and we're here to help and learn, not only for the rep, aren't we?

So my advice is: let the question wait a little, and if it still needs an answer, invest your time. If someone else already gave a good answer, upvote it and do something else with your new free time.

share|improve this answer
Makes sense, although I admit I am fascinated with the "game" aspect of the site, and that I do answer questions for the points. (sorry!) It makes it satisfying to me. And I'll use them for bounties for things I need help with in the future, so they do have real value. – rob Dec 2 '10 at 4:13

You should also bear in mind that if you think that the question requires some effort to research and answer so will (virtually) everyone else.

While there is still a benefit for being first, the time scale over which this operates is longer than for so-called "simple" questions.

share|improve this answer
True, but there is no way to tell if someone else is currently attempting it. Maybe if there were a "save as draft" button, and others could see your draft to see that you are working on it and where you are going with it. – rob Nov 30 '10 at 23:06

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .