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Fastest Gun in the West Problem
Make first draft of a new answer part of the permanent revision history

I noticed something odd earlier today. I drafted a long answer to a broad question. Right as I finished up, someone beat me to the punch. I checked the post time, a little chagrined, and clicked the update bar.

It was one of my favorite SO contributors, an absolute answer-making machine. This individual is a deep expert across many fields, and one of them happens to be a tag I like answering, too. We normally don't collide because we operate on different schedules. It was the first time I'd "watched the expert work", so to speak.

This time, the contributor didn't have much to offer. It was basically a two-liner, almost completely offhand. I was surprised, but not overly so. Sometimes two lines are all you need. Ten seconds later, an edit. Curious, I clicked refresh, and saw another two lines. The answer was a bit better now, still far off the question (actually three questions in one), but quoth Kurt Vonnegut: "So it goes."

Then another edit. And one more after that. Each one fleshed the answer out just a little bit more. After about 10 minutes or so, the answer was complete and better than mine. I erased my work, moved on, and thought little of it.

Three hours later, I witnessed exactly the same thing from exactly the same person. No names. I'm no rat and neither is my SO profile, but it caused me to ponder.

This person's behavior is an "answering strategy". All of us from time to time forget something we wanted to say and edit our own work. Some of us (myself included) far more than others. But this wasn't that. This was adding topic sentences, completing thoughts, copying in links, research, code snippets; all one or two edits at a time. The key piece of evidence, something I only noticed because I watched it in live time twice, were carriage returns. This person's shorter answers don't often wrap. The reason is the contributor clicks edit, types a sentence, clicks submit, and doesn't bother to touch the existing formatting, multiple times in a row. Done quickly enough, the edits won't even show up in tracking.

Is this wrong? More importantly, does it affect the quality or quantity of posted answers?

On the one hand, I don't particularly care. This person is an expert by nearly any measure. Even if my answers predated his or hers by a day, I would still upvote the contributor's over mine in many cases. SO is built to bring the best answers to the fore. Sometimes the best answer is posted days, weeks, or months after the original question.

On the other, it does in some tiny way discourage competition. Hot topics, particularly those related to tools, tend to have a lot of dupes or close dupes. A fairly small percentage of questions actually require more than one answer. Usually the right answer is obvious if you know the tool. The first-past-the-post will be the most likely to be upvoted and accepted. How many of us, when browsing tag filters or active topic lists, skip opening those that have an answer already when running short on time?

  • 3
    It's the coin on the arcade machine's glass
    – random
    Aug 22, 2012 at 22:08

1 Answer 1


On the other, it does in some tiny way discourage competition.

I am not sure that really discourage competition.
It is very difficult two different users give the same answer; it is more probable the answers focus on different aspects, or use different words. Even using different words is important, as an answer could be understandable from who has almost the same knowledge level, while the other one can be understood from almost everybody; it is the OP who then choses the answer s/he can understand better.

If you are writing an answer, and it is not short, continue writing it. Don't pay attention to who else is answering the question.

I answered to some questions on a Stack Exchange site despite a user with a higher reputation already answered. The reason I added my answer is that the already given answer was not 100% correct, or had something that should have been made clearer. In most of the cases, my answer was up-voted, and accepted.
If I had avoided to answer a question just because somebody else with a higher reputation already answered, the OP would have not had the correct answer for her/his question.

  • But what if I don't open the question at all? It's not unusual to see 20-40 new questions in my favorite tags as continents go to and return from work. I tend to open the unanswered and interesting ones first. Aug 22, 2012 at 22:51
  • In your question you are referring to a question you were answering. Which questions you should read is up to you. I don't read all the questions I found on Drupal Answers, but only a small part of them. As moderator, I watch the posts that have been flagged; as normal user, I watch those questions I find interesting, and for which I know I can give an answer. I also watch the questions bumped from the Community user.
    – apaderno
    Aug 22, 2012 at 22:57

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