# Is It Time for a Duel System on Stack Overflow?

I was thinking over the weekend if there was a way to "correct" answers that were hastily marked as correct, or otherwise just plain wrong. It then occurred to me that time can also invalidate "correct" answers — and there should be a mechanism for cleaning up these answers.

Use Case: User asks a question about jQuery 1.5.1 callbacks. Answerer1 comes on and gives a reasonable answer, and the User accepts it. Dave Ward (@encosia — jQuery expert) sees the question and is sad — because the answer is wrong. Dave can do nothing but provide his answer and hope that people will read it, rather than the answer with a big green check mark.

This really should not be the case.

Proposed Solution: A "Duel" System.

If you play World of Warcraft (or any other MMO) you know that PvP is a very, very big aspect of the game world, and "dueling" is a much-loved feature. Stack Overflow is, in a way, an MMO for geeks and what they know. Being able to gain rep by "cleaning up" and challenging wrong answers would benefit everyone — here's why:

• People providing an answer think twice before offering "off the cuff" answers and might try just a bit harder to "get it right"
• Old answers have a chance of being "cleaned up"
• It's a hell of a lot of fun

Mechanics

Using the initial Use Case — Dave Ward would throw down a challenge to the accepted answer for the jQuery question, and he would stake a bit of his reputation on it. If the answerer accepts — then a challenge is opened. Dave can only throw a challenge because he has more than 3000 rep (you need to earn the right to challenge).

When the challenge is opened, Dave and Answerer1 have 0 "duel points". They each state their case, up to 3 posts apiece (duel wisely!). Users vote up each dueler until 20 votes are reached — at which point a winner is declared.

If Dave wins, he is awarded experience — calculated based on his original "rep ante". If Dave loses — he loses that rep, and the person he challenged earns some rep for a successful defense.

Once Dave wins, his answer is marked as the answer, with a little notation that it was as the result of a duel.

Dueling is Fun

One of the interesting aspect of this would be a "duel feed" that users could subscribe to. "Skeet is Dueling Gravell!" would be a pretty interesting thing to see. I can tell you that I would love to subscribe to the "Duel feed" to see people discuss and suss out technical debates — it's how we learn, after all, and is the basis of a lot of scientific societies (debating issues on meeting floor of the society).

Controls Duels can be managed by the community in the same way Q&A is right now: self-policing. Moderators etc. can stop a duel if there appears to be silliness, nastiness, or mischief.

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How do we choose a second? –  Gabe Apr 16 '11 at 5:28
I get a downvote for that question? –  Rob Conery Apr 16 '11 at 5:29
Add a note about downvoting on Meta –  YOU Apr 16 '11 at 5:33
I have no idea what any of this means, but I am upvoting it for style –  Jeff Atwood Apr 16 '11 at 5:46
You fight like a Dairy Farmer. –  Michael Stum Apr 16 '11 at 6:16
I bet you could charge money for "Skeet v. Gravell". Pay-per-view might even broadcast it. –  Josh Caswell Apr 16 '11 at 6:16
I like the term faceoff better. But that is just me. –  Kim Stacks Apr 16 '11 at 6:21
"There's only one way to find out.. Fight!" --Harry Hill –  Iain Holder Apr 16 '11 at 6:27
Part of why this wouldn't be interesting or why you'll never see a "skeet v. gravell" is because those guys will very rarely, if ever, submit an answer so wrong that someone will have a dramatically better answer. basically people will say stuff in the comments and they'll correct themselves if they are, in fact, wrong. you may find less knowledgeable people dueling, but even that doesn't necessarily guarantee a better answer. –  Jason Apr 16 '11 at 7:31
@Jason: +1 for a perfectly true, though emotionally unsatisfying, point. :) –  Josh Caswell Apr 16 '11 at 7:35
What if the original answerer never bothers to answer the duel? Should it expire after some point in time? –  James Webster Apr 16 '11 at 9:39
Excellent idea, I really dig this! –  JGarrido Apr 16 '11 at 15:28
Very similar to the Full contact moderating feature request. –  Adam Davis Apr 16 '11 at 18:13
I like the idea: it allows for great but late answers to get enough action to move to the top, if the OP doesn't come and accept the new, better answer. –  Borror0 Apr 16 '11 at 19:09

If the accepted answer is somehow dangerously or urgently wrong, simpler solutions are available:

• Edit the accepted answer to improve it. Even 1 rep users can suggest edits now.

• Flag the accepted answer for moderator attention.

Or.. y'know... a duel.

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It looks like you're proposing users engage in antiquated methods of personal combat resolution by violence. You should totally drop that and try jQuery. –  mmyers Apr 16 '11 at 6:40
To the death! –  Pëkka Apr 16 '11 at 8:31
I've seen flags on questions indicating that the answer is just plain wrong, but no action is taken even after every single active mod sees it. Some tags / topics are just outside of our combined expertise. Is it appropriate for us, then to edit the accepted answer with a note that it might be problematic? –  Tim Post Apr 16 '11 at 8:36
Coming to games, WoW mentioned, there are a typical behavior for success. Time and overzealously! Games always form two levels of players based on those together. If it's a pro or a con as a game on knowlegde? I can't say.. –  Independent Apr 16 '11 at 9:23
@Pekka: No! To the pain. –  dmckee Apr 16 '11 at 16:22
Time and overzealousy? I think I saw some sort of a Q&A site that tried to employ the same principles once. I'll see whether I can find the link. –  Pëkka Apr 17 '11 at 6:20
@tim I would say mod flagging in this specific case should be the method of last resort, when editing, commenting, and your-own-answering has not worked. In other words, it should be really rare. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 17 '11 at 8:38

If this is implemented, it should be done via a gauntlet icon next to the answer marked as correct. The alt text for the icon would read Demand satisfaction, and when clicked there would be a "throw down the gauntlet" animation.

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+1 and I am seriously considering creating 1000 sock-puppet accounts for the sole purpose of upvoting this answer. –  Josh Caswell Apr 16 '11 at 5:57
+1. And, I would like to see CSS styling in the Mad-Max motif. You know: .two-man-enter-one-man-leave { border: 12px solid; } –  jro Apr 16 '11 at 6:33
But I Can't Get No Satisfaction. (Keep this for next April 1.) –  Donal Fellows Apr 16 '11 at 8:35
@Donal: "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" would play if the user being challenged refused to duel -- or maybe if they couldn't agree on a time and a place. –  Gabe Apr 16 '11 at 13:26
@Josh Cashwell - Actually, you can't; you need at least 15 rep just to upvote, unfortunately :( (still working on mine, thanks for giving me something to comment on - every little bit helps!) –  JGarrido Apr 16 '11 at 15:31
@JGarrido: thanks, that's true -- an unfortunate hurdle. –  Josh Caswell Apr 16 '11 at 15:56
2. Place a bounty on the question.
3. The gauntlet is down.
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But then you lose the rep no matter who you give the bounty too. –  John Apr 16 '11 at 22:18
@John: You gain rep for upvotes, but it doesn't really matter. The point is to get the right answer to the top of the page. –  Bill the Lizard Apr 16 '11 at 23:36
This reminds me of playing Golden Eye back when that was fresh. We got tired of killing each other so we loaded proximity mines in the stack and created our own game called hold down the bathroom. Tons of fun to create your own games in systems that allow it, but this proposal has more of a sacrificial feeling to it. –  Nick Larsen Apr 17 '11 at 3:45

There are three excellent solutions that already exist:

1. The asker can always change the accepted answer if xe finds another one to be more helpful; remember, the accepted answer is not the right answer, but the one that helped the asker the most.

2. The community can simply vote up the unaccepted better answer, and everyone who sees the question will see that answer right under the accepted one, after figuring out that the accepted one doesn't work.

3. Comment on the accepted answer pointing out the problems (or edit corrections in, if they're not too much).

In any of these three, the wrong answer will be downvoted, which basically addresses the first three reasons why you think this should be done. As for the fourth, Stack Exchange is only a game to a certain extent.

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Thank you - I understand this and I get that there is a way to do it, but I think it can be done better. It's incredibly frustrating to drop in on a Q&A and have to defend your answer against something that's blatantly wrong - the ability to stake your reputation on it seems to be a great way to help that problem. –  Rob Conery Apr 16 '11 at 5:36

I'll only go for this if we can get a FATALITY animation when someone wins.

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Something with a unicorn goring another would seem appropriate and oddly tasteful. –  MPelletier Apr 16 '11 at 12:12
@MPelletier - Killing a unicorn is evil; haven't you ever watched Harry Potter? Next thing you know they'll be letting He Who Shall Not Be Named officiate. –  tvanfosson Apr 16 '11 at 13:46
@tvanfosson: What if it's a robot unicorn like in Robot Unicorn Attack? –  MPelletier Apr 16 '11 at 13:48
@MPelletier - I hate Flash. Thanks for crashing my browser, Adobe! –  tvanfosson Apr 16 '11 at 13:53
@tvanfosson: I think we can credit that game as being a major source of inspiration for the April 1st 2010 unicorn avatar, and the ensuing unicorn lovefest that followed here ever since. –  MPelletier Apr 16 '11 at 14:16

First of I just want to say that this is the single most innovative feature request I've seen on meta. While I may not agree with the specifics of the proposed implementation, I think the idea is sound.

In the spirit of this proposal I would like to challenge Jeff's and Bill's answers. Sure, they are proposing possible solutions, but they're neglecting a critical aspect of stackoverflow (and I suppose human nature): We use reputation and badges to motivate people to do the right thing (i.e. what's good for the community).

The answers of Bill and Jeff are relying on the purity of our hearts and our will to sacrifice ourselves for the community. Bill's more so than Jeff's. If you consider that most people hesitate to downvote an obviously incorrect answer, for the sake of not losing 1 rep. How many do you think would sacrifice 50+ rep, as Bill is suggesting, just to make the community aware that there is a better answer? Sure, the recognition of this martyrdom would be enough to motivate some and you might even gain enough upvotes compensate for the lost rep.

Even if Jeff's solution doesn't involve losing any rep it's still somewhat less motivating than Bill's solution. Editing someone else's answer to make it correct or even brilliant, means sacrificing your time and not even get recognition for it. Subsequent users will upvote the answer and the user that provided the incorrect answer that you later improved will get the credit and gain all the rep. Sure some people will look at the revision history and realize that you're the one deserving the credit (and rep), but there won't be much they can do about it.

The proposed duel system at least attempts to fix this and I think it has a great chance of succeeding if it's properly tweaked. Perhaps we need a second question discussing the details of the implementation.

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If I read your suggestion correctly, it sounds like the OP is complety uninvolved...which doesn't really make sense.

So that is why SE has effectively the community best anwer; as decided by votes. However, if a second answer has far more votes than the accepted answer (populist badge - http://meta.stackoverflow.com/badges/37/populist) then maybe it should be highlighted in some way like the accepted answer with the green tick. Probably the populist badge is too high of a threshhold but the concept is right

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I like this idea or Something Like This™. The intent was explicitly to give higher rep users a way to bring attention to questions [on stack overflow] which either have gray area or truly need further refinement. This wasn't so much for new guy A asks question and new guy B answers obviously wrong answer to old guy C but new guy A accepts new guy B's answer being so happy that his question received an answer on the internet! type situations, but more for high rep users to use that rep to challenge some of the harder questions. The mechanics are just thoughts, and sitting here now I can think of 10 awesome implementations of Something Like This™. It's also fun to watch people with more reputation defend points made.

WE'RE ALL GAMING IT SOMEHOW
Maybe gaming it isn't the right word, but just about every consistent answerer has a pattern or methodology to how they select questions to answer. Personally (though my answer rate has dropped off significantly since my relocation), I scroll to the bottom of the interesting page, find a non selected answer question that's 3 or 4 hours old with only 2 or fewer answers, and research the solution to it. I also browse a few select tags and spend a fair amount of time reviewing each question posted to them, answered or not.

Integrating a more directly localized competitive mechanic would be something I for one would see as engaging. The community gets the benefit by means of me answering harder questions with more detail and research.

PROBLEMS WITH CURRENT SOLUTIONS
Editing someone else's answer for reasons other than making it more readable or to fix an obvious typo kinda gives me the willies. If a better answer exists, it should be it's own answer because then the person with the better answer gets the reputation for it, and the person who answered it initially doesn't get reputation undeserved by ability. Of course sometimes answers just need a little help and adding a comment works fine.

If the question is old and/or has a selected answer, the likelihood of a new answer gaining clout is particularly low because unless the reader is well studied enough in the topic of the question to know the selected answer is immediately wrong, they should or are completely justified in just accepting it themselves and moving on. If the selected answer appears to solve the problem, my time is better spent doing things other than running around questioning everything because otherwise I would never get anything done.

Creating a bounty is useful, though I would almost prefer no check mark show up on the selected answer until the bounty is completed and the question is returned to larger pool.

In talking with some other team members about this later on, it became clear that a few requirements have to be in place, and for the purpose of not bastardizing what all was said, I'll just stick to the themes.

The idea here is two fold. Over time the correct answer to some questions does in fact change, either as new issues come to light or frameworks are updated or whatever. The other is that over time the answer with the most upvotes helped the most people, even if it is not the selected answer. "Duels" do not directly address this problem, but are just instead one mechanic that addresses it as most of the existing mechanics do. There are a few good ideas out there on how to handle this more directly.

PEOPLE DON'T LIKE LOSING REP
I would have to conjure up some data explorer queries to show to what extent this is true, but I am confident in saying this affects a large portion of the community. As stated earlier, the mechanics are open for discussion and perhaps there is a better way, but on that note, I think it makes the concept more interesting to have something on the line.

WOULD THIS MAKE THE INTERNET BETTER?
I say yes. Gray area questions have a lot of value because they often involve situational factors or long foresighted effects which many people have never experienced or thought of. Some kind of dueling mechanism would get multiple higher rep people involved in answering these tougher questions and bring more eyes to this useful information, which is essentially the definition of making the internet better. These questions would also really appeal to people who have a more answer and defend than answer and move on mentality.

STACK OVERFLOW ISN'T A PLACE FOR DISCUSSION
While true, there are a number of valid questions on SO where some discussion is warranted because multiple solutions are possible, all of which would be valid answers and all of which have pros and cons which need to be weighed against the situation at hand. Lets take for example a question of mine about constant declarations in c#. If my question had instead been "I am writing my own language and trying to implement a constant keyword, should I allow a static modifier on it?" then you could read through the discussion on my linked question to see how there could be multiple legitimate answers.

I'm always thinking about the Careers site. I can't help it, it's what I do and everything I hear about I want to know how it fits into the Careers site. From a Careers standpoint, being able to adequately defend a position on a development team is an important thing to know about someone, and linking successful "duel" questions or a dueling score card on your Careers profile would be an interesting addition and have the possibility of giving employers a way to gauge how a candidate might interact with the team while discussing design or implementation details. (Or possible features such as this! wowza!)

Tangentially, an alternative mechanic might be that once you receive so much rep in a tag, you can enter challenges of some sort that last for X days, can have up to Y people competing at once and everyone answers questions tag Z. Whoever gets the most rep for that tag in that amount of time get a mark of distinction.

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+1 Your answer is way too long and I doubt most people will take the time to read it, but I did and I agree with most of it. I especially liked the first part (i.e. from the beginning to the first horizontal rule). –  Erik B Apr 17 '11 at 13:26

How about a joust using unicorns?

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One of the goals of SO is to encourage people to answer. This idea seems counter to that goal. Even a wrong answer is a contribution and an chance to learn.

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How can a wrong answer be a chance to learn? –  uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Apr 16 '11 at 6:31
@george don't you have a famous great uncle or something named thomas who can give you that answer? –  Jason Apr 16 '11 at 7:34
The pattern described in the question above is observable: visitors (with similar question) will very often see the question, see the accepted (sub-par) answer and ignore the others. The proposal does not discourage answers, on the contrary. –  MPelletier Apr 16 '11 at 12:17
@Jason: Oh yeah, Thomas... I remember him. He goes way back. –  uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Apr 16 '11 at 19:14
+1 Answers that contain an explanation about why they're wrong are the most useful answers; prevents you from having to find out the hard way. –  Andomar Apr 23 '11 at 22:59

It sounds good but it is not needed at all and it will also most probably not work:

• OP mark answer as accepted either because it helps him or because of famous "You should improve your accept rate". In either case he can change his decission later on because he is noticed about each answer to his question. If he doesn't visit Stack Overflow regulary so be it.
• Anybody can answer the question with accepted answer if he think that his solution is better. Rest of the community is still here to make decission and place upvote on his answer. There is even gold Populist badge reflecting this behavior.
• You can still use comments to notify owner of the answer about his mistake and he can either change his answer or delete it.