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Well, straight to the point, this is the situation:

  1. User answers a question, as four others do, myself included;
  2. After some time (3 hours, more or less), another user discovers this question and comments on the accepted one not being the best in terms of performance, as basically it did the same thing my answer did but using a more costly method. Commenter points to my answer as the "right" in his opinion (and upvotes me, that's the reason why I noticed this situation, I had already forgot about that)
  3. Accepted answerer takes the criticism, and silently changes his answer, leading to 2 conclusions:
    a) the comments under his answer now look almost pointless;
    b) his answer now is the same as mine.

I don't really care about those 15 points, as I already acknowledged the fact that OP choose another answer instead of mine, no big deal. But what is starting to piss me off is the fact that the guy who had his answer accepted didn't even write a comment, or an edit, anything, to point out his RIGHTEOUS changes; I think it would have been fair just to say "on a second thoughts, I believe this is a better method to solve this problem, as Damien showed. I'm editing my answer to reflect this", but nothing.

What's the right thing to do in such cases? Do you comment the answer? Do you address the problem to answerer, OP or a mod? Do you just swallow back the pride and go on? (It's midnight here and I'm going to bed, tomorrow I would probably have forgotten everything). Is this an accepted behaviour or just something "unfair" and frowned upon, but eventually part of the rules?

Oh, btw, the answer is this: converting-a-string-to-a-set-of-array-with-fixed-length

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What's the right thing to do? Move on and find another question to answer. – ChrisF Jun 20 '11 at 22:11
Yeah, that's what I intended to do – Damien Pirsy Jun 20 '11 at 22:48
I know what you mean... I see it as more of a problem with hasty answering than anything. The asker chose the correct answer before everyone had weighed in. One thing you might consider is NOT giving the person the feedback until you've convinced the question asker to switch his vote. Once you've done that you can be free with your information. P.S. Did you notice that the asker said the string is almost 800k long? – ErikE Jun 20 '11 at 23:45
@ErikE I dont' want to tell anyone anything, I accepted whatever the situation was. I dind't ask here to be polemic, just wanted to know the level of fairness of a behaviour. And no, I didn't notice that at the time of writing, he added those information even after having accepted the answer. – Damien Pirsy Jun 21 '11 at 5:25
up vote 5 down vote accepted

There is a difference between what is ethical and what is noble. In this particular situation, several answers bear a strong resemblance to each other and different users who aren't collaborating could easily come up with the roughly the same answer or have parts of the answer in common without doing anything unethical. In fact str_split was proposed before either of you answered.

It is also common practice to incorporate feedback from comments in order to improve an answer. If changing the answer in this way makes the substantially the same as another previous answer, the noble thing to do might be to either delete the answer or at least acknowledge the first correct answer.

But in this case, we have to give the other answerer the benefit of the doubt. The user:

  • wrote an honest initial answer
  • included unique content that was in no other answer
  • incorporated the feedback of a commenter into a revised answer, and
  • even prefixed the answer with EDIT

Perhaps it wasn't the most noble thing the user could have done in that situation but edits are allowed and are clearly notated by the system including timestamps. The most we can say the user didn't provide the first complete correct answer and the votes clearly reflect that. Even if the voters had somehow been fooled we could only be disappointed. The one thing I don't think we can conclude is that there was any unethical answer copying.

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Very nice answer. Thank you, I now see the situation in a better perspective! – Damien Pirsy Jun 21 '11 at 5:28
I like the distinction between ethical and noble. Or perhaps, if there is a middle (where an action is neither particularly ethical or particularly unethical) I might say there's a difference between unethical and base. – ErikE Jun 21 '11 at 16:27

In spite of the many complaints about the veracity of accepted answers (you can see many of them in the sidebar to the right of this question), the checkmark belongs to the OP, and he can mark any answer the correct one as he sees fit.

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I agree, my point was another, maybe I didn't make myself clear: I don't object the answer OP chose, nor the fact the the answer changed. From the asker point of view, it's the right thing to do. I was just asking if the behaviour of the person who answers, has the answer accepted, and then changes it without specifying its reason, is a fair and acceptable act or not. – Damien Pirsy Jun 20 '11 at 22:52
@Damien: The behavior of the answerer may not be stellar, but then again he didn't get many upvotes for his answer either. The OP can review the revised answer, and re-evaluate his position that the answer is still the correct one. He can decide to mark a different answer as the correct one, if he wishes to do so. – Robert Harvey Jun 20 '11 at 22:54
Yeah, I know that and I agree with it. OP can do whatever he wants, and the answer by the way was correct before and it is now. I believe the problem is just the correctness of such a behaviour, on an ethical standpoint. But looks like it's not a big deal afterall. – Damien Pirsy Jun 20 '11 at 23:00

The point is the other user stole from your answer and put it in his.

I think better etiquette should be to mark his answer as a wiki, forfeiting additional rep, since he used your answer in formulating his.

I think if you feel so inclined, you can leave a comment on his answer to this effect, but that is a bit complainy, so maybe the best solution is to just leave it.

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There's an early SO blog entry that talks about someone coming along to a question much later, picking the best parts of all the answers given on the page, and comprehensively tying it all together in a new answer which the questioner then accepts as superior to anything else. Thus I don't see merely using the information in someone else's answer as outright unethical. I think there's plenty of gray area here. On the other hand, I agree that in the case given by the OP here it seemed kind of underhanded. – ErikE Jun 20 '11 at 23:43

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