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Please bring back the oldest sort order for answers, I think we can deal with four different types of sort order.

It's helpful if you don't want to have to tool-tip every post to see which got posted first, so that you can upvote the oldest answer when answers duplicate each other.

Edit: Also, trying to read newest backwards doesn't work well for questions with multiple pages of answers.

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Doesn't newest tab work the same (only in reverse)? –  Bill the Lizard Dec 6 '10 at 17:07
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@Bill: maybe so but it's a bit of a pain for questions with multiple pages of answers, don't you think? Besides, I've never found the need to sort by newest, yet oldest was my default sort on SO since as long as I can remember. –  Andy E Dec 6 '10 at 17:09
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I totally agree. The only time I've ever sorted by newest was to find this question from my search on how to get the oldest tab back. Same as Andy E's head, oldest was my default sort order. –  Richard Marskell - Drackir Dec 6 '10 at 17:27
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Yeah, "oldest" was my default sort order as well. I left it on "oldest" all the time, so I was pretty confused today when I noticed that answers were showing up in the wrong order. At the very least it'd be nice if there was some sort of notification when one of your preferences got obliterated. –  Laurence Gonsalves Dec 6 '10 at 19:12
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As for those saying "newest is basically the same thing" -- newest is like top-posting, while oldest is like bottom-posting. I want to see the oldest answers first so I can more easily see what later posts add (if anything). If two answers are basically identical, I want to vote on the older one. Having to scroll up through the list of answers is annoying -- you read each answer from top to bottom, but then you have to go up to get to the next one. –  Laurence Gonsalves Dec 6 '10 at 19:19
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@Arjan Users shouldn't have to follow a separate change log to know if their preferences are suddenly going to be ignored. There had to be code is Stack Exchange that saw that my preference was set to "oldest" and decided to change it to one of the still-existing options. That would have been the time to generate a notification for me that my preferences were being changed whether I liked it or not. –  Laurence Gonsalves Dec 6 '10 at 19:26
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@random, pagination isn't efficient for all purposes, in fact, I wish they had an option to let me have more answers on one page (but I'm ok living with pagination). –  Lance Roberts Dec 6 '10 at 19:31
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I think this may be an attempt to mitigate the fastest-gun-in-the-west problem. –  Lawrence Dol Dec 6 '10 at 23:35
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I'll give it a +1 as soon as I'll have enough rep on Meta SO! –  nyuszika7h Dec 9 '10 at 10:37
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@Software Monkey: "I think this may be an attempt to mitigate the fastest-gun-in-the-west problem." Perhaps. Not a good one, though. +1 fo bringing back "Oldest". As Lance said, we can handle four choices (or an "in order" option that does newest or oldest based on who often you click it -- but I prefer just a fourth option). –  T.J. Crowder Dec 9 '10 at 12:19
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@T.J.: Oh, indeed, I completely agree. Oldest first was always the sort order I used. –  Lawrence Dol Dec 9 '10 at 14:15
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Having now spent a day answering questions with the new system (I was away when it first got introduced), can I just say, rock on Andy -- we need "oldest" back (in whatever form) ASAP. –  T.J. Crowder Dec 10 '10 at 9:18
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@Software Monkey: "I think this may be an attempt to mitigate the fastest-gun-in-the-west problem." -- given the 6 upvotes and a bounty for void's answer and just two votes for the similar thing that Lance posted 2 days earlier as the very first answer, this might have changed into some slow-gun-in-the-west problem. :-( –  Arjan Dec 21 '10 at 14:55
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-1 from me because I used "newest" a lot as well and for some bizarre reason Atwoodian reasoning we can't have both. meh. –  Kev Jan 18 '11 at 11:37
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@Kev: the question posted is asking for 4 sort orders, including newest. I think your down vote belongs on Jeff's answer and/or my answer, and you should up vote the question. –  Andy E Jan 18 '11 at 14:09

8 Answers 8

up vote 31 down vote accepted

What's really bugging me right now is that my brain is set in oldest mode and I keep thinking answers are older than they are. I'd hate for my vote to accidentally go to an undeserving dupe answer posted 10 minutes later as a result of this. Sure, I might get used to it but I'd much rather see oldest return.

It makes more sense to replace newest with active, IMO. Before active came along, newest was mostly useful to a question asker to see the latest replies to his question. active takes this one step further, sorting answers by their posted or, if applicable recently edited timestamps. This makes the newest sort order fairly redundant — partially because newest provides no additional benefit over active, but especially in the case where none of the answers have been edited because they will be sorted exactly the same for both active and newest.

oldest is useful to both voters and askers. In an ideal world, an asker would accept the first posted "best answer" where there a few are identical. For voters, you have 30 votes to spend per day and a lot of high-activity users will cast those votes sparingly. On a very easy question in a popular tag, 5 or 6 similar answers can be posted within 1 minute, you don't want to waste 1/6th of your daily votes up voting each correct answer. It makes sense to up vote the first "best answer". With active, the only way to do this is to manually check the timestamps or sort by newest and read from bottom up - which can be a pain if there are multiple pages of answers.

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Could not agree more! –  Lawrence Dol Dec 9 '10 at 14:17
    
Totally agree (except for getting used to it). oldest is the way to, at the very least because that's how a conversation goes: to read the last answer you'll most likely need the context given by the previous ones –even more if commenting is an "award". –  void Dec 12 '10 at 22:36
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I totally agree that with active, you don't need newest. Please replace the newest sort order with oldest! –  awe Dec 13 '10 at 10:24
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Especially here on meta, which is more discussiony, it makes a lot of sense to read the answers in chronological order. –  sth Dec 16 '10 at 16:48
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I think what the SO team fail to recognize is that, unlike typical end-users, we programmers actively desire options - they don't confuse us, they empower us to tweak the system to how we like it. –  Lawrence Dol Dec 21 '10 at 18:24

Can't you simply make "Newest" clicked twice invert the order (and sort showing the oldest first)? I really, really can't understand why it was removed...

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Indeed, why can't all of them be reversed on each successive click? –  Lawrence Dol Dec 9 '10 at 14:17
    
+1 It was the first thing I did, when I saw "Newest" and figured out why things had gone all weird. And @void: Agreed. –  T.J. Crowder Dec 10 '10 at 9:24
    
This is just like Lance suggested in the oldest, very first answer, hence the same comment: this only helps if it remembers the last sort order. I'd not want to have to click over and over again. (But I guess it would indeed be implemented to remember the last ascending/descending order.) –  Arjan Dec 10 '10 at 13:14
    
@Arjan, it already remembers the last sorting order (through a Cookie, I guess)... unless they removed that too. BTW, the fact that this was the very first suggestion just helps probe the point: we need oldest->newest sorting :) –  void Dec 10 '10 at 17:47
    
Well, in any sort order Lance's answer was above the "new answer" box. ;-) More seriously: when implementing reversing the order on click, I like Lance's time label better than oldest or newest, unless the labels change on the fly too. –  Arjan Dec 17 '10 at 9:18
    
@Arjan, remember that people don't read :) Seriously, I agree, marking the labels in some way to indicate a normal or reversed order (e.g., up/down arrow) would be necessary. Then again, these are the kind of fine details that we wouldn't need to include, but I guess it's better to do so by "historical reasons" :) –  void Dec 18 '10 at 20:30
    
+1 for @Software Monkey - That's just how it should be, like anything else is in IT, period. –  Cawas Dec 21 '10 at 17:07

Though I know it's only been a day it's been there for over a month now, I still find this an odd annoying way to scroll and read. Before posting my own answer, this very question already needed 1,450 vertical pixels. Today, with new answers and comments (many still collapsed), it's 5,670 pixels. Is my screen too small for SOFU then?

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3,050 pixels and counting... –  Arjan Dec 7 '10 at 23:28
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Why keep scrolling down when new answers are posted (retreading) when you can have them at the top? –  random Dec 17 '10 at 2:18
    
@random, that is true when coming back to a question a lot (though then, for me, most often clicking the "last modified" time on the front page works just fine to get me to the right place with one click). But it's not that useful (at all) when reading things for the first time. –  Arjan Dec 17 '10 at 9:10

Having now spent a day answering questions with the new system (I was away when it first got introduced), can I just say, rock on Andy — we need "oldest" back (in whatever form, I don't care) ASAP. AND it should be the default. Oldest first is the least surprising thing to a newcomer. Don't think newcomers will see the tabs and make an informed choice; people don't observe and read that carefully — or as my friend puts it more plainly, "People don't read." (When he first asserted this to me in support of his side of an argument we were having, I laughed it off and said "well, then they get what they deserve." Several years since of dealing with people not reading has proven the wisdom of his words, and in this case, their not reading has impacts on the people trying to help them rather than just them.)

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After some contemplation, I agree that "oldest" is more unique than "newest", in that "active" is very similar to newest in practice.

So I replaced "newest" with "oldest", this will go out in the next deploy, sometime in the next 12-24 hours.

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Why not have both or make oldest flip to newest and back? This breaks one of the ways view answers. –  Kev Jan 18 '11 at 11:39
    
Looks like it's been rolled out already. Thanks, Jeff :-) –  Andy E Jan 18 '11 at 14:07
    
Thanks......... –  Lance Roberts Jan 18 '11 at 16:32
    
Great! I just noticed this. Thank you. –  Richard Marskell - Drackir Jan 18 '11 at 19:56
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Shame, reading oldest sort always does feel so very Experts-Exchange and phpBB like –  random Jan 19 '11 at 5:45
    
@random no accounting for tastes, but overall I agree that for most questions active and newest will be functionally identical –  Jeff Atwood Jan 19 '11 at 5:46
    
And you've also taken away the URL hack to set Newest as preference sort. Curse you Atwood! –  random Jan 19 '11 at 5:48
    
Yay! Thanks! ... –  T.J. Crowder Jan 19 '11 at 12:37
    
Excellent! Thank you. –  void Jan 26 '11 at 23:00

Greasemonkey to the rescue - I've built the StackExchange Oldest Answer Sort Order script that implements the oldest sort order on the client side.

Install - Source

A few caveats:

  1. The script will not run on questions that have more than one page of answers 1
  2. Since the sorting occurs client side, and SE uses a particularly stupid method of linking to answers, when going through the answer links the scroll position of the answers will change. I will add in a fix for this later.
  3. Accepted answers are moved to the top correctly, but deleted answers for 10k'ers are not.

Bug reports, suggestions to code quality, etc. welcome.


1 Although it is technically feasible to load the additional questions through ajax, questions with a huge number of answers, like http://stackoverflow.com/questions/194812/list-of-freely-available-programming-books will likely kill your browser and/or cause SO to IP block you for erhm... stress testing their servers

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Nice. But wondering what so odd about the permalinks to answers. Leaving out the question number would not help you, would it? –  Arjan Dec 23 '10 at 9:23
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I was going to do the same thing, but I thought if we wrote our own solution the request would end up being ignored (although there's not been much official discussion on the matter). +1 and good work anyway. –  Andy E Dec 23 '10 at 9:34
    
@Arjan Look at the #answers a elements - SO uses named a anchors to get the page scrolled to the correct answer - the script breaks this, by shifting the answer div but not the a element that comes before it. There's really no need for the a elements, since each answer already has an unique id that can be used as the target for the hash, but oh well... –  Yi Jiang Dec 23 '10 at 17:17
    
@Yi Jiang: But that only works if the user has JavaScript enabled. –  Hello71 Jan 6 '11 at 3:29

How about as a compromise having one Time order tab, that will give you the option of sorting in either direction?

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I was about to upvote, but I really rather have oldest back. (Unless the "time" tab would remember the last sort order?) –  Arjan Dec 6 '10 at 18:55
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@Arjan, I was assuming that it would remember, but only time will tell. –  Lance Roberts Dec 6 '10 at 19:07

Newest does what Oldest did but puts the new posts on top. If you want to see what's been posted first, look to the lowest layer. It follows natural earth building logic. You don't have Sumerian corpses laying atop Iraqis.

If you come across a question with over a page of answers it's time to start downvoting the duplicate noise or consider closing as not a real question.

Bringing back Oldest would not make it four sort options. It would be three and an upside-down version.

  • Active - Last time an answer was touched
  • Newest - Timestamp of original posting (first revision)
  • Votes - Aggregate score on an answer.
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Likewise "active" does what "newest" does but just sorts differently too ;-) –  Arjan Dec 6 '10 at 18:56
    
Oldest and Newest used the same anchor to reference, just mirroring each other. @arj –  random Dec 6 '10 at 19:21
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Yes, archeological strata is truly the ultimate UI metaphor. </SARCASM> –  Laurence Gonsalves Dec 6 '10 at 19:27
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We're not talking about earth building, we're talking about website readability. See @Arjan's image of how you look through the page now to find the oldest correct answer. That, vs just scrolling down as you go. –  Richard Marskell - Drackir Dec 6 '10 at 19:34
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Q&A needs to feel more like a traditional forum –  random Dec 6 '10 at 20:02
    
Indeed, I prefer the "traditional" forum ordering while answering questions. (Surely things may be different for those searching for answers, though even then I guess "votes" and "oldest" are more useful than "newest", while a question asker might prefer "newest" indeed.) –  Arjan Dec 6 '10 at 20:12

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