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Please forgive my lame, fastest gun in the west analogy. I am easily amused.

Part of the fire hose, sequence of domestic responsibilities that is my Sunday night, I occasionally employ some extreme contorsionism to hit F5 on the kitchen table laptop.

I see a question that so cries out for an answer that I am compelled to temporarily put aside whatever it is that is currently demanding my attention and reach for my six shooter (so to speak).

The query in this case is so obviously trivial that I know there will certainly be other denizens of Stack Overflow who have similarly upset dinner plates, knocked spouses to the ground and trampled small children to reach their keyboards. I can almost hear the theme music to a Fistful of dollars.

Despite having implemented this particular wheel more times than I care to remember, I don't share my namesake's alacrity and sure enough as I am putting the finishing touches on my answer I see that orange alert window of doom descend, crushing my hopes of claiming this particular low hanging fruit.

So, to my question. In this particular scenario, when you know the first, second, third ... answer will almost certainly be a perfectly correct, do you:

  • Pretend not to see your opponent draw and fire, and push submit regardless.
  • Bow out with your dignity intact.

or in my case, hit submit, rejoin the domestic fray and then (elbowing F5 five minutes later) discover that you made an obvious logic error in your answer and go and hide in a nearby watering trough.

Would love to hear your thoughts and hoping that I am not alone in this particularly humiliating result.

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9  
+1 for sheer entertainment. 8-) –  RichieHindle Jul 26 '09 at 14:39
    
Thanks Richie ;). I do get a kick out amusing shared experiences. I haven't succeeded in getting my colleagues hooked on the SO drug, so Meta is something of an outlet for me. –  RedBlueThing Jul 26 '09 at 15:10

6 Answers 6

up vote 15 down vote accepted

I push the "show me what those faster typists have to say" link and scan the other answers.

If I'm clearly wasting everyone's time by submitting mine, I casually cancel my answer and pretend nothing happened. Later on, I pull out my typing tutor and do some quick brown foxes.

But if there's anything in my answer that adds to the sum total of knowledge, I submit it - that one extra thing I said might be the very thing the OP needed to know.

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I do occasionally find myself staring at the ceiling and humming nonchalantly as I cancel my superfluous answer. If only I had done so this time ;). –  RedBlueThing Jul 26 '09 at 15:09
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I would give you multiple upvotes if I could, just for the quick brown foxes. –  Telemachus Jul 26 '09 at 15:10
    
That goes for me as well. Funny because it is true :). –  RedBlueThing Jul 26 '09 at 15:12

Here's what I do now:

  • I always load the answers that get there first. I don't blindly submit despite the warning.
  • If one (or more) of the posted answers has all or pretty much all of what I say, I yield and don't submit.
  • If nobody mentioned one little thing that I care about, I make that a comment to somebody else's post and leave it at that.

As far as that goes, I'm happy. I think it's a mistake to flat-out ignore the yellow bar telling you that there are new posts because we really don't need four people all saying "Frobnicate the fizzbuzz" in slightly different wording. On the other hand, if you have things that haven't been said, don't stop because somebody posted a short answer first. Also remember that the delete button works. I've deleted posts when I went back later and decided either that other answers were clearly better or that mine had some gross error. I don't think it's embarrassing to remove an answer. If anything, it just keeps threads neat. (I actually wish more people did it.)

However, here is something I'm not sure how I feel about. This is to me a somewhat new phenomenon, but I've seen it a couple of times now. I'm writing and someone shoots first. I check his or her answer and think I can do better (or just different but usefully so). I keep typing and post my answer. When I check the thread later in the day, however, I see that the earlier poster has edited his or her post and incorporated chunks from other people. Thus, that answer is now first and most complete. In one case, I ended up deleting my post after this happened because I decided it was pointless. Everything I wanted to say was in the first post anyhow. I don't care about reputation, but I still don't think anyone should incorporate other answers into his or her post. In a key way, SO isn't like a wiki: there isn't a single group-edited answer (to most threads). Editing your post to absorb other answers strikes me as kind of cheap.

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...and sometimes, one of the other answers is submitted within seconds of mine, and says the same thing only better. Curse you Telemachus! 8-) –  RichieHindle Jul 26 '09 at 14:44
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I absolutely agree the "grab what the other guy said" is cheap. If I ask a question, I am perfectly happy to read all the answers to a well rounded perspective. I don't need to see the single aggregated answer. –  RedBlueThing Jul 26 '09 at 15:07
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SO may not be a wiki, but the goal is to have good answers. If my answer can be improved by adding something from someone else's, I do so and credit the someone else. If, on the other hand, my answer only has one tiny nugget of goodness, I leave it to them to steal it from me. –  Rosinante Dec 16 '09 at 17:45

The FGITW syndrome is somewhat annoying/frustrating. I admit to having participated in gun fights. Though I may have won a few, I admit to losing quite a few, and also to getting my shot off with bad aim. I dont do it as much anymore, and that is because I have stopped craving the point increases so much. ;)

On holding back a submission: I have mellowed to the degree that If I see the point I am hoping to raise come in while I am editing, I will discard my edits and upvote the answer. The pain that I feel at the potential upvotes lost has almost subsided.

With regards to deleting my posts: I find myself, on occasion, reviewing my answer against the others, and if mine essentially repeats others that are getting voted up (or came in first), or those that are more complete, or my answer is in retrospect wrong, I will delete my post and edit it with a note as to why I am deleting it. It helps me if I go back a little while later and see the pink highlighted box.

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+1 for commenting on your own deletions. –  RichieHindle Jul 26 '09 at 16:08

I realized quickly that using SO in this manner would drive me insane--about as much fun as driving on a freeway full of aggressive drivers. So I limit my answers to obscure topics (e.g. Android live-wallpaper), which I follow via RSS. I almost never scan the site for recently submitted questions, and when I do, I search for something specific and slightly obscure (e.g. Android memory errors). My rep may not grow that quickly, but no one gets caught in the crossfire, and answering questions remains a relatively relaxing pleasure, not a stressful gladiatorial pursuit--life has enough of that kind of thing, like fighting for parking spots. :-)

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I post an in-depth treatment of the subject, usually including alternatives and discussion of what my code is doing and why. Questions like this always have five or six people swoop in, throw down a line or two of code, and ride off into the sunset, confident that they've just earned an upvote or two of easy rep. It's amazing how rare it is for someone to actually give an "easy" question some thought, figure out what makes it confusing to the asker, and try to make him/her successful at solving the problem.

So rare, in fact, that I don't worry about someone else beating me to the punch; it's unusual to find more than one in-depth answer on a question like this. Usually, the biggest risk to this approach is that some other answer will get accepted before I post mine.

Post a better answer than everyone else, and you ride off with the most upvotes and a green checkmark. 80% of the time, it works every time.

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But often the person who beat you to the punch with a one-line answer will continue and edit their answer into the full answer in the five minute grace period. Then they're both in-depth and first, and they've usually collected a few up-votes in that time just for being there and correct, and with a few votes already they tend to keep collecting votes more than the other answers. –  Rup May 12 '11 at 18:48
    
@Rup - That's true, especially what you said about the momentum effect. I think the only defenses are a) to make sure your answer is still better, and b) not to sweat it too much. It happens and it's annoying, but I can say from experience that you usually come out ahead. –  Justin Morgan May 12 '11 at 18:58

In celebration of this topic, I migrated the original Fastest Gun in the West question from SO to Meta. It was previously deleted, so may not have been visible to most.

Dates from September 26 2008. It's a classic!

Related:

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2008/10/solving-the-fastest-gun-in-the-west-problem/

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Thanks Jeff, some interesting stuff there ... –  RedBlueThing Jul 26 '09 at 14:01
6  
Hmm. September 26th... the day I joined. Totally unrelated to the fastest gun in the west problem, obviously... –  Jon Skeet Jul 26 '09 at 15:26

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