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Not sure if this was discussed before.

First, a relatively easily answerable question pops up.

Typical response to this: two/three people respond to such a question within the same minute, often with very similar/close answers. The accepted answer can only be only one, unfortunately.

And then the edit war begins.

Each answerer realizes that minor details start to make significant impact to the decision of getting his/her own answer accepted. A minor remark is added (e.g. "this was mentioned in book X"). And then another one a minute after. And another one. Semicolon is fixed in the code. A method call is added to help the asker. Well, I'm sure you know the story.

This is one of the my most hated features on SO. Why?

  • In order to get better chances for my answer to be accepted, I need to constantly monitor the answer and see if someone else added a (relatively minor) comment so I can add another just to keep up with competing answers. In other words - I have to take active participation in this war;
  • in order to get points, you know you are very, very time limited. Unless you answer within seconds (especially involving popular tags), your answer is useless;
  • some people submit an answer within first few seconds by providing bare bone answer (just to put other people off) and nail-polish it within next 20 edits;

Does this contribute to the overall question/answer quality? Maybe.

Does this encourage non-alpha-geeks to answer questions? No.

Suggestions?

  • deliberate delay for first X minutes before answers show up (not very good idea apparently);
  • per question/per post edit limit;

What do others think?

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Not sure if this was discussed before -- I hear you. Unless you're a regular on meta, I think it's often non-trivial to find duplicate questions without risking mass down-voting (with no reasoning)... –  stealthyninja Apr 21 '11 at 22:57
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@stealthy I don't think duplicates get much downvoted just for being a duplicate. They usually just get closed after @Grace Note points out the original. :) Do you have an example? –  Pëkka Apr 21 '11 at 23:44
    
@Pekka's other trolling account: On SO, hundreds if not thousands... On Meta, this post? ;-) It's actually pretty hard to tell, because there are so many anonymous down-votes on questions/answers that often have no discernable defects, so I end up assuming it's because it's a duplicate or for some other trivial (frequently unstated) reason. –  stealthyninja Apr 22 '11 at 0:01
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@stealthyninja, I imagine you're new here. Downvotes on Meta just mean that someone disagrees with you. You don't need to call people names. Stack Overflow is designed for people to vote without being seen. It's how the system works. –  Lance Roberts Apr 22 '11 at 0:31

4 Answers 4

I'd be dead in the water without the ability to get all my edits in, especially with the formatting options Stack Overflow gives you. I have to keep going back to fix little formatting things, and the many typos I make.

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I thought this is what AJAX preview function is for? –  mindas Apr 22 '11 at 8:25
    
@mindas, I usually miss something, and the preview isn't always accurate. –  Lance Roberts Apr 22 '11 at 13:40

In order to get better chances for my answer to be accepted, I need to constantly monitor the answer and see if someone else added a (relatively minor) comment so I can add another just to keep up with competing answers. In other words - I have to take active participation in this war;

I don't quite understand—if you're stealing something that someone else wrote so that you can put it in your own answer, don't (unless your answer is CW and you're trying to compile a complete answer from many answers—my point is don't steal for reputation purposes).

If you have your own additional information to add, add it anyway, regardless of whether or not anyone else is helping.

In order to get points, you know you are very, very time limited. Unless you answer within seconds (especially involving popular tags), your answer is useless;

The OP prefers to have the answer as soon as possible—we should encourage that behavior.

Some people submit an answer within first few seconds by providing bare bone answer (just to put other people off) and nail-polish it within next 20 edits;

Known as the Fastest Gun in the West, this is acceptable SE behavior.

per question/per post edit limit;

So I can't continue to make improvements to my answer if I think of something else after a certain number of times, see grammar problems, ways to improve formatting, or other things that can be done to make an answer better? Remember, after a certain number of edits, answers become Community Wiki anyway and reputation is no longer earned.

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Yes. My question addresses exactly the same problem (maybe from a slightly different perspective) - I just wasn't able to find it before asking. And my question has been downvoted with -4 whereas FGITWP has 309 upvotes :) –  mindas Apr 22 '11 at 8:36
    
I don't suggest to disable editing completely - I just feel like that editing is abused as such. Look at the average mailing list - people think before they send an email and if they want to add anything, they send another email later. Yes, mailing lists have the disadvantage of scattered information (which SO addresses nicely) but mailing lists don't have that discouragement/despair element. –  mindas Apr 22 '11 at 8:38

There's an element of risk in following the put a quick answer in, then go back an fix it approach. While you're fixing your initial draft, some people can/will vote you down for having mistakes. Each person has to find the approach that works for them, for some it is a detailed, thought out answer, for others it is a quick pointer in the right direction.

Personally, I like to stick around and monitor questions that I've answered, at least for a while. It gives the opportunity for me to see how other people have answered the questions, picking up different perspectives and more importantly, to make sure that the OP has actually understood at least one of the answers enough to solve their problem. From time-time I'll even try to correct typo's in competing answers if it looks like they're going to come out on top (although lacking edit privileges, this is a bit hit and miss)...

If I do answer a question that I think needs links, I'll usually answer the question first, then add the links second and I think this generally works. The initial drop offers the opportunity for the OP to start thinking in the right direction and the second edit gives the extra details that may be required to make things a bit clearer.

I think it is also worth noting, that to the community a full answer isn't necessarily more likely to get the highest number of up votes, or accepted. The initial answer to this question was a one liner, saying 'Because the specification says so'. Which is what it said whilst the majority of the votes were cast. It's since been updated to link to the particular section of the specification, which makes it a more complete answer, but it still has less content than some of it's competition and yet it was the accepted response.

Are non-alpha-geeks discouraged from answering? I'm not sure they are... I don't really consider myself to be one, but I'll answer questions, both in the feeding frenzy and later when I stumble across them if I think I can add something new. For me, it is not all about the points (although I do need them :)) or the win. If it was, I would probably consider myself an alpha-geek :)

I think one of the thinks that helps to keep points in perspective for me is some of the questions that come from people with significantly higher rep than me, which often appears to have been earnt by asking hundreds of questions. Reputation isn't an indicator of your self worth, or knowledge, it is simply a measure of how much you've contributed to the community...

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I disagree, in fact, I think people should be encouraged to review and edit their answers as much as possible, even months later.

The premise of this question seems to be that people employ strategies for the specific purpose of earning reputation, with no regard to the consequences. While there may be some truth to that, the reality is that we cannot change human nature, and any restrictions on editing could only serve to reduce the quality of the knowledge base. Furthermore, SO is not eBay. There is nothing "real" to be gained or lost. If some users believe these strategies will help them get reputation, then fine, let them do it, it's no skin off my nose.

I frequently make extensive edits to my answers: because I correct typos, or think of something else to add, or provide further references that I remembered. Or if I realize I was just wrong, to delete it.

At the end of the day, there is no downside that I can think of to allowing people to edit their answers as much as they want. While that ability may result in people posting answers more quickly, it also results in the answers being self-reviewed and revised extensively before they settle into history. Restrictions might have some marginal impact on the number of "quick" answers, but they would have a much greater impact on the amount of junk that was in the system because you couldn't fix your mistakes.

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